Tag Archives: 2012 Republican nomination

Should Newt Drop Out? Or Should Rick? Republican Dilemmas

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Of course, there’s always  Operation Brokered Convention.

Why Not Tennessee?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Clearing Up Some Misconceptions About SuperTuesday

As we near SuperTuesday, it’s probably worth it to clear up several misconceptions that have crept into the media coverage and blogosphere in recent days.

The Ohio Primary is the most important contest on SuperTuesday.   No, Georgia is – thanks to the 21 bonus delegates it has been awarded, there are 76 delegates up for grab there on Tuesday, compared to 63 in Ohio (in addition to three unpledged delegates there).  What the journalists mean when they say Ohio is most important is that they don’t know who is going to win there.  That makes Ohio intrinsically a more interesting news story.   Some reporters, of course, fall back on the “Ohio will be a key swing state in the general election while Georgia will go Republican” defense.  That’s true – but President Obama is not on the ballot this Tuesday in Ohio.  Right now the focus is on winning delegates for the Republican nomination.  Based on this criterion, while Ohio is big, Georgia is substantively bigger.

And, even using the media criteria of uncertainty and newsworthiness, there’s a lot to be said about Georgia’s capacity to surprise.  To begin, 42 of the state’s delegates are awarded – three each – based on how candidates do in each of Georgia’s 14 congressional districts.  If Gingrich can clear 50% in any of these districts, he gets all three delegates.   At the very least he’s likely to get 2 of the 3 delegates if he receives a plurality in each district, with the runner up getting the remaining delegate.   So it’s quite possible Rick Santorum, based on current polling, might get shut out of some of these districts.  Similarly, Santorum and Romney must clear 20% of the statewide popular vote to compete for the remaining 31 at large delegates.   So there a great deal at stake in Georgia – and not a little uncertainty when it comes to delegate counts.  (Note as well that Georgia’s three party delegates are pledged to the overall state winner, while Ohio’s are not.   Also note that formally speaking, Ohio delegates are morally bound to the presidential candidate who wins them – but only morally bound.)

SuperTuesday Will Reshape the Republican Race. In fact, it almost certainly will not.  The most likely outcome is that the current pecking order, as measured by delegate strength and popular votes among the four candidates, is not likely to change after the results in Tuesday’s ten contests are tabulated.  Nor are any of the four candidates likely to drop out.  By any objective standard, then,  SuperTuesday will likely not reshape the race; Romney will remain the frontrunner, and the odds on favorite to win the nomination.

The Republicans Establishment is Closing Ranks Behind Romney.  Stop me if you’ve heard this before. On the heels of today’s endorsements of Romney by Eric Cantor and Tom Coburn, the “closing ranks” theme has once again been resurrected by the talking heads.  Are today’s endorsements really news?  According to the ongoing tally listed at TheHill website, Romney has been running away with the endorsement race since before January.  We don’t need two more to convince us that the “Party Establishment” wants Romney to win.  Remember when New Jersey Governor Chris Christie endorsed Mitt way back in October?  It was, CNN reported, “another sign Romney, the GOP front-runner, is consolidating support among establishment Republicans who believe he is the party’s best chance to win back the White House.”  But wait. There’s more! We heard that they were closing ranks after New Hampshire – and Romney got crushed in South Carolina.  We heard they were closing ranks after Florida – and Santorum pulled off the trifecta.  Forgive me if I don’t get overly excited over two more endorsements.  I suppose at some point the “Party Decides” crowd can claim victory.  But it is going to ring pretty hollow, given events to date.

This race is just like 2008.   Keep in mind that the Republican race was essentially finished after the first week in February in 2008, when Romney dropped out after a disappointing SuperTuesday. (Rudy Giuliani‘s candidacy essentially ended the week before in Florida). By the time SuperTuesday was over in 2008 more than half the Republican delegates had been awarded.  Although Mike Huckabee stuck around, the delegate math was impossible for him to overcome and he formally quit by the first week in March.  Nothing like that outcome is likely to happen after this SuperTuesday.  For starters, when the day is done next Tuesday only 36% of the delegates will have been allocated (and that is a generous count because it includes caucus results where no delegates have actually been selected).   The odds may favor Romney, but his situation is simply not analogous to McCain’s in 2008.  The dynamics of the race are so different as to render comparisons less than helpful.

There you are. Hope that clears up matters.  I’ll be on tomorrow with a polling overview.


Romney Wins, The Media Spins – And We Wait For SuperTuesday

The Washington state Republican caucuses are underway as I write.  Although the event is being heavily hyped by CNN, I’m not going to bother with live blogging for the simple reason that no delegates will be chosen today; the precinct-level selection of delegates is only the first step in a process that will culminate at the end of May when the state’s 43 convention delegates (40 pledged, three unpledged) will actually be chosen.  By then, of course, the changing dynamics of the race may alter some of the delegates’ decisions regarding whom to support.  So while today’s precinct votes are not meaningless, it is unwise to try to allocate delegate counts based on the results.  Not that this will stop media outlets from doing so!

Polls suggest that the fight for precinct level delegates will be a battle between Mitt Romney and Ron Paul, with Paul hoping a victory today will give him some media-generated momentum heading in to SuperTuesday.  Accordingly, while Romney, Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich spent today in Ohio, the state with second biggest delegate haul available on Tuesday,  Paul remained in Washington state, hoping for good news there tonight.  Keep in mind, however, my earlier warning regarding the difficulties in polling a caucus state.  Initial indications are the turnout is up in Washington from 2008.   (As I write, about 40% of precincts have reported and Romney has a commanding lead.  Paul is in a battle for second with Santorum.)

Interestingly, although the media has focused most of their attention on the battle between Romney and Santorum, particularly in Ohio, heading into Tuesday’s 10 contests, if PPP polls are correct Gingrich may be gaining ground. He has unleashed a series of advertising, including robocalls in several southern states, and will be banking on free publicity on major talk shows tomorrow. At the very least he should retain enough strength to complicate the delegate issue in several states. In Oklahoma, an ARG poll has Gingrich pulling 22%, putting him within striking distance of Romney (at 26%) for second place, behind Santorum (37%).   Because of the way Oklahoma allocates its 40 pledged delegates, the second-place finisher can pick up significant delegates both statewide and within the 15 congressional districts, assuming he gets at least 15% of the vote. In Ohio, Gingrich has an outside shot of getting to the 20% threshold which would give him a portion of that state’s statewide delegates, although he will not likely win any of the congressional districts.  In Tennessee, Gingrich does not at this point appear poised to get many delegates, but he retains a large lead in Georgia, which has the most delegates at stake on Tuesday.  If Gingrich draws enough support in Georgia, he may prevent Rick Santorum from reaching the 20% threshold required to get a portion of the statewide delegates there.  If he finishes behind Romney, Santorum could also get shut out of the delegate allocation process within each of Georgia’s 14 congressional districts.

In short,  when the dust settles after Tuesday, it’s not clear to me that this will be a two-man race.      Keep in mind that a strict delegate count still puts Gingrich ahead of Paul and Santorum for second place at this point.  It’s possible he may still be in second, using a hard count, after SuperTuesday. Of course, in the long run the goal for both Newt and Rick (and I think Paul, although there is some question regarding his true objective!) is to prevent Romney from accumulating enough delegates to win an outright majority before the convention.  SuperTuesday, with over 400 delegates at stake, gives them the best opportunity to do so to date.

Meanwhile – CNN has just projected Romney to win Washington state. Once again Paul is the bridesmaid. Let the spin begin!