Football coach Bill Parcells was famous for responding, when asked to assess his team’s record, “It is what it is.” His point, of course, is that a team’s success is, in the end, based solely on its wins and losses. Everything else that the sports pundits spend time analyzing is secondary.
Using the Parcell’s standard, last night was a very good night for Mitt Romney. Based solely on the (as yet incomplete) returns, it looks like Mitt will win at least 48% of the Nevada caucus vote. My guess is that percentage will go a bit higher as the remaining returns from Clark County come in (Mitt did very well in that county four years ago.) Assuming Mitt comes close to 50%, he will have more than doubled the vote of the second place finisher New Gingrich, who right now has about 23% of the vote. Indeed, Mitt would best the totals of Gingrich and Rick Santorum, his conservative rivals, combined. Exit polls show, moreover, that Mitt beat Newt among conservatives, Tea Party supporters, all income groups – it was an across the board victory. With the second decisive win in a row, Mitt sits comfortably in the driver’s seat of this nomination process.
And yet I don’t think Mitt’s victory does much to remove the doubts of those who believe he is a weak candidate. To begin, it appears as if overall turnout in Nevada was down from 2008, when 44,000 Republicans caucused. (There are approximately 400,000 registered Republicans in Nevada.) If so, it will be the second contest in a row where Mitt’s victory was associated with a drop in voter turnout. It’s hard to know what to make of this enthusiasm gap, but I don’t think it bodes well for the Mittster as we look down the road. Compare that to the Democratic turnout in 2008, when more than 100,000 voters caucused in Nevada to give Hillary Clinton a resounding victory over Barack Obama.
And while it is true that Mitt seems to have expanded his coalition to include a majority of Nevada’s Tea Party and conservative voters – two groups that he has had trouble winning in previous events – as I noted last night it is hard to tell how much of that support came from Mormons who self-identify as conservatives and who support the Tea Party movement. Looking at the crosstabs of the PPP poll from last week, for instance, fully 80% of Nevada Mormons described themselves as conservative. It is no surprise, then, that Mitt did well with conservatives in Nevada, but it does not mean he will win that group in states with a smaller Mormon population.
My point here is that the fundamental demographics indicated that Mitt should do well in Nevada, just as they suggested he should win New Hampshire and Florida. But nothing I saw last night changes my belief that Mitt, as yet, has not excited the Republican base. In the end, turnout was down from 2008, and he likely received a smaller percentage of the vote (or at least did not increases his share) from a year when he failed to win the Republican nomination.
Of course, we should not lose sight of Parcell’s dictum. Mitt is in line, pending results down the road, to pick up another 12 or so delegates in Nevada. That would give Mitt about 79 pledged delegates so far, compared to 29 for Newt who is in second place. There’s still a long way to go – Mitt needs to pick up another 1,054 or so delegates to clinch the nomination – but any candidate would rather be in Mitt’s position than in Newt’s at this stage. By all measures, then, Mitt is winning this race, and he should increase that delegate lead after the caucuses in Minnesota and Colorado on Tuesday, and Maine next Saturday. And that’s the bottom line.
Of perhaps greater interest on this, Superbowl Sunday, is that my Nevada prediction is looking positively uncanny, with the slight exception of understating Santorum’s support. I wish I could attribute that to my use of a science-based prediction model. Alas, it was based mostly on intuition, experience and not a little bit of luck. Nonetheless, I know my success makes many of you eager to know my Super Bowl prediction, particularly after I nailed the score of the last Patriots game almost exactly.
Here’s the problem. As a dyed-in-the-wool Patriots fan, I can’t bring myself to state my prediction. It is too painful to actually write the words. I trust you understand what I’m trying to say here. Some thoughts are better left unspoken.
So instead, let me conclude with this advice – Go Patriots! – and some happy memories:
No matter what happens today, no one can take that memory away.