Tag Archives: Newt Gingrich; 2012 republican nomination

The Gingrich Who Stole Iowa?

J. Ann Selzer, the highly-respected polling director for the Des Moines Register gave a fascinating interview for the Atlantic magazine recently that has implications for the upcoming Iowa caucuses.  As regular readers know, perhaps the most significant issue coming out of the most recent Republican debate was Newt Gingrich’s effort to stake out a more moderate position on immigration.  Newt’s basic point is that we aren’t simply going to deport all 11 million illegal immigrants, many of whom have been in this nation for decades and have strong community roots. Any effort to reform immigration policy, Newt argues, must begin with this fundamental reality. His Republican rivals, particularly the Mittster, immediately jumped on Newt for advocating “amnesty” for illegals – a characterization the Newtster understandably rejects.

That exchange takes on added significance in light of Selzer’s analysis of Iowan voters’ concerns heading into the Jan. 3 first-in-the-nation Republican caucus.  Selzer’s basic point is that those most likely to vote in the Republican caucus are primarily concerned with economic issues, not socially conservative cultural matters.  She notes that Mike Huckabee’s surprise victory in the 2008 Iowa caucuses has been widely misinterpreted by media pundits as a sign of religious conservatives’ strength in that state. That’s the crowd both Rick Santorum and Michele Bachmann are playing to this time around, but so far with lackluster polling results.  The reason, Selzer points out, is that 2008 was something of an anomaly, in that the fiscal conservatives fragmented the field, while Huckabee was really the only social conservative running.  And so he emerged on top.  Selzer’s conclusion?  “And I think they’ve misread Iowans in thinking that there would be that holdover wish for that kind of candidate. Really, times have changed, things have moved on. So I think you end up with candidates who aren’t resonating because they’re not talking about fiscal ideas to solve the economic problem. They’re focusing on the social ideas they think Iowa caucus-goers would spark to… “

Selzer’s analysis would seem to be good news for Mitt Romney, who is largely running on his private sector job-creating record, and avoiding faith-based and other social issues.  And in fact, amid positive polling results that place him second in the state, the evidence suggests that after wavering for several months, Romney has now decided to go all in in Iowa  despite his dismal performance there four years ago.  In this regard, it is possible that the immigration issue could play to his advantage if he is successful in framing it as an economic concern rather than playing to the nativist sentiment among social conservatives.  However, hidden within Selzer’s interview was a fascinating observation that, if accurate, bodes well for the Newtster.  Remember my earlier post questioning whether Newt’s “twitter revolution” in campaigning would actually translate into votes in caucus states like Iowa? It turns out, however, that although Santorum and Bachmann have a greater presence in Iowa so far, Newt’s appearances have been more effective.  Here’s Selzer again:

 “In our Bloomberg poll we had an analysis of how many people had been contacted by each of the campaigns. Ron Paul was first, followed by Michele Bachmann. And the secondary analysis was to say, OK, if you’ve been touched by that campaign, who’s your first choice? So we could kind of look and see the effectiveness of those touches. Santorum goes from 3 percent to 6 percent among people his campaign has touched, and that’s double, but if you’re a small number it’s easy to double it.

Michele Bachmann gets a one-point lift [among voters her campaign has contacted]. It’s not doing her any good. Who gets the lift is Gingrich. His campaign contact number is high 20s, low 30 percent. But he gets 32 percent first-choice votes among people his campaign has contacted. That’s almost double the 17 percent he gets overall in the poll. That number is a very strong number for him. What [voters] have seen of him they liked, and what they have seen of other candidates didn’t impress.”

 If Selzer is right, that is evidence that Gingrich’s path to success in Iowa depends on ramping up his reliance on traditional retail, face-to-face contact with potential voters that has been a staple of campaigning in this caucus state in previous elections.  The question remains does he have the funding and infrastructure to match Romney, who appears now to be staking much of his campaign on winning Iowa?  The problem for Romney, at least in the past, is that he does not get the bounce from these personal contacts that Gingrich seems to based on Selzer’s analysis.

There is an additional complicating factor in Iowa: Ron Paul.  He consistently pulls in about 10% of the Iowan vote in polls, but there is evidence that .his extreme libertarian views may put a ceiling on his support. Thus, this Rasmussen poll indicates that Paul, “while placing fourth overall, is also the candidate Iowa voters least want to see win the nomination. Eighteen percent (18%) name Paul as the least favorite candidate followed closely by Bachmann at 15%. Thirteen percent (13%) don’t want to see Romney or Huntsman grab the nomination, while 11% would like to see Cain miss the nod.  Newt,  on the other hand, is named by only 8% of Iowans polled as the candidate they least want to see to win.”  This suggests that Newt may be the second choice of at least some Iowan voters if their favorite falters in the next month.

It is early, of course (at some point this observation will be wrong!), but all signs are that Newt has some hidden strengths in Iowa. To activate these strengths, however, he will need to go beyond his reliance on a social networking-based campaign of ideas, particularly now that Mitt is committing his prodigious resources to building up an infrastructure in Iowa.  If he can do so, we  may be rewriting the words to that holiday classic come January to begin with:

“He’s a Keen One, Mr. Gingrich”

 

 

When “Newt”cessity Becomes the Mother of Invention

As longtime readers know, my goal in writing these posts is to try to use political science, (loosely defined – often it’s more my political intuition) to make sense of political events as they happen. That means that rather than  foist my  political viewpoint on you in the guise of independent analysis, I try as much as possible to use past events as a means of understanding current issues and to try to predict future outcomes.  The weakness of this approach, however, is that the effort to ground the analysis in a reading of history can blind one to unexpected developments. In this vein, consider Newt Gingrich’s unexpected (to most pundits) climb to the top of the Republican leaderboard. Despite the recent barrage of negative media coverage, the latest national polls  continue to show him edging slightly ahead of Mitt Romney, and Tuesday’s national security debate, if the pundits are to be believed, probably didn’t hurt his standing, although we can’t as yet be certain whether his more moderate approach to immigration will cost him Tea Party support.

 Moreover, he has climbed to the top of the polls in Iowa, largely due to Tea Party support, and has moved into second place in New Hampshire, albeit a distant second based on most polls to Mitt Romney. Here are the current Iowa standings, based on the Realpolitics composite poll tracker (Gingrich is green, Cain red and Romney purple).

Here’s what is interesting about Gingrich’s unexpected success: he is doing it without much in the way of boots on the ground.  Rather than engage in the type of meet-and-great retail politics that the experts tell us is a prerequisite for doing well in Iowa and New Hampshire, Gingrich so far has engaged in an unconventional campaign “of ideas” based on using social media and public debates  to get his message out.  According to the Des Moines candidate tracker ,  Gingrich has obtained front-runner status in the Iowa polls despite his campaign holding far fewer events – 86 so far – and Newt making fewer appearances (48) than either Rick Santorum (226 events, 76 appearances) or Michelle Bachmann (114, 58), both of whom languish near the bottom of the Iowa polling pack so far (Santorum is brown and Bachmann black in the chart above).  Similarly, Mitt Romney is a close third in the Iowa polls, although he has so far had very little presence in the state – in fact, he has visited the state even less frequently (18 and eight) than Newt, although that may change in the next few weeks.  So far, at least, it appears that polling in Iowa is not simply a function of the relative scope of the candidates’ ground games.

It is too early, of course, to draw firm conclusions.  But in pursuing his unconventional strategy, Newt appears to be trying to bypass the traditional nomination gatekeepers, particularly the party politicos and media opinion leaders who wrote the Newtster off after his campaign staff largely deserted him last summer.  Indeed, they now appear flummoxed by Newt’s rise from the political ashes, and his apparent staying power despite recent revelations regarding his financial ties as a lobbyist to the government-backed mortgage firms Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. Newt’s belated effort to back away from his initial, er, “fib” that he was hired as a “historian” seems not to have hurt him at all.

Gingrich’s rise to front-runner status raises an interesting question: is his campaign strategy based on social media, debates and direct communications the way of the future?  Conventional wisdom says the best way to get voters to the polls is by having the campaign infrastructure in place to wage a door-to-door campaign.  Whether by choice, or by necessity, Newt seems intent on defying this wisdom.  If Newt is right, he will retrace the footsteps of previous innovators, like Jimmy Carter, who in 1976 was the only candidate to grasp the importance of doing well in the early events in Iowa and New Hampshire.  He did partly out of necessity, since he lacked the resources to go head-to-head with the better known candidate in the larger primary states.  Similarly, Barack Obama invested heavily in smaller caucus states in 2008 because he recognized he could not beat Hillary Clinton in the larger primary states.  In politics, as in life, necessity is often the mother of invention.

It is too early to evaluate whether Newt’s unconventional approach will become the model for future campaigns, or instead will fail to translate polling support into actual votes and delegates.  Keep in mind that other “innovative strategies” (remember Giuliani’s decision to skip Iowa and New Hampshire in 2008?) didn’t turn out so well. If Newt does win the nomination, however, it will be another illustration that political scientists are usually right – except when they aren’t.

Note: my colleague Bert Johnson and I are posting on the web short (8-10 minutes) discussions of the current campaign. If you are interested in hearing our unscripted (and therefore more entertaining) thoughts, our latest is at the Middlebury website here.

In the meantime, have a great Thanksgiving!

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.

The Newton Bomb Hits the Campaign

Everybody loves a winner.  Except when they really really hate him.

The latest poll out of Iowa, which holds its first-in-the-nation caucus  in a bit more than 40 days, has Newt Gingrich up by an astounding 13% , 32%-19% over his closest rival Mitt Romney. (The Rasmussen poll was in the field Nov. 15 and has a 3.5% margin of error.) This comes on the heels of the second most recent Iowa poll, in the field Nov. 11-13, that showed Gingrich in a dead heat for the lead in Iowa with Herman Cain.  Both polls are of likely voters.  Now, the usual caveats should be noted: the race is still very fluid, polling a caucus state is notoriously difficult, and the Rasmussen poll is based on an automated survey.  My guess is Newt’s lead in Iowa isn’t that big – if he has a lead at all. Note that in the RealClear Politics composite polling, Gingrich is now tied with Romney for second in Iowa, behind Cain. Both Cain and Romney, however, are seeing their polling number dropping fast. (Newt is green in the chart below, Cain red and Romney purple.)

The Iowa results reaffirm what recent national polls have indicated: Newt’s back in the race, and in a big way.  And, with that resurgence, Newt has, apparently, begun raising money and, in a little noted news story, some of the campaign staff that deserted him early in the year are now rejoining his crusade.   At this rate, I expect his ex-wives to publicly endorse his candidacy at any moment.  Everybody loves a winner!

Except when they don’t. Newt’s revival has caused no little consternation among pundits, particularly on the Left who had already written the Newtster off months ago. Make no bones about it, they are not happy that Newt has resurrected his campaign and the barrage of criticism they have leveled at him is greater than anything any of the other Republican frontrunners have received. (For the latest broadsides, see here and here).

In their defense, Newt’s record provides plenty of ammunition for his critics. I’ve reviewed some of the more damning incidents in my previous post, but it’s all fair game, as Gingrich himself has acknowledged, and it will all be revisited ad nauseam during the next few weeks.  Nonetheless, I can’t help but think that something else is driving the intensity of these attacks.  It may be that, compared to Bachmann, Cain and Perry, Gingrich actually seems qualified to be president.

In any case, the question remains: will this renewed scrutiny damage Newt the way it did previous frontrunners?  Gingrich seems to understand that the answer to this question depends heavily on how he responds to the rehashing of all these events.   He has already formulated his response to revelations that his lobbying – er, consulting firm – earned millions of dollars from the government-back mortgage firms Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, even though Gingrich has spent much of his current campaign criticizing their role in the housing crisis.  Gingrich argues that he gave them advice, which they didn’t take, and that he didn’t lobby members of Congress directly (hence he wasn’t a lobbyist). Indeed, he has tried to convert this political lemon into lemonade by arguing it is a reminder that he understands how Washington works!  That answer is not going to sit well with everyone, and already his rivals for the Republican nomination, like Michelle Bachmann, are now pushing back against his candidacy by citing his consulting work for the mortgage firms.

Most of the criticism from the Left, I think, misses what for me is one of the most interesting aspects of Newt’s resurgence.  He is attracting support from the Tea Party conservatives who were previously courted by Bachmann, Perry and Cain.  Their support comes despite clear evidence that on many issues, Gingrich – like Perry – is not a dyed-in-the-wool conservative.  Remember, he initially jumped on portions of the Ryan budget plan as “right-wing social engineering” before backing down, and he seemed to acknowledge the need to address global warming.  These are not positions that will sit well with the Tea Party faction and I expect they will be revisited in coming debates.  And I haven’t even begun discussing his personal life.

To be sure, for many Republicans, Gingrich’s stock will rise in direct proportion to the attacks on him from the Liberal side of the punditocracy; after all, they will reason, if the Left fears him that much, maybe he is qualified to be president!  But at some point they are going to have to look at his record, and decide whether he is a true conservative or not.  If he passes muster with the conservative wing of the party, however, Newt just might find that his more moderate record appeals to the independents who promise to be a crucial voting bloc come next November.

Newt Gingrich – the next President of the United States?  Three weeks ago I would have been horse-whipped for even mentioning Gingrich and President in the same sentence.  Now it suddenly doesn’t seem completely implausible.

And next week?  Maybe Sarah Palin will announce her third-party bid!

You can’t make this stuff up.

1:52 PM Breaking News (I’ve always wanted to write that!)

A just-released Magellan poll has Gingrich in a dead-heat with Romney in New Hampshire.   As you know, Romney has been so far ahead in New Hampshire that most Republicans aren’t bothering to compete there.   Again, it bears repeating: it is far too early to declare anyone the real frontrunner in the Republican race, but who would have predicted any poll showing Gingrich even in shouting distance of Romney in New Hampshire?  (Full disclosure: I haven’t looked at the poll’s internals so buyer beware…)

Really, you can’t make this stuff up.

See: http://nhjournal.com/2011/11/18/poll-romney-gingrich-in-statistical-dead-heat-in-n-h/

Addendum Two:

Here’s the link to the actual survey.  Note that because it is of New Hampshire voters, it includes a healthy does of independents.  Note that Gingrich’s support comes predominantly from conservatives.  All this deserves a separate post, and I’ll put one up as soon as I can. Meanwhile, go to the following link and make your own judgments:

http://www.scribd.com/doc/73114432/New-Hampshire-2012-GOP-Presidential-Primary-Survey-Topline-Results-111711

Newton’s (R)evolution?

Are we seeing the New Newt?

Longtime readers of this blog will likely not be surprised by Newt Gingrich’s rise to the top of the Republican leaderboard, at least in national polls; I have been touting his debate performance for some time now.  Of greater interest, I think, is how the punditocracy, particularly those on the Left, have reacted to Newt’s ascendancy.  They have been unusually quick to dismiss Gingrich’s “surge” (it hasn’t been a surge, but never mind) as a temporary phenomenon, similar to what we saw with Bachmann, Perry, and then Cain.  Gingrich, they would have us believe, is simply the latest candidate to audition for the “I’m not Mitt” role, and he too will flunk this casting call. Thus, the American Prospect’s Jamelle Bouie flatly states that Gingrich is not going to be the Republican nominee, a sentiment shared by many others. Michael Tomasky, in dismissing Gingrich’s latest polling results, claims ”This Gingrich boomlet is the same thing as the Michele Bachmann boomlet and the Rick Perry boomlet. It’s just people not wanting to say yes to Romney.”

In my view, these analyses that place Gingrich in the Bachmann-Perry-Cain box are wrong.  While it is true that his support in polls has gone up in part because of the current vacuum within the anti-Mitt category, Newt’s candidacy differs in significant ways from the previous Tea Party favorites.  To begin, Gingrich’s rise in the polls is no “surge”.  In contrast to the previous “anti-Mitts”, Newt has gained his front-runner status the old-fashioned way:  he’s earned grudging support from conservatives through a series of stellar debate performances, rather than through the overhyped-straw poll results that a news-starved media used to create the Bachmann and Cain boomlets.  Anyone who has closely watched these debates (and I have) knows that in a side-by-side comparison with the other 7 candidates, Newt consistently wins on both substance and style points.  Republican activists who are paying attention to the debates understand that no one else has performed at his level.  And we should not be surprised by this.  I’ve said it before, but it bears repeating:  Newt, as a former 20-year congressman including four as Speaker (arguably the most powerful domestic post in the nation), has more experience on the national stage than any politician – in both parties – running for president today and he has honed his media skills as a political commentator during his years roaming the political wilderness after leaving office in relative disgrace.  So he brings both a deep knowledge of national issues and politics, and a flair for presenting it.  Marry that with a crowd-pleasing applause line based on attacking the media, and we have the makings of an effective candidacy.

So, will Newt win the nomination?  I have consistently described him as a longshot – but a longshot whose chances are as good as any of the other candidates not named Mitt.  Nonetheless, while I think efforts to paint Gingrich as the next Bachmann or Cain are driven more by ideology and a deep-seated dislike of Gingrich than by reasoned analysis (but then, that’s why you come here), there are still significant reasons why Newt remains a long shot. First, we need to remind ourselves that Newt is not alone atop the leaderboard. Nationally, the latest polls (see here and here), have him running in a statistical tie with Romney. The Pollster.com aggregate polling chart, which is designed not to overreact to the latest poll results, has Newt climbing, but at this point he still lags behind Cain and Romney.

Second, Newt carries significant personal baggage which, now that he is one of the frontrunners, is soon to be revisited by the media.  This includes a messy personal life, in which he allegedly informed his first wife that he was divorcing her while she was in the hospital receiving cancer treatments, and who has confessed to having an affair with his soon-to-be-third wife while simultaneously spearheading impeachment charges against Bill Clinton.  Gingrich has admitted to his personal shortcomings (while defending the impeachment) but for many people this is hypocrisy at its worst.   The key question here is whether Gingrich’s personal life has been so thoroughly vetted that he is, in a sense, already inoculated against further damage.  At the very least, one expects him to have a better answer than did Cain, when the inevitable character questions arise at the next debate (which they will.  By the way, the debate is next Tuesday, and yes, I’ll be live blogging it as always.) He will also undoubtedly face media criticism for his role as a lobbyist – er, consultant – for Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae, the two government-backed mortgage companies that reportedly paid Gingrich significant dollars for his advice.  And the stories regarding his charge account at Tiffany’s, his lack of organizational discipline and the other usual suspects will likely be resurrected as well.

The key difference between Gingrich and the previous “I’m not Mitt” candidates, then, is that Gingrich is already a known quantity, with very high name recognition.  As a result, it is likely that his currently “high intensity” score (the percent who have strongly favorable opinions of him minus those with strongly unfavorable opinions), now the best in the Republican field, is likely to be more resilient to the type of negative news coverage he is about to receive.

So, while Newt’s candidacy carries extensive baggage, by itself the recycling of stories about Newt’s personal life is unlikely to have nearly the impact it would on a relative unknown, like Cain, Perry or Bachmann.   The bigger worry for Newt’s supporters, I think, is that Newt at this point does not have the money nor campaign infrastructure to turn polling support into delegates.  So, while I expect him to remain atop the leader board based on polls through the invisible primary season, it is an open question whether that support will translate into votes in the Iowa caucuses come Jan. 3.  Traditionally, caucuses require boots on the ground, which in turn cost money, and lots of it.  Although Newt is undoubtedly seeing an influx of cash in recent months, it remains to be seen how quickly it can be used to put a campaign in place in Iowa.  I think Newt needs to do well there – at least a top three finish within shouting distance of the leader – in order to remain competitive when the race moves South to South Carolina and Florida.  (I’m guessing New Hampshire’s outcome won’t have much impact on Newt’s standing).

In the long run, however, Newt has a potential Achilles heel that I view as the more serious threat to his candidacy: he’s the smartest guy in the race, and he knows it.  At this stage, it’s not clear to me whether Newt’s years in the political wilderness after stepping down as House Speaker in 1998 have matured him.  To his credit, so far he has positioned himself as the Republican’s elder statesmen, someone who obeys Reagan’s 11th commandment not to criticize fellow Republicans and who has consistently resisted taking the media bait to get down into the campaign mud.  But can he continue to take the high road when he finds the target on his back?   Or will he revert to being the Newt of old: petulant, with an ego that is easily bruised and who is prone to overestimate his own capabilities and dismiss his opponents’?   I can say this – he certainly hasn’t lost his confidence, or his swagger.  And that’s not necessarily a good thing.