Tag Archives: SuperTuesday

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.


Assessing What the Media Says: Looking Back at Michigan and Ahead to SuperTuesday

How should we interpret Tuesday’s primary results in Michigan?  It is always useful to compare what the data suggests happened versus what the media reports.   The two narratives do not always agree, as I hope to show in this post.  And that serves as an early warning as we look ahead to the media coverage of Super Tuesday, coming up on March 6.

Media claim #1: Rick Santorum, in losing the Michigan primary to Romney, essentially blew his chance to win this nomination.  That’s the verdict of Joe Scarborough of “Morning Joe” fame, who reportedly said yesterday:  “If Santorum had beaten Romney in Michigan, it would have shaken the race up … He had his chance. He blew his chance. … I hate to upset people, but the fact is: Romney has all the built-in advantages. [Santorum] had one chance to take him down. And he blew it.”  In the same vein, the Washington Post’s Chris Cilizza claims that Romney narrowly averted a defeat that would have essentially ended his candidacy:  “And when Romney needed to win — a loss in Michigan would have crippled his campaign beyond repair (or close to it) — he did.”

Really?  Scarborough and Cilizza would have us believe that if 2% of Romney’s popular vote switched to Santorum, giving Rick the victory at 40%-39%, Romney’s campaign would have ended?  And that for want of that 2% switch, Santorum blew his one chance to beat Romney?  I’m not buying it.  In fact, I believe a narrow Santorum win in Michigan would have made absolutely no difference to the outcome of this nomination contest.  Remember, although Romney beat Santorum 41%-38% in the popular vote, they split Michigan’s 30 delegates, 15 apiece.  Even with an additional 2% in the popular vote, Santorum would still likely have split the delegates with Mitt – and at this point that’s what these contests are all about: getting delegates.

Nor do I see any evidence that Santorum “blew” his chance. In fact, this was his strongest performance to date; he won 377,000 votes and 38% of the popular vote – the best performance for him in any contest so far.  Mitt, meanwhile, did what he’s done all campaign: held his own by virtue of strong support among upper-income, older and more moderate Republican voters, but without showing much evidence that he can expand his coalition.  To his credit, he increased his vote totals and percentage over 2008, when he won with 39% of the vote and with 70,000 fewer votes.  But that increase in votes came from most of the same areas that supported him four years ago.

Media claim #2: Santorum lost this race in the last few days when he shifted the campaign focus from the economy to women’s issues, particularly abortion and reproductive rights. This was a theme trumpeted by more than one news outlet in the days leading up to the Michigan primary, and one that CNN’s Gloria Borger raised during the primary coverage Tuesday night.   In fact, however, Santorum’s support among Republican women has increased since January, and in Michigan, exit polls indicate he won 38% of the men’s votes – and 38% of the women’s vote.  Similarly, Santorum won 38% of the vote by “working women” and 38% of the vote of everyone else.  If anything, it was Romney who suffered from a gender gap – he did 4% better among women than men.  It appears that some of the men’s vote gravitated from Romney to Paul.  The lack of a gender gap based on Santorum’s views toward “women’s issues” should not surprise us – although media pundits continue to insist that views toward issues such as abortion and reproductive rights drive the gender gap in voting, that’s not the case.  Instead, women and men differ much more on issues related to war and peace, and how much the government is responsible for caring for the most vulnerable citizens in society.   Keep in mind that 79% of Michigan voters cited the budget deficit and the economy as the most important issue – only 14% mentioned abortion.   When reporters go on and on about how women are particularly sensitive to debates regarding these issues, I often believe they are more likely voicing their own views, about what they think is true – views reflecting their own socioeconomic status, rather than citing any evidence to support the claim.

But didn’t the polls indicate that Santorum’s support shrank in the last few days before the Michigan primary – just as talk about social issues heated up?  It is true that among the 9% who made up their mind on the day of the election, Romney won 38-31%.  But for those who decided “in the last few days”, Santorum took 43% of the vote, compared to 34% for Romney.  At the very least, those making the social issues claim have to explain why social issues suddenly became prominent among those who decided on the day of the election, but not among those who made up their minds in the last few days before the vote took place.  It may be the case that Santorum lost support because of his conservative social views,  but I’ll need more evidence before I accept this claim.

In the competitive news environment that drives political coverage today, when every outlet struggles to define an outcome in the most newsworthy manner possible in order to capture the viewing audience in any single news cycle, there is a tendency to overstate the significance of each event.  But in an extended nomination fight, no single contest is likely to be a game-changer at this point.  Michigan did not save Mitt’s campaign.  Nor did it doom Rick’s.  It’s important to keep that in mind as we head toward SuperTuesday, when the media hyperbole will undoubtedly reach new heights.  There will be 10 contests on March 6, with 437 delegates at stake – more than have been up for grabs in all the contests so far.  And yet, when the dust settles, we are likely to see a reprise of what just happened last Tuesday:  Wolf Blitzer will begin the night trumpeting the significance of it all,  John King will work the magic board until it malfunctions, Anderson Cooper will wander the stage looking for someone to talk to, the pundits will opine (sometimes accurately, sometimes not), the major candidates will all win a chunk of delegates, Mitt will retain his weak frontrunner status, I’ll pour a glass of scotch, and the race will continue.

Addendum:  Here’s more media hyperbole from Charles Krauthammer on Michigan, the “gender gap” and how Santorum blew it.

Addendum (11:00 p.m.)  I’ve been teaching and grading for most of the day, so I’m late to to this story that a divided Michigan rules committee has decided to award both of Michigan’s at large delegates to Romney. If this survives the inevitable Santorum challenge, it will mean that Romney wins 16 delegates to Santorum’s 14, instead of a 15-15 split.  It won’t change the point of my post, however.