6:08 I thought I’d get on a bit early tonight in anticipation of a rather short night – the Maine results should come in within a half hour - and in order to talk a bit about the just completed Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) event. The CPAC event has been held since the mid-1970′s and pundits often cite its straw poll as an indication of conservatives support for various presidential candidates. In what the CNN talking heads viewed as something of a surprise, Mitt Romney won this year’s straw poll, with 38% of the vote, beating Santorum who received 31%, Newt Gingrich at 15% and Ron Paul who came in last with 12%. But it’s really not all that surprising – and it’s not particularly significant despite what you will hear the pundits say. Keep in mind that Romney won this in 2008, easily beating John McCain – and then promptly dropped out. Indeed, Romney won the straw poll three years running. The CPAC is often attended by relatively affluent Republicans of the type who have been supporting Romney in this year’s contest. Only twice has the CPAC straw poll winner actually gone on to win the nomination – in 1980, with Ronald Reagan, and in 2000, with George W. Bush.
Of perhaps greater significance is who didn’t endorse Mitt – former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin. Everybody’s favorite moosemeister gave the closing speech, and she had the audience devouring the red meat she generously fed them, alternating between conservative themes of god, capitalism and country, and often biting attacks on President Obama. The crowd gave her numerous standing ovations in what was one of the best stump speeches I’ve heard during this cycle – except she’s not (yet) a candidate. Pointedly, she urged them to let the nomination process run its course to allow a true conservative to be recognized, rather than settle for someone just to end the nominating contest. Competition, Palin argued, is good for the party. While she did not mention names, one did not have to look very hard to see this was not a ringing endorsement of Mitt. Later, in an interview with CNN, she opined that a brokered convention might not be a bad development for the party.
Meanwhile, CNN is really playing up the need for Romney’s to win tonight in Maine in order to change the media narrative, but I’m not sure that a victory in another northeast state is really going to do all that much for him. However, a loss certainly won’t help the cause.
6:23 Looks like the precinct results are going to be announced. It is going to be a very short night! Remember, what will be announced is simply a non-binding preference poll – not the actual delegates selected during caucuses. Essentially, while attending caucuses, the participants write their names on paper and hand it in, expressing a presidential preference.
And Mitt wins! 39% of the vote (2,190) – Paul 36% of the vote, Santorum at 18%, and Gingrich with 6% of the vote. Mitt can exhale out in California, where he’s gone to raise money, while the Paulistas may have just lost their last chance to win a state outright. It has to be disappointing for him. Mitt, however, did worse than he did in 2008, when he won 51% of the vote, more evidence that he’s not exactly broadening his support. (Sorry – had to correct my totals there). Supposedly some caucus meetings were cancelled due to weather in northern Maine, but it’s not clear how many votes were lost – the Republican chair estimated perhaps a couple hundred. So it looks like perhaps 85% of precincts are reporting in. Not sure how that affects the results.
Meanwhile, Paul is on, speaking before a clearly disappointed crowd – you can see the energy is down in Paul as he gives his speech, and in those behind him. Note that Romney understands what was at stake here – he made the decision to actually stay in Maine today to get in some last minute campaigning – a clear sign that wasn’t willing to risk a loss, despite the fact that this was simply a beauty pageant.
CNN doesn’t even bother staying with Ron Paul’s speech, which is covering familiar ground. Note that they are “estimating” that Mitt will pick up 6 delegates, Paul 5 and Santorum 3. But Paul just finished betting his audience that the Paulistas would actually take the bulk of Maine’s delegates. Again, this is a reminder to be careful about delegate totals posted on the various websites – in truth, no actual delegates were awarded tonight and it may very well be true that come May Paul’s forces may be able to flood the county and state meetings to win the bulk of Maine’s delegates. But this isn’t stopping the pundits from proclaiming this a major victory for Mitt.
By the way, for those of you scoring at home, although I called the victor in Maine to keep my prediction streak going, I vastly overestimated Mitt’s winning total – I gave him 55%, and he came nowhere close to that. Paul, however, did almost exactly what I expected (but, in truth, I was largely guesstimating.)
And that is it for contests for the next two weeks. The next set of primaries takes place on February 28th, in Michigan and Arizona. In the interim, the candidates will be crisscrossing the country, raising funds and visiting those states that fit into their overall campaign strategy. And I’ll start teaching.
Remember, pitchers and catchers report in less than a week! That means it’s time for Wally the Green Monster to load the equipment van and head South!