Tag Archives: newt gingrich

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 Pollster.com:

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.

 

Why Is Gingrich Still In The Race? There’s Really No Debate

Today one more South Carolina poll, this one sponsored by Clemson University, was released and it showed Newt Gingrich with a 6% advantage over Mitt Romney, 32-26%, with Paul in 3rd with 11% and Santorum at 9%.  The survey was in field on Jan. 18-19 – before last night’s debate, and it is the latest in a series of polls that show Gingrich inching into the lead there.  If the latest polling trends hold, Gingrich is poised to win tomorrow.  Romney, for his part, has begun downplaying expectations in his public comments, a sure sign that his internal polling is showing the same result.

If Newt does win tomorrow, I expect the media pundits – who have been loudly proclaiming the inevitability of Romney’s nomination – to now reverse direction and suddenly begin reassessing his candidacy.  At the same time, those who were formerly criticizing Gingrich’s candidacy will suddenly begin touting his hidden strengths.  Before that happens, let me issue two cautionary points.

First, Romney was never as strong a candidate as the media, with all its blather about the first non-incumbent to win Iowa and New Hampshire, etc., etc., made him out to be.  I trust I don’t have to repeat the reasons why that is the case.   The summary answer is that after five years running for president, he has not expanded his coalition to show he can win over conservatives.

But we should also realize that in many respects South Carolina is Newt’s ideal state.  Indeed, when Gingrich was plotting his nomination strategy last summer, South Carolina was always meant to be his breakout state because its demographics were most favorable to him.   That he is poised to do well here only seems surprising in light of the unexpected surge and decline in his polling support in November and December.   That initial surge triggered the barrage of negative ads and media scrutiny that brought Newt’s polling numbers back to earth.   But if you step back and focus on the big picture fundamentals, Newt’s strong showing in South Carolina is no more surprising than was Romney’s win in New Hampshire, given Newt’s regional roots and the state’s more conservative political profile.

In short, if Newt wins tomorrow, the switch in the media narrative will be more dramatic than will any change in the fundamental dynamics of the race itself.   And, as I noted yesterday, although Newt will undoubtedly get a boost coming out of South Carolina, the fundamentals – money, organization, demographics – still seem to favor Romney in Florida.  While I don’t share my political science colleagues’ oft-stated belief that Romney’s march to the nomination is preordained, and I disagree that he is helped by the winnowing of the conservative field, I do think a loss in South Carolina is not nearly as damaging to him as the media will suggest.  Similarly, as longtime readers know, I never bought my colleagues’ argument that Newt had no chance to win this nomination – in fact, I suggested that he matched up well with his competitors.  But we should not forget that his candidacy has real weaknesses, not least of which is that he remains a somewhat polarizing figure, that he lacks money, and that he has a weak organization.

So, given these weaknesses, why is Newt doing so well?  In my view, it can be summed up in a word: debates.   The extraordinary number of debates so far – 17 by my count – has afforded maximum (and free!) exposure in a format at which Newt excels.  I don’t recall any previous nomination cycle in which we have seen so many debates, and in which one candidate proved so consistently better than his competitors at taking advantage of this format. This cumulative impact of these debates has been to both winnow the field of potential strong competitors (see Perry) and to weaken others (Romney) while bolstering Gingrich’s reputation.   In short, I believe the debates have gone a long way toward compensating for Gingrich’s lack of money and organization.

There is no better illustration of this than in how Gingrich responded to what might have been a fatal revelation to a candidate who lacked Newt’s debating skills: the Marianne Gingrich accusation that the Newtster sought an “open” marriage so he could continue his dalliance with his new love (and eventual 3rd wife) Callista. Today’s post-mortem by the punditocracy of last night’s debate focused on – and endlessly replayed –  Newt’s riveting exchange with John King regarding Marianne’s accusation.   I watched the interview with Marianne aired by ABC after last night’s debate and her accusations seemed tamer and less harmful to Newt than the media leaks suggested.   Of course, we won’t know the full impact, if any, of this latest revelation before tomorrow.  If the pundits are to be believed, however, Newt’s aggressive debate response went a long way toward neutralizing the issue with South Carolina voters.  I have no independent polling evidence by which to confirm that assessment.  But in using the debate to bolster his political standing, Newt reprised a strategy that has – so far – boosted his candidacy beyond what many of his critics thought was likely. Whether it will be enough to overcome those factors – endorsements, money, and polling support – that most political science models view as the crucial determinants  of nomination races remains to be seen.  But it is a question worth debating.

Addendum (11:45): The latest PPP poll just released today shows Gingrich’s lead in South Carolina expanding 37% to 28% over  Romney, with 16% for Rick Santorum, and 14% for Ron Paul.  In the final day of the three-day tracking poll, Gingrich’s lead is even larger at 40-26% – about the margin that Romney had in winning New Hampshire.  According to PPP, 60% of those surveyed saw Thursday’s debate, and among those Gingrich led by a whopping 46-23%.  This is one poll, but is reinforces the point of my post: Gingrich has benefited from his debate performances.  One other factor in Gingrich’s favor?: only 31% of those surveyed think Marianne Gingrich’s charges are true, and 51% have “no concerns” about what came out in the interview.

I’ll  be on tomorrow.  South Carolina’s polls close at 7 p.m eastern time.  It should be an interesting night… .

 

Perry Endorses, Newt’s Divorces, and Santorum’s Remorses

Since I posted this morning, four more South Carolina polls have come in, three of which were in the field entirely after Monday’s debate.  Each of the three most recent polls has Newt in the lead, albeit within the polls’ margin of error.  Note that all three are automated polls, which may or may not be significant. Mark Halperin conveniently summarizes them for us at his Pollster.com website:

As you can see, they support my earlier assertion that Newt has pulled into a de facto tie with Mitt two days before Saturday’s South Carolina primary.  Note that Newt has pulled even despite the fact that Romney’s support is holding pretty steady.  This is really a case of the late deciders all breaking for Newt after Monday’s debate.  If the trend lines hold, Gingrich is poised to eke out a narrow victory, which would put a crimp in the pundits’ prevailing narrative.

But that’s a big “if” given two additional developments since I posted.  First, Rick Perry gave a strong endorsement for Newt, saying, “I believe Newt is a conservative visionary who can transform our country. We’ve had our differences, which campaigns will inevitably have, and Newt is not perfect, but who among us is?”  As I indicated this morning, I don’t think this will provide a huge boost to Newt’s likely support, although even a modest boost may be critical in a close race.  But what it does do is provide some political insulation for Newt against any fallout from today’s second big story:  ABC’s interview with Gingrich ex-wife Marianne (the second one).  Among the explosive allegations purportedly contained in the interview, perhaps none is bigger than the report that Newt asked Marianne for an “open marriage” so that he could be with Callista (now his third wife) without divorcing Marianne.  It’s hard to say what impact, if any this story will have.   Obviously this steps on the Perry endorsement, which is not great news for Newt, but will it actually cost him votes?  I suspect it will give some social conservatives pause – but I simply don’t know how many will reconsider supporting Newt.  My gut says not many – the same gut that said Rick Perry would be a strong candidate, mind you.

In this regard, a greater proportion of women than men are undecided about Newt’s candidacy, according to the latest polls.  On the other hand, there’s the possibility that conservatives will seek this as a thinly veiled plot by the “liberal” media to destroy Newt’s candidacy.  And, of course, there will be the inevitable questioning of Marianne’s motives – why now?  What’s in it for her?  Who is really behind the story?  I don’t pretend to know the answer to any of these questions, but I’m pretty sure it will come up in the form of a question at tonight’s debate.   If so, Newt has to turn the other cheek with his response.  He should avoid questioning Marianne’s motives at all costs, and indeed mentioning her at all.  Instead, he should repeat the Christian mantra: “I am not worthy. I ask for forgiveness.”  Then he should remind voters it happened a long time ago, and proceed to wax eloquent about his wife, his grandchildren and his new found maturity.  He should finish by saying, “Rick Perry was right when he endorsed me today. I’m not perfect.  None of us are.”

Keep in mind that neither Santorum nor especially Romney can bring this issue up on their own, but they will certainly be given the opportunity to pile on. Romney in particular has to be careful in this regard – he can’t look like he’s trying to score points at Newt’s personal expense.  A simple, “it’s something each voter must think about in her heart” will suffice. Then he damn well better go on the offensive about all of Newt’s other baggage:  immigration, ethics violation, Fannie Mae, etc.

On any other day, of course, the big story would be the belated acknowledgment that Rick Santorum had won in Iowa (don’t give me any of the media’s CYA “virtual tie” crap).  Poor Rick!  As it is his poll numbers have been dropping, and this may well be his last debate.  At this point there’s not a lot he can do to reverse those numbers, I don’t believe, short of major gaffes by Newt and Mitt.  Paul, meanwhile, has to make sure his medication kicks in in time to prevent him from going on one of his Wacky Uncle diatribes regarding currency, the Fed and how we are going to withdraw into Fortress America, with defense bases dotting the countryside.  He needs to stick with what got him here: deficit reductions, spending cuts and LIBERTY!  Although, as I look at the polling numbers, I think his core support is so solid that he’s relatively immune to any fallout from a weak debate performance.  Indeed, what I consider weak may not even matter to Paul’s true believers.  He’s going to get his 15%, medication or not.

I’ll be on at 7:50 for the live blog.  It promises to be a good one. Please join in….

 

Gingrich Surges, Perry Drops Out, Santorum Wins Iowa, and Romney Fights Back

Somewhere on the road to inevitability the Romney caravan hit a bump.  How big a bump remains to be seen.

First, the Des Moines Register is reporting that the certified results from the Iowa caucuses will show Rick Santorum winning that race by 34 votes, but with the results from 8 precincts likely never to be known.  So much for Romney as the first non-incumbent ever to have won both Iowa and New Hampshire – one of the very weak pegs on which the media had hung Romney’s mantle of inevitability.  Given the margin of victory initially reported in Iowa (8 votes!), and the fact that Romney actually did no better there than he did four years ago, it was a rather lame claim, but almost every news story I read used it as a lead after New Hampshire. It was a classic case of the media shaping perceptions through the way it framed election results.

More significantly,  this morning CNN is reporting that Rick Perry , who is polling in single digits in South Carolina, will formally announce at 11 a.m. that he’s dropping out of the race.  There is no mention as yet whether he will endorse another candidate.   This is likely good news for Newt Gingrich – but perhaps not as good as you might think.  In the PPP crosstabs from a survey conducted a week ago 37% of Perry supporters listed Gingrich as their second choice, compared to 28% who chose Romney.  Given that Perry was only pulling in about 6% of the vote at the time, the marginal boost to Gingrich – based on this one survey – if Perry supporters move to their second choice is likely to be about 1%.  However, this survey predates Monday’s debate, so it may be that Gingrich will pick up slightly more Perry voters now.  On the other hand, it’s not clear that there are any Perry voters left in South Carolina.

Even that slight amount, however, could be decisive in a close race. And it looks like it is going to be just that.  Today, in the only poll taken entirely after Monday’s debate, Insider Advantage has Gingrich leading in South Carolina, 31.6-28.8%, with Paul at 15.2% and Santorum fading fast at 10.9%.  Note that Newt’s lead is well within the poll’s margin of error. Two previous polls,  however,  both of which were in the field at least in part before Monday’s debate, still have Romney ahead. First, a Politico/Tarrance poll in the field on Monday and Tuesday still has Romney clinging to a slight lead, 31-29%, over Gingrich, with everyone else polling in single digits (including Paul at 9%). Again, that is a lead well within that poll’s margin of error.  In a poll taken mostly before Monday’s debate, however, NBC/Marist finds Romney still leading Gingrich by 10% – but the lead shrinks to 5%, 31-26%, among those surveyed after the debate.   Collectively, these three polls testify to a Gingrich surge  coming out of his debate performance last Monday and heading into tonight’s crucial CNN debate, and only two days before actual voting.   As those of you who followed Monday’s debate with me know, the crucial  turning point in that event was likely Gingrich’s riveting exchange with Juan Williams regarding race, food stamps and Obama – an exchange that elicited a standing ovation from the partisan crowd.  Romney’s equivocal answer to the tax question, meanwhile, didn’t help his cause.

In looking at recent polls, several themes stand out.  First, the Bain Capital attacks are a mixed blessing for Gingrich and Romney, with South Carolina voters narrowly split on whether these attacks are fair or not.  My guess is Gingrich is going to pivot away from this topic and focus on the other elements of Romney’s portfolio, such as his taxes and off-shore investments during the next two days, in an effort to keep the focus on his opponent.  Note that most of the surge in support for Newt is coming from the Tea Party crowd.  Evangelicals, however, are still uncertain about him.  Interestingly, given the attention the media has paid to the SuperPacs, less than 1/3 of those surveyed in the Marist poll say the ads are influencing their choices, but fully 70% say the debates do.   Finally, in a sign that Paul can play a spoiler role, but no more, a substantial minority of likely South Carolina Republican voters say he is an unacceptable candidate.   Consistent with my earlier post, he is doing particularly well among independents, but not among mainstream Republicans.

Clearly, events are breaking in Newt’s direction.  Before anyone jumps on the Newt’s amphibian backside, however, keep in mind that the race moves quickly to Florida, which votes on Jan. 31, and where Romney has huge advantages in demographics, money, organization and – as of now – polling numbers.  It’s hard to see him losing there – at this point.

A final thought. Throughout the fall, when badgered by friends and students to predict who would win the Republican nomination, I always made three points:  First,  I didn’t know, and no one did.  It was too early to predict.  However, if pushed,  I thought Romney’s support was overstated, Gingrich’s understated, and that Perry was potentially the strongest candidate.  Clearly I was wrong about Perry.  I based my assessment of his strength on three factors: his record winning elections, his fundraising prowess, and his record as Texas governor, particularly on jobs.  However, I made my assessment without ever seeing him debate!  As it turned out, he never really recovered from those early stumbles and, in a crowded field of non-Mitt candidates fighting for the same slice of voters, the debate gaffes proved fatal.  This is a reminder that, particularly in the invisible primary when first impressions matter, outcomes turn on more than resumes and issue stances.  Candidate qualities count too.

Keep my Perry assessment in mind the next time I make a prediction.

In the meantime, however, in what is shaping up to be a potentially pivotal event, all eyes will be on South Carolina tonight.  As always, I’ll be live blogging.  The debate starts at 8 p.m. on CNN. Participation was up during Monday’s event, which saw some memorable exchanges.  Tonight there will be only four candidates, the stakes will be even higher , and the potential repercussions from a Perry-like gaffe even larger.   So please join in!

Addendum (11:00 a.m.): Several media outlets are now reporting that Perry plans on endorsing Gingrich.  Stay tuned.

Who Will Be The Lizard King? The Latest South Carolina Polls

It is probably no coincidence that CNN, which is hosting tomorrow’s South Carolina debate, hyped the results of its latest poll from that state as evidence “that [Romney’s] advantage over Newt Gingrich is rapidly shrinking.”   In fact, the poll taken Jan. 13-17 – a survey period almost entirely before Monday’s debate – has Romney up by 10% over Gingrich, 33% to 23%, with Santorum a distant third with 16%.   Yes, that does represent a 9% swing in Newt’s favor since the previous CNN poll two weeks before.  However, as Mark Halperin notes, that previous poll was something of an outlier because it showed Romney with a bigger lead than most other polls.  In the intervening two weeks, most other polls have shown Romney’s lead increasing – not diminishing.

Despite that caveat, I think that the tail end of the CNN survey may have caught a mini-Gingrich polling boomlet triggered not just by his strong debate performance, but also the impact of the raft of negative advertising that collectively has hit Mitt where it hurts the most: his ample wallet.

It really began, of course, with Romney’s rather indelicate remarks during the New Hampshire campaign regarding his love of pink slips and his own brushes with poverty, both of which became fodder for Newt’s campaign commercials.  Then there was the 30-minute docu-ad, funded by a pro-Newt SuperPac, chronicling Romney’s role at Bain Capital.  On Monday, in a rather stunning debate gaffe, Mitt equivocated on whether he would release his tax returns, finally saying he might do it sometime in April – when, presumably, he will have the nomination clinched.  In the aftermath of that stumble, he acknowledged that most of his income was now taxed at the 15% capital gains rate – all perfectly legit, but less than the rate many Americans pay.  He also acknowledged earning additional money through speaking fees, but said it wasn’t very much – if you consider over $300,000 from last year alone not much!  Finally, two hours ago ABC released this story with the headline “Romney Parks Millions In Offshore Tax Haven.”

Again, if you read the story, it is quite clear that Romney has done nothing wrong, and that the Cayman Islands are a tax haven for foreign investors – not for Romney.  Nonetheless, the cumulative impact of these stories has been to paint Romney as a latter day Gordon Gekko, the Michael Douglas character in the film Wall St. who famously expounded on the virtues of greed.

All this in a state where unemployment is pushing 10%.  Needless to say, the beneficiary of the Mitt-as-Gekko storyline has been Newt Gingrich.  When John King announced the CNN poll tonight, he hinted that the results of that part of the survey done after Monday’s debate showed much greater gains for Gingrich.  Of course, given the limited sample size, we need to be cautious about interpreting the results.  We will know more tomorrow, when NBC is supposed to reveal the results of their first post-debate poll.  Gingrich – never one to take good news quietly – has now gone on record as saying he will win on Saturday.  The only question is by how much. I’m guessing he has additional internal polling results that show him gaining ground.

Meanwhile, as expected, Mitt is not taking this sitting down.  He’s rallied the Republican establishment against Newt, with an effort to brand the former Speaker as unreliable, as the following ad shows. .

All this sets up a delicious rematch in tomorrow’s debate, and I haven’t even begun to mention Santorum, whose polls numbers are slipping, or Paul, who certainly is looking to rebound.  One area that has gotten a bit of media play again is Newt’s relatively moderate stance on immigration, which may serve him well looking ahead to Florida and Nevada, but which will not play well in South Carolina.  I expect Romney to counterpunch on both these themes in tomorrow’s debate.

South Carolina: It’s Gekko vs. the Newt in the Battle To be Lizard King*

*Ok, a newt is technically an amphibian. Still….