Monthly Archives: January 2012

Live Blogging the Florida Debate

Seems like we’ve done this once or twice, or 16 times before.  But here we are again….as always, join in on the comments section if you are so inclined.

As I noted in the previous post, I have to think the dynamics of this might be different, if only because Romney can’t continue acting as if he’s the front runner who only has to attack Obama.  But it will also change because Florida has a different electorate – more diverse economically, ethnically and racially.

Brian Williams is moderating – I think this is his first hosting job in a long while.  Keep in mind that Paul is not competing in Florida, so his messages will be directed at the upcoming caucus states as much or more so than on Florida.

9:05 – Williams wastes no time in getting to the questions.  Is Gingrich electable?  Note that Romney’s negative line of attack in campaigning has been to stress Newt’s instability, and whether that makes him less likely to win election.

Newt is trying to inoculate himself against the ethics-driven decision to resign his Congress seat – Newt did the “honorable” thing and took responsibility for the 1998 election debacle.

Romney is not deterred – The Speaker is an “influence peddler” who resigned in “disgrace”.  Sitting with Nancy Pelosi on a sofa!   The imagined visuals are arresting.  For a Mormon, them’s really fighting words.

Interesting role reversal here – Newt trying to keep to the high road.

9:09 Can Mitt win the conservative vote?  Bad question Brian – in case you didn’t realize it, Newt resigned in disgrace!  Did I say that before?  And did I mention his lobbying?  No more Mr. Mitt-Guy!   He’s on the attack…

Wow, talk about a role reversal – now Mitt says he’s not going to unilaterally disarm?  Didn’t Newt just say that before South Carolina?  Is Santorum or Paul even on stage?

Ah, here’s the headless, er…. Rick Santorum.  What is his path to victory?  He’s got plans. Williams point out he got crushed in his last Senate race.  Rick is proud that he stood up and got crushed…much like he’s probably doing now.  (Of course, he doesn’t say he was elected in the Newt-inspired Republican sweep in 1994.  Political winds can push you up and they can bring you down.)

Paul’s point regarding Iowa is completely true – the caucus results hardly matter in terms of delegates at this point.

Interesting here that Newt and Ron are making kissy-kissy.  This isn’t the first time that Newt has reached out to Paul’s voters – this is crucially important in Florida since Paul is not competing in this winner-take-all state.

Couple of you have noted just how quiet the crowd is.  Not sure what the explanation is.

9:23 Williams probes Romney on taxes.  Again, Romney’s not so fluid on this.  Why the heck is he pointing out that he won’t pay a dollar more than he owes – he doesn’t think the public wants a president who pays more than they owe?  What does that mean?  For a smart guy, Romney can be remarkably tone deaf.

Wow, why is Romney pointing out that he only pays capital gains tax?   And why is he balking at the 12 years?  For someone who is trying to put an issue behind him, he’s saying things that will keep it in the public eye.

Oh my.  Going on about how he had to pull himself up by his gucci boot straps is not really selling well, I don’t think.  He sounds like he’s apologizing for his wealth even when he says he’s not apologizing.  Again, the divide here is that he’s speaking the language of Wall St. – not Main St.   He talks investment – Joe Sixpack thinks in terms of jobs.  He’s not making this connection very well.

9:28  I’ve said it before, but I’ll say it again: the distinction between lobbying and consulting is lost on most people.  I guess Newt has to make the case, but I can’t believe he really wants to discuss this point.  If it walks, quacks, ….etc.

Romney sees this as well.  He’s not going to let it go.  Newt should just say yes, I misspoke, I wasn’t a historian, I was a consultant.  Let’s agree on that and move on.

Wow, is this badgering by Mitt working? Now I wonder if he’s pushing this too far.

Uh oh, Medicare is the third rail of politics in Florida.  Romney is going to hammer away on this premise.

Uh, Brian – aren’t you a moderator? Do something!



Santorum is ready to go into Rick-Rage I bet, while Paul could be asleep.  This is actually a riveting exchange between Mitt and Newt, and it is following exactly along the lines I suggested Mitt had to utilize – hammer away at Gingrich’s record, particularly the Fannie Mae/Freddie Mac ties – a sensitive topic in Florida where the housing crash was particularly severe. But he’s not very smooth when he attacks and even here he seems driven by polling more than genuine outrage at Newt.  You have to be able to fake sincerity, and he doesn’t do it well.

(Is the flag lapel new for Rick?)

I don’t think everyone follows Paul’s reasoning, but they like the tune.  Every fifth phrase resonates – “erase debt”, “closed doors”, …. .  But the finer points of free markets?   Not so much.

Finally someone pushes back on the idea that if Dodd-Frank is repealed, good things will follow. What about prior to Dodd-Frank?

Good, Williams get it and pushes.  See?  Romney actually has a response, but until Williams pushed him, you wouldn’t know what types of regulations he would support.

Williams:  Isn’t Fidel Castro out of power?

First applause of the night: Fidel going “to another, uh, land”.   Cuba is the ‘red meat’ of Florida’s Republic Hispanic voters.  Newt one ups Mitt on where Fidel should go after death.   Not a lot of daylight between Mitt and Newt on the post-Fidel era.  Let’s ask Paul what he thinks.  Paul gets some applause, but it’s really a dated response.  The Cuba issue has less to do with the Cold War and more about the post-Fidel era.

9:51 Closing the Strait of Hormuz.   How to respond?  Gives Mitt a chance to rip Obama for his proposed defense cuts.  I’m guessing we’ll get some attaboys from Newt and Rick seconding Mitt’s declaration that would be an act of war.

Still, Newt has  a way of couching his answer to make it more interesting than when Mitt does it.  “Americans don’t want to go to war….but…”

Paul’s blockade analogy never gets at why someone puts a blockade in place.  Presumably the cause matters when trying to decide whether the blockade is just.  This is where he’s really closer to Democrats than Republicans.

BREAK TWO – 9:56 p.m.

So far, Rick’s has been overshadowed – he’s going to have to pick up his participation by trying to force is way into the conversation.  After that initial clash, which I guess Mitt gained the most from, both he and Newt have been relatively tame.  Paul has been Paul – not changing minds either way.   I think Newt has been on the defensive a bit more than Mitt, but I’m not sure Mitt has come across as any more likable.

Williams start by giving Rick a chance to go nuclear.

Reinhardt is a National Journal reporter, but she has local roots. Let’s see what the local angle is.   Good question – how to balance keystone vs. clean waters.  Nice answer by Rick I thought.

Another great question – English only?  If so, why do you speak “campaignese” in many languages.  I think Newt’s answer is both politically acceptable and actually makes sense. Mitt agrees.  So does Paul, at least regarding a single national language, but he grants exceptions for state-based allowances on local ballots.

The Dream Act – at some point someone has to press Romney on his immigration policy.  It could be a sensitive point for him in Florida.

Adam Smith picks up my point.   Self-deportation? Is that a formal policy? I don’t think that’s going to play.  This is not a great answer for Mitt.  But Rick doesn’t really make an issue of it – he’s a hardliner on this issue as well.

10:12 Smith – Will you end sugar subsidies?  Gingrich says the beet sugar vs. cane sugar story is fascinating. Is it?  Does anyone get that answer?  I don’t.  What’s the difference?  Did he just dodge this issue?

Mitt decides to answer his own question, based on his conversations with 8 people.  Eight? Is that a lot?  No plans for NASA?  Where did this come from?  It sounds like he’s decided to get all his talking points out before time runs out.

Smith: rebuilding the Everglades.  Do you think Paul has any knowledge about this issue?  Didn’t sound too convincing to me. I think he’s already thinking about Maine’s shipyards.  He’s pretty much written Florida off, judging by his acknowledgment that he’s not up on the Cuban issue.


This has calmed down considerably.  It’s hard to tell how this is playing before a Florida audience, in part because that audience is so variegated.  There’s not one dominant perspective.

10:20 A Terry Schiavo question?  I guess it’s a good way to get Santorum to reconcile his interventionist policy in her case versus his state’s right stance.  Santorum seems to give a sound answer. I’m not from Florida, but is this issue still resonating?

As always, Gingrich is able to frame this issue in a way that makes his response, however simplistic, seem eminently reasonable:  didn’t she deserve the appeal protection that we give death row prisoners?

Reinhardt:  I love the space program – but should it be a priority in a time of looming deficits?  I want Newt to talk about building a moon base!

This is the type of area where Big-Think Newt can shine.  I want him to riff here……hmmm,  offering prizes, space stations, moonbases – “incentivizing visionaries”… classic Newt. Rocketman!


10:28  I’m assuming we get closing statements?  My instant read is this debate, by itself, is not going to drive opinion in any single direction.  Nor will it firm up opinions. I see this as an opening skirmish in which candidates try out strategies to see what works and what doesn’t. In that vein, I think Newt has to shore up his Freddie Mac defense and his “why I left Congress answer”.  Mitt is still weak on taxes, and on his defense of wealth more generally.  But there’s only so much one can do about some of these things.  Mitt will never be warm and lovable. Newt can’t explain Freddie Mac, or three marriages, or his ethics charges, completely away.

Final question: prove your conservative bona fides.

Romney: raised five kids. Balanced a budget in Massachusetts.  (Massachusetts as a model?  Does he mean health care?  Oops!)

Newt: I worked with a lot of cool Republicans.  Talked about big ideas.  Developed a conservative movement.  I think that latter point – building the Republican party so that it could retake Congress  – is one of his stronger point.  He needs to play that up.

Santorum (interesting that Williams basically tees this one up for him!):  Gingrich is pro-health mandates.  Mitt is for cap-and-trade.  They aren’t true conservatives. Wall St. bailouts backed by Mitt.  This is a line of attack Rick has to take.  Still, I see that headless chicken  running…..but I’m surprised Newt and Mitt don’t adopt more of the Tea Party populist rhetoric.

Paul – His answer gets to the essence of his candidacy: he’s a different type of conservative.  He’s a libertarian conservative.  This is really a very telling answer.  And it gets applause.

Romney: Kennedy had to take a mortgage out to defeat me?  Is this a real selling point?  I’ve said it before, but sometimes he just seems so politically tone deaf.  At least he has his answer to Romneycare down.

Gingrich: do you see what he’s doing here?  He is laying the foundation for getting Santorum voters (and Paul’s too) when they drop out – he’s trying to isolate Romney’s support to the Wall St.   crowd.

Romney: Nice start: “We are still a great nation”.     His seven-point plan is another nice touch, except his claim to oppose crony capitalism rings a little hollow.

And that’s it!  10:42 and it’s all over.

I gave my summary a bit earlier, so rather than repeat it, let me just summarize the summary: I don’t think this was a defining debate.  Instead, I think it is better viewed as an opening skirmish. Both sides will go home, see what their focus polls and surveys show, and recalibrate for Thursday’s debate.  Now, it’s time for the spin game.


A couple of things to keep in mind.  Clearly, one aspect of Romney’s strategy is to try to portray Gingrich as unstable, erratic, prone to fits of grandiosity.  But that aspect of the attack didn’t seem to work.  Mitt scored points, but Newt seemed able to appear poised, basically suggesting that he wasn’t going to sink to Mitt’s level.  The second point to remember is that Gingrich has the polling momentum.  It’s not enough for Mitt to trade blows – he has to bring Newt down, and reverse the momentum.  Nothing that happened tonight did that, in my view.

Third point: I thought it was interesting that Newt pushed Mitt on whether Bain worked with the government which Romney denied.  I’m wondering what Mitt’s tax forms are going to show when he releases them, and how far back he’s going to go, and whether he also has some government contracts in Bain’s past.

Fourth – In terms of made-for-YouTube moments, I thought Mitt produced more of them with his weird “accusation” that under Newt’s tax plan he’d pay zero taxes!  Is that a slam against Newt – or a reminder that Mitt pays only 15% because his income is all taxed as capital gains?

Finally, I don’t think Rick did nearly enough to convince me he has a viable way forward.  Newt is clearly trying to extend the olive branch to both of them.  Is there something going on behind the scenes?

Questions, questions…..we’ll try to answer some tomorrow.

As always, great participation.  Good to see new people joining in!

More tomorrow….time now for a scotch. You’ve earned it.

Don’t forget: State of the Union tomorrow night. The fun just won’t stop.



Can Gingrich Beat Obama, and Has Santorum Lost His Head? Previewing Tonight’s Debate

The events keep coming.  Tonight is the first of two scheduled debates prior to  the Jan. 31 crucial (how often have I used that term before?) primary in Florida, and the first since Gingrich’s “surprise” (not to you!) victory in South Carolina.    Already the first post –South Carolina polls in Florida are showing a Gingrich surge.   A Rasmussen Poll has Gingrich up over Romney, 41%-32%,  while an InsiderAdvantage Poll has Gingrich up 34%-26%.  Paul and Santorum trail far behind in both polls.  Meanwhile, PublicPolicyPolling is tweeting that their Florida poll, to be released any minute now, has Gingrich leading as well, albeit by a smaller number than in these two other polls.

Keep in mind, however, that this early in the process in Florida, these polls are likely reflecting respondents’ view of who is winning the “media narrative” more than any fixed intent regarding for whom they will vote.  As we saw in South Carolina, the polling numbers can change appreciably in a short period.

I will spend plenty of time in the coming days analyzing the Florida polls.  Of equal interest, however, is that Gingrich has now pulled almost even with Romney in Gallup’s national tracking poll, at 29%-28% among Republican and Republican-leaning independents.

Even more interesting, perhaps, is that in Gallup’s trial heat polls, Gingrich does as well as Romney in a head-to-head matchup with Barack Obama; both trail the President by 2%, 50-48%.  Remember, Romney has consistently polled the best among Republican candidates against Obama, but these latest polls, following on the heels of the South Carolina exit polls that show most voters think Gingrich is more electable, are beginning to erode Romney’s lead on that score.   Note that Gingrich has been arguing that he, in fact, will do better against Obama than would a “Massachusetts Moderate” like Romney.

Again, these national polls are much better indicators of the prevailing media narrative than they are an actual guide to what will happen months from now.  But they are not insignificant predictors, even at this early stage. I will talk more about their predictive power in a separate post.

Gingrich’s polling surge has led Romney to take the “mittens” off.  Today he ran his first negative ad of this campaign, targeting Gingrich’s ethics violation and ties to Freddie Mac.

Gingrich, however, anticipating the Freddie Mac attack, and mindful of Romney’s failure to release his taxes  debacle, has tried to defuse the situation by agreeing to release his Freddie Mac contract.  It apparently has just come out, although I’ve yet to read the details.

All this sets the stage for tonight’s debate on NBC at 9 p.m.  Although I suspect it can’t match the drama of yesterday’s Patriot’s victory, it should still hold some entertainment value.   I expect Romney to come out swinging.  But we shouldn’t forget that Rick Santorum is on the stage as well, and his campaign is in full “headless chicken mode”.   And if you know anything about headless chickens, you know Santorum – even though his candidacy is dead – may keep running for months (warning: no actual chicken was harmed in the making of this video – but it might put you off your feed for a day):

I’ll be on at 8:50 or so for some live blogging.  As always, I invite you to pour  a scotch, load up the keyboard, order those chicken mcnuggets, and chime in with your comments.

What Really Happened in South Carolina, and What It Means For The Rest Of The Race

Did you hear that noise this morning?  It was the sound of heads in the punditocracy exploding in reaction to Newt Gingrich’s “surprise” win in South Carolina yesterday. The new – and wrong – post-South Carolina conventional wisdom is captured in Sean Trende’s assessment at RealClearPolitics:  “This vote was an utter repudiation of Romney, and it absolutely will be repeated in state after state if something doesn’t change the basic dynamic of the race.”

No, what this vote repudiated was the media’s misguided belief that Romney was a strong candidate in the first place, one who was on the cusp of closing this race out in overwhelming fashion. In truth, what the first three contests have confirmed is what I’ve been telling you all along:  Mitt Romney is a weak candidate – one who has never demonstrated in five years of running for president that he could broaden his support beyond the country club/Wall St. set.

Before developing these points, let me summarize the state of the race as it actually stands, as opposed to where the pundits would have us believe it stands.  First, Gingrich won a decisive victory last night; with 100% of the precincts reporting he finished with 40.4% of the vote, easily besting Mitt who won 27.8%.  Santorum ran a distant third at 17% and Paul took 13%. (In a blow to Colbert fans, Herman Cain won only about 6,000 votes – or 1.1% – of the vote.)  In contrast to the two states won by Santorum and Romney, turnout was up by more than 30% (about 601,000 voters) over the 2008 total (about 450,000) – a sign that Gingrich energized the Tea Party base.  Gingrich probably won 23 of the 25 delegates at stake, with Mitt holding on to take the two in the first congressional district that includes Charleston.  (Note, however, that congressional district lines in South Carolina may yet change, pending a court challenge after the 2010 redistricting.) That puts Newt in the lead in the all-important delegate count, 27-17, over Mitt (note that Iowa has not awarded delegates yet, contrary to what some media outlets may imply.)

Now on to the pundits’ assessments. They are, as a whole, predictably overreacting to yesterday’s results (sometimes in hilarious fashion).  Here’s Andrew Sullivan’s take:  “This is the Republican crack-up people have been predicting for years. Gingrich is on a roll. I think he can win this – and then lose this in a way that could change America history. That is a brief impression in one moment of time. But I cannot see Romney winning this at this point. They are just not into him, and he’s an awful candidate.”  Taegan Goddard opines at Political Wire: “By any measure, it’s a devastating loss to frontrunner Mitt Romney.”  And this from the online newspaper TheHill: “Gingrich’s victory makes for many more uncertainties in the race for the Republican presidential nomination, which had seemed like a foregone conclusion a few days ago when Mitt Romney was in the lead in South Carolina polls.”

You get the picture. In a span of a bit less than a week the conventional wisdom has gone from planning Romney’s coronation to contemplating “the Republican crack-up” in the wake of Romney’s “devastating” loss.  Neither perspective is correct.  I’ve gone on at some length in previous posts to point out Romney’s weaknesses, as indicated by the results in Iowa and New Hampshire.  Now is the time to remember his strengths.  First, he is not an “awful” candidate – he is a very good candidate, one the majority of Republican voters consistently view in favorable terms.  He has loads of money, knows how to run a campaign and is, in fact, a solid debater who generally does well in these formats.  The problem is that he has never demonstrated the capacity to win over conservative Republican voters for reasons that I want to develop in a separate post.  For now, let me call it his “authenticity” problem:  Republicans do not know what his core values really are because those beliefs seem, based on his past record, to be somewhat malleable.

What about Gingrich?  I don’t think I’ve ever seen a candidate held in such contempt by the media and party establishment.  And that is precisely what is fueling his success among Tea Party activists and the Republican base.  In a significant ironic twist, the Establishment’s efforts to excommunicate Gingrich for his past heresies have simply strengthened his appeal to Republican nomination voters.  Here’s a career politician who is making an effective case that he’s the candidate of change!  One thing that has become increasingly clear to me is that the Establishment’s collective disdain for Newt as a person (the term “blowhard” is frequently used) has distorted their assessment of his candidacy. Because they don’t like Newt, they can’t see how anyone else can support him.

So where does this race stand?  Exactly where it stood a week ago.  Lost in the handwringing over Mitt’s “collapse” in South Carolina is that his support there really never wavered from the 28-31% range.  What happened in the end is that as South Carolina voters started paying attention, beginning with Monday’s debate, they moved to their natural inclination, which was for most of them to support Newt.  And so he rose in the polls to the expected equilibrium outcome.   But Mitt didn’t really lose all that much support post-debate.  We shouldn’t lose sight of this.  It bears repeating:  South Carolina is to Newt as New Hampshire was to Mitt: his backyard state.

In the next several days I’ll begin my Florida assessment.   But I want to end here by raising a somewhat speculative point.   I once thought that the advent of the “blogosphere”, with its myriad political outlets, would broaden and diversify debate beyond the cloistered Washington-based conventional wisdom that dominated the pre-internet political discussions.  I’m increasingly convinced, however, that this hasn’t happened.  Instead, the blogosphere has become dominated by its own talking (writing?) heads who have integrated themselves into the media establishment, and whose control over twitter feeds and on-line posts has exacerbated the problems associated with the old media.  The pundits now flit from online to talk show, spreading their misguided, often partisan-based analysis.   New conventional wisdoms are created, disseminated, accepted and then rejected with increasing rapidity.   The blogosphere hasn’t so much improved debate as it has accentuated its worse tendencies.   As I read through the various online assessments of the race after Iowa and New Hampshire, and watched the talk shows, it amazed me just how wrong these assessments were – spectacularly wrong, in many cases.   The numbers, at least as I was reading them (and reporting them to you) weren’t supporting most of the claims I was hearing.

Look, although I’ll milk my South Carolina prediction for as long as you let me, long time readers know that I’m in no position to claim infallibility in these issues.  (Remember my Scott Brown prediction!)  But there’s something to be said for acknowledging how uncertain our assessments are.   I don’t think we get enough people saying “I really don’t know what is going to happen, so I’ll give you my partisan preference, and we can all pretend it is rooted in something more substantial than my hopes and prayers.  But it’s really not.”

With that in mind, let me make my prediction: Patriots 24, Ravens 20.  By the way, that’s a guess based on my hopes and prayers.

Live Blogging South Carolina’s Election Returns

7:55 Early exit polls indicate that over 80% of voters say their vote was influenced by the debates.  That’s a strong sign this will be big night for Newt.

More exit polls: more than 40% of voters made up their mind in the last few days – I’ve got to believe most of them went for Newt.

If this is a rout, the networks should call this in about five minutes.

Still more evidence: 66% of turnout is described as conservative – polling has indicated they are solidly for Gingrich.

Keep in mind that Romney went all in in this state in terms of Superpac and his own money – he easily outspent Newt by more than 2-1.

OK, polls are closed….and exit polls give Gingrich the lead by 9%.  38%-29%.

Interesting – Gingrich wins women over Mitt 36%-30%, and they make up 50% of exit polls.

Interestingly, Paul win the under 30 years old, although they are only 9% of the turnout.  I am always amazed how well Paul does with youngsters.  Hard to explain.

Again, a huge class skew – Romney wins the high income people (those more than $200,000), while Newt wins every other income class below.

Already CNN is musing about how Gingrich came in and upset Romney here.  Let’s be clear: this is no upset.  South Carolina is to Newt as New Hampshire was to Mitt.  This is his backyard state.  He was supposed to win this.   The only reason the media is surprised is because they were buying the whole Mitt is inevitable mantra (which they were peddling).  As I noted in an earlier post, this was always the state Gingrich counted on to break out.

Note that the independent vote was up from the 18% in 2008 – it was 26% this time around.  And, in a bit of a surprise, Gingrich won the independents 30% to 27% for Paul.  This bodes well for Gingrich down the road in later states – and in the general election (if he ever gets there!)

65% of those voting supported the Tea Party – and Gingrich cleaned up among them.  Also, in a surprise, he wins the veterans vote, getting 36% of them – much more than Paul, who only got 14% despite his repeated claims that veterans supported him.

Perhaps the most important exit polls result? social issues played almost no role here.  Nor did immigration (in contrast to 2008).  This was all about the economy, and beating Obama. In fact, in looking at the most important candidate quality, 45% said it was “beating Obama” – and Gingrich won those voters 48-39% over Romney.  This is a big blow to Romney’s electability argument heading into Florida.

In another blow to Mitt, among those who are very worried about the economy (79%), Gingrich bests Romney 40-28%. Handling the economy was supposed to be Romney’s strong suit.

So, this is an across the board victory for Newt – but it is a victory that is in his backyard.

What these results suggest is that Mitt still has not demonstrated that he is poised to expand his coalition beyond what he earned in 2008.  It does not mean we should anoint Newt as the front runner. All this does is confirm what I have been telling you for weeks:  the evidence, to date, is that Mitt is a weak candidate.

Looking ahead, Newt has to hope he can capitalize on his more moderate immigration views to draw on Latino support in Florida.  He also has to hope that he can draw on some of Perry’s donors to try to begin addressing Mitt’s substantial fundraising advantage.

Now, keep in mind that after Florida, which votes on Jan. 31, there are only two caucus states voting (Nevada and Maine) and then we wait almost a month before Michigan and Arizona vote.   That period will give Gingrich time to try to ramp up his organization, integrate Perry’s donors into his campaign and generally try to position himself for Super Tuesday in early March.  My guess is he will survive SuperTuesday with victories at least in a couple of states.  In short, I don’t see Gingrich dropping out any time soon.  Yes, the safe money will still be on Romney to win all this, but it is not implausible to believe this is going to be an extended fight.

OK, in an anticlimactic announcement, CNN is projecting Gingrich as the winner. Yawn.  What I really want to know is if I finally hit the jackpot and got all four candidates’ totals right.  Are the other channels making the same projection?

Now the media is in trouble – all those rules of thumb no longer work.  First no one has won South Carolina who didn’t first win either Iowa or NH.  Also, every recent Republican nominee has won South Carolina.  So, are they going to say that Newt will be the nominee, the way they kept touting Mitt’s unprecedented sweep of Iowa and NH?  Of course not.  Which is why you shouldn’t believe any of these “rules of thumb” – they are largely meaningless.

Consistent with my ealier post (and a reason why my colleagues’ projections may be off this time around), fully 64% of voters say debates were important for their decision, and they went overwhelmingly for Newt (49-23%) over Romney. 87% said they were a factor in their vote, and they went for Gingrich 41-26% over Romney.  You can see why Romney reportedly considered dropping out of Monday’s Florida debate.  I can tell you this – he better have answer for the tax question.

It’s fascinating to hear the CNN pundits express amazement at Gingrich’s victory.  It shows how expectations, rather than fundamentals, drive the media’s perceptions.

@Chris – we learned in 2008 that the impact of early voting has been overstated.  Those who vote early are typically partisans who know who they are going to support.  My guess is most of the early voting favors Romney – but that it likely that most of those votes would have been cast for Romney even after the S.C. results. I don’t know that for certain, of course.

Santorum is on – note that even if he’s going to drop out, he won’t announce it tonight.  He has to be disappointed with his vote tonight, particularly given the endorsement he got from the evangelical leaders and his final strong debate performance. Keep in mind that the one state he won, he won because he was able to go door-to-door.  He can’t do that in Florida, and he doesn’t have the money to compete on the air waves.  He is in trouble.  Will he reassess? On the plus side, it looks like he will beat Paul.

@Jessica – Look, I expect a spate of Romney-is-in-trouble stories. but the fact is he’s not in any more trouble now than he was before South Carolina, or at least not in much more trouble.  He was never going to sweep these early states and knock someone out.  I don’t know how often I have to repeat this, but he did worse in Iowa this time than he did four years ago, his victory in NH was average by historical standards, even though it was in his backyard, and South Carolina is simply not a good state for him.  Tonight is really not that big a surprise.  Repeat after me: Not A Big Surprise.

It will be interesting to hear the speeches. Unlike in Iowa, both speakers (Gingrich and Romney) have had plenty of time to script their remarks.  Remember, those remarks will be directed primarily to Florida voters.

Best quote of the night from James Carville comparing Santorum to a headless chicken: “everyone knows the headless chicken is dead except for the chicken!”

Romney is on.  Poor Nikki Haley – she bet on the wrong horse, undoubtedly sucked in by the media narrative that had anointed Mitt.   Bet she’s regretting turning her back on her own Tea Party crowd that elected her in the first place.

Romney has got to go on the offensive against Newt.  He needs to start hammering Newt on Freddie Mac, on past support for health mandates, climate change cap and trade.  This speech is completely superfluous with its attack on Obama.

Ah, finally, he’s taking the mittens off!  who is this unnamed candidate that he is comparing to Obama?  Thinking….thinking…..Newt?  This is a good line of attack – We do not demonize free enterprise.  The problem is that many people don’t think that includes tax shelters.  He needs to make this argument appealing to lower-income workers.  And he’s going to have to walk back from his immigration policies.

So far this is a relatively low-energy speech, but i think it does a good job laying out the principles that will drive his campaign here – he’s going to run on his private sector experience, and cast Newt as a creature of inside-Washington beltway politics.

Ooops – Ann Romney tried to flee the stage, but Mitt grabbed her and brought her back on stage.

Let’s go to the scoreboard.  Remember, this is all about delegates in the end. South Carolina has 25 delegates. 11 go to the overall winner, and 14 are allocated by congressional district.  So Newt has already picked up 11 delegates – he could conceivably get most of the remaining ones. (there are 7 districts, each one has 2 delegates).  Romney picked up 7 delegates in New Hampshire, Newt won none.  So at this early stage, Newt will probably take a slight lead (Iowa delegates haven’t been assigned as yet.)  In the popular vote, Newt  will come close to catching Mitt, but I think he’ll still trail by some 20,000 (all rough estimates at this stage).

OK, Ron Paul is on.  This could be fun.  who is that youngster to Ron’s left?  He has great timing with his “whooos!”  The Paulistas are the best chanters.  “End the Fed”!  When have you ever heard the monetary system booed, and the Constitutional provisions regarding legal tender cheered.  do you think this was poll tested?   Look at the people on stage behind Ron when he begins waxing eloquent about monetary policy  – are they considering his argument, or are they wondering if he’s bonkers? The woman on the right is particularly perplexed – she’s wondering if he took his pill.

Not a good night for Paul.  I thought with the increase of independents, he might win close to 18% – but that’s not going to happen, largely because Newt did so well among this group.

Love the kid. He can “boo” with the best of the adults.  Great kid.  You can be sure the networks wish he would wrap it up.  The people behind him look pretty sober.  I have to think they were hoping for a stronger showing – not last place.

Big event of the night is yet to come: we have to hear what Newt has to say.  I bet it will be vintage Newt – he can give good speech when he’s inspired.  He doesn’t want to wait to long – he needs to catch the seniors in Florida who might be going to bed, but we have to fit Santorum in first.

So, how quickly does Jeb Bush endorse the Mittster (there is no love lost between the Bush’s and Newt.  Remember, Newt sabotaged support for Bush’s tax hike that ultimately contributed to his defeat in 1992.   Poppie is going to enact his revenge.

Looking ahead to Florida – that’s a winner take all state, with 50 delegates at stake.  So it doesn’t help Paul to sink much there -he’ll probably pivot right to Nevada and Maine which are caucus states.  That could help Mitt a bit in Florida.

Ok, Rick is on.  No sweater vest! What does that mean?  is that a subconscious concession?

This is an interesting speech. I’m wondering if Rick is looking beyond Florida?  Or is this a concession speech? He can’t get any delegates in Florida.  Is he going to concede?  This sounds like he’s leading up to a concession!

Yeah!  A shout out for Guns and Bibles!   Bitterness too!

Nope. No concession. Not yet.  He’s going to Florida.  Sigh.  We DON”T pick Rick – at least not in South Carolina.  And not likely in Florida either.  Still, it’s clear what his strategy will be -he’s going after the working class vote.  Rick Santorum: working class hero!   Look, he’s picked up on one of Romney’s vulnerability: he’s the canidate of bankers and country club members.  That’s a wealthy group – but not a very big one.  (Who is yelling in the back, and what are they saying?)

Well, let’s see if Rick reconsiders are he gets to Florida.  He doesn’t sound like it.  But neither did Huntsman when he bragged that his third-place finish in NH gave him a ticket to ride to South Carolina, only to drop out a few days later.

OK, let’s get Newt on before the seniors are in bed in Florida……

Ron is on one-on-one with Wolf and he concedes what I thought was the case: he’s not going to even bother going to Florida, and instead will go straight to the caucus states.  So Florida is going to be essentially a two-person race, but Rick will be there to hurt Newt, while Ron’s absence will help Mitt.  AGain, the polling dynamics in Florida will change because of tonight, but the fundamentals there favor Mitt.  There’s lot of transplanted New Englanders down there.  He’s already been buying extensive air time.  He’s probably leading in the early voting.  But, of course, there are those two debates!

One other interesting exit poll result: more people thought Mitt ran an unfair campaign than they did Newt.  This touches on a larger point I’ve made:  the cure for SuperPac money is more SuperPac money.  It’s straight out of Federalist Paper #10: how do you cure the mischief of factions?  Expand the polity to encompass more factions!  That’s what happened in South Carolina: Newt got his own SuperPac!

Wolf Blitzer just recited my blog, point for point.  At least give me a shout out Wolf!  (and, if I hit the perfecta on my vote prediction, that goes for the rest of you too!)

Hey, are you watching the CNN feed showing Newt’s stage area – see them all “filming” for dissemination, YouTube feeds, etc?  Cool!

The CNN talking heads are disseminating the Republican establishment talking points right now.  You can be sure they are sending out their twitter feeds undercutting Newt right now: his ethics violation, his leadership failures, his instability.  The problem is that this is precisely what drives the Tea Party into Newt’ s corner.  And they simply do not trust Romney.  He’s a country-club Republican – the antithesis of the Tea Party voter.

David Gergen just repeated the canard that Mitt had South Carolina in his grasp – he never had this state in his grasp.  Never. The odds were always in Gingrich’s favor to win – but perhaps not by this much.  The margin of the victory – which looks right now to be almost exactly what I predicted (how often can I say that?  Not often enough, since it won’t likely happen again all year) was affected by the debates, but this was always Gingrich’s state to lose.  Always.

While we are waiting for Newt, I might as well address another issue: can we finally bury the idea that Gingrich wasn’t going to be a viable candidate in this race?  Clearly, that’s not the case.  He may not win (indeed, I still think the odds are against him) but of the 8 candidates that began this race, it’s down to Mitt and Newt.  Those who dismissed him back in July (almost everyone but me) were wrong.

Big speech here for Newt.  He has to attack hard by building on his win here in a way that appeals to Florida voters.  How does he do this?  By appealing to low and middle-income Republicans, by hinting that his unnamed opponent is part of the banking/high finance/Wall St. crowd that got us in this mess, by saying a muddled moderate can’t be Obama and by emphasizing his electability and debating skills.  His goal is to motivate the Tea Party crowd even at the risk of scaring the hell out of the Republican establishment.

OK, who can explain how Callista’s hair never moves?  Is it artificial?   Lacquered?  Answers, please.

Newt’s on – no teleprompter for him!  (He just got whispered advice from his grandson!)  Nice touch with the thank you – it builds social capital!  One thing Newt remembers is the importance of humor.  We haven’t seen that much humor from Republicans this cycle.  It was always one of Reagan’s strengths.

Interesting demeanor here – this is serious Newt.  Not triumphant Newt.  Great allusion to the Wall St./Washington axis.  and then to tie that to the “elite” media.  Very deft touch.  Crony corporate capitalism…

Ah “Bedtime for Bonzo” – a classic Reagan movie.

A very nice shout out to Santorum (notice the shouts in the back “He beat Mitt”!), and then Paul and even Mitt (weakly)  he’s clearly trying to solidify the ranks – at least some of them – of his opponents supporters behind him.  Translation: you know your guy can’t win – so why not back me, at least in Florida!

Newt throws in the debate/teleprompter joke – an oldie, but goodie.  Now he’s on a riff designed to appeal to Florida conservatives – judges/religion; jobs (food stamp President!)/small government/federalism.

Keystone is a sure winner for any Republican candidate.

If you are looking at the CNN graph, Newt’s jabs are scoring higher with men than with women, although both groups approve on the whole. But he needs to be sensitive to this gender disparity.

Again, when Newt attacks Obama, it is both more detailed and entertaining than when Mitt does it.

One thing that will determine whether Newt implodes in some spectacular misstatement, as the Establishment expects, or maintains discipline to end, is the type of staff structure he depends on, and how much he listens to them. I really don’t have much sense of this, but it’s something I’m looking into.

With 95% of the vote in, I’m 1% off in my prediction.  Go Newt voters!  We need 1% more to hit the perfecta…. .

OK, everyone. Great participation again. Sit back, pour a scotch and relax. You’ve earned it.  I’m signing off, but I’ll be on tomorrow with an early post-mortem on the media spin of the results.   Look for them to talk about Newt’s stunning upset, and how the electoral landscape has been upended…..

Go Patriots!

Addendum (10:17)  I didn’t mention this before, but turnout in South Carolina is way up over 2008 – at this point there’s more than 500,000 votes cast.  I’ll need to do the math, but this may put Gingrich up in overall popular vote so far as well. Not that it matters much this early.  I’ll try to get the actual totals in delegates and votes tomorrow.

One other point: in Gingrich’s victory speech, the reference that got the highest rating was his claim that his isn’t a Republican campaign – it’s an American campaign.



Gingrich In A Rout? Polls and Predictions For South Carolina Tonight

Based on surveys taken before last Monday’s South Carolina debate, Mitt Romney led Newt Gingrich in the RealClearPolitics aggregate poll by a comfortable 10%, 32.3% to 22%, and seemed poised to sweep the first three events in this nominating process,  thus cementing the inevitability mantra that both pundits and some scholars were chanting. Five days and two debates later, Gingrich is on the cusp – if the latest polls are accurate – of winning a blowout victory in South Carolina.  The aggregate poll has him up by 5%, 33.5-28.5%, over Romney, but the latest ARG poll released today has Gingrich up by a whopping 14%, 40-26% over Romney, with Paul a distant third.  That poll is identical to the results from the final day of PPP’s three-day tracking poll.  If this holds up, Gingrich will have gained 18% in five short days, while Romney would have dropped 6% – a turnaround of 24%.  This is a stunning reversal in such a short time period.  And Gingrich’s margin could grow – 20% of survey respondents say they could change their mind, and 60% of Romney supporters list Gingrich as their second choice (all from the PPP poll).  Among Santorum supporters, 38% say they may change their mind – and 42% of them list Gingrich as their second choice.

Barring a Bachmann miracle, then, it appears that Gingrich is poised to cap a remarkable turnaround with a convincing victory in the biggest state to go to the polls so far.   With that in mind, what should we look for in tonight’s results, and what are the implications for the race after South Carolina?

  1. Electability: It has been a central tenet of this campaign that Romney has the best chance of any Republican to beat Obama in the general election.  But the final polls show Gingrich closing that gap, with this YouGov poll indicating that 72% think Gingrich is very likely or somewhat likely to beat Obama, compared to 80% who think this of Romney.  Fifty percent of those polled say their support was based primarily on this factor, with 48% saying it was based on the issues.
  2. The gender gap: Romney has been consistently outpolling Gingrich among women, but in South Carolina that gap has almost been erased, with all three of the most recent polls, including  YouGov, PPP and the ARG, showing Gingrich leading Romney among women.  In fact, in the ARG poll Gingrich does better among women than he does among men.  This suggests the Marianne issue may not have the gender-based legs that some anticipated.
  3. Class:  There is a distinct class bias in Romney and Gingrich’s support, with polls indicating that Romney does better among South Carolina voters earning more than $80,000, but Gingrich winning all incomes groups below that number.
  4. Favorability:  Romney has consistently been viewed more favorably than the more polarizing Gingrich, but that gap also closed in South Carolina.  Gingrich’s final favorable/unfavorable numbers in the PPP poll are 54/37 – Romney’s are 51/42.  Will that favorable ratio hold for Gingrich as we head to Florida?
  5. The issues: Gingrich made inroads on Romney’s strong suit – the economy – with about equal numbers choosing each candidate as best able to handle economic issues.

Note that these are all from the latest polls – it remains to be seen whether they will hold up in tonight’s exit polls.  But they do provide some evidence that Gingrich has closed the gap on a number of advantages formerly associated with Romney – at least in this state.

What to look for tonight.

Given the polling numbers, I expect the networks to call this almost immediately when the polls close at 7 p.m.  If they don’t, there’s hope for Romney that this will be less than a rout.   South Carolina is really three somewhat distinct voting areas: the low country, the midlands, and the upstate area.   Expect Gingrich to dominate upstate – the region where Huckabee did very well in 2008 (Greenville-Spartanburg), while Romney needs to draw heavily in the midland and coastal areas (the swath from Charleston up through Columbia).

Remember, McCain won only 33% of the vote here in 2008, with Huckabee a close second at 30%.  Right now Gingrich is on track to beat McCain’s total and his winning margin, but by how much depends in part on turnout.  Predicted turnout is about 450,000 – anything higher will likely benefit Gingrich.  In 2008, independents were 18% of the vote – I expect that to increase with no Democratic primary (South Carolina is an open primary state).  However, I expect Paul to draw as much support from this group as Romney does, which may give Paul enough of a boost to finish a strong third.

Keep in mind that one of the other important stories tonight is whether Santorum can beat Paul for third place. If he can’t, and he finishes in single digits, it will make it hard for him to raise money and compete in Florida, which has very expensive media markets. Remember, Santorum’s victory in Iowa was the result of his ability to engage in old-fashioned door-to-door campaigning. He won’t be able to recreate that scenario in Florida, so doing well tonight is critical for him.

With that background, here are my predictions, per tradition:

Gingrich 41%

Romney 26%

Paul 18%

Santorum 14%.

Polls close at 7 p.m.  I’ll be on shortly before for some live blogging.