Tag Archives: New Hampshire primary

By How Much Must Romney Win To Really Win?

There are two contests on tap tonight. The first is the race to win votes in the New Hampshire primary, and with those votes earn all-important delegates.  To be sure, there are only 12 delegates at stake (New Hampshire’s total was reduced as a party penalty for moving its primary earlier in the calendar), and they are awarded proportionally, based on the candidates’ popular vote totals.  A candidate must clear the 10% threshold to win a delegate.  (By the way, if anyone is counting the New Hampshire popular vote, at this moment Mitt is leading 7 votes to 5 over Ron Paul, with Huntsman close behind at 4 votes. But I expect these totals to change as the night goes on.)

The second, and arguably more important contest, is to beat the media expectations game.   Keep in mind that there is no journalist’s manual for determining just what the benchmarks that each candidate must reach are; instead, they are apparently divined through a complicated process of consultation, group think, astrology and rooting through pig’s entrails.

It would help, therefore, if we could establish some real benchmarks by which to evaluate the media’s benchmarks.  Consider Mitt’s candidacy – what would be the proper benchmark by which to evaluate his vote totals tonight?  I’m going to use the same benchmark I proposed for Iowa: how does his total compare to past New Hampshire Republican primary winners?  If we look only at contested primaries back to 1988, the winner – on average – has received about 40% of the vote (standard deviation of about 9.3%)  Of course, one can quibble that this percentage depends in part on how many candidates there are, but in fact the number running today isn’t that different than in most past elections. So, based on past winners, I declare Romney’s success benchmark to be 40% or greater.  If he clears half a standard deviation above the average winning percentage – that is, 45% – he has had a very good night and the pundits are free to claim the race is over.  If he comes in below 45%, however, but is above 40%, he has still had a very good night – perhaps not a knockout, but pretty darn close.  Anything between 35% and 40% is fine, but it won’t convince the diehards that he’s the New Mitt.

So much for his benchmark of success. What about failure?  That’s easy.  Four years ago he won 32% of the vote.  He needs to clear that total tonight, or pundits have the right to begin writing “if Mitt can’t close the deal in his backyard” stories.

There you have it: clear benchmarks by which to evaluate the pundits’ benchmarks, and not a single pig killed in the process. Isn’t science the best?

It is traditional that I make my predictions regarding vote totals and the order in which the candidates will finish.  I will post that in a moment.

Meanwhile, keep in mind that the polls close in many New Hampshire towns at 7:30, but many others remain open until 8 p.m.  If the networks do not call this election for Romney precisely at 8 p.m., then he is in big doo-doo and you can screw the benchmarks.  Of course, the real excitement – beyond seeing if Mitt meets his benchmarks – is who finishes second – and who does not.  I’ll be live blogging tonight beginning shortly before 8.  As always, feel free to join in.

And journalists – you can thank me later for establishing your benchmark.

Huntsman in Dead Heat With Romney in New Hampshire!

That’s based on the early voting from Dixville Notch.  I always wanted to do that. In fact, Romney is going to win this. But maybe by not enough.

The last three polls before tomorrow’s (actually – today’s!)  New Hampshire primary are in, and they have both good news and bad news for Mitt Romney.  The bad news is that his support is definitely eroding.  He’s fallen 3%, from 40% to 37% in two days according to this ARG poll.  The rolling Suffolk tracking poll shows him dropping 7% in three days, from 40% to 33%, and WMUR poll has him dropping 3% in 5 days, from 44% to 41%.  And all this was before his widely quoted (but usually out of context) remark today that he likes to fire people.

He was actually making the point that under a free market system we should be able to fire insurance companies that don’t provide adequate health care service,  but why let the facts get in the way of a good campaign moment?

The good news for Romney is that he retains a substantial lead, and that it doesn’t appear that any single candidate is benefitting from his slide.  As  this RealClear politics graph shows, he retains a substantial lead over Ron Paul, one that will be hard to overcome in the last 48 hours (Mitt=purple, Paul=Yellow, Gingrich=green, Huntsman=purple, Santorum=brown):

As the graph shows, and as I noted earlier, there’s some evidence that Huntsman is the primary beneficiary of Romney’s slide, but the Newtster also seems have reversed his polling decline and Paul – although slipping – remains a good bet to finish second, particularly given the evidence that he has a strong organizational presence in New Hampshire.

In short,  I’m sticking by my earlier assessment that the belated decision by Mitt’s opponents to focus on his Bain record won’t be enough to change the outcome in New Hampshire.  But it may be a factor down the road.  As I predicted during my debate coverage, portions of Newt’s exchange with Mitt are already the centerpiece of one of Newt’s campaign videos:

And Newt’s SuperPac is poised to air an almost half-hour long infomercial that takes dead aim at Romney’s  record while CEO at Bain.  Progressives, of course, are chortling that these attack ads are simply making the Democratic case against Romney even easier, but this is nonsense.  Democrats are not stupid – they would have brought Bain up on their own.  Instead, the fact that this is coming out now, in the Republican nomination contest, is good news for Romney – assuming he wins the nomination – because it gives him an opportunity to formulate a response.

New Hampshire, then, is significant not for who wins here – it’s almost certain to be Romney – but for its implications for South Carolina.  That means that the real issue in New Hampshire is who exceeds media expectations. The media frame of the New Hampshire results has important implications for South Carolina. Gingrich has already gone on record that he has to win, or finish a very close second there, to stay in the race.  This is no sure thing.  Keep in mind that while the media tends to portray South Carolina as a “southern Red State”, it actually has a substantial population of Midwest retirees that are more moderate in outlook.  In fact, there’s really three somewhat distinct voting areas in that state.  The bottom line is that Romney could do quite well there.   I’ll develop that point in more detail in a later post.  Later today, however, Bert Johnson will be up with a guest post describing his view of New Hampshire from the ground. We’ll begin our primary-day coverage with Bert’s analysis, and I’ll be on periodically during the day to update results as they come in.

He’s In The Huntsman – But For What?

At first glance, the political dynamics leading to tomorrow’s New Hampshire primary seems to have little in common with the run-up to and the outcome of the January 3 Iowa caucus.  As a caucus state, of course, voting procedures for choosing delegates in Iowa differ markedly from the secret ballot that will be used tomorrow in New Hampshire. Participation rates will vary, as well; although turnout in Iowa, at about 130,000, was up slightly compared to past Republican caucuses in that state, that’s only about half the 250,000 who are expected to turn out in the N.H. Republican primary.  Moreover, the composition of the two states’ voting pools differs as well.  According to entrance polls, about 80% of Iowa’s Republican caucus participants were strong or moderate conservatives and 64% supported the Tea Party.  About three-quarters were Republicans and 22% independents.  This is a far more conservative voting pool than what we will see tomorrow.  Consider that in the 2008 New Hampshire primary, only 23% of those voting described themselves as “born again”, and Republicans constituted only 61% of the primary voters, while independents were 37%. And that was during an election in which many New Hampshire independents voted in the Democratic primary.  New Hampshire voters will also, in the aggregate, tend to be better educated and a bit wealthier than their Iowa caucus counterparts.

In short, New Hampshire primary voters tomorrow are likely to be more moderate than the Iowa caucus-goers, which explains why in contrast to Iowa, Mitt Romney is – barring a “Bachmann miracle” – going to win the primary easily tomorrow.  In this case, being a “Massachusetts moderate” isn’t necessarily a bad thing.  As the chart below indicates, his support has remained relatively steady at about 40% for many weeks now, although there is evidence that that number is beginning to slip (see below).

And yet, if polling is to be believed, there is one similarity between Iowa and New Hampshire: Republicans voters, on the whole, still aren’t sold on Mitt.  First, it is again quite possible that he won’t exceed his vote percentage – 32% – from four years ago, when he finished second to McCain.  Moreover, much as happened in Iowa, recent polls indicate that New Hampshire voters – excluding Paul’s supporters – may be beginning to coalesce behind a non-Mitt candidate.  But instead of Santorum, the beneficiary seems to be Huntsman.  As Mark Blumenthal shows at Pollster.com polls from the last four days show Huntsman gaining 3-5%, putting him at about 13% and climbing.

That’s enough to challenge Ron Paul for the second slot, although it won’t be nearly enough – unlike with Santorum in Iowa – to catch Romney.  (Indeed, it now appears possible that Santorum beat Romney in Iowa, pending a recount there.) Santorum, after receiving an early polling boost coming out of Iowa, has dropped back in the pack – a not unexpected development given the more moderate voting pool in New Hampshire.  Gingrich, meanwhile, as he did in Iowa, has stabilized his support, this time at about 9%.

At this point, the bigger suspense for tomorrow is not whether Romney will win, but by how much.  If his winning percentage drops close to 32%, that is, what he received in 2008, in this, his backyard state, it will renew questions regarding the depth of his support among Republicans more generally heading into South Carolina which holds its primary on January 23.   To their credit, the remaining Republican candidates seem to realize, albeit somewhat belatedly, on Sunday that Romney would win this race by default if they didn’t begin to attack his record.  And so they did – but probably too late to prevent him from winning tomorrow.  South Carolina, on the other hand, could be a different story – if Republicans can take the necessary second step and decide which one will be the anti-Mitt candidate.  That process will be more complicated because no fewer than three conservatives-in-waiting – Gingrich, Perry and Santorum – will be competing for the same bloc of voters, assuming none drop out after tomorrow.  (I’m not counting Huntsman in this regard.)

Ron Paul, meanwhile, has made his strategy clear: knowing he can’t win primaries outright given the limited size of his voting coalition, he intends to maximize his resources by focusing on those states that either use caucuses, or which have adopted a proportional allocation of delegates, which applies to most of the later primaries.  That means he won’t contest the January 31 primary in Florida, which is winner-take-all.  New Hampshire, however, is potentially fertile ground for his brand of libertarianism and, judging by the signage, he seems to have a strong presence in that state.  This raises the larger question regarding his endgame which I will address in a separate post.

I’ll be on later tonight with a last-minute assessment of the state of play heading into tomorrow.  But for many reasons New Hampshire is not likely to play kingmaker this year – indeed, the Republican primary  lacks the suspense and significance that we saw in the 2008 Democratic primary, with the Clinton-Obama contest that so energized voters.  Nonetheless, because media pundits and party leaders will try to impute some significance to tomorrow’s outcome  – no matter how different that spin is from what the numbers actually show – the results are not meaningless.

In the meantime, Bert Johnson has been surveying the lay of the land in New Hampshire, and I expect him to report back later tonight.  We’ll see then if he predicts any surprises.

3:00 P.M. Suffolk has just released their latest tracking poll – the first to incorporate Saturday’s and Sunday’s debates (at least partially) and it shows Romney’s support eroding – he’s down to 33% in this poll, or precisely where he finished in 2008:

Q7. If the Republican Primary for President of the United States were held
today and the candidates were {alphabetical} Newt Gingrich, Jon Huntsman, Fred
Karger, Ron Paul, Rick Perry, Buddy Roemer, Mitt Romney, or Rick Santorum for
whom will you vote or toward whom would you LEAN at this time?
N= 500 100%
Newt Gingrich ……………………………. 02 53 11%
Jon Huntsman …………………………….. 03 63 13%
Fred Karger ……………………………… 05 0 0%
Ron Paul ………………………………… 06 98 20%
Rick Perry ………………………………. 07 6 1%
Buddy Roemer …………………………….. 08 8 2%
Mitt Romney ……………………………… 09 166 33%
Rick Santorum ……………………………. 10 48 10%
Undecided (DO NOT READ) …………………… 11 58 12%

It’s Newt Hampshire!

I teased this story in today’s first post, but it’s worth a closer look:  a Magellan Strategies automated poll released today shows Newt Gingrich in a statistical dead heat with Mitt Romney in New Hampshire. Romney garnered 29% in the poll, Gingrich 27%, followed by Paul at 16% and Cain at 10%. (The interviews were conducted November15-16, and the poll has a 3.6% margin of error). A month ago Magellan had Romney polling at 41% while Gingrich was mired in single digits.

It’s hard to overstate the significance if this poll holds up.  Romney has counted on New Hampshire as his firewall against whoever came out of Iowa’s January 3 caucus with the media momentum, much as Clinton used New Hampshire in 2008 to blunt Obama’s rise.  Should Gingrich win both Iowa and New Hampshire, however, that would essentially force Romney to do well in the southern states where Gingrich would be expected to run strong.

What’s fascinating about this poll is that the respondents included 40% independents. Remember, New Hampshire’s first in the nation primary is open to independents, and with no real Democratic race, they are likely to vote in big numbers in the Republican primary.  Although Romney’s strength is supposed to be his appeal to independents, Gingrich attracted enough polling support to essentially pull into a tie in Romney’s vacation homeland. (Note: since I could only view topline results, and not the crosstabs, I don’t know how much of Newt’s support came from independents and how much from conservatives).  This can’t be good news for Romney who, despite the efforts of the party establishment to declare him the front runner, simply cannot close the deal with conservatives.

Perhaps the most shocking part of the New Hampshire poll is that Newt’s favorable/unfavorable ratings have climbed to 59%/31% – almost identical to Mitt’s!  Except for Ron Paul (at 49/32% with 19% undecided) all the other Republican candidates have higher unfavorable than favorable ratings.  So much for Newt as polarizing figure, at least among likely Republican voters.

When asked why Newt was rising in the polls, 44% cited his depth and knowledge of the issues, with another 10% mentioning his former role as Speaker and 10% referencing his debate performance.

Now for the obligatory caveats.  One poll does not an election make, and as I’ve noted in previous posts, Newt has to show he can transfer polling support into votes – something that is hard to do if you don’t even have staff in the state. In short, this New Hampshire race, as is the nomination, is still wide open. Nonetheless, the Magellan poll is just one more bit of evidence that Newt is on a very big roll, and it makes next Tuesday’s debate suddenly vastly more interesting for all parties. A week ago, there wasn’t even a race in New Hampshire.  Now, we can’t take Mitt winning for Granite.