Monthly Archives: March 2012

Game Change? Alas, Not So Much

Amid much anticipation, and not a little controversy, the HBO docudrama Game Change aired last night. Based loosely on the book of the same name by journalists John Heilemann and Mark Halperin, (full disclosure: I haven’t read the book), the movie focuses on Sarah Palin’s role in John McCain’s unsuccessful 2008 presidential campaign. Like Palin herself, the movie has provoked a rather polarized reaction, based in part on advance screenings.  Critics (including Palin although it’s not clear to me she has watched it) trashed the movie as another liberal smear job on the former mayor and Alaskan governor. Some of Palin’s harshest critics, on the other hand, believe Julianne Moore portrays Palin far too sympathetically.  For what it is worth (and I don’t think it’s worth much) I thought that rather than smearing or favoring Palin, the movie’s dominant frame is one of soft sexism that one still finds permeating national media coverage of women politicians more generally. That’s because the primary emotion most nonpartisan viewers will feel after seeing Game Change, I think, is pity toward the Palin character.  She comes across as a well-meaning but unprepared politician thrown into the consultant-infested deep waters of national politics. At one point it is suggested that Palin is on the verge of an emotional (hysterical?) breakdown, but she is rescued by the sympathetic support offered by McCain campaign strategist Steven Schmidt (portrayed by Woody Harrelson) who cuts back her workload and simplifies her strategy leading up to her much anticipated debate with Joe “O’biden” Biden.  Never mind that the strategy Palin used in debating Biden – a key moment in the film – almost exactly reprised the filibuster/stay on message/ignore-the-question debate tactics she employed in previous campaigns in Alaska. The Game Change audience is led to believe that Schmidt rescued poor Palin from certain disaster.

I will leave it to others to parse the meaning of Game Change, and what it reveals – or doesn’t – about Palin the politician and the person.  (Full disclosure: I watched much of the movie while reading a dull political science book, so I may have missed its true import.)  Rather than rely on Hollywood, I think better insights into Palin as politician come from reading some of the 25,000 heavily redacted emails covering her time as Alaska governor from December 2006 through Sept. 30, 2008, a period ending shortly after she accepted McCain’s offer to run as Vice President.  I’ve read only a smattering of these, but the ones I have scanned reveal that rather than someone to be pitied, Palin is instead a savvy politician who actively sought to shape media coverage and her relationship with other politicians in ways that boosted her political standing and her policy goals. In short, she comes across like a lot of politicians.

Perhaps her most controversial act as Governor was to work with Democrats to push through legislation increasing taxes on oil companies, a delicate legislative balancing act that often put her at odds with not just the oil companies but also her own Republican Party members. To give you a flavor of Palin at work, here she is  emailing aides regarding mediation efforts with stakeholders in the gas line revenue  controversy.

from: Gov. Sarah Palin
to: Balash, Joseph, Irwin, Tom E (DNR) [], Joseph R Batash (GOV), Marty Rutherford , Pat Galvin
cc: Gov. Sarah Palin

“Sheeesh- I heard her comment tonight also. I met with Exxon the other day, then with CP, we all (naturally) agree that everyone will come to the table with TC-Ak AFTER TC is licensed. Everyone agrees BP will be there too. Mulva said he looks forward to me “bringing them all together” – he pointed to my conf table and we agreed we’d all be around that table at the appropriate time (I said that would be after the legislature votes for AGIA/TC). So… there you have the “mediation” vehicle. Lesil need not call for it – we’re on it. We don’t need to be told what to do on that front.

Sent from my BlackBerry device from Cellular One”

In the midst of these negotiations, however, she also accepts her aides’ advice to forward positive press coverage of her gas line deal mediation efforts to the McCain campaign organization, as part of an active effort to get her considered as a potential running mate.  This and other emails are hardly the picture of a political neophyte cast into the den of political consultants and left to fend for herself.  Hate her or love her, the evidence from emails suggest that Palin was an ambitious and adroit political operator.  The Moore portrayal only begins to hint at this dimension of Palin’s character near the end of the movie.

Portrayals of Palin aside, probably the most misleading aspect of Game Change is the movie’s title, which implies that Palin’s selection had a significant impact on the outcome of the 2008 presidential campaign. Longtime readers will recall that I started this blog during the 2008 presidential campaign, and I posted more than one comment regarding Palin’s extraordinary capacity to draw boisterous, supportive crowds during the waning days of that process. But, contrary to what the movie implies, we shouldn’t overstate the impact of her candidacy on the 2008 race. Consider, as evidence, the 2008 presidential exit poll. As the table below indicates, only 7% of voters surveyed in the presidential exit poll said that Palin’s selection was the “most important factor” in their vote for President, and they went for Obama by 52% to 47% for McCain. Note that this split is almost identical to the overall split in the popular vote between the two candidates; Obama beat McCain by about 52.9%-45.6%.

However, McCain actually won a majority of those 33% of voters who said the Palin pick was an “important factor.”  On the other hand, fully 33% of respondents said Palin’s pick was not a factor at all – and they went much more strongly for Obama, at 65%-33%, over McCain.

Palin’s Pick Was…. Voted for Obama For McCain Other/Didn’t Answer
Most Important Factor (7%) 52% 47% 1%
Important Factor (33%) 47% 52% 1%
Minor Factor (20%) 33% 66% 1%
Not A Factor (33%) 65% 33% 2%

Put another way, of the 60% of voters who said the Palin pick influenced their vote in any degree, from “most important” to playing a “minor” role, McCain easily beat Obama, 56%-43%.   In short, if exit polls are to be believed, the Palin pick may have helped McCain at the margins.

Of course, exit polls don’t allow us to evaluate the Palin pick while controlling for other factors, such as voters’ ideological and partisan predispositions. Political scientists who have sought to estimate the impact of the Palin pick while controlling for these and other factors, and using other data such as the American National Election Studies, have generally found that her selection had a slight negative influence on McCain’s support. Thus, Elis, Hillygus and Nie suggest the Palin choice cost McCain 1.6% in his overall popular support. Jonathan Knuckey comes to a similar conclusion, finding that “the effect of evaluations of Palin on vote choice was heavily conditioned by party identification”, with Palin helping to mobilize the Republican base for McCain, but probably costing him support among independents and swing voters.

Whether the impact on McCain’s chances was positive or negative, Palin’s selection was, and remains, controversial.  But while it was not inconsequential in the 2008 race (particularly compared to the lack of impact of most V.P. picks on previous presidential elections), given Obama’s final margin of victory Palin’s selection can hardly be characterized as a “game changer.”

But then, why let the facts get in the way of a great story?  It’s Hollywood, after all. When it comes to understanding Palin as politician, however, that’s more the pity

Should Newt Drop Out? Or Should Rick? Republican Dilemmas

On the heels of my post suggesting that Santorum and Gingrich must strike a deal, and soon, if either hopes to stop Mitt, the Rickster yesterday indicated publicly that he’s amenable to considering Gingrich as his vice presidential running mate.   This comes as the usual anonymous (and some not so anonymous) campaign sources and party leaders are openly suggesting that it’s time for Newt to step aside.  The Newtster, for his part, is having none of it, continuing to insist that he is in this race for the duration.

One need not buy Doyle McManus’ argument that Newt is staying in the race primarily to cement his Churchillian legacy to understand his reluctance to end his campaign. To begin, he is likely to do quite well – probably slightly better than Santorum – in Tuesday’s primaries in Alabama and Mississippi; polls indicate he is leading or close to the lead in both states.  If he does, he can expect a brief boost in media coverage and all that entails.  Strictly speaking, Gingrich also leads Santorum in a “hard” count of delegates won so far, 107-95, since the Republican National Committee does not give Santorum credit for the estimated 79 delegates he may have earned in his caucus state victories in Illinois, Colorado, Minnesota or North Dakota.  By the time those states actually award their delegates, the dynamics of this race may have changed dramatically.  Keep in mind that the pundits wrote Newt off at least two previous times, and yet here he is, in the final four, and with a credible shot at being the sole alternative to Mitt.

The problem for Newt is that if he is going to negotiate an exit strategy with Rick, his leverage is greatest now, and not later, when the delegate math may have rendered him irrelevant.   Consider Tuesday’s two primaries in Alabama and Mississippi.   Combined, they will award a total of 84 delegates.  Of that two-state allotment, 33 are divvied up, three a piece, to the winner of the states’ congressional districts, and 51 are apportioned statewide.  Here’s why striking a deal now is critical for Rick and Newt.  If any single candidate clears 50% in the statewide vote, he gets all the at-large delegates.  Similarly, in both states, a candidate who wins 50% or more in a congressional district takes all three district delegates.  Presumably someone who does well statewide will also do well in the congressional districts.  Current polling indicates that the combined support for Rick and Newt is above or close to 50% in both Alabama and Mississippi.  This suggests, then, that if one of them dropped, the other would be poised to come close to reaching the 50% threshold in both states, picking up in excess of 80 delegates, and shutting Romney out in the process.  However, if both Rick and Newt stay in the race, neither clears 50%, and the delegates are allocated in somewhat proportional fashion.  That means Mitt will likely get 20-plus delegates, with Rick and Newt divvying up the remaining 60.  In terms of cutting into Mitt’s delegate lead, the delegates Rick gains on Tuesday will just about offset the 9 delegates Mitt picked up yesterday in Guam!

Now play this scenario out across multiple contests, and you can see the dilemma Newt, and Rick, face.  If both stay in, neither has a strong shot at catching Mitt.  If one drops, the other’s chances improve.  But which one should drop?  Because both think they are still in this race, neither is likely to drop soon.  By the time it becomes obvious to one (or both) that the delegate math is clearly against them, it will be too late (if it’s not already!)  And while party leaders are now pressing Newt to drop out, it’s not immediately clear to me – nor, more importantly, to him! – that he is actually the weaker of the two candidates.   Indeed, for the first time during this nomination contest, Gingrich is running ads targeting Santorum.

Dilemmas, dilemmas.  As Rick and Newt try to push each other out, Mitt continues to win delegates and wrack up endorsements as he slogs forward, delegate by delegate, to clinching the nomination – this despite the fact that he’s the guy who, as Romney supporter and former Congressman Tom Davis suggested, “gives the fireside chat and the fire goes out.”  Davis went on to praise Romney’s leadership qualities, saying, “H]e’s a results-oriented guy and in tough times, who do you want leading the country? He may not be able to feel your pain and empathize with people, but do you want that or do you want somebody who’s actually accomplished some things and is going to make some tough decisions, which the country needs.” (Davis also noted that Romney might fall short of winning a majority of delegates prior to the convention.)

Ouch! And that’s from a supporter!  With endorsements like that, it’s understandable why Gingrich and Santorum won’t drop out.

And so, Gatsby-like, Newt and Rick will likely beat on, boats against the current… .

Addendum 1:57: As Mo Fiorina reminds me via email, my scenario assumes that most of Newt’s supporters go to Rick if Newt drops out, and vice versa if Rick calls it quits.  Polling data suggests, however, that at least some of Newt’s vote would go to Romney, although a majority would likely switch to Rick.

Why Rick, Newt (and Ron) Stay In The Race

At the risk of oversimplification, there are two dominant views regarding what happened on SuperTuesday, and what it means for the rest of the Republican nomination fight.  The prevailing (but not sole) media view is that Romney underperformed; although he won a majority of states and delegates, he failed to deliver a knockout blow.  As a result, despite padding his delegate lead, the nomination contest will continue, with an outside chance that Romney won’t win a majority of the delegates before the convention. Despite his delegate lead, then, Romney’s failure to put his rivals away opens up the possibility that he will increasingly project the aura of a loser.

Political scientists, on the other hand, don’t really care about “style points”, or even how many states candidates won.  To them, all that matters is the delegates.  And, on that basis, Romney was the decisive winner on Tuesday; by gaining a majority of the 400-plus available delegates, he padded his overall lead in that column, moving ahead of his closest rival Rick Santorum by about 220 delegates, 380 to 160, and inching closer to securing the necessary 1,144.   (Note that these delegates totals should be read with caution because they are based in part on projected caucus votes.) For most political scientists, then, the results from SuperTuesday gave Romney a bushel of bricks to add to his already formidable wall of inevitability.

It won’t surprise regular readers to know that I reside mostly in the political science camp.  Indeed, as I posted before SuperTuesday,  the collective outcomes of the 10 races on that day were never going to change the essential dynamics driving this nomination race – dynamics that have put Romney in the undisputable delegate lead and which make it very difficult to see how any of his current rivals can catch him.   Where I have differed with some of my professional colleagues, however, is in their initial assumptions that this nomination fight would follow the pattern of most previous contests in the modern presidential selection process, with Romney building on early victories to close this race out fairly quickly.  I did not think this would happen for at least two reasons.

First, I think some early assessments probably overreacted to some of Josh Putnam’s invaluable analyses of the new delegate rules and assumed that the Republican Party decision to move toward a more mixed delegate allocation process probably wouldn’t change the nomination dynamics too much.  The idea was that if one candidate emerged as a clear frontrunner, even under the new rules that person would effectively win delegates in many states in a winner-take-all fashion.  But this assumption underplayed the fact that candidates are not passive players; they react strategically to incentives.  In this case, rather than drop out after Romney’s early victories as they would have done under the old rules, his opponents calculated that if they stayed in the race they could both pick up delegates and prevent Romney from reaching the winner-take-all  thresholds in most states.   The new delegate system, then, has done more than spread the contests out – it has created incentives for those trailing the front runner to stay in the race longer than in previous years.

The second difference is that I put less stock in the value of endorsements to impact the nomination process this time around.  I do so in large part because of what happened in 2010, when the Tea Party faction was able in key Senate and House races to override the wishes of party leaders and run their own preferred candidates.  That suggested to me that, in the face of Tea Party and conservative opposition, the power of party leaders to swing support to their preferred candidate during the nomination process had probably lessened.  Although periodically I read that a recent set of endorsements suggests that the party is finally falling in line behind Romney, I’ve yet to see evidence that this is actually happening.  Instead, what I have seen is that the Tea Party faction of the Republican Party shows no sign of warming up to Romney, despite repeated efforts by party leaders to declare that this nomination race is over.   If it is, conservative Republican voters haven’t got the message.

There is a third factor at play here that has extended this race, one that I did not anticipate.  That is the rise of the SuperPacs.  While I was very confident that expectations that corporations would pour money into the presidential campaign in response to the Citizens United decision was wrong, I did not anticipate how the Speechnow ruling (which referenced Citizens United) would contribute to the rise of the SuperPacs.  While not completely leveling the playing field by erasing Romney’s financial advantage – indeed, he has benefitted from SuperPac money – they have at least kept Santorum and Gingrich in the game.

Even assuming that I am correct, however, and that these factors explain why the dynamics of this race have differed in some respects from most recent nomination contests, why do Rick and Newt (and Ron Paul) bother to stay in the race if the eventual outcome will be a Romney victory?  Again, pundits have postulated a number of reasons, ranging from Newt’s desire to spite Mitt to Rick’s hope to finagle a position in the Romney administration to both candidates’ unwillingness to yield the media spotlight.   I think the answer is much simpler.  Both Rick and Newt believe a significant portion of Republican voters are unhappy with Romney – they are right about this – and that these voters probably prefer either one of them to Mitt, and both see a not implausible way in which they can prevent Romney from clinching the nomination before the convention.  This is a longshot strategy, of course, but not mathematically impossible and, if it happens, all bets are off.  Until this strategy becomes clearly unfeasible, or more nearly so, I expect both Rick and Newt to stay in this race.  Currently Newt is in the more vulnerable position – he needs to do very well in Alabama and Mississippi next Tuesday – but barring a Romney victory in both these states, this race is destined to continue for at least another month.  The worry for the Republican Party leaders, of course, is that an extended race simply weakens Romney heading into the general election.  I tend to think gas prices and the jobs picture will play a bigger role come November than whether Romney clinches earlier or later.  In either case, however, Republican Party leaders aren’t in a great position to do anything about the dynamics of the nomination process.

Of course, it is possible that at some point Rick and Newt may realize that it is in their mutual interest for them to join forces, with one of them stepping down in exchange for future promises,  in order to stop fracturing conservative support.  It actually would be to both their benefit to strike this deal now, while each is in a relatively strong negotiating position.  In the absence of such a deal, however, the race will go on. While I disagree with my colleagues who say the race is over, I agree that in the absence of a joint Newt-Rick venture, the most probable outcome remains Mitt winning the delegate race.

Of course, there’s always  Operation Brokered Convention.

Live Blogging Super Tuesday

7:00  We open with bad news for Romney – CNN has not given him Vermont, which means he didn’t likely clear the 50% total, which means he doesn’t win a clean sweep of Vermont 17 delegates.  Only Paul and Mitt were on the air here, and I’m surprised he didn’t clear 50%.  If these numbers hold he’s likely going to have to share some Vermont delegates with both Paul and Santorum.  Not the best way to start the night.

Meanwhile, as expected, Newt takes Georgia.  But by how much?  And did Santorum clear 20% statewide?  Exit polls suggest Newt just fell short, but it’s close enough that given the margin of error, it’s not out of the question.  Meanwhile, it looks like Rick just fell short of 20%, meaning he gets no statewide delegates in the biggest delegate state of the night.   Not a good start for Rick either.

also, late call on Mitt in Virginia, which suggests he didn’t do as well there as I might have guessed.  Again, not a good sign for Mitt, but a very good sign for Ron Paul.  Remember, neither Santorum nor Newt were on the Virginia ballot.

Meanwhile, apropos of my latest post, the Gingrich people are arguing that Santorum may be finished tonight, with the bottom dropping out of his support.  Meanwhile, Santorum is arguing that if only Gingrich was out of the race, they would be beating Romney.  sigh – listen to  yourselves!  This isn’t rocket science!  Your strategy is clear…..otherwise, it Operation Brokered Convention.

By the way, we spent a seminar today talking about Mo Fiorina’s argument in his book Disconnect that while elites are focused on social cultural issues, the general public just doesn’t care about these highly divisive issues.   As if on cue, I just listened to the talking heads on CNN spend 15 minutes battling about contraception and so-called “women’s issues.”  Class, I hope you are taking notes!  And CNN people – one more time:  contraception is not a women’s issue, and the gender gap is not premised on differences among women and men these “women’s issues”.

The Ohio results are coming in in five minutes, but I’m guessing they won’t call the state immediately.   Already CNN has hyped this as the big story tonight. You know my take on that.

Wolf just trotted out the whole whoever wins Ohio wins the presidency canard – should someone tell him that’s for the general election?

In Georgia, once again Romney’s support goes up as one moves up the income ladder.   Not much evidence he’s gaining among the Tea Party group.  43% of Mitt’s support comes from  those earning over $220 thousand.   Of course, as Ann would remind us, that doesn’t feel like much money!

Fox has already projected Romney to win Vermont – now CNN agrees.

CNN blathering on about Ohio as the most important state tonight. Not.

The Georgia results are really interesting – Mitt actually beat Santorum 24%-21% among the 69% who are Tea Party supporters. I don’t think Rick is going to make the 20% threshold.  If Newt clears 50%, this is a big big win for him there in terms of delegates.

Meanwhile, Ron Paul is in North Dakota.  That says alot about how limited his candidacy is among Republicans.  He’s hoping for a win there… .Wolf just trotted out the whole whoever wins Ohio wins the presidency canard – should someone tell him that’s for the general election?

Remember, we are still waiting on two key states – Tennessee and Oklahoma. In many respects, Tennessee is a bigger state tonight than Ohio in showing candidates strengths and weaknesses.  And Oklahoma will be a surprise no matter how it turns out, since we have so little polling data there.

Finally, some exit poll data in Tennessee and Oklahoma – huge turnout among evangelicals – about 78% in both states.  But, if that vote is split, Romney can squeak by with about 30% of the vote.  But I’m guessing he’s going to fall short in Tennessee – just a guess at this point.

Wow – exit polls showing Santorum ahead in both Tennessee and Oklahoma – if that holds, that’s big for him, since he can claim he’s the non-Mitt.  It’s bad news for Newt…..and bad news for Mitt.  By the way, CNN is projecting Mitt at about 38%  in Vermont, which means he did not clear the 50% barrier. That means both Rick and Ron Paul might get the minimum 3 delegates each.  Meanwhile, Mitt falls short in Tennessee.  This is not looking like a good night for Mitt, compared to what he might have hoped for at the outset.  He’s still going to win the most delegates, however… .

Same story in Ohio – Mitt’s support maps onto income.  He wins older and better educated voters. Still no sign he’s expanding his coalition.

So, stepping back and looking at the big picture – so far, this is a reaffirmation of the status quo.  Not a great night for Mitt – still no evidence he can expand his support.  Rick and Newt continue to split the tea party evangelical vote.  It will be interesting to see if Gingrich clears 20% statewide threshold in Tennessee – he needs that to win delegates there.  Right now, however, I don’t see this as a great night for Newt.  He wins Georgia, and he’ll pick up delegates in Oklahoma and Tennessee, I think, but he’s not making the case for why he should be the non-Mitt.  The media will fixate on state victories, and Santorum looks like he’ll take at least two (Tennessee and Oklahoma).

So, big news tonight is Sarah Palin doesn’t deny that she would accept draft at a brokered convention!  Go Operation Brokered Convention!

Huge debate on CNN about Sarah Palin’s future.  Filling dead air….. .

Is it me, or has this been a very underwhelming SuperTuesday night?  No surprises at all so far.  But what’s worse – no sign that any of the candidates have changed the dynamics of this race. At all.

Well, so much for Harold Ford!  NBC is projecting that Santorum will win Tennessee.  My guess is he benefited from early banking of votes, but still a big victory for him – and bad news for Newt.  I wonder what this does for the Alabama and Mississippi contests next week?

Newt is coming on – just as he hears he has lost Tennessee.  The crowd looks very subdued.  It’s not by accident that they have begun using Callista more and more – obvious ploy to help with his “baggage”.   But this is not a good night for him.

So far, Newt doesn’t seem like a chicken who recognizes his head is gone.  But I guess that’s the point.

This is sounding more like mean Newt than happy Newt.  He has to be careful  that he doesn’t sound too bitter.

Newt doesn’t sound like he’s dropping out.  New image for cartoonists – Newt is a tortoise.  A very heavy tortoise.

In Newt’s defense, he may still come out ahead of Rick in delegates.   I think I may have said that if Newt gets 50%, he wins all of Georgia’s statewide delegates.  Actually, I don’t think that’s true – that only holds for the congressional districts; he gets all 3 delegates in each c.d. if he breaks 50%.  But he doesn’t get all statewide delegates – Mitt will get a few of them by virtue of clearing 20%.

Newt is suddenly on a roll.  It’s worth watching.  He’s gotten beyond bitter Newt to big ideas Newt.  Frankly, big ideas Newt is a bit more appealing.

Santorum takes Oklahoma – big night for Rick, and more bad news for Newt, although he’s in a battle for second place there.  But in more bad news for Newt – he may not make 20% in Tennessee either, which means he get none of the 21 at large delegates there.

Perhaps the least publicized story of the night?  Ron Paul got 41% of the vote in Virginia!  How much of that was the protest vote from Santorum and Gingrich backers?

Don’t look now, but Santorum is hanging in at 20% in Georgia – if he can clear that, he gets some of the statewide votes.

I’m wondering if the exit polls understated Rick’s vote in GA – if so, did they also understate it in Ohio?   The media will go berserk if Rick wins Ohio, along with Tennessee and Oklahoma….looks like he’s ready to speak!

Rick is holding his “victory party” in Ohio, and not wearing a vest.  Great touch to mention he’s in a high school – contrast with Mitt’s country club roots.

BTW, in response to Chris re: Virginia question:  if Mitt wins 50% plus statewide, he gets all 13 statewide delegates.  Remaining 33 delegates are apportioned three a piece to each congressional district winner.   So Mitt may win all 46 delegates there – or at least close to that.   Let’s not forget that before we say Mitt has had a bad night.

But – Mitt has had a bad night!

Don’t look now, but Rick’s 90 year old mother is ready to keel over.

Mitt is on.  This is early – not a good sign. It means he wants to get on the stage before Ohio is declared against him (if it is)..although they are saying Mitt planned it this way all along. And maybe he did.

Meanwhile, I thought that was a very good speech by Santorum – one that contrasted nicely in a positive way with Newt’s.

BTW, looks like Newt will clear 20% in Tennessee, but it’s very dicey for Santorum to do the same in Georgia….

Parsing the exit polls – the only income group Mitt wins in Tennessee is the greater than $200k income level – as in Georgia and Ohio, his support declines as you go down the income ladder.  Santorum’s increase as you go down the income scale.

Chris points out that Rick is up 12% in North Dakota, with 60% of the precincts counted.   Bad news for Ron Paul, who has to spend his night there. Once again he’s the bridesmaid.  More importantly, it adds to Rick’s luster tonight…

Romney just doesn’t seem to have Rick’s enthusiasm in his speech tonight.  I think he’s knows this is a bad night for him…..

Great comment from Jeff – even Mitt’s audience seems mechanized tonight. They do everything they are supposed to, but it seems rehearsed, not genuine…

meanwhile, Mitt is closing in Ohio as votes come in from lake areas….

Looks like a reprise of Michigan – much as I thought.  Not going to be much difference in the delegate count between Mitt and Rick, but the media narrative will be affected if Mitt loses Ohio.  But I want to go on record as saying this is a big night for Rick no matter what happens in Ohio.

As Chris pointed out, Rick is ahead in North Dakota, and now CNN is giving him the state.  In CNN’s world, that means equivalency with Mitt.  Both have won three states….. .  Remember, however, North Dakota’s actual 28 convention delegates aren’t chosen until late March.  It is supposed to reflect today’s vote, but it doesn’t have to.

So, where does the hard delegate count stand?  This is back of the envelope calculations and much depends on whether Rick meets the 20% threshold in Georgia, and the same for Newt in Tennessee.   But I think Newt and Rick are going to be pretty close in overall delegates.  I’ll know better tomorrow.  But it will be interesting to combine their total and see how well it matches up to Mitt’s.  Harry Enten has Newt taking 29 congressional districts delegates in Georgia and Santorum only 3 – if that.

Meanwhile, Chris wonders about Saturday’s territorial votes in Guam and the Virgin Islands.  I have no idea how they will go – but I wouldn’t be surprised to see Ron Paul fly out to claim at least one victory.

John King just repeated the idea that no Republican has won the presidency without winning Ohio – which is completely irrelevant to tonight’s results.   Somebody smack the entire CNN news crew!

Keep in mind that because he didn’t file a full delegate slate in Ohio, Santorum’s going to lose the delegate race to Romney in Ohio by a bit.  Not that the media will notice that.

Look, Ohio is going to be a dead heat tonight.  I think whoever loses will probably push for a recount.  But the larger story is that this has not been a good night for Mitt, and it has been a very good night for Rick.  But I’ll know better by the light of day what the delegate count is…

What I want to know now – will Santorum move ahead of Newt in Mississippi and Alabama?

Meanwhile, Wolf is about to have a coronary!  Ohio is tightening!

Meanwhile, CNN is projecting that Gingrich gets 6 delegates in Tennessee, compared to 10 for Mitt and 24 for Rick.  In Georgia, they’ve given Newt 33 delegates – none as yet to Mitt or Rick.

Looks like Mitt will pull Ohio out, but it hardly matters except in symbolic terms.  The fact is, this has been a weak night for him. Keep in mind, if you add Gingrich and Santorum vote together in Ohio, they dwarf Mitt’s.

Let’s not forget Idaho – if Romney wins there, doesn’t he win the night using CNN’s ridiculous “state wins” criteria?

Folks, I think we have the gist of what happened tonight – Mitt will get the bulk of the delegates but he probably underperformed, Rick had a very good night, Newt not so good – and the race will continue…

I have an early teaching day tomorrow, so I’m signing off.  If I can (and tomorrow is busy teaching day), I’ll try to do an initial post-mortem.

thanks all for participating!



Why Not Tennessee?

Busy busy day today between teaching and media, so this will be an abbreviated post before tonight’s live blogging session. Let me start by reiterating a point that I made in an earlier post, and which has caused no little consternation among readers: it doesn’t really matter if Santorum or Romney “wins” Ohio.   At this point, it is pretty clear that it is going to be a close race, and as I said after Michigan, a movement of 3% in votes in either direction will determine who “wins”, but it isn’t likely to change the delegate allocation very much, which is really what counts at this point.  To his credit, Jeff Greenfield is one of the few media pundits who seem to get this.

Look, I’ve already made my case for why Georgia is the most important state tonight.  But if we really want to play the “who beats the media expectations game”, why not look at Tennessee?  Polling has been sparse there, but the few polls conducted suggest that both Newt Gingrich and Mitt Romney have been closing fast, so that now the race is a three-way tie between those two and Santorum, who had held a comfortable lead.  That means lots of uncertainty regarding the victor – always a media plus!  Also, one of the knocks on Romney is that he can’t expand his coalition to win among the Tea Party crowd or evangelicals.  If he takes Tennessee, with its roughly 60% evangelical vote, he’ll be able to say that he won a true southern state.  Never mind that he’ll likely do so because Santorum and Gingrich will have split that vote about evenly – a win is a win.  And if he takes Ohio too?  Well, Chuck Todd has already said that means “game over.”  Who am I to argue with Chuck Todd?

However, if Newt wins Tennessee he’ll have taken at least two of the four big ticket contested primary states, and thus he can declare he’s now the true non-Mitt candidate by virtue of beating the media expectations game, particularly if he wins more delegates than Santorum today, which I think he will.  Cue the Lazarus metaphor!  Of course, if Rick holds on to his polling lead in Tennessee, and wins Oklahoma too, Newt becomes the guy who only won his home state, and Rick can retain his status as the media-created “non-Mitt” candidate, even if he loses Ohio and is shut out of Georgia entirely.   In short, Tennessee offers much more of what the media likes – uncertainty, competing narratives, a chance to develop a new story line – than does Ohio, which is really just a rerun of Michigan.  And it has almost as many delegates – 55 – as does Ohio with 63.  So there you have it: all eyes are on Tennessee.

I hope you see my point.  Depending on who wins what states, the media will develop a frame to make sense of it all, but that frame may be superfluous to the real story. Don’t be distracted – it’s all about the delegates.   Romney is going to take home the bulk of them, but in terms of assessing his support and future prospects, it is almost as important to see where he wins them as it is how many he gets.  Is there any evidence that he’s expanding his support to include lower-income, more conservative and evangelical voters?   At some point Santorum and Gingrich have to realize that they cannot continue dividing up the non-Romney delegates and expect to prevent him from winning the nomination.  Will tonight convince one or either of them that they need to strike a deal?

I’m not optimistic.  Bottom line?  I expect tonight to add a few more bricks in Romney’s “wall of inevitability”, but without having much impact on the candidate pecking order.

I’ll be on in 20 minutes for what promises to be an interesting night.  As always, join in with your comments….