Tag Archives: 2012 Republican nomination

The Post-Mortem on Gingrich: Why The Fat Man Sang

It has been a little more than a month since Newt Gingrich formally ended his improbable and wildly entertaining bid for the Republican nomination.   The Newtster, whose campaign had been on life support for several weeks, finally bowed to reality shortly after Mitt Romney crushed him in the winner-take-all Delaware primary on April 24, one of several victories for the Mittster that same night that made it clear Newt had used up all of his nine political lives, and then some.   A subdued Newt formally gave up the ghost a week later, but not before reiterating his belief that his grandchildren would likely be able to visit a moon colony in their lifetime.  The moon colony, of course, had long become the symbol of Newt’s candidacy: big on ideas, short on practicality.   But that caricature both oversimplifies and underestimates Newt’s impact on this race.  For, despite a rather inauspicious start that had the media declaring his candidacy over before it began, Newt parlayed a series a scintillating debate performances (who can forget Newt taking on John King over media coverage of his first wife’s allegations that Newt sought an open marriage?) and the support of Sugar Daddy Sheldon Adelson into what is essentially a distant third-place finish, as measured by popular votes, in the Republican nomination. In so doing, Newt outperformed a number of other candidates, including Rick Perry, Michele Bachmann, Herman Cain, Jon Huntsman and Tim Pawlenty.

Here’s Newt at his media bashing best, taking on CNN’s King regarding the Newt’s First Wife’s Club:

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This was probably the high point of Newt’s campaign. In a reminder that those who live by the sword often die by it, Newt’s longshot campaign probably ended shortly after with his poor debate performance prior to the Florida primary, when Mitt’s superior opposition research gave him the material to flummox the Newtster during an exchange over investment portfolios.  Of course, Newt was already facing a huge financial deficit as Romney was pummeling him in the ad wars.  But after Florida Newt’s support in the polls dwindled as the Tea Party and conservative evangelical vote switched to Santorum.

To me, one of the distinguishing features of Newt’s candidacy was just how hated he was by both the media punditocracy and by my colleagues in political science.  I was reminded of this when I looked at the recent Pew report documenting the tone of media coverage of the various Republican candidates during the nomination fight.   As you can see in this chart put together by Peter Cahill based on the Pew Report of media coverage, except for a brief period heading into and just after Newt’s victory in the South Carolina primary, his media coverage was uniformly negative.  Indeed, it started out negative, and largely remained that way through most of his candidacy.

.Compare this to Mitt Romney’s coverage, against based on the Pew Report. Although Mitt had his share of negative coverage, it was much more evenly balanced, for the most part, between negative and positive tone through much of his campaign.


Now, let me make clear that I am not necessarily asserting that Newt’s predominantly negative coverage reflected reporters’ animosity toward him.  Instead it may have been driven more by media perceptions that his campaign was poorly run and that he never had much chance of winning the nomination.   Still, I can’t discount the possibility that the two are at least distantly linked. Combined with the spending gap, the disparity in media tone in campaign coverage may lead some of Newt’s supporters to cry foul; clearly the odds were stacked – unfairly – against their man in this primary fight.  I don’t blame them for thinking so.  But I don’t think Newt lost because he was outspent, or because of predominantly negative news coverage. Ultimately, what doomed Gingrich was his record in several areas that, when publicized, caused an erosion of support among the Tea Party faction.  Perhaps none was more damning than Newt’s consulting work for Fannie Mae, which many Floridians blamed in part for the collapse of the housing market. Newt’s claim that he was merely a historian who gave impartial advice to Fannie Mae never really passed the smell test.  Throw in his ill-fated dalliance with Nancy Pelosi on behalf of combatting climate change, and you can understand why conservatives ultimately defaulted to Rick Santorum as the Mitt alternative.

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Why did the Fat Man sing?  Not because of negative media coverage, or an inability to raise money, or because my political science colleagues positively despised the man. (For the record, I found him thoroughly entertaining!) Those were merely symptoms of a deeper malady: Gingrich was running in a Republican nomination race with a record that a good many Republican voters viewed as insufficiently conservative.

Tonight’s Primaries: Move Along, There’s Nothing To See Here

Between conference papers, grading, reading journal submissions and prepping for lecture, I couldn’t live blog tonight even if I wanted to, but I did want to post a brief update on the state of the nomination race after today’s primaries in Wisconsin, Maryland, and the District of Columbia.  The short story is that this is a good night for Mitt Romney who, the networks are projecting, is likely to win all three contests.   More importantly, he’s likely to win 80 or more delegates tonight, leaving Rick Santorum to take maybe a dozen delegates, give or take a few.   None of this is surprising, given the demographics of the three states.  In Wisconsin, evangelicals constituted about 37% of voters, according to exit polls – far below the 50% threshold that has to date signified a certain Santorum victory. In Maryland they constituted 38% of the vote. At this point in the race, much as we saw in the latter stages of the Democratic primary fight in 2008, demographics are destiny, and the demographics of these three states favored Romney.

Meanwhile, media pundits are clearly hoping to create the impression that the Republican race is over by talking about the momentum Romney will pick up because of his victories tonight.  The reality is that Romney’s victories tonight may affect the media coverage, but they likely will have almost no impact on the next set of primaries which take place on April 24, and which will include Santorum’s home state of Pennsylvania.  (Amy Walter is now tweeting that the Wisconsin results finally put an end to the Republican primary because he did better among some demographic groups than he did among those groups in Ohio.  This is nonsense, of course.)    Note that in both Wisconsin and Maryland, Romney’s support, once again, increases as we go up the income ladder. However, he did increase his support among lower income voters, relative to Santorum, at least in Wisconsin, compared to how he did in previous Midwestern contests.   But given the margin of error in exit polls, it’s not clear this really signifies an expansion of his support.  Note that as in previous contests, his support also increases among older voters.

Interestingly, among those voters who made up their mind today in Wisconsin (13% of voters), Santorum was the clear victor, 46%-27%; among the 35% who made up their mind in “the last few days”, Santorum won 42%-39%.  I’m not quite sure what to make of this.    In other shocking news – at least shocking to those watching the CNN coverage – Santorum once again does as well among women as he does among men in both Maryland and Wisconsin.  Hard to believe, I know, given his statements about abortion, contraception, etc.  He also outperforms his polling support in both Wisconsin and Maryland – not that this matters all that much in terms of delegates.  But it does indicate that Romney hasn’t changed the dynamics of this race.

Bottom line tonight?  The media will come out strong tomorrow about how tonight’s results indicate that Romney has  regained momentum and is poised to close this nomination fight out.  The reality is that tonight’s results change nothing; Romney went into tonight as the frontrunner, and he will come out as the frontrunner, but there’s no evidence that he’s gaining “momentum” or expanding his coalition.

Again, I apologize for the decrease in blogging frequency, but my day job is calling with increased frequency in recent days.

Kvetching About Etch-A-Sketching: What Really Determines Who Will Win This Race

The fallout from Romney spokesman’s Eric Fehrnstrom’s etch-a-sketch comments has dominated media coverage of the Republican nomination fight the last 48 hours, leading pundits to proclaim that Romney’s team has once again stepped on his own campaign message. Rather than building on any momentum generated by his solid victory in the Illinois primary last Tuesday, Team Romney instead has spent the last two days putting out the brush fires ignited by Fehrnstrom’s remarks. For those of you who missed it, here’s what Fehrnstrom actually said:

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For many pundits, Fehrnstrom’s comments are damaging because they refocus media attention on the long-standing skepticism among many Republican voters that Romney is a true-blue conservative. Rather than any fixed set of conservative principles, he’s willing to say or do anything depending on his audience – a theme that found its way into the seemingly endless parade of etch-sketch parodies that dominated the “internets” in the wake of Fehrnstrom’s comments.  Many of those parodies – like this one – were created by groups working for Romney’s opponents.

And both Santorum and Gingrich lost no time in holding press conferences mocking Fehrnstrom’s comments while carrying their own etch-a-sketch devices.  The punditocracy, meanwhile,  used the etch-a-sketch comment as a reason to replay the long line of celebrated Romney’s “gaffes” that have figured so prominently in media coverage of his campaign.

But while the “massive campaign blunder” certainly cost Team Romney a couple of media cycles, it will likely have no long-term impact on the race for the Republican nomination. This is because at this stage the race is all about demographic-based voting blocs rather than media-generated “momentum” – or lack thereof. As many analysts, including myself, have noted before, Romney’s support is centered on higher-income, better educated, more moderate Republican voters.  It drops off, however, as one goes down the income and educational ladder.  In this respect, the Republican race bears a resemblance to the latter stages of the 2008 Democratic nomination fight, when Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama slogged it out through dozens of primaries and caucuses, with each drawing on an increasingly  identifiable set of voting blocs.

As I noted in my post last Tuesday, and as several other analysts have pointed out, a key indicator of how Romney will do in any primary is the proportion of evangelicals who vote. The Washington Post’s Jon Cohen used exit poll data to create a series of tables showing how the Republican candidates did in each state among different classes of voters.  Not surprising, the table based on the evangelical vote proves most revealing; Romney loses every state where evangelical turnout breaks the 50% mark.

Beating me to the punch, the New Yorker’s Ryan Lizza has extrapolated from that insight to make a rough forecast of the 23 remaining nomination contests. Of course, Lizza can’t know what the evangelical turnout will be in the remaining states, but by comparing the 2008 exit poll data with state-level surveys of the current evangelical population, he can make an educated guess.  This table lists the remaining states in descending order of evangelical population.

The key point here is that actual turnout among white evangelicals in Republican primaries is typically higher than the proportion of evangelicals in the overall state population, something Lizza checks by looking at the 2008 exit polls. Thus, although evangelicals are only 34% of the adult population in Texas, they constituted 60% of the Republican primary vote in 2008.  Using a 30% threshold of evangelicals as the dividing line, then, and giving Santorum the two remaining caucus states (Nebraska and Montana), Lizza estimates that Romney and Santorum will divide the remaining 22 state contests evenly, at 11 each.  In the tiebreaker, Romney is forecast to win the District of Columbia. Here are the states as allocated by Lizza:

Romney: Rhode Island, Washington, D.C., Utah, Connecticut, New York, New Jersey, Maryland, Delaware, California, Wisconsin, New Mexico, South Dakota.

Santorum: Arkansas, Kentucky, North Carolina, West Virginia, Indiana, Texas, Louisiana, Pennsylvania, Nebraska, Montana, Oregon.

Note, of course, that this is only Lizza’s forecast of state winners – not of total delegates, which of course is what is really at stake in the remaining contests.  However, even if we accept Lizza’s forecast, estimating how many delegates each candidate will win is more complicated due to the different state delegate allocation rules and because, as I noted in my previous post, that it matters whether Gingrich stays in the race.  If I get some time free from grading, I’ll try to produce a very rough estimate of how the delegate race may play out.   In the meantime, pay no attention to media kvetching about etch-a-sketching or, for that matter, how Jeb Bush’s endorsement may finally indicate – finally, I tell ya! – that the Republican establishment is ready to fall in line behind Romney.  Beyond the immediate media entertainment value, these aren’t going to influence how this race plays out.  Instead, a better indicator are the increasingly identifiable demographic-based voting blocs.  It’s not the etch-a-sketch Romney should worry about – it’s the evangelicals.

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.


Who Has True Grit (Besides Chuck Norris)?

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

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

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

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

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

Unless Chuck Norris shows up and kicks some ass.