Monday, June 20, 2011

RLC Notebook: Paul Wins Straw Poll, Not Delegates

There’s a big difference between attending a conference for the conference and attending a conference for the primary purpose of supporting your candidate in a straw poll.

To use a sports analogy, it’s like the difference between cheering for a player as opposed to the team he plays on. And that’s why there is so much animosity between Republican activists and Ron Paul activists.

The party regulars don’t consider the Paul supporters Republicans while the Paul supporters don’t consider the GOP establishment true conservatives.

And they’re both right to some degree.

That Texas Congressman Ron Paul won yet another straw poll is no shock.

This is the kind of activity that the Paulistas/Paulistinians (don’t call them Paultards- which has a vile implication) specialize in and with “school out” for the summer, the June conference date was a boon to the college student driven effort.

These kids (and they are mostly young people, not that this once 22-year old state GOP committeeman thinks there is anything wrong with that) aren’t hauled in or bribed into going. They foot their own bills beyond the registrations and make sacrifices to travel about the country.

Rather than chasing Green Day, U2 or Phish, these whippersnappers are following the most prominent advocate of the Austrian School of Economics.

And perhaps breaking some possession laws along the way.

The Paulistas should consider making straw poll/concert t-shirts complete with the dates of the conferences they attend.

Now what’s the benefit of the traveling political carnival?

I say nothing. An ardent Paul supporter almost turned blue in the face when I discounted the value of the straw poll strategy.

But it’s true: Paul wins straw polls but loses delegate elections. Badly.

Until Paul can devise a way to breakout beyond the older libertarian/younger college campus crowd, their champion will have to settle for paper victories.

Huntsman’s Propaganda Victory

"The result demonstrates that young conservatives are responding to his record of success in Utah, willingness to take the debt problem seriously, and foreign policy message," said a spokesman for former Utah Governor Jon Huntsman.


This absurd declaration would be slightly easier to swallow had Huntsman actually spoke at the event.

Let me clear something up right here: there was not enthusiastic groundswell of support for a moderate that many people, including the activists attending the conference, have not even heard of.

Huntsman has participated in no debates and his “tribute” to Ronald Reagan’s campaign kickoff with the Statue of Liberty in the background is yet to come.

There might have been more legitimacy in the crowds in the rafters that chanted “We Want Willkie!” at the 1940 Republican National Convention than there was for Huntsman shadow straw poll operation.

The Huntsman campaign had no visible presence at all at the conference; but they had one in the straw poll ballot box via wholesale purchase of registrations.

The gambit, which I am certain set someone back a lot of money, was intended to have a surprise showing for a candidate with low name recognition.

Huntsman did score some favorable press as the second place showing did seem to come out of nowhere but the billionaire ex-Utah Governor/Ambassador to China known for penning flowery effusive letters to President Barack Obama will need more than an orchestrated vote hauling operation to win the Republican nomination.

And he may very well be the one candidate who has much more to explain to conservatives than Romney.

As the Huntsman “surge” was a sham, one has to wonder if there are not less expensive ways to get a pop.

The Rest of the Field: The “Honest” Votes

What’s relevant about the Republican Leadership Conference’s straw poll is that it was onducted less than a week after the first major debate of the 2012 presidential campaign,

Former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney, who in 2010 ran a much more aggressive and successful “vote haul” operation than Hunstman did in 2011, has decried the expense of participating in straw polls and his decline in the two conferences is significant.

After nudging past straw poll king Ron Paul in 2010, Romney received a relatively paltry 74 votes. But here’s the good news for Mitt, unlike in 2010 when the Romney camp was buying registrations for anyone with a heartbeat that would agree to support him in the straw poll, he had an honest showing at the 2011 RLC.

74 votes isn’t bad for a candidate not expected to do well in the south and made no effort.

Minnesota Congresswoman Michele Bachmann’s 191 straw poll votes are also probably “honest” when considering the reception she received by conference attendees and the major boost the plucky TEA Party favorite received from CNN’s New Hampshire Republican presidential debate.

Ex-Godfather’s executive Herman Cain, who spent very little on the event beyond having a hospitality suite off-site in a crowded hotel room, should also be proud of his 104 votes.

Texas Governor Rick Perry’s name was not on the straw poll ballot and the RLC organizers stated that write-ins were not accepted and would not counted. The policy caused some people in line who wanted to support Perry to become very irate.

It would have been interesting to see what support Perry would have received, even as a non-candidate, judging by the enthusiastic reception he received from conference attendees.

And My Vote Went To…

Michigan Congressman Thaddeus McCotter received my vote at the straw poll for two reasons.

First, I figured it would be the next best thing to abstaining. Secondly I felt obligated to express my admiration for having the guts to poke Romney on health care.

McCotter did the job that ex-Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty was unwilling to do.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Democrats Gut GOP Presidential Primary...With a Little Help from the GOP!

One of my proudest political accomplishments happened five years ago when I cobbled together a coalition of political leaders from both sides of the spectrum to support moving Louisiana’s presidential primary to a date that would make the state’s delegate contest relevant.

It was the first time ever that the Louisiana Republican Party and the Louisiana Democratic Party had ever come together to support a piece of legislation.

The bill passed and both sides benefited from the increased media exposure, voter participation in the primary and candidate visits.

Louisiana mattered.

In the summer of 2010, in an attempt to “fix things”, both party national committees decided to bring order to the calendar chaos that led to so much front loading by state parties by passing rules reordering when states could have their caucuses and primaries.

The new rules protected Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina and Nevada’s early status while establishing harsh penalties for states that wanted to hold their contests before the first Tuesday of March.

That concept was sound and a welcome innovation. However getting 50 states and several federal territories to get on the same page is a bit like herding cats. Especially since elections, as we learned from 2000, are conducted very differently amongst the states.

In some states the party controls the setting of election dates; in others the legislature. New Hampshire has vested its secretary of state with power to set his state’s primary date to assure that the Granite State’s can be first.

Louisiana’s primary date is set by statute. Or to phrase it another way, it takes an act of the legislature to change it.

A bill was drafted and introduced this session to bring Louisiana into compliance with both national parties. While the Louisiana Republican State Central Committee passed multiple resolutions endorsing the move, the Louisiana Democratic Party remained cryptically silent.

That is until Wednesday.

After the primary date change bill sailed out of the House of Representatives without so much as a dirty look, the legislation was ambushed before the Senate and Governmental Affairs Committee.

By a vote to 6-1, the bill was “indefinitely deferred”. When I argued that they killed it, I was corrected by a senator that there was a difference. However with the legislative session calendar ticking down to its last days, my phrasing stated the obvious while her term merely stated the “manner of death”.

Amazingly enough the bill was rejected without comment.

In several decades of watching politics I have never seen something defeated before a governmental body without explanation.

When I chased down one Democratic senator who had much to say about a resolution that endorsed the concept of a constitutional convention and asked for an explanation, I was greeted with a silent shrug of the shoulders.

Why would the Democrats engage in such petty politics?

And why were they joined by two Republicans in their silent derailing (the other Republican being Jody Amedee)?

Were Republicans simply asleep at the wheel and duped by Democratic partisans into providing them cover for their machinations?

Let me explain the fallout from this move.

First, the Louisiana GOP will look like fools this week when presidential candidates visit New Orleans to speak at the Republican Leadership Conference and read in the newspaper how the presidential primary bill was defeated for no stated reason.

Secondly, the Louisiana GOP will simply opt out of the primary and thus turn it into a meaningless $6,000,000 “beauty contest” with no delegates at stake. Four years ago the Louisiana Republican Party was mocked for having rules that denied former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee from having a single delegate because he “only” won a plurality and not a majority of the Louisiana GOP vote.

At least this time it won’t be the party’s fault, just the party’s senators when we are once again embarrassed.

Thirdly, Louisiana will draw less attention and thus fewer visits from Republican presidential candidates, who are going to spend time where delegates are at stake. In addition to the loss of attention, Louisiana would also lose the opportunity to educate candidates, perhaps a future president, about the federal issues that are important to our region and miss out on the promises that New Hampshire and Iowa are showered with every four years.

For a state struggling with a White House imposed oil exploration embargo and losing acres of land a day to coastal erosion, we need national figures to learn about Louisiana.

Fourthly, because the primary will be unofficial Republicans looking to participate in the caucuses that will be held in a handful of locations across the state.

When looking at the Picassos the legislature drew for congressional districts in the reapportionment session, someone who lives in Washington Parish might end up having to go to Alexandria. Also keep in mind we now have two districts that run from Arkansas to I-10.

Had the Republicans attempted to do this in 2004, state Democrats would have screamed bloody murder and accused the GOP of trying to deny the franchise to poor voters by burdening them with the expense of traveling to a caucus site.

I can imagine the outcry, the protests, the demagoguery, the lawsuits and maybe even a visit from the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division that would stem from that maneuver.

But since the Democrats won’t have a competitive primary as President Barack Obama will likely be unchallenged, they see an opportunity to kick the GOP in the shin.

For a party that has thus far been unable to field a candidate for governor, I suppose such cheap wins count as an accomplishment these days.

Whatever feelings of euphoria gained from this slight will be fleeting with the enmity and ill will that are the byproducts from this Democratic “victory” lasting.

Update: It’s Not Dead Yet

Senate and Governmental Affairs Chairman Bob Kostelka scheduled a rehearing on the bill for this Friday. If you know the individuals on the committee, please contact them and let your voice be heard. The senators’ contact info can be found at

Votes for deferral (no votes)

Karen Carter Peterson D-New Orleans
Lydia Jackson D-Shreveport
Rob Marionneaux D-Livonia
Daniel Claitor R-Baton Rouge
Jody Amedee R-Ascension Parish

Vote against deferral (yes vote)

Mike Walsworth R-Monroe


Jack Donahue R-St. Tammany Parish

Monday, June 13, 2011

The First New Hampshire Debate: Losers and Non-Losers

As the title implies, there were no real winners in CNN’s New Hampshire debate between the field thus far of Republican presidential contenders.

Perhaps the location of the forum (it wasn’t much of a debate) was appropriate as Saint Anselm College was where in 2000 George W. Bush conceded the Granite State primary to Arizona US Senator John McCain.

The biggest non-loser of the night was clearly former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney. Why? Because Romney was not challenged once by his fellow Republican candidates on his spotty record as a conservative.

Romney might as well have been reading from a Teleprompter and his aides could have handed out preprinted copies of his polished and well-delivered answers before the questions were asked. His frontrunner status both nationally and in the critical early primary state was not only preserved but likely expanded by the reluctance of anyone to lay a glove on Mitt.

For a candidate trying to create an air of inevitability, the first “debate” Romney deemed worthy of his participation was a major victory.

The second biggest non-loser was Herman Cain. The ex-pizza company executive solidified the niche he carved for himself in the earlier South Carolina debate with his sharp, concise statements. While Cain will not be the nominee, the former Godfather’s Pizza chief will be in the race well after better funded “more electable” rivals have been dispatched.

Finally the third biggest non-loser, Minnesota US Representative Michele Bachmann. Why? Because CNN said so.

The commentators didn’t exactly fawn over her (such public expressions of fealty are reserved exclusively for the Messiah-in-Chief), though the talking heads on the channel went through great pains to praise her performance and tout her potential.

Bachmann is a prolific fundraiser and a TEA Party favorite. She’s also a native Iowan and isn’t too proud to pander and cajole via pep rally-style rhetoric to win people over. Bachmann made the most of her opportunity to more or less announce she will be making a formal announcement about running for president, which wasn’t smoothly delivered but put the former governor of Alaska on notice.

The conventional wisdom is that Sarah Palin and Bachmann would cancel each other out on the same ballot and it’s apparent the three-term congresswoman is willing to play political chicken with Palin.

Bachmann repeated much of her opening address at the 2011 CPAC, which sounded more like a presidential stump speech then for good reason, once again advancing her three-legged stool of conservatism analogy (fiscal, social and security conservatives).

To her credit, the longer the debate dragged on, the better Bachmann performed.

Now for the losers. And dare I say the biggest one was the candidate I would vote for if I had to choose from one of the seven.

Ex-Minnesota governor Tim Pawlenty missed his shot. CNN reporter and debate moderator John King did the job none of the other Republican candidates were willing to do: challenge Romney on his record.

When King asked Pawlenty about his previous use of the term Obamneycare as a critique of Romney’s health care record while he was governor of Massachusetts, the Minnesotan made like a golden gopher and burrowed away from the question.

Pawlenty’s punt showed both a lack of political instinct and guts. Does Pawlenty not grasp that his path to the nomination goes over Romney’s meticulously coiffed carcass?

With Texas governor Rick Perry poised to make a lack entry, Pawlenty’s window of opportunity to establish himself as a first-tier candidate is very narrow. Rather than challenging the front runner, by an inexplicable act of political pusillanimity reinforced it by avoiding a much needed discussion on why Romney should not be the party’s nominee.

Pawlenty’s one pop of the night was his vigorous comments on right-to-work but for the most part, the “other” Minnesotan lost an opportunity to make it a Pawlenty v. Romney fight and instead faded into the scenery.

Candidates who are polling in the low single digits can’t afford to remain as backdrop for long, even with good organizations set up in the early states. Especially if they lack a constituency. Sam’s Club Republicans can only do so much.

Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich showed he had a pulse albeit weak. Newt came off like a cantankerous professor (himself?), did not dress presidential and scowled most of the evening. Monday was not the turnaround moment his campaign bid needed. Someone needs to tell Gingrich that the presidential nomination will be determined by voters and not via standardized testing.

In another incredible act of charity, former Pennsylvania US Senator Rick Santorum refused to go after Romney when his multiple-positions on that most black-and-white issue, abortion. Rather than boldly trying to create a presence for his candidacy, Santorum struggled to fit in his bland canned rhetoric into the tight constraints allowed by the CNN host.

Finally there was Texas US Representative and political cult figure Ron Paul. The libertarian somehow managed to come off crankier than Newt. Wore, Paul wore a suit jacket that looked too big on his small frame, which made him look every bit the septuagenarian he is. Though the feisty candidate was finally pried off the issue of monetary policy as time went on, Paul clearly lacked vigor.

If Paul was selfless, he’d pass the baton off to ex-New Mexico governor Gary Johnson, who has a similar constituency, and let a younger candidate with experience as a state executive borrow his impressive and energetic operation for an election cycle rather than monopolize it.

It’s not like Rand couldn’t get the keys back at the end of the day.

If the honor of “winner” had to be assigned to someone it would go to whoever passed on taking part in the debate and planned on jumping in the race later. What transpired at Saint Anselm didn’t inspire much confidence in the current crop of candidate selection.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Romney v. Romney

Former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney formally kicked off a campaign for the White House that never really ended even after he withdrew at the 2008 CPAC.

Romney’s “departure speech” at the annual conservative conclave was intended to put an exclamation point on a presidential bid that was dogged by questions about his sincerity regarding conservatism and he did receive some benefit, winning the conference’s much ballyhooed straw poll despite no longer being a candidate when the results were announced.

With evangelical favorite and ex-Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee out of the running for the 2012 GOP presidential nod, Romney is the closest thing to a favorite in the Republican field.

Consider the following.

Romney will be well-financed (as he was in 2008) and is the lone credible Republican candidate who can put together the money to run a national operation in the primaries and caucuses while his fellow GOP rivals are compelled to live off the harvests of the early states.

In the fight for delegates, that’s very important. In crafting the perception of possessing momentum, even more so.

Romney also possesses the double-edged sword of being the man to beat. The benefit is that many Republican primary voters tend to gravitate to the “next in line”. With the exception of George W. Bush, every Republican nominee since Reagan had unsuccessfully sought the party nomination in a previous election cycle.

(For those keeping score at home- Reagan 1976, Bush 1980, Dole 1980 & 1988 and McCain 2000).

Democrats, to their credit, learned to avoid recycling damaged presidential candidates after Adlai Stevenson’s back to back blowout losses in the 1950s.

Romney will draw both votes from conditioned GOP establishment voters and attacks from rivals who know that the best way to open up to the path to the nomination is by knocking out Romney before March 1st.

Perhaps the greatest advantage Romney has is the party’s new nomination rules.

In an attempt to make presidential nomination contest a marathon instead of a sprint, both the Democratic and Republican national committees adopted rules that would regulate how states and territories can allocate delegates.

For example, all contests held between the first Tuesday in March and April 1st must allocate the delegates through a proportional system. States and territories that wish to have a “winner take all” assignment of delegates will have to hold their primaries and caucuses in April or later.

Short of a mass withdrawal of candidates the new rules will prevent the political equivalent of Mike Tyson’s once-trademark first round knockouts.

The most significant aspects of the “nomination reform” changes have to do with the preferential placement of four states and the protection afforded them.

Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina, ostensibly representing the nation’s four regions, are allowed to hold their contests prior to the first Tuesday in March. Any state that muscles in on the four’s privileged positioning will lose half its delegates.

For Romney the advantages of the rules are apparent. Romney not only governed a state whose media market envelopes New Hampshire’s most populous southern second but he’s also a property owner in the Granite State.

And New Hampshire voters tend to vote local.

In 2008 Romney overwhelmingly won Nevada’s caucuses. Unfortunately for Romney, McCain won the South Carolina primary the same day and thanks to the media’s decision that the Palmetto State contest was worth more than Nevada’s, McCain got the boost.

Romney is expected to fare well again in Nevada due to the state’s large Mormon population.

With two of the early four states seemingly in his corner before the contest goes national, Romney walks into the nomination fight with no shortage of weapons.

Romney also has no shortage of weaknesses.

One of the reasons why Romney didn’t win the 2008 Republican nomination, which on paper was his to lose, was because conservatives simply did not trust him. Not that they trusted McCain, but conservatives, particularly of the social variety, opted to punt in droves in the fight between Romney and the Arizonan by continuing to vote for Huckabee, who was dead in the water after South Carolina.

With nationalized health care being the biggest issue in the primaries (key word- primaries), Romney’s political liabilities grew exponentially with the advance of President Obama’s health care agenda.

One of the most telling signs that Romney is having trouble wrestling with the issue was the total omission of Obamacare from his prepared remarks at the 2011 CPAC. Romney may have been the only candidate speaking at the conference to not make a reference to health care.

With the next Republican presidential debate coming up next week, it’ll be interesting to see how Romney handles the departure from safe, scripted speeches and reacts to “live fire”.

While the myriad of not well-knowns continue to introduce themselves to the public, the front-runner will have much explaining to do over the next ten months.