Live Blogging the True Grit Faceoff

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7: p.m. We are on a little early tonight, in order to give me some time to catch up on course reading during the live blogging session.  As always, I encourage you to join in through the comments section.

Polls will close in both Alabama and Mississippi in a bit more than an hour.  But the first wave of exit polls have been released.  Note that Romney hasn’t won a state that has had more than 50% evangelical vote – tonight in Mississippi and Alabama the evangelical vote is overwhelming – 83% in Mississippi, and 79% in Alabama.   Can he break the streak tonight?

By the way, for all the talk this year about SuperPacs and the outpouring of corporate cash in light of the Citizens United decision, the Washington Post reports yesterday that spending the Republican primary is down this year from previous campaigns.  Longtime readers won’t be surprised by this – when the economy is down, spending on most everything – including campaigns – goes down.

By the way, I’m watching CNN just to see Wolf hyperventilate when the results come in at 8 p.m.

Despite high number of evangelicals, however, exit polls indicate that the proportion of strong conservatives – although high – is lower than in Iowa, Oklahoma or Nevada.  In both states it’s closer to Tennessee and Georgia, at about 38% Alabama and 42% for Mississippi. Measnwhile the moderate/liberal vote is at 30% (Mississippi) and 31% (Alabama) – again close to the Tennessee/Georgia levels.  Romney won 28% in Tennessee, and 26% in Georgia.  The other thing to keep in mind that polls have underestimated Santorum’s support in the southern border states.  Romney won about 28% in Oklahoma as well, with a more conservative voting turnout.   So we shouldn’t be surprised to see Romney pull in 27-28% tonight.

One other interesting exit poll finding: 50% women turnout!  That’s one of the highest turnouts so far.  Only Oklahoma was higher.  That should favor Mitt – I think. He did slightly better (29%-27%) among women in Tennessee.  Same in Georgia (26%-25%) and Oklahoma (29-28%).  However, Santorum did much better among women in Oklahoma (38%-29%), while Newt did worse among women in that state.

I have no turnout numbers, but scanning talking heads, they are suggesting it is sparse in Mississippi.

While we are waiting I should mention the lack of attention paid on this site to national polls head-to-head matchups between Obama and the various Republican candidates. I ignore them because they are meaningless at this time – not even newsworthy.

Now CNN is serious – it’s Wolf time!  Also, is that James Earl Jones’ voice that does the “This is CNN” intro?  If so, that’s cool!

By the way, exit polls indicate abortion was the most important issue for 11% of Alabama voters, and 10% of Mississippi – higher than in most previous states (but not as high as it was in Michigan) but not by much.   The top issue for most voters (57% Alabama, 54% Mississippi) is the economy, followed by the federal budget deficit (24% Alabama, 28% Mississippi.)  This is consistent with previous states – so again, the dominant issue for 3/4 of voters is the pocketbook.)

Polls close – and CNN cannot – I repeat! – cannot make a projection.  Thanks Wolf!

But exit polls have Romney up with 35% in Mississippi – up 5% over Gingrich, while Santorum leads by 5% in Alabama.

CNN talking heads say if Newt finishes second, he is finished.  But, in cliche #49, Anderson Cooper says Newt can “live off the land.”  I think Newt can live off anything, judging by his girth.

By the way, let’s not forget 17 delegates at stake in Hawaii tonight with precinct caucuses there. An America Samoa selects 9 delegates who are, officially, unbound.

If Newt loses, it will be in part due to the gender gap.  He’s down among women in both states.

Remember, pre-election polls have understated Rick’s support in some states.  He’s out performing some of them now. But the exit polls will be adjusted a bit as additional results come in.  This could be a long night.

The curse of Marianne bites Newt!  He’s down 10% among women compared to men in Alabama, while Santorum is up 8% among women over men.  Remember how Santorum was going to have a women problem due to his views on contraception?  That was never the case, as I argued in previous posts.  That gender split is similar to what we saw in Tennessee.

Meanwhile, Mitt once again wins the over 65 crowd – he’s consistently done that throughout this campaign.  He also sees his support in Alabama go up as one goes up the income ladder – he wins the over $100,000 income groups, with 36% of the vote.

Newt, meanwhile, gets crushed among married women in Alabama – he wins only 18% of their vote, compared to 37% of married men.  Hell hath no fury….

In Alabama, among the 63% who support the Tea Party Santorum gets 36%, Gingrich 32% while Mitt only wins 26%.  Again, the split between Santorum and Gingrich is hurting both of them.   Either one would crush Mitt here – instead, he might pull it out.

By the way, CNN talking heads have finally realized that both Mississippi and Alabama are open primaries.  Note that in Alabama  turnout included 6% Democrats and 25% independents.   In Mississippi the numbers are 4% Democrat and 16% independents.

We get similar results in Mississippi.  Newt’s support among married men is 13% higher than among married women.  Mitt, meanwhile, sees his support increase as one goes up the income ladder in this state as well.  And once again, Mitt loses Tea Party supporters vote to both Santorum and Gingrich, although he within 1% of Santorum’s support. TP was 66% of total turnout.

Media narratives are fascinating things.  So far there’s no evidence whatsoever that Mitt has expanded his coalition, yet if he wins either state because of a split between Mitt and Rick, pundits are going to say it shows he can win in the South!  He won about 30% of evangelicals in Mississippi, and 27% of this group in Alabama – finishing behind Santorum and Gingrich in both groups.

To his credit, John King is acknowledging that winning is about “bragging rights” – won’t have a big impact on the delegate race.

Note also that in Alabama you don’t get delegates at the congressional district level if you finish third, but in Mississippi you do.  So you want to be at tleast second in each congressional district in Alabama.

One thing I am sure of: Ron Paul is going to lose, and he is going to give a speech about the Constitution.

Uh, oh.  Gergen is off and running on if Mitt wins, it will be a big win.  The reality is this race is so close, it’s not going to change anything regarding the delegates total or the relative standing of the candidates.   Gergen is also going off on the contraceptive issue.  How that is driving women to the Democrats.  Guess what David – Santorum is doing better among women than men in both states.

This is where my basic ignorance of the political terrain in Mississippi and Alabama prevents me from having any idea how to interpret where the votes are likely to come from, and for whom.  I hate to say it, but I’m relying on John King’s analysis in this regard.

Slow count, particularly in Alabama. Some of the Twitter feeds are suggesting Romney can’t win Alabama based on current returns, but I think this is premature.  One thing is certain: if Santorum wins both states, Wolf will be at high decibel form in loudly proclaiming that this is a two man race. But if Santorum loses both states to Newt by 1%, media narrative will change dramatically.   In short, even though a shift of 1-2% in the vote won’t really matter, in terms of the media narrative it could be huge.  In contrast, Hawaii and American Samoa may prove more significant tonight in terms of padding Mitt’s delegate lead than will Alabama or Mississippi!

With about 20% of the Alabama vote in, Santorum leads Newt by about 5,000 votes.  I have to think they are drawing from the same area, so it will be hard for Newt to make this up.  However, I won’t be surprised if Mitt can close the gap based on bigger urban areas coming in late.  But that’s a guess….

Just a reminder – if Mitt remains third in Alabama in the congressional districts, he doesn’t pick up any delegates.  So that’s a total loss of 7 delegates, out of a total 21 district delegates, and 26 at large.

Romney is slightly underperforming the preelection polls, but doing about as well as he did in Tennessee, Oklahoma and Georgia – right around the 28% level.

Apparently NBC is projecting that Santorum will win Alabama – wait for the overreaction from the pundits!  If Santorum wins Mississippi too the media will come down hard on Mitt.  He is almost better off if Newt wins in Mississippi, and thus stakes a claim for staying in.

Story of the night is that Mitt is underperforming pre-election polls, and exit polls, but doing about as well as he did in Tennessee, Georgia and Oklahoma.

But keep in mind – even if Mitt finishes third in Mississippi, it is so close that he’ll earn almost as many delegates as Rick and Newt – but the media is going to overlook this.

When we factor in American Samoa and Hawaii, Mitt may be the winner tonight in delegates.   But John King is already telling us that if Rick wins both states, “we have a very different race.”  No, we don’t.

The spectator in me wants Rick to win both states, just to see media overreact.  Wait – get the paddles out!  Wolf is projecting that Rick takes Alabama.

At this point if I’m Rick I offer the VP slot to Newt.

Folks- get ready: we are going to have a huge divergence between the media narrative after tonight and the political science narrative if Santorum wins Mississippi too.  The political science narrative is that nothing much has changed.  The media narrative is that it is a whole new ballgame.

Smart move by Santorum to come on now, while there’s still an audience – and before potential loss in Mississippi potentially steps on his narrative.

I think Santorum is going to take Mississippi as well – he’s up a bit more than 3,000 votes with 95% in.

Rick needs to start looking ahead to Missouri caucuses – give it a shout out.

We go to Missouri on Thursday, then Puerto Rico, and then Illinois a week from now – at that point almost 50% of the delegates will be allocated.

Fox calls Mississippi for Rick Santorum – if that’s true, he sweeps tonight.  Cue the doom-and-gloom Romney can’t close the deal media narrative.  I can’t say I’m displeased – it means the race will go on!

And now Wolf confirms!  I can’t wait for the media explosion tomorrow….poor Mitt!

In fact, Mitt is going to win 30% in Mississippi – his best performance in a southern state so far.   but all for naught, according to the media.

Newt is on – but given the gender gap that likely cost him tonight, he needs to tell Callista to step it up.

Newt is on – will he step down?  Not likely!  He points out that his delegate haul will be “substantial” – in fact it will be close to Rick’s.   And he takes time to take a shot at the “elite” media.   Newt has to make nice to Rick, in case he has to strike a deal. At this point I expect Newt to stay in at least through Louisiana.

This is a very revealing speech.  Newt is making it clear that at this point his goal is to prevent Mitt from clinching the delegate race before the convention – but note that he avoids taking on Rick and in fact speaks of himself and Rick as allies of a sort.

When will we hear from Mitt?  Not tonight!  He’s going to wait for the Hawaii and American Samoa results and then he’ll proclaim delegate victory.

That’s it for tonight folks.  Not much happened to change the delegate math – but a whole lot happened to change the media spin.  And it raises the question whether the media narrative can influence events from here on out.  Mitt has to hope Newt stays in – and I think he will until at least Louisiana votes.  I’ll be on tomorrow for the post-mortem.  thanks again for all your participation….

Final point: if this isn’t support for my Operation Brokered Convention – I don’t know what is.  Spread the word!

Why don’t the pundits push Ron Paul to drop out?

And let’s leave on this comment from CNN’s Erin Burnett: “men don’t know how to wear blue jeans”.   OK.

17 Responses to Live Blogging the True Grit Faceoff

  1. Jeff Cason says:

    Perhaps, Matt, Gingrich should go on a hunger strike to get more votes?

  2. Matthew Dickinson says:

    It might help with the women. He should lay off the grits.

  3. Michael Polebaum says:

    Is there any chance that Newt drops out tonight if he loses both Alabama and Mississippi? Also, lets not forget about Hawaii! I assume though that’s a safe bet for Mitt. Also, if Newt does drop out does he endorse someone?

  4. Matthew Dickinson says:

    I don’t think Newt drops out tonight if he finishes ahead of Santorum in either state. He’ll claim he’s still able to credibly claim he’s the alternative to Mitt. And yes, I think Mitt should take Hawaii – I’m assuming Tagg or one of the other Romney kids are there.

  5. Jeff Cason says:

    As we continue to wait for more definitive information: isn’t it a bit bizarre to have those prisoners collecting ballots, that CNN keeps showing?

  6. Matthew Dickinson says:

    Jeff – Doesn’t it violate their rights? Do they have to sign a consent form to get their mug on television? Or do they give up all rights once they put on the “striped jumpsuit, if you will” (to quote Wolf, who seems quite enamored of the whole prison thing.) As you noted, it has the making of a Saturday Night Live skit!

  7. Chris says:

    I think the big thing now is delegate count. It seems to be escaping the media tonight – not unusual. The thing they did talk about briefly is what happens with a Gingrich drop out. That I thought was something a little new. Anyway – it seems to me that Romney is building an insurmountable lead in delegates with all of these little areas going completely for him and he is splitting well the other “bigger/important” states.

  8. Matthew Dickinson says:

    Chris – I agree entirely. But with Santorum (evidently) winning Alabama, the media is going to go nuts about how Romney can’t close the deal – especially if Santorum wins Mississippi too. He’s got to hope Newt wins Mississippi – if Santorum wins there too the media will go crazy.

  9. Chris says:

    There could be a little swing in delegates if Romney finishes 3rd in ‘Bama – but he’ll make them up in tonight in Hawaii.

  10. Danny says:

    Just like how Romney needs to show his viability by winning these deep south evangelical uber-conservative states, doesn’t Santorum need to demonstrate the opposite by capturing a larger, potentially blue-in-the-general-election, industrial, cosmopolitan state like Illinois? And how does the delegate math work for Santorum…realistically, how much leg work does he need to do to mathematically win the nomination?

  11. Matthew Dickinson says:

    Danny – Exactly right. The delegate math still works against Rick. At this stage both he and Newt are basically working to prevent Mitt from winning this outright before the convention. Keep in mind that no matter how the media spins tonight, not much has really changed.

  12. Chris says:

    What is to be made of the winner-take-all states? Am I correct in thinking that at the convention this could change? Not that it makes that big of a difference, but if they states have to/get to proportion there delegates it certainly shrinks Mitt’s grasp on the delegate lead. I just don’t see a way for Rick/Newt to pull this off except a complete withdrawl of one candidate and endorsement of the other and asking all his delegates to go to the other candidate.

  13. Michael Polebaum says:

    At what point does the media narrative turn into reality? If Fox, CNN, and MSNBC keep saying the same thing over and over again about how big these two wins could be for Santorum, when (if at all) does it become ingrained in the voters minds that Mitt can’t win and that Santorum is a very close second?

  14. Matthew Dickinson says:

    If Mitt doesn’t clinch this before the convention, then Florida and Arizona Winner-take-all decisions will almost certainly be contested by Rick and Newt. Hard to tell how that fight would play out in the RNC rules committee, since presumably Mitt would still have the numbers to block a change. But it’s hard to tell this far out. Keep in mind that the same holds for the caucus delegates…. most of those states haven’t finished their delegate selection process.

  15. Matthew Dickinson says:

    Michael – Great question! It will be interesting what impact the media explosion that will come if Rick takes Mississippi will have in Illinois. In terms of media spin, this is the worst possible outcome for Mitt. Doesn’t change the delegate math – Mitt’s still in front, but it is a reminder just how weak he is.

  16. Danny says:

    If Gingrich or Santorum or Paul drops out of the race, what happens to the delegates they’ve accumulated? Can they “donate” them to another candidate?

  17. Matthew Dickinson says:

    Danny – Great question. The short answer is yes. Keep in mind that most of the caucus states haven’t formally allocated delegates as yet. For the other delegates chosen through primaries, in many states they are supposed to be pledged to their candidate only for the first round of voting at the convention, at which point they are essentially free agents. If no candidate gets a majority of delegates before the convention, then no one will win the nomination on the first ballot. So, yes, in effect they are free agents.

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