Monthly Archives: March 2012

Live Blogging the Illinois Primary

I’m knee-deep in grading and other tasks related to my day job, so I’m not doing a continuous live blog of the Illinois results tonight.  In part, that’s because the polling suggested Mitt should take this, and exit polls, which have him up over Santorum by 45%-35%, seem to confirm this.  Given that Santorum did not even fill out a full delegate slate, it seems likely that Mitt will walk away with most of the 54 delegates at stake.  If I get a chance, I’ll run through some of the exit poll data – as of the first wave, there’s no surprises.  The most relevant factor is that there are 41% self-described evangelicals voting – that’s the best indicator of how Romney’s likely to do.

And here it is – take it Wolf!  CNN now projects what we all knew: Romney has won Illinois.  Not much suspense.  In Ohio, the evangelical vote was 47%, and Santorum finished just behind Romney 38%-37%.  In Michigan, it was only 39%, and Romney won 41%-38% over Rick.  So with 41% evangelicals, it wasn’t likely Rick could pull this one out.

Once again, Rick faces a gender gap…..oh wait, he does better among women than men; Rick loses by 5% to Mitt among women, but loses by 11% to Mitt among men.  Let’s see if the CNN commentators trot out their contraceptive talk is hurting Santorum among women tonight.  Or maybe they finally caught on?

Meanwhile, once again Mitt’s support increases as one goes up the income ladder; he wins a whopping 54% of those earning $100,000 or more. That’s 37% of the voters today.  (Correction: I mistakenly said 54% of voters – now corrected.) They were only 30% of those voting in Ohio, and only 33% in Michigan.  While the CNN analysts are going to cite this as a big win for Mitt, it looks to me that he benefits by a more affluent voting pool.

I see former Middlebury student Ben LaBolt on CNN – Ben hasn’t shaved since I gave him an A- on his independent research paper.

By the way, Mitt lost the evangelicals to Rick, 47-35%.  He also lost the strong Tea Party supporters (31% of voters) 41%-38% to Rick.

Looks like two dominant themes among the CNN talking heads tonight.  First, will Newt drop out?  Answer – Of course not.  Not with Louisiana up next.  Second, does momentum swing back to Mitt.  Answer:  Of course not!  There’s no momentum in this race – there’s only demographically driven voting blocs!

Interestingly, based on exit polls Romney’s lead over Santorum would shrink to 46%-42% if only he and Santorum were on the ballot.  However, 10% – probably all Ron Paul supporters! – said they wouldn’t have voted.

Also undercutting the media’s “momentum” focus, it appears that despite Mitt’s Puerto Rico victory, Rick did better among voters who made up their mind “in the last few days” than he did among those deciding early than that.  Among the late deciders, (32% of voters), Mitt won 42%, Rick 40% – 5% more for Rick than he won among early deciders.

Not much more to say about this except to wait for the delegate count.  My rough estimate is that Mitt is going to clear 40 delegates, but that’s a very rough estimate.

Mitt is on.  Note that he’s ignoring his Republican rivals once more.  Another effort to portray himself as the inevitable frontrunner.  Lots of cute lines in this speech, including a jab at Obama as a “community organizer”.   Can “palling around with terrorists” be far behind?

Some of these cute lines are tongue twisters…  Mitt finishes with the soaring rhetoric, but it was an uneven speech.  Of course, he’s never going to be smooth on the stump.

Quick night tonight folks – my day job beckons!  I’m in a very very busy grading and writing stretch, so the blogging will be a bit more sporadic than I’d like in the next few days, but it can’t be helped, I’m afraid.  ….if I can, however, I’ll try to provide a quick update tomorrow.   Meanwhile, I’m working on several longer posts dealing with some rather misleading articles of late regarding presidential power.  Stay tuned!

Meanwhile, bottom line tonight: no evidence that Mitt has expanded his support to include lower income, evangelical or strong Tea Party supporters.  Nothing I see tonight suggests any change in the dynamics of this race, although that might not be what the talking heads say.

Meanwhile, Rick is on live at Gettysburg!  Wait, Gettyburg?  Is he the North or the South?

Ah, he’s channeling his inner Abraham Lincoln!

Interesting twist here by Rick – he’s trying to frame this election as a fight for freedom, against big government. Frankly, it’s a theme that will resonate more with the Tea party than does social issues.  it also is likely to play better in big states ahead after Louisiana: Pennsylvania, Maryland, New York….

It appears Rick is playing the long game – staking quite a bit on a strong performance in Pennsylvania – which doesn’t vote for another month.

By the way, Rick just accused climate change proponents of studying “political science!”  which, apparently, is worse than climate science…..I guess I should be offended…. .

CNN cuts away from Rick soon after he urges us to emulate Reagan in the movies and “saddle up”…..  I’ll take that as a cue to ride off into tonight’s sunset.

More tomorrow…. .

Should Newt Stay, Or Should He Go? It’s Complicated

With two second place finishes in Mississippi and Alabama last Tuesday casting doubt on Newt Gingrich’s southern strategy for winning the Republican presidential nomination, Newt once again is feeling pressure from social conservatives to drop out of the race – pressure to which he so far seems impervious.   Many analysts (including myself) have assumed that Newt’s departure would benefit Rick Santorum – sentiment evidently shared by those heading the Santorum campaign.  But as Stanford Professor Mo Fiorina cautions, that may not be the case.  Two recent national polls lend credence to Fiorina’s warning.  A Gallup Poll conducted March 8-15 with more than 1,900 Republican registered voters, including a sample of 290 Gingrich supporters found that Gingrich’s departure would have almost no impact on Romney’s polling lead over Santorum, which now stands at 6%, 34%-28%. With Gingrich gone, Romney’s lead actually grows to 7%. This is because Gingrich supporters are almost evenly split as to their second choice candidate between Romney and Santorum.  A Fox News survey of 912 registered voters conducted March 10-12 comes to essentially the same conclusion; although it didn’t ask Gingrich supporters who their second choice was, it did survey respondents regarding their preferences if Gingrich was out of the race.  In that case, Romney’s lead over Santorum decreased by 3%, from 40%-33% to 43%-39%.  Mark Halperin conveniently summarizes the two polls at

At first glance, this suggests Santorum might actually prefer that Newt stays in the race.  Keep in mind that at this stage of the nomination fight, with almost half the delegates allocated, it is increasingly clear that, as Gingrich openly acknowledged, neither he nor Santorum are likely to finish ahead of Romney in the delegate race.   That means their best chance of securing the nomination is to prevent Romney from reaching the 1,144 mark before the convention.  Put another way, Santorum’s highest priority is not to win delegates so much as it is to stop Romney from doing so.  This is where the Republican delegate allocation rules become crucial.  In some primary states, such as New York, candidates clearing the 50% threshold win all the statewide delegates, and the same holds for congressional districts.  If no one clears the 50% threshold, however, the delegates are allocated proportionally.   In these states, many of which Romney will likely win, it is probably in Santorum’s interest for Gingrich to stay in the race in order to prevent Romney from clearing the winner-take-all 50% threshold.

Of course, much depends on whether we can trust the national polls at this stage of the contest.  In 2008, many Clinton supporters vowed they would never back Obama if he won the nomination, but survey evidence suggests they did.   How much of the current polling results indicating half of Gingrich supporters would back Romney, and not Santorum, reflects a similar dynamic?  Maybe Gingrich supporters are responding strategically, in the belief that Santorum is their candidate’s main rival?  Maybe more than half – much more – would back Rick if Newt was out?

But the situation is even more complicated. Note that some states, such as California, allocate delegates on a winner-take-all plurality basis largely by congressional districts.  If Gingrich is taking more votes from Santorum, even slightly, than he is from Romney, Santorum would then benefit in these states by Gingrich’s withdrawal since it would increase the probability that Rick would finish ahead of Romney in at least some congressional districts.  Still other states, such as Connecticut, allocate delegates statewide on a winner-take-all 50% threshold, but do so on a simple plurality winner-take-all basis within congressional districts. Presumably here Santorum’s best interest depends on where the most delegates reside – statewide or in the congressional districts.

To summarize, to the extent that delegates are awarded on a proportional basis, it probably helps Rick for Newt to stay in the race, in order to prevent Romney from reaching the winning majority.  But as I hope I’ve demonstrated, it isn’t always clear that Newt’s presence helps Rick – in some cases it may help Romney.  Presumably Santorum’s staff is working out the delegate math on a state-by-state basis. Of course, we can’t be sure how Newt is going to do in some of these states. His support may be so low as to be relatively inconsequential no matter how delegates are allocated.  All of which makes projecting the delegate math even more complicated.

Should Newt stay, or should he go?  Like all relationships, it’s complicated. However, the issue may be moot; as of this writing, Newt is showing no inclination of packing his toothbrush.

By the way, I have a short piece addressing this issue at this U.S. News Debate Club exchange. If you care to join in, you can strike a blow for political science.


“You Lie!”: Assessing Claims About Obamacare’s Cost

Three days ago the Congressional Budget Office (CBO)  released its latest 10-year projection for the cost of the Obama administration’s Affordable Care Act (ACA), prompting a flurry of  “I told you so’s” from Republican Party leaders, conservative bloggers and other critics of Obamacare. That’s because the CBO report estimated  ACA’s 10-year cost to be $1.76 trillion, or nearly double what President Obama indicated in his September, 2009 nationwide address to a joint session of Congress . (You remember that speech – it’s the one during which Representative Joe Wilson called out “You lie!”)  In making the case for his health plan to Congress, Obama stated: “Now, add it all up, and the plan I’m proposing will cost around $900 billion over 10 years — less than we have spent on the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, and less than the tax cuts for the wealthiest few Americans that Congress passed at the beginning of the previous administration. Now, most of these costs will be paid for with money already being spent — but spent badly — in the existing health care system.  The plan will not add to our deficit.”   In fact, the CBO estimated at the time that the health care plan – which they eventually priced at $940 billion over a 10-year period – would not only not increase the deficit – it would actually reduce it.

The CBO cost estimates were a crucial factor in the health care debate because the projected decrease in the budget deficit provided political cover to ACA’s supporters.  With the latest 10-year CBO projections, however, ACA’s critics are crying foul, arguing that the public fell victim to a Democratic bait-and-switch scheme.  However, as liberal bloggers and other defenders of ACA were quick to point out (see here and here and here), the most recent CBO report did not suddenly change costs projections or any of the previous assumptions on which it based its estimated 10-year cost of Obamacare. That’s because the latest 10-year projection, which by law the CBO must produce every year, includes both additional costs but also more revenue – both a function of adjusting figures based on ACA’s implementation date. Remember, ACA doesn’t begin to be fully implemented until 2014, when provisions expanding Medicare eligibility for the poor and the insurance subsidies for middle-income people kick in.  Additional provisions, such as the tax on high-end insurance plans, don’t start until 2018.

The point is that the initial cost estimate Obama used in his 2009 speech was based on several years in which ACA wasn’t really in effect. The latest CBO estimate includes more years under actual ACA coverage, so the costs appear to be going up.  But so are projected revenues.  In fact, under the latest CBO projection, it is estimated that 10-year impact of ACA will reduce the budget deficit more than previously estimated.  As the (much maligned) Fox News accurately reports, “As expensive as it is, the CBO predicts the law will actually reduce the deficit because it increases the income from a range of tax increases and penalties on individuals, employers and insurance companies — by $81 billion more than last year’s projection.” To ACA’s supporters, then, conservative critics either failed to read the text of the CBO report, or they are deliberately misrepresenting its findings.

Projections that ACA will actually reduce the budget deficit are not likely to mollify its conservative critics who point out that the CBO also estimates that in total some 4 million people will lose employer-sponsored health coverage – a figure that belies Obama’s claim that ACA would not affect people’s existing health care coverage.  ACA’s defenders point out, however, that this number is less than 2% of those who currently have employer-based coverage.

And so the debate goes on. In assessing the competing claims, here’s what I think you need to keep in mind: efforts to estimate the likely cost of ACA a decade out are little more than educated guesses.  No one really knows what impact ACA will have on the budget deficit that far in advance.  To begin, given the current court challenge (the Supreme Court will hear challenges to ACA this month), no one can be sure which ACA provisions, if any, will still be in place a decade from now.  But even if ACA survives the legal challenge, there are far too many unknowns to have any faith in a 10-year projection based on estimates of costs and revenues.

Consider the CBO’s 10-year government budget estimates more generally.  Under the current law, the CBO is required to estimate government spending and revenues over a 10-year period, and its “non-partisan” projections are closely watched by government policymakers as well as those in the private sector. Independent analyses show, however, that the CBO’s 10-year budget projections aren’t very reliable.  This isn’t because CBO analysts lack expertise, or that they are somehow biased. It is because they are tasked with an impossible job. For starters, the CBO is required to assume that existing laws governing government spending and revenue aren’t going to change over the projected timeline.  That’s almost never the case.  But even if it were, other economic variables, including changes in GDP, inflation and even demographic factors are almost impossible to accurately anticipate.  Forget 10-year estimates – studies show that the CBO’s one-year budget projections aren’t much more precise than simply assuming that next year’s economic numbers will mimic this year’s.  As evidence, consider the following graph showing actual and projected CBO budget figures across a 10-year period:

As you can see, the CBO projections completely missed the coming housing collapse and the accompanying economic recession, not to mention spending on two wars – as did everyone else!  We should be skeptical, then, when we hear pundits evaluate ACA based on its estimated budgetary impact a decade from now.  Unlike Joe Wilson, I’m not accusing anyone of lying. But typically judgments about ACA say more about the pundit’s own ideological leanings than they do about any certainty about what ACA’s actual economic impact is likely to be, particularly that far ahead. This is not to say that the CBO projections are wrong – in fact, they may be the best projections available – but they are projections made with a great deal of uncertainty.  The truth, I think, is that there are simply too many moving parts and too many unknowns to be confident in predicting how ACA is going to play out.  But that won’t stop both sides from trying.

Live Blogging the True Grit Faceoff

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.

Who Has True Grit (Besides Chuck Norris)?

There are dueling narratives occurring as the race moves to Alabama and Mississippi for tomorrow’s primaries.  The first is the media-driven one focusing on issues of momentum, contest victories and potentially game-changing “surprise” results.  In this narrative, tomorrow’s contests are important because they could resurrect, or end, Newt Gingrich’s candidacy, since he has emphasized the need to do well in southern states.  But if Mitt Romney won two southern states with large evangelical voting blocs he might finally put to rest the claim that he can’t seal the deal with these voters.  Indeed, the Washington Post’s Chris Cilizza argues that the possibility of a “surprise” Romney win is “why the Mississippi and Alabama primaries tomorrow could truly matter — if, that is, Romney can find a way to win one of the two.”  It would, he claims, lead to “an upsetting of expectations and conventional wisdom that could reset the governing dynamic of the contest.”

I have no doubt that a Romney victory in one or both southern states would upset the prevailing media narrative.  But it wouldn’t do much to change the political science narrative, with its focus on the delegate math.  Nor would it be much of a surprise. This is because current polling has Romney in something close to a statistical dead heat for the lead in both states.  Here’s the latest polling data, as compiled by Mark Halperin at

If these polls are accurate, it is not likely to matter all that much whether Mitt wins or finishes a close second, or even third.   This is because no matter where he places won’t have much impact on the delegate math. Gingrich and Santorum are once again likely to divvy up a portion of the evangelical/tea party/lower income vote, which will likely prevent either one from clearing the 50% threshold required to win most of the combined 84 delegates at stake in the two states and come close to shutting Romney out.   That means Romney is likely to finish very close to the top of leaderboard – and win close to a third of the delegates whether he wins, places or is merely in the show.

I don’t mean to entirely dismiss the importance of a significant change in the media narrative based on tomorrow’s results.  A two-state sweep by Gingrich may put an end, for the moment, to calls for him to drop out.  A third place finish by Santorum may resurrect doubts about his ability to broaden his appeal. (Keep in mind that his “victory” in Saturday’s Kansas caucus was based on winning less than 1% of that state’s eligible voters.) And two last-place finishes by Romney would once again suggest he lacks “true grit”, at least among southern evangelical voters.  Any of these results could conceivably affect voters’ perceptions and donors’ willingness to fork over more cash.

Will tomorrow’s races be suspenseful?  Certainly.  Given the current polling, it may take most of the night before the networks declare a winner in either state.  But surprises that change the dynamic of this race? I’m not expecting any.

Unless Chuck Norris shows up and kicks some ass.