Thursday, January 19, 2012

Election 2012: South Carolina's Brawl for It All

Iowa prides itself as being the lead presidential contest in the nation. New Hampshire is even more protective of its "first in the nation" primary. Republican candidates have stumbled in either one of those states and managed to win the GOP nomination.

The same cannot be said for the Palmetto State's "first in the south" primary. Since 1980, South Carolina Republican voters are batting 1.000 when it comes to picking the winners. And with every passing election cycle that their streak continues, South Carolina's perception as being the "must win" state looms larger on the horizon.

And so with the last presidential debate held prior to the Saturday vote, the Republican White House aspirants came out swinging.

Newt Gingrich- Clearly the winner, Gingrich's strategy of living off the land until the debates arrived in earnest proved to be farsighted. With his mastery of facts and biting wit, the debates have even the former House speaker's forte and he has used them to keep his teetering campaign afloat. Newt won the debate in its opening minutes with his response to CNN reporter and debate moderator John King's query about allegations made by Gingrich's second wife about his character and desire to have an "open marriage".

Gingrich knocked the personal question out of Charleston Harbor and over the walls of Fort Sumter.
The remainder of the debate was rhetorical tennis for Gingrich, fending off pokes by former US Senator Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania with some back and forth with ex-Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney.

The historian/amateur paleontologist is likely to win South Carolina on Saturday, temporarily containing the radioactivepersonal material at least for another week.

Rick Santorum- Give Santorum this much, he'll never be confused for Tim Pawlenty.

The recently declared winner of Iowa's straw poll/caucus aggressively went after each of the other three candidates, forcing his way into the political conversation. Santorum's biggest flaw is his lack of stage presence, in which the ardent social conservative says many agreeable things though in a forgettable manner.

Santorum is likely facing a fourth place finish on Saturday, likely ending his presidential bid. The Duggar Family can't drive their RV across Florida and Santorum can't sell enough sweater vests to bring in the money he needs to compete in multiple expensive media markets.

Mitt Romney- This week will either be the low point of his run for the Republican nomination or the beginning of the end.

Barraged by his fellow candidates, having had his Iowa victory reversed and the end of Texas governor Rick Perry's conservative splinter run have ended, if only momentarily, all of the inevitable talk and has brought Romney back to terra firm a in a state that bedeviled him four years ago.

A first place finish turns the remainder of the primary/caucus calendar into a mop up operation, second would maintain a slightly eroded lead in the Sunshine State. Third resrurects the whole "why don't they like me" discussion, a conversation Romney doesn't want to have.

Ron Paul- The lone Texan in the race as of 11:00 AM EST didn't really do himself any favors last night. Not, mind you because he said something counter-productive, but because Paul failed to seize the opportunity to stress that he is not just a one trick pony. His medical background as a doctor who has delivered thousands of babies would have been the perfect retort to Santorum's rickety foray against Paul on the issue.

Makes one wonder whether Dr. Paul has made himself too comfortable in his political bunker.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Election 2012: After Iowa

The Iowa precinct caucuses are both meaningless and meaningful.

The first because no actual delegates to the Republican National Convention are selected. The vote total political junkies were jonesing over late into the wee hours are part of a straw poll. The actual selection of delegates to the county conventions, which then elect delegates to district and state conventions get lost in the straw poll hysteria.

The apportioned delegates shown on television screens are estimates that rarely play out at the national convention as the rest of the country dictates the political orientation of the Hawkeye State’s RNC delegates at a later date.

That said the caucuses do have a profound impact on the candidate field by often culling those who don’t perform well in the caucuses.

And that’s why it’s no longer uncommon for presidential candidates to pass on the predictable contest.

The Winners and the Losers

1) Rick Santorum- I don’t think anyone can accuse me of playing favorites on this call. Santorum has the distinction of being one of the few social conservative politicians who have complained about Fox News’ lack of fair and balanced coverage. After his Iowa surge, candidate Santorum finally earned a spot on the O’Reilly Factor (or the O’Romney Factor). The ex-Pennsylvania US Senator has finally emerged from the wilderness and has immediately become a major contender for the party nomination and at a minimum now a part of the national conversation. Santorum’s days of being stuck at the far end of debate panels are over though he must transition his campaign from retail to television quick.

2) Mitt Romney- The former Massachusetts governor won the caucuses by the barest of margins (8!) though due to the informal nature of balloting (and ballot security), it’s possible Santorum may have received the most votes or that Romney had won by a few dozen more (at the Drake University location where I observed the process, the precinct chairman attempted to go straight into voting before the Santorum representative was allowed to speak, drawing harrumphs from the attendees and the media section). Romney succeeded where he failed four years ago, limiting both his investment in Iowa and his expectations. Romney also fared well considering he was working New Hampshire while the rest of the field, sans Jon Huntsman, scrambled across Iowa. Romney’s gamble paid off. The downside is that word is being spread that Romney is a 25%’er…that being his support within the party is limited, a case with merit though the number is too low. Romney should be far and away ahead of the pack. He has the most money, name recognition, best organization and establishment support. To draw a paltry number against someone whose campaign was limited to standing on chairs and shouting his speeches in Pizza Ranches across Iowa is significant. Romney will smash his quarter-share in New Hampshire on Tuesday before being ushered back under that number in South Carolina. The nomination is still his to lose and Iowa 2012 was far kinder to his presidential ambitions than Iowa 2008.

3. Newt Gingrich- Instead of “Eye of the Tiger”, the Gingrich camp should have played Gloria Gaynor’s “I Will Survive”. The former House speaker was pummeled by Super PAC’s connected to Romney and Texas US Representative Ron Paul and saw his lead and confident boast of the inevitability of his nomination wither under the barrage. That said, Gingrich avoided a 5th place finish, which would have ended his candidacy. Without the friendly and free confines of a debate dais, Gingrich lost both his capacity to respond to the charges en masse and to swing back at the sources of the character bombardment. The media isn’t helping Gingrich’s cause by hosting the two New Hampshire debates over the weekend. South Carolina will mean more to Gingrich than New Hampshire.

4. Jon Huntsman- The wealthy former Utah governor and ex-ambassador to China saved his money and spent his time in New Hampshire. His crack about Iowans picking corn and not presidents won’t hurt him unless he’s nominated. Like I said, it won’t hurt him.

5. The Iowa GOP- Once again, the Iowa Republican Party and campaign operatives cleaned up fleecing candidates for their local expertise and vote brokering. Paul’s failure to win the caucuses also preserved the credibility of the caucus (whether you like it or not, anything Paul wins tends to go down in value, see the CPAC straw poll). Finally, Iowa avoided the trap of being labeled a state in the pocket of a parochial favorite by voting last the only native of the state in the race.

The Losers

1. The Ames Iowa Straw Poll- The first political contest on the presidential political calendar’s days of being the money fest are likely over. Not that there won’t be another one…there will. However it’s significance will take a major hit with the winner of the 2011 poll coming in last amongst the six candidates who competed in the caucuses while the winner of the caucuses chose to skip the event altogether. The extortion rates for land leasing will plummet (justifiably). Former Minnesota governor Tim Pawlenty might very well go down as its final fatality.

2. Rick Perry- Perry spent millions, had a great message, was a good stump speaker for the most part and ran a professional campaign yet came in fifth place. The Texas governor would have been better off skipping both Iowa and New Hampshire, opening his campaign up in South Carolina. Granted had Perry not tanked in the debates, it might have been Santorum going home to reassess his campaign. Had he polled ahead of Gingrich, Perry would have been in a stronger position. I’ll concede Perry does have a chance at a comeback, but his odds are longer than those even Santorum faced four months ago.

3. Ron Paul- Anyone else notice the look on Rand Paul’s face during his father’s caucus night speech? It was as if the Kentucky US Senator was watching his political life flash before his eyes. To Paul’s credit, he broadened his appeal beyond the college campuses and attracted high schoolers to his campaign (Paul-Rats- a cross between Paulistas and mall rats). However judging by the personnel and financial investment in Iowa, Paul needed to finish no worse than second. By finishing third in the midst of a perfect storm, Iowa will mark both his high watermark and the beginning of the end of his campaign. Nevada and a handful of small states might nudge him to second place but Paul didn’t achieve the breakthrough he was counting on.

4. Michele Bachmann- As I said before, some poli comm. grad student looking for a thesis subject should look no further than the Bachmann campaign. Running as a native Iowan, being a high-profile legislative leader of an influential segment of the conservative electorate and as a congresswoman from a neighboring state, Bachmann should have walked away as an easy winner. But after Perry shanghaied her brief moment in the sun during the Ames straw poll, Bachmann never regained her balance and was relegated to quoting scripture at campaign stops to more directly appeal to evangelical voters, who stampeded to the banner of a Roman Catholic (!). Somewhere in Wasilla Sarah Palin is breathing a sigh of relief, seeing her rival as the GOP’s most prominent female face defeated and having avoided what could have been a professional trainwreck.

Monday, January 2, 2012

Iowa Notebook: Three Way Photo Finish

DES MOINES- Former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney closed out his caucus eve campaign with an impressive show of strength at a late night rally held in a promotional product warehouse inre no worse than thi a Des Moines suburb.

Romney has been the stalking horse for a parade of one time frontrunners who have either fallen out of favor with Republican voters or fallen out the presidential race altogether.

On Tuesday, Romney can help shorter the primary season with a big win in Iowa or resume his maid of honor position behind a new social conservative favorite.

Ex- Pennsylvania US Senator Rick Santorum is poised to emerge as THE social conservative candidate as will likely fare no worse than a competitive third. A win would transform Santorum's candidacy from one hit wonder to national candidate overnight though if Mike Huckabee's 2008 campaign proved anything, Iowa's coattails stretch southeast to South Carolina not northeast to New Hampshire.

A fourth place finish by Newt Gingrich cannot help but serve as a moral victory for the battered former Speaker of the US House of Representatives. Fourth is a ticket out of Iowa and back to the debate circuit where Gingrich can utilize free media to not only rebut the attacks against him by his opponents and so-called third parties but also go after the sources.

Fifth for Texas Governor Rick Perry would be a major setback for a candidate who entered the race by storm only to see his campaign fizzle in a number of bad debate performances. Perry is looking to go straight to South Carolina though with Santorum and Gingrich remaining, Perry will have a difficult time getting the wind back in his sails and money back in his treasury. A surprise third place finish by Perry would shake the race up, sweeping several candidates out with one blow but that seems highly unlikely.

US Representative Michele Bachmann has been coasting knowing that the end is near. Like Santorum she bet the house on Iowa though unlike the Pennsylvanian, Bachmann has a native angle that should have made her the heavy favorite. Instead she will finish only above ex-Utah governor Jon Huntsman who made a decidedly unstatesman-like crack about Iowa, declaring that they pick corn, not presidents.

Finally there is the wild card in every sense of the term, Texas US Representative Ron Paul. After taking a brief break from the camapaign, Paul hit the trail again, this time being joined by his US Senator son. Paul has made a substantial financial and organizational investment I Iowa and after experiencing some heady poll numbers, cannot afford to place below expectations.

A poor third place showing in Iowa could bode badly in New Hampshire and the libertarian might not have another top three placing until Nevada votes in February. Iowa might both be the high water point for Paul and where his bubble bursts.
Predictions - 1 Romney (due to the cities) 2 Paul (due to the money and manpower) 3 Santorum (thanks to evangelicals and no thanks to Perry and Bachmann) 4 Newt (credit fond memories of 1994 and strong debates, debit the establishment's jihad against him) 5 Perry ( Bobby Jindal maybe what keeps him above Bachmann) 6 Bachmann (someone should do a dissertation on this implosion 7 Huntsman ( pick this!)

Iowa Notebook: Bachmann v. the Philistines

OKALOOSA- Minnesota US Representative and TEA Party champion Michele Bachmann made an appearance at the Jubilee Family Church on Sunday morning, delivering a personal spiritual testimony that had strong undrcurrents with the precarious position her once booming presidential bid finds itself in less than 72 hours before Iowa Republicans caucus.

Bachmann invoked the Old Testament story of Jonathan and his armor bearer in their divinely inspired attack against the Philistines, dropping a not so subtle reference to both the long odds she faces in what could be a fatal blow to her candidacy and the importance of faith in acting.

Bachmann also stressed her Hawkeye State roots, noting specifically that she is a seventh generation Iowan, something that had helped catapult her to winning the Ames Straw Poll last August before discussing in detail the moment when she found God.

The real boosting was done hy the church pastor who followed up Bachmann's talk with a sermon on the importance of character and voting for the candidate who best represents their values and not the most electable.

A few other notes about Bachmann's Jubilee appearance-

1) Though over one hundred people ere in attendance, many of the congegants walked out the church immediately upon the conclusion of the service with only a dozen or so sticking around to glad-handle with the candidate. Bachmann's Iowa campaign has been fraught with low attendance at recent campaign events, which is glaring contrast with the over capacity turnout she enjoyed in her Ames Straw Poll event.

2) Her advance team continues to bungle. A press conference was scheduled to be held outside the church after but a bitter cold wind complicated things.

3) A problem for Romney. At the back of the church was literature arguing how Mormons were not Christians. I would imagine this feeling is not contained within the confines of the Jubilee church and will not help come South Carolina, a state here evangelicals are a major segment of the GOP electorate and where Romney finished poorly four years ago.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Iowa Notebook: Does Nice Newt Finish Fifth?

ATLANTIC- The Newt Gingrich campaign literally rolled into the Coca-Cola capital of Iowa (that's what the sign said) on New Year's Eve as the former House speaker fought to keep his once leading presidential bid viable east of the Mississippi River.

In a meeting at the Coca-Cola Bottling Plant store room, the Newt caravan pulled in only feet away from pallets of soda stacked three stories high.

The Gingrich was clearly under the weather, the 68 year old gave an expansive talk on his campaign, the barrage of attacks by the other candidates and their independently operating allies and the issues he intends to challenge President Barack Obama on if Gingrich secures the nonibation and survives Iowa.

Gingrich played down Tuesday's results stating that Iowans could send an interesting message by standing up to the cut-throat tactics employed against him by the party establishment. Gingrich also fielded a wide-range of questions from the audience seeking responses to the smears that have leveled his candidacy.

The crowd of 100+ seemed supportive and were present to cheer him on more so than to decide if they should caucus for him.

A few interesting notes from the event:

1) Gingrich went to great pains to soften his image, having his daughters and grandchildren on hand to meet with voters in addition to his wife. One accomplishment Newt touted was his role in allowing tenants in federal housing to have pets and the unveiling of his new campaign website "Pets for Newt". It almost seems that while Gingrich is running for president in 2012, his psyche is very much caught in the bad media days of the late 1990s and that he is more interested in how he is being perceived than winning a campaign.

It's as if he is more concerned with posterity than politics.

2) Stressed his refusal to attack fellow Republicans while trying to portray himself as a victim, which might be a strong contrast with his earlier image but is not presidential. And after the McCain debacle of four years before, the voters wan a fighter to take the battle for America to Obama.

3) Unlike other stagecrafted and overchoreographed campaigns, Gingrich invites a freeflowing dialogue with the voters at his events almost daring ir challenging them to stump him on something. Gingrich spoke without notes or teleprompter.

4) Gladhandling Gingrich. For a man who too often comes off like he doesn't care for people, Gingrich didn't leave until he shook every hand and posed for every picture request.

Iowa Notebook: Santorum Gets Showered With Evangelical Support, Glitter

JOHNSTON- Former Pennsylvania US Senator Rick Santorum has emerged as the favorite of social conservatives disenchanted with the flailing candidacies of Texas Governor Rick Perry and Minnesota US Representative Michele Bachmann.

Financially limited and organizationally dwarfed by all of the other candidates, Santorum has relentlessly beat the bushes, cornfields and Christian Right community hoping his Iowa gamble will pay big dividends.

So far it appears it has making a late surge that even has former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney taking jabs at him.

Santorum distinguished himself as a leader for social conservative issues during his two terms in the US Senate and is parlaying that record against a field of better known candidates with questionable track records in this area while looking more electable than better financed contenders with similar cred o social issues.

Perhaps the ultimate endorsement of Santorum's strength as a social conservative came on Friday night in Johnston.

After making campaign stops across Iowa that day, Santorum went to close his day out with an Insight Bowl viewing party at a restaurant just north of Des Moines. The University of Iowa Hawkeyes were facing the Oklahoma Sooners.

Santorum entered the restaurant bedecked in UI black and yellow when a young man sporting a Santorum sticker dressed as if he were a Sunday school teacher hurled a cup of glitter at Santorum and shrieked "Stop the hate, taste the rainbow!" before running out of the eatery and absconding to his vehicle parked a few lots over.

Santorum didn't flinch, ignored the Rip Tayloresque assault on him and proceeded to his table to watch the game with friends, family and supporters.

If you can judge someone partially by the enemies he or she has, then it is little wonder why evangelical Christians and social conservative Roman Catholics are creating a surge of support for Santorum.