Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Election 2012: Romney Survives His Family Reunion

Former Massachusetts governor and Michigan-native Mitt Romney escaped what could have been a mortal wounding in the state where his father served as car manufacturing executive and governor, triumphing over ex-Pennsylvania US Senator Rick Santorum.

The Romney Michigan effort was powered with money, organization, endorsements and roots against an opponent with little connection to the state and was outspent 2-1. And for his trouble, Romney sneaks out with a plurality of 41% and a margin of less than 4 points.

That said, a loss in Michigan could have led to a collapse of his campaign. Bundled with a strong win in Arizona and a likely victory in Wyoming, Romney has preserved his candidacy reclaimed his front-runner status.

And most significantly, Romney’s Michigan win will end talk of the emergence of an anti-Santorum late entry.

The likelihood of the Republican nominee being either Romney or Santorum increased substantially on Tuesday night.

The Jeb Bush-Mitch Daniels-Chris Christie talk will go into hibernation if not a coma. If Romney collapses later on in the primary schedule, it will be after the point of no return for qualifying for other states.

The stakes were raised very high for Romney in Michigan with a two percent swing being the difference between political salvation and damnation. Yet the high-wire act proved to be beneficial. While a marginal win in his home state would ordinarily be considered a defeat, because the media put so many of Romney’s credibility chips on the table, the results will seem more impressive than they would ordinarily be interpreted.

The Romney camp played the expectations game masterfully in Michigan and won big dividends, especially when Santorum’s earlier absurd nose-bleed high poll numbers are factored into the discussion.

Romney’s poll-deficit rally will overshadow his shaky plurality as the story of the evening.

The evening was no doubt disappointing but the news was not all bad for Santorum.

First the social conservative is still introducing himself to the American public. Santorum needs to take this time to fine-tune his candidacy, specifically avoiding making controversial remarks that consume the media oxygen he needs to get out his message.

Secondly, Santorum walks out of Michigan with delegates, overtaking former US House of Representatives speaker Newt Gingrich for second in the delegate total (or more accurately the consensus estimated delegate total).

Third and most importantly, Santorum further established himself as the conservative alternative to Romney, putting greater distance between himself and Gingrich, who Santorum needs out of the picture after Super Tuesday and Louisiana on March 24th at the absolute latest.

Fourth, Santorum can train his guns fully on Romney in general (and Gingrich in certain states) and no longer be distracted by confronting a consensus establishment candidate “to be named later” popping up down the line. Rather than being measured up against an “ideal hypothetical” opponent, Santorum now only needs to look better than Romney.

Other Thoughts on the State of the Election

Next on the Schedule- After dangling near political oblivion, Romney now stands on the precipice of strategically wrapping up the party nomination before April and he can advance that cause by scoring big on Super Tuesday.

The weekend before Super Tuesday will be the Washington State caucuses, which could give Romney added momentum, provide Texas Congresssman Ron Paul his maiden victory, salvage Gingrich’s floundering candidacy or salve Santorum’s expectations bruising.

The Winner-Take-All Myth- While Florida and Arizona have declared themselves winner take all, the national Republican Party’s rules say otherwise. Being hit with the 50% penalty for going early does not provide state parties with immunity to distribute their delegates as they see fit. The national media have largely ignored the possibility of those states being compelled to allocate delegates proportionately, which would lower Romney’s current delegate lead.

Debates Matter- It could not be said that the debates were irrelevant during a 2012 Republican presidential nomination process full of twists and turns. Santorum did not perform well in the debate that preceded the Michigan and Arizona primaries and his sudden and pronounced drop in the polls reflected it. Santorum won’t have the opportunity for a “do over” as he, Romney and Paul dropped out of a pre-Super Tuesday debate in Atlanta, to Gingrich’s understandable dismay.

Democrat Outreach in Michigan- Romney decried in the whiniest tone possible how disgusted he was by Santorum’s attempt to attract Democrats to vote in Michigan’s GOP presidential primary. However Santorum’s gambit was not in any way novel. Ronald Reagan tried to do the same in 1976 against President Gerald Ford.

Calling It Early- I called the election for Romney while Santorum still had a lead. Why? Because too much of the rural areas had come in early and too much of Wayne and Oakland’s more populated counties were still outstanding. Granted bloggers can be more cavalier with such prognostications.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Election 2012: Whose Rules Rule?

On February 28th, the 2012 race for the Republican presidential nomination could experience its biggest twist yet.

On that day, Michigan and Arizona will hold their primaries. Twelve years ago, the two states threw a curve ball to George W. Bush’s bid for the party nod.

Prior to those contests, Bush had just recovered from a major setback in New Hampshire, where Arizona US Senator John McCain drubbed him by 18 points, with big wins in Delaware and the media-mega-hyped state of South Carolina.

Bush had hoped to finish off McCain by embarrassing the party maverick in his home state, where the Texas governor had the backing of Governor Jane Dee Hull and in Michigan, where his campaign was led by popular governor John Engler.

Engler was motivated by more than just “team spirit” in his quest to deliver his state to Bush as he was anxiously hoping to increase his odds of landing the bottom spot of the GOP ticket.

But the best laid plans went awry for Bush that evening.

McCain won Arizona with 60% of the vote and carried Michigan by a seven points.

Karl Rove, the architect of George W. Bush’s political life, considered the Michigan setback a “problem” in particular.

However, Bush survived the tandem embarrassments, won the next few contests and forced McCain out of the race by Super Tuesday.

Oh, Engler did not become vice-president.

The question in 2012 is can Mitt Romney survive the indignity of losing in one of his several “home” states?

That the former Massachusetts governor has a Michigan problem is surprising. But maybe not so much after his Iowa, South Carolina, Colorado, Missouri and Minnesota problems.

The most recent polling data paint a bleak picture for the son of one of the state’s past governors.

Former Pennsylvania US Senator Rick Santorum has leads ranging between 3 and 15 points over Romney in recent Michigan polls. While Romney’s unofficial “fan club” will try their damndest to move the numbers, the Cain Capital executive is looking at no better than a weak plurality over Santorum in Michigan as a best-case Pyrrhic scenario.

Things are looking relatively rosier for Romney in the southwest, where he has an eight-point lead on Santurom in the latest Rasmussen poll. The bad news for Team Romney is that their candidate enjoyed a 24 point lead only a few weeks ago. Like the racehorse Seabiscuit, Santorum is charging quickly from the back…much like he did in every other state he has thus far won.

Now let’s assume for a moment that February 28th is a split decision, with Santorum winning Michigan while Romney sneaks out with a modest lead.

That might still be enough to cripple the viability of Romney’s campaign. But beyond that discussion, there’s a story being lost in the shuffle that could be more important than the public relations victory of “winning” a state.


Arizona has declared itself to be a “winner take all state”, meaning all of their 29 delegates will be awarded to the candidate who comes out on top. The reason why a large growing state like Arizona has so few delegates is that they opted to hold their primary in February, before the date allowed per the Republican National Committee’s rules and were thus penalized half of their delegates.

RNC Rule 15 Section B Subsection 1 lays out that “no primary, caucus, or convention to elect, select, allocate, or bind delegates shall occur prior to the first Tuesday in March in the year in which a national convention is held.” The rule exempts Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina and Nevada, the latter state being the only one that was in compliance.

Subsection 2 of RNC Rule 15 Section B states “Any presidential primary, caucus, convention, or other meeting held for the purpose of selecting delegates to the national convention which occurs prior to the first day of April in the year which the national convention is held, shall provide for the allocation of delegates on a proportional basis.”

Pretty straightforward.

Former US House of Representatives Speaker Newt Gingrich announced he would challenge Florida’s “winner take all” policy after Romney comfortably triumphed in the Sunshine State. Under the Florida GOP’s interpretation, Romney would receive all 50 delegates though under the RNC’s proportional mandate, he would garner just under half while Gingrich and the other candidates would receive a share.

Expect Arizona’s flagrant double violations of RNC rules to be brought up no matter who receives a plurality in that contest.

Unlike the “leap frogging” matter, which comes with a stated penalty, the allocation controversy will be settled by simply forcing the states in violation to bend to the national party’s rules. The states in violation are under the assumption that the “half off penalty” gives them immunity to award their discounted delegates in any way they see fit.

It doesn’t.

If a candidate wraps up the party nomination before May by either forcing out the other candidates sans Texas US Representative Ron Paul or racking up an insurmountable delegate lead, the matter will be resolved within the boring and mundane confines of rules committee hearings with the net result not even causing a ripple in the final delegate count.

However, if the brokered convention scenario gets played out, the delegate allocation scofflaws will find themselves front and center in the middle of an internationally broadcast legal battle.

And when considering the Republican Party has already endured three caucus vote-counting controversies before Super Tuesday, closing the delegate selection process on that note won’t leave a good taste in the mouths of the November electorate.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

CPAC 2012 Notebook

WASHINGTON- A few notes from the annual gathering of conservatives (which includes many college students) in the Beltway.

Mitt Wins (Buys?) Straw Poll- Former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney has once again won the CPAC straw poll, after losing the last two to Texas US Representative Ron Paul. Romney had prevailed in the 2007, 2008 and 2009 CPAC straw polls, emerging on top in 2008 despite ending his presidential bid at that event.

Former US Senator Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania has alleged that Romney's team had "bought" the win by purchasing registrations for attendees committed to vote for their candidate. Such a tactic is not unheard of as Paul has been known to "invest" in these non official contests. Romney blatantly engaged in "straw poll herding" at the 2010 Southern Republican Leadership Conference in New Orleans.

Romney received 38% to Santorum's 31%. Though not a victory, Santorum's second place showing marked a vast improvement from his 2011 tenth place finish with 2%.

Former US House of Representatives speaker Newt Gingrich of Georgia placed a distant third with 15% and Paul in fourth with 12%, a sign of Paul's decision to spend his money in Maine and not CPAC.

Newt's "Soprano" Picture- During Gingrich's address at CPAC, a striking black-and-white image of him flanked by the members of his self-titled "Dream Team" of high profile supporters was shown as a backdrop. The visual, which resembled a Sopranos DVD set cover, was produced by his campaign and distributed in handbill version at his campaign booth.

The Ex-Speaker's Speaker Line-Up- In another creative flyer distribution, the Gingrich camp handed out "CPAC Daily Schedules" to attendees though a closer inspection revealed some commentary. While the flyer's header had the CPAC logo, so as to make it appear official, and the times of the speeches were accurate, some jabs were snuck in on Gingrich's rivals and one commentator.

For example, next to Santorum's name were the words "in defense of big labor" while next to Romney's name appeared the words "author of Obamney Care". Pundit and latter-day Romney supporter Ann Coulter also caught some heat, as "Three Cheers for RomeyCare" was listed by he speaking slot. The bottom of the flyer cited that it was paid for by Gingrich's campaign.

The CPAC Ground Game- - Both Gingrich and Santorum had booths at the conference though Romney and Paul passed on setting up a table, a little odd considering the money they have spent on CPAC in the past. Santorum had an impressive demonstration of support as there were hundreds of attendees, surprisingly mainly young people, sporting lapel stickers and a few wearing Santorum's trademark water vests (which ere for sale at a discount at his campaign table).

Romney had a significantly smaller visible presence though apparently enough quiet backing to win the straw poll.

Battleground Wisconsin- Though not as high profile as former Alaska governor Sarah Palin's close out address, embattled Wisconsin governor Scott Walker was given an opportunity to pitch for help from conservatives at the Friday night banquet speaker. Focusing his remarks exclusively on his state, Walker argued that the Let's attempt to remove him from office is more than simply "Wisconsin issue" and that the result will either embolden Big Labor or Republican state executives dealing with union related legislation. If Walker survives the recall and then reelection in 2014, you can expect the leading nemesis of the unions to be part of the 2016 or 2020 conversation.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Election 2012: Game Reset

After poor finishes in New Hampshire, South Carolina and Florida and a last place showing only a few days ago in Nevada, former Pennsylvania Rick Santorum stormed back into the presidential race with a big win in the Missouri primary and receiving strong support in the Minnesota and Colorado caucuses.

And though the Missouri contest is a so-called "beauty contest" as there are no delegates at stake, Santorum's lopsided margin over ex-Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney is a signal of conservatives' dissatisfaction and distrust of the presumed GOP frontrunner.

With former US House of Representatives Newt Gingrich not on the Show Me State's primary ballot, Santorum's win demonstrated what happens when the conservative vote is not split.

And the results are not "pretty" for Romney...or for Gingrich for that matter.

Santorum wisely diverted himself and his limited resources from Florida, giving Gingrich a clear shot at Romney in Florida. And Romney won big.

Spin doctors have tried to paint Santorum's Missouri upset as the result of the time the social conservative has spent stumping there.

No interpretation of what happened could be more absurd.

Making a handful of personal appearances does not translate into a landslide. Strong debate performances and solid conservative credentials in relation to his opponents have far more to do with Santorum's impressive Missouri win.

And as Romney is a well.financed national candidate who has racked up two consecutive high-profile wins in the past week, he has no excuse for faring so poorly.

Tuesday night was not only a reset of the fight for the Republican presidential nomination but a referendum on Romney.

Monday, February 6, 2012

Election 2012: Nevada Notebook and Stories

Here are a few random notes from the dusty desert trail...

Paul the Romantic Warrior Three days before the caucuses, Texas Congressman Ron Paul held a press conference at the Four Seasons in Las Vegas. At the media event, Paul gave a particularly parochial speech spending as much time on local matters as he typically spends decrying the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, foreign aid had the US monetary system.

Paul declared his opposition to depositing nuclear waste at Yucca Mountain, the delays by the federal government in granting tourist visas (important to a state economy heavily dependent on foreign visitors) and not taxing tips (important to waiters, bar maids and strippers- important segments of the Clark County electorate).

At the conclusion of the media event, Paul presented his wife Carol with a floral bouquet for their 55th anniversary.

The Great Wall of TP- Former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney held a well-attended rally at a Las Vegas paper company's warehouse that same evening. In addition to having his standard campaign logo backdrop with Old Glory, Romney was flanked by pallets of cases of toilet paper. Advance team must have missed that detail.

Supporting Newt...Through Song- At the Liberty High School caucuselecs in the Las Vegas suburb of Henderson, one supporter of former US House of Representatives speaker Newt Gingrich chose to lobby his fellow participants via boom box. Inspired NY Gingrich's unapologetic support for space exploration, the caucus attendee played a song he both wrote and recorded after the space shuttle Challenger exploded. In addition to playing his tune, Dancers in the Sky, the Newt-NASA partisan brought along a collage he made with pictures of Gingrich and the Challenger crew. Though Newt fared poorly at his precinct, the space exploration advocate was selected as a delegate to the Clark County GOP convention.

First in the West, Last in Results- The Nevada GOP's second early caucuses were late with results. The Saturday morning caucuses' final tally was not announced until two days later despite the fact that almost all of the caucus tabulatiohs were conducted on site within an hour of each precinct meeting. The meetings I attended lacked
structure and organization and the Nevada state GOP seemed overwhelmed. Nevada was not alone dealing with controversy this early on the primary calendar. Iowa, which experienced a notorious miscount that gave former US Senator Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania a tardy victory.

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Nevada 2012: It's 10:46 PM...Do You Know Where Your Results Are?

Most of the caucuses in Nevada were conducted at 9 AM on Saturday yet as of 10:46 PM the Nevada GOP can only officially report 45% in. Why?

Especially since most of the votes were immediately counted on site, why is there such a long delay in reporting results?

Nevada's caucuses in 2008 were largely ignored as the media focused on the South Carolina primary, which was held the same day.

Maybe Nevada isn't ready for political prime time.

Nevada 2012: Newt Vows to Remain in Race

Calling the rumor of his departure from the race a "fantasy" spread by operatives of ex-Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney, former Speaker of the US House of Representatives Newt Gingrich reasserted his commitment to take his candidacy to the Republican National Convention in August in the face of a second straight defeat at the hands of Romney and a rumor that spread this morning that he was contemplating an end to his campaign.

Gingrich held a press conference at the posh Venetian Hotel and Casino as results from the Nevada caucuses trickled in showing a solid first place finish by Romney.

Gingrich downplayed his Nevada finish, citing Romney's previous success there in 2008 and the state's large Mormon population. The former speaker also predicted he would outperform Arizona US Senator John McCain's showing in Nevada four years before.

In 2008, McCain garnered 13% to come in third behind Romney and Texas US Representative Ron Paul but went on to win the Republican nomination for president.

Gingrich lambasted Romney throughout a press conference that took the place of a standard end of election party. The ex-speaker said he opted for the press conference as he did not want to conflict with the large number of Super Bowl parties and related events taking place across Las Vegas.

Beyond stating his intention to remain in the race, the Gingrich press conference offered little new from his standard attacks on Romney for being dishohest and a Massachusetts moderate. Gingrich did call Donald Trump a master media manipulator, a reference to Trump's endorsement of Romney after it was initially reported that the celebrity real estate developer was going to publicly back Gingrich.

Closing the media event on a light note, Gingrich revealed that he owns a share of the Green Bay Packers and that he will be cheering for the New York Giants.

Nevada 2012: Reno's In, Paul Falls, Newt Picks Up

With the Biggest Little City counted, Romney remains in first with 41%, Newt second with 26%, Paul down to 19% in third while Santorum hopped up to 14%.

Nevada 2012: A Different Kind of Caucus

As the hig cities are still out, I am going to take this opportunity to explain how Nevada's is different from the Iowa caucus. Nevada has 28 delegates up for grabs and will apportion these delegates by percentage.

At the precinct caucus site, participants cast a vote for president and elect delegates to county conventions, just like Iowa, though the similarities end there.

In Iowa, the presidential ballot is a straw poll. The media places great emphasis on this though it has absolutely no bearing on the actual distribution of delegates. In other words, the delegates "won" by the candidates there are a total sham. However, in Nevada the ballot us binding in that the candidates will receive firm first ballot delegates to the Republiban National Convention in Saint Petersburg, Florida.

Iowa's delegates to the RNC are actually picked at congressional district conventions and the state convention, with their actions technically having no relevance to the celebrated First in the Nation media political spectacle.

Nevada 2012: The Capital Checks In for Newt, Romney

With 7.5% of the precincts counted, Newt Gingrich has leaped over Ron Paul for second place while Mitt Romney has increased his lead to 39%. Gingrich now has 25% to Paul's 22%. Rick Santorum appears to have plateaued at 13%. Reno, Henderson and Las Vegas numbers are still outstanding and can easily reposition the field, though Romney is expected to fare well in the state's major population centers.

More of the Same with 6% in

And with 109 of 1835 precincts, Romney continues to lead with the order the same and the percentages not shifted by much. I will be switching to my tablet to save my phone's battery.

And Just Like That...

Paul springs into second with 4% in. Romney still leads with 38%, Paul is in second with 30%, Newt drops to third with 20% and Santorum begins his decline to the basement with this notch at 13%.

Nevada First Numbers

With 2.2% in from the rural areas, it's Romney 45%, Newt 23%, Santorum 17% & Paul 15%. These numbers will change drastically towards Paul when Reno & Las Vegas check in.

Election 2012: Will the GOP Find Its Nominee in the Desert?

LAS VEGAS- From the Google media room in the palatial Palazzo Casino and Hotel via a cheap Droid mobile phone, I will be posting the results of the Nevada GOP caucuses as the Nevada GOP certifies them.

Some things to bear in mind:

Nevada allocates its delegates on a proportional basis. They complied with the RNC rules by holding its event in February entitling them to their full allotment of delegates.

Gormer Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney won Nevada comfortably in 2008, which helped salvage his candidacy after disappointing finishes in Iowa and New Hampshire.

Romney is expected to not only finish
first again but might receive a majority of the votes cast at the precinct caucuses.

Beyond that, the only big question tonight is who will finish second- Texas congressman Ron Paul or former US Hoyse Speaker Newt Gingrich. Paul came in second behind Romney in 2008.

It should also be noted that Gingrich has called a press conference for 10 pm CST at the nearby Venetian Hotel. It has veen speculated that there is going to be a major announcement delivered at the media event.