Tag Archives: Mitt Romney

Mitt’s Campaign: Heading to the Cadillac Ranch?

Charlie Cook became the latest prognosticator to acknowledge what I have been telling you for some time: that Mitt Romney is an exceedingly weak Republican frontrunner.  Noting Romney’s declining support among independents, Cook concludes his assessment of the Republican race this way:  “My assumption was that Romney would be the nominee and would make a good run. Now, I have begun to doubt both propositions. His odds of winning the nomination are growing longer. And even if he does, he has twisted and turned himself into a human pretzel. I’m not sure how electable he is. The alternatives, however, seem even less so.”

Events these past few days drive home Cook’s point. During Wednesday’s Arizona debate, we saw all the reasons why Romney must be considered the Republican frontrunner.   Judging by the applause, the audience seemed dominated by pro-Romney supporters – a likely sign of Romney’s superior organization as well as a strong Mormon turnout.  During the debate Romney proceeded to use his superior opposition research to focus attention on Santorum’s  Senate voting record – a strategy that kept the Rickster on the defensive most of the night as he tried to defend some of his votes that he acknowledged were either mistakes or against his principles.  The more time Santorum delved into the Senate weeds by, for example,  debating the merits of earmarks and Title X, the less he was able to attack Romney.  In the end, this was not a good performance for Rick, something borne out by the first two post-debate polls in Michigan which both show Romney edging ahead of Santorum by margins of 3% and 6%.

But while Romney was effective on Wednesday in driving down Santorum’s poll numbers, much as he did with Gingrich during the pre-Florida debates – it’s not clear to me that the debate strengthened Romney’s own case to be the nominee.  Although he effectively put Rick on the defensive, he also came across again as the rich boy used to getting his way, as when defending his right not to answer CNN moderator John King’s final question regarding misconceptions about each candidate.  It was the same blustering response we’ve seen from Romney in previous debates and it reinforce the impression that he’s not very likeable.

Today, in what was billed as a major economic speech at Ford Field in Michigan, Romney tried to build on any momentum he may have gained coming out of the CNN debate.  Leading up to the speech, however, critics seemed more concerned with the Romney camp’s tactics for downplaying the fact that he was going to speak to an audience of about 1,000 in a stadium that seats about 65,000 people. (The speech, hosted by the Detroit Economic Club, was moved to Ford Field after sponsors concluded that the sold out event was too large for the hotel conference room it had been slated for.)  With the Michigan primary just four days away, Romney used the speech to flesh out his economic plan for cutting government spending and taxes, and for protecting entitlement programs.  Most notably, he proposed an overhaul of the U.S. tax system to create a “flatter, fairer, simpler tax system,” cutting all tax rates by 20% and limiting deductions for the wealthy.

Once again, however, the often politically tone deaf Romney likely stepped on his own lead. This time it came during an effort to show his personal support for the automotive industry. Near the end of the speech, after noting that he has owned several Detroit-built automobiles, including a Mustang [a Ford product] and a Chevy, Mitt – always seeking ways to demonstrate the common touch – let this slip out: “Ann drives a couple of Cadillacs, actually” before he completed the Big Three automotive trifecta by noting he also once owned a Dodge pickup.

Two Cadillacs?  Really? One isn’t enough?  I don’t want to overstate the significance of this throwaway comment.  Indeed, it’s not clear to me how much airplay, if any, it will get.  But I do think it is but the latest in a series of remarks by Mitt that collectively reinforce the point that he lacks that Reagan-like ability to empathize with Joe and Jane Sixpack.  And that failure shows in his campaign support; exit polls from the nominating contests consistently show that his support falls in linear fashion as one moves down the income ladder.

Let’s be clear. Mitt may yet pull out a victory in Michigan, to go along with a win that same day in Arizona.  But if he barely squeaks by Santorum in Mitt’s “home” state, this is not going to provide much boost, if any, heading into Super Tuesday on March 6.  And it may lead others to the same conclusion Cook voiced yesterday: that Mitt can’t close the deal with many Republican voters.

Mitt may own two Cadillacs, but it won’t do him much good if his campaign ends up at the Cadillac Ranch.

7:55 p.m. UPDATE:  Well, it didn’t take long.  The Hillin its coverage of the Romney speech, reacts to the Cadillac comment this way:  “But his claim might hurt him by reinforcing the image, being pushed by Democrats, of Romney as elitist and out of touch with average Americans. ”  You think?  Politico, meanwhile,  headlines its coverage of the Romney speech as follows:  “Mitt Romney’s Cadillac Flub One of Many”.  And the wags were out in force in the Twitterverse regarding Mitt’s automobiles.

He can’t help himself.


What Happens In Vegas…Assessing Mitt’s Win (And My SuperBowl Pick)

Football coach Bill Parcells was famous for responding, when asked to assess his team’s record, “It is what it is.”   His point, of course, is that a team’s success is, in the end, based solely on its wins and losses.   Everything else that the sports pundits spend time analyzing is secondary.

Using the Parcell’s standard, last night was a very good night for Mitt Romney.   Based solely on the (as yet incomplete) returns, it looks like Mitt will win at least 48% of the Nevada caucus vote.  My guess is that percentage will go a bit higher as the remaining returns from Clark County come in (Mitt did very well in that county four years ago.)  Assuming Mitt comes close to 50%, he will have more than doubled the vote of the second place finisher New Gingrich, who right now has about 23% of the vote.  Indeed, Mitt would best the totals of Gingrich and Rick Santorum, his conservative rivals, combined.   Exit polls show, moreover, that Mitt beat Newt among conservatives, Tea Party supporters, all income groups – it was an across the board victory. With the second decisive win in a row, Mitt sits comfortably in the driver’s seat of this nomination process.

And yet.

And yet I don’t think Mitt’s victory does much to remove the doubts of those who believe he is a weak candidate.  To begin, it appears as if overall turnout in Nevada was down from 2008, when 44,000 Republicans caucused.  (There are approximately 400,000 registered Republicans in Nevada.)  If so, it will be the second contest in a row where Mitt’s victory was associated with a drop in voter turnout.  It’s hard to know what to make of this enthusiasm gap, but I don’t think it bodes well for the Mittster as we look down the road.  Compare that to the Democratic turnout in 2008, when more than 100,000 voters caucused in Nevada to give Hillary Clinton a resounding victory over Barack Obama.

And while it is true that Mitt seems to have expanded his coalition to include a majority of Nevada’s Tea Party and conservative voters – two groups that he has had trouble winning in previous events – as I noted last night it is hard to tell how much of that support came from Mormons who self-identify as conservatives and who support the Tea Party movement.  Looking at the crosstabs of the PPP poll from last week, for instance, fully 80% of Nevada Mormons described themselves as conservative.   It is no surprise, then, that Mitt did well with conservatives in Nevada, but it does not mean he will win that group in states with a smaller Mormon population.

My point here is that the fundamental demographics indicated that Mitt should do well in Nevada, just as they suggested he should win New Hampshire and Florida.   But nothing I saw last night changes my belief that Mitt, as yet, has not excited the Republican base.  In the end, turnout was down from 2008, and he likely received a smaller percentage of the vote (or at least did not increases his share) from a year when he failed to win the Republican nomination.

Of course, we should not lose sight of Parcell’s dictum.  Mitt is in line, pending results down the road, to pick up another 12 or so delegates in Nevada.   That would give Mitt about 79 pledged delegates so far, compared to 29 for Newt who is in second place.   There’s still a long way to go – Mitt needs to pick up another 1,054 or so delegates to clinch the nomination – but any candidate would rather be in Mitt’s position than in Newt’s at this stage.  By all measures, then, Mitt is winning this race, and he should increase that delegate lead after the caucuses in Minnesota and Colorado on Tuesday, and Maine next Saturday.   And that’s the bottom line.

Of perhaps greater interest on this, Superbowl Sunday, is that my Nevada prediction is looking positively uncanny, with the slight exception of understating Santorum’s support.  I wish I could attribute that to my use of a science-based prediction model.  Alas, it was based mostly on intuition, experience and not a little bit of luck. Nonetheless, I know my success makes many of you eager to know my Super Bowl prediction, particularly after I nailed the score of the last Patriots game almost exactly.

Here’s the problem.  As a dyed-in-the-wool Patriots fan, I can’t bring myself to state my prediction. It is too painful to actually write the words.  I trust you understand what I’m trying to say here.  Some thoughts are better left unspoken.

So instead, let me conclude with this advice – Go Patriots! – and some happy memories:

No matter what happens today, no one can take that memory away.

Mitt Romney Speaks French, Hates His Dog – And Hates Poor People Too!

In what should have been a day spent building on the momentum from his decisive victory yesterday in the Florida primary, Mitt Romney instead spent most of his time today cleaning up the mess he created in this interview with Soledad O’Brien this morning on CNN.  (By the way, my two sons are named “Attica” and “Alcatraz”.)

Notice that when Soledad gave him the opportunity to correct any misimpressions created by his initial statement, Romney in effect double downed on the idea that the poor were not his priority in this campaign.  Look, it is clear what he was trying to say in this exchange.  But it is equally obvious that the way he said it left him vulnerable, once again, to those who want to create the impression that he is a wealthy Wall St. capitalist who has little empathy for the “little people.”   Those trying to derail his campaign are not going to miss the opportunity to condense Mitt’s statement into him saying he doesn’t care for the poor.  This will now be added to the list of previous Romney remarks that, in the shorthand retelling, have him saying he likes to fire people, that he knows what it is to be unemployed, and that his idea of a gentleman’s bet involves exchanging  $10,000.  And don’t get me started on his treatment of the family dog. Collectively these incidents – as retold in the popular press – create the impression of a man who just doesn’t empathize with Joe and Jane Sixpack.

The problem is not simply one of verbal maladroitness.  It is that these comments, as retold in condensed fashion through the media, make it harder for him to attract the support of exactly that portion of the Republican electorate that so far has been unwilling to pull the lever on his behalf: conservative, low-income supporters of the Tea Party.  In my post yesterday I went through the exit polls numbers from Florida: despite Romney’s convincing victory, Gingrich still beat him among strong conservatives, those who strongly support the Tea Party, and evangelicals.  Collectively these constitute about a third of the Republican voters.  Until Romney shows he can broaden his support to include these economic populists, his road to the nomination is much more difficult.  This is not to say that he’s not in the driver’s seat.  It is to say that he’s not likely to close this race out any time soon.

I’ll develop these points in the context of addressing the Gingrich campaign in tomorrow’s post.  For now, however, you might want to catch the latest online exchange between my colleague Bert Johnson and I as we attempt, once again, to demolish the myth that Citizens United has opened the campaign fundraising spigot to unprecedented levels. (In fact, candidate spending is down this cycle.)

I also have a piece up at U.S. News and World Report debate club where I make the case that Newt Gingrich should stay in the race for the good of the GOP.   Note that some Republican strategist is beating me in the debate on this question.  I urge all of you to go to that website and demonstrate that political science trumps campaign strategery when it comes to understanding election-year politics.  (Go to the main debate website and vote!)

Finally, let me remind everyone that, against my better judgment, I have been persuaded by the powers-that-be to open a twitter account in order to publicize my blog posts and other online bleatings.  For the twits among you, please follow me at MattDickinson44 and notice the cool logo I have.  I promise not to flood your twitter feed with inane postings documenting the wild road kill I cooked….er… wild game I shot for dinner or my immense knowledge of Star Trek (TOS) episodes.  I will only post when I have a blog post up, or when my comments may save the world from a nuclear holocaust.

And for those of you who keep pestering me, yes,  I’ll be up with my SuperBowl pick soon.

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.