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Tags: Newt Gingrich

The Pre-Debate Spin: Our Guy Stinks, The Other Guy Rocks!



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The first Morning Jolt of the week examines CNN’s decision to use a slain ambassador’s diary as a news source, why the president does so many pop culture interviews, and then this bit of pre-debate expectation-setting:

The Pre-Debate Spin: Our Guy Can Barely Speak, Their Guy Is The Reincarnation of Cicero

The first debate is October 3, and you know what that means: it’s time for each side to hype up the skills of the opposition and downplay their own guy’s skills, in an attempt to manage expectations.

Thankfully, Robert Gibbs is about as believable in this role as he was in his last role, as White House Press Secretary.

A senior Obama campaign adviser said Mitt Romney has a leg up on President Barack Obama in the upcoming presidential debates.

“Mitt Romney I think has an advantage, because he’s been through 20 of these debates in the primaries over the last year,” Gibbs said Sunday on Fox News.

“Having been through this much more recently than President Obama, I think he starts with an advantage,” Gibbs said.

On Air Force One on Monday, Obama campaign press secretary Jen Psaki claimed Romney was doing more preparation for the debates “than any candidate in modern history.”

“They’ve made clear that his performing well is a make-or-break piece for their campaign,” Psaki said of the Romney team’s efforts.

The blogger Scared Monkeys can’t take it anymore: “Gibbs actually said with a straight face that Romney has the advantage over Obama in the debates because he had previously participated in many debates in the GOP primary. The Political Wire has called it the quote of the day. Please, spare us the BS. Obama is a master campaigner and BS’er. Also, how can anyone be considered a favorite when they will have the liberal corrupt MSM complex moderator against them?”

Here’s what Obama does well: He connects with audiences emotionally and his body language is reassuring. As we’ve mentioned, his message – government will do X, Y, and Z for you – is an easier sell. I still remember pundits doing cartwheels over his statement that health care was a “right,” not a “privilege.” Of course, nobody pays for your other rights. You don’t get a government-provided printing press, television state, firearm, or house to refuse quarter to troops in, etc. It’s one of those lines that sounds delightful to the low-information voters who don’t want to think too hard about how you pay for it, or even how that care can be provided in a country already facing a worsening doctor shortage.

When Obama gets cornered on an issue where the facts are tough for him, he just lies, i.e., “Fast and Furious” didn’t start on my watch, “All you’ve done is send China our jobs,” etc.  If there’s anything we’ve learned this cycle, it’s that nobody cares what the fact-checkers write in their columns a day later.

Obama probably has a slight edge in the debates, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see Romney do well.

The GOP nominee really excels when he does his homework, like when he pointed out that Gingrich has the same investments in Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac that were the centerpiece of his attacks on Romney. (Thus, all of the lengthy preparation shortage. Maybe he’s hoping to be his own fact-checker, correcting Obama’s lies in real-time.)

And he attacks well, as Gingrich noted recently:

Newt Gingrich on Friday urged Mitt Romney to go after President Barack Obama in next month’s debates with a gusto the former House speaker knows well.

“When he walks in to debate Obama, he’s got to be as tough with Obama as he was with me in Florida,” Gingrich said in an interview on CNN’s “Piers Morgan Tonight.”

After all, Gingrich said, Romney “is not in a competition to be likeable.”

“He’s in a competition to be capable,” Gingrich said. “We need somebody who can turn America around. We need him to convince us that a Romney recovery is better than an Obama stagnation. Unless he can do that, I don’t care how much effort they spend trying to make him likeable – it won’t work.

ADDENDA: I admire the honesty in CNN’s Jim Acosta as he contemplates his Redskins’ loss: “Not that I’m making excuses, but the Skins were without [receiver Pierre] Garcon and [linebacker Brian] Orakpo… two key playmakers. ..Okay, I’m making excuses.”

Tags: Barack Obama , Mitt Romney , Newt Gingrich , Robert Gibbs

Newt Gingrich, Not Used to Supporting Roles



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Yesterday, I went to a Romney campaign event in northern Virginia featuring his former primary rival, Newt Gingrich. The former Speaker is clearly trying hard, but he’s still getting the hang of this supportive surrogate thing.

Tags: Mitt Romney , Newt Gingrich

Mitt the Winner, Newt the Whiner



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Tonight, Newt Gingrich issued a statement reacting to the results of the Illinois primary:

“To defeat Barack Obama, Republicans can’t nominate a candidate who relies on outspending his opponents 7-1.  Instead, we need a nominee who offers powerful solutions that hold the president accountable for his failures.  Over the past few weeks, my $2.50 gas plan has shown how America could have cheaper gas, more jobs and greater national security while putting the White House on the defense over their anti-American energy policies.  This is the type of leadership I can offer as the nominee, and this campaign will spend between now and when the delegates vote in Tampa relentlessly taking the fight to President Obama to make this case.”

Everything Newt says may be true, but right now, Mitt Romney is winning 52 percent and Newt Gingrich is winning 7 percent.

Gingrich complains about Romney outspending his opponents, but it’s not like there’s some law that prevents him from going out and raising money, too.

Gingrich has been talking up this $2.50 per gallon plan for weeks now, at a time when Americans are rightly outraged about gas prices, and the former speaker can’t get any traction.

Gingrich has won two states, is apparently out of funds, and spent the weekend admiring the cherry blossoms at the Tidal Basin in Washington instead of campaigning in Illinois.

What is Gingrich adding to the campaign at this point? Besides issuing statements that the frontrunner’s most recent victories shouldn’t really count or are somehow not legitimate?

Tags: Mitt Romney , Newt Gingrich

Enough Complaining, Candidates and Advisers!



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On almost any given day in a presidential campaign, you can count on some surrogate for a candidate saying something problematic for the candidate.

One of the milder ones today:

Mr. Santorum’s campaign rejected Mr. Gingrich’s analysis, voicing the prevailing view that Mr. Gingrich would succeed only in dividing the anti-Romney vote.

“If he were out of this race, we wouldn’t just be beating Mitt Romney, we’d be crushing him,” Hogan Gidley, a senior adviser to the Santorum campaign, said Wednesday. “We wouldn’t have won every state that Romney won, but we sure would have won a lot more of them.”

Well, Gingrich isn’t out of this race. So deal with it. Stop describing how your candidate could be so much further ahead if the circumstances were different. The circumstances are the circumstances. Every candidate and every campaign has to deal with factors that are not ideal. Almost every candidate runs better in a one-on-one race because the vote is split into fewer groups. If Ron Paul and Newt Gingrich dropped out, yes, some, perhaps most, of their support would go to Santorum. But some would go to Romney. And some would express disinterest in the remaining candidates.

Right now, you’re in a four-way race and there’s a good chance you’ll be in a four-way race all the way to the convention. So go out and try to win the four-way race. Dislodge those supporters of those other candidates, win them over. This is what a campaign is supposed to do.

In Wednesday’s Morning Jolt, I looked at Rick Santorum’s complaint that Fox News is “in the tank” for Romney. I’m sure every candidate has days when they feel they’re not getting the kind of media coverage they deserve, when they start to see all of the reporters covering them as a bunch of rabid jackals, but… at some point, you have to hold that urge to complain in check.

On Tuesday’s “Kilmeade & Friends” radio show on Fox News Radio, former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum, a candidate for the Republican presidential nomination, accused Fox News of being in the tank for his competitor, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney.

Santorum made that claim as part of a larger point, that despite having a lot of things in his favor Romney has been unable to seal the deal.

“The man has had a 10-to-1 money advantage,” Santorum said. “He’s had all the organizational advantage. He’s had Fox News shilling for him every day, no offense Brian but I see it. And yet, he can’t close — he can’t seal the deal because he just doesn’t have the goods to be able to motivate the Republican base and win this election.”

Host Brian Kilmeade rejected Santorum’s charge and said that Santorum has been given the opportunity to appear on FNC as much as Romney.

“On Fox News shilling for Mitt Romney, I totally disagree with that,” Kilmeade said. “You can feel the way you want. I’m just telling you there’s no way I agree with that and you’ve been on as much as anyone.”

At Hot Air, Allahpundit examines the complaint and concludes, “Three possibilities. One: Fox is spending an undue amount of time on the delegate count, emphasizing that mathematically it’s almost impossible for Santorum to win. I haven’t watched much cable news lately but is that the sense our resident Fox-watchers get? If so, how much time is an undue amount of time? We’re more than two months past Iowa and a week removed from Super Tuesday. Time to start counting delegates, folks. Two: Maybe Santorum’s just a whiner. He’s complained before about Drudge being in the tank for Romney too, but in that case there’s at least circumstantial evidence to support it. In the case of Fox, what’s the smoking gun? Santorum was on “Hannity” just last night to dump on Bill Maher. Palin, the network’s most high profile contributor, is a Gingrich fan. Aside from the occasional Ann Coulter guest appearance, who’s supposedly shilling for Romney on FNC? Three: Maybe he’s saying this for strategic reasons, using Fox’s “course correction” back towards the center last year to cast Romney as the choice of the Republican establishment’s favorite news network.”

At GOP12, Christian Heinze reminds us, “Rupert Murdoch famously made shows of support for Santorum twice this cycle. Just before the  Iowa caucuses, he tweeted that Santorum was the “only candidate with genuine big vision.” Then, one week before Michigan’s primary, he tweeted that if Santorum won Michigan, the nomination fight would be over. ‘From distance, Santorum doing great. Values really do count in America, and not sneered at as in parts of Europe. Win Michigan game over.’ That’s more forceful an endorsement than you’d ever expect from the head of a news organization, particularly for an underdog.”

Don Surber writes, “Let’s see, the Republican Establishment is against him, Matt Drudge is against him and now Fox News is against him. Maybe the problem is not that they are shilling for Mitt but rather that they are chilling to Rick.”

Kevin Eder: “I’m so old I remember when @RickSantorum worked for Fox News. Now? He just whines about them.”

Tags: Mitt Romney , Newt Gingrich , Rick Santorum

A Pair of Grit-ty Wins for Santorum in the South



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The Jolt looks at what’s behind Obama’s slide in the polls, a candidate’s complaint that Fox News is in the tank for one of his rivals, and of course, primary night:

The Deep-Fried Primary Night

I think Jeff Foxworthy had once said that you didn’t have to be from the South to be a redneck. Perhaps Rick Santorum has a bit of redneck in him.

Erin McPike and Carl M. Cannon set the stage:

With his two-state sweep of the Dixie Primary, Rick Santorum ensured that the Republican Party’s long campaign of attrition in 2012 will continue. Mitt Romney had conceded last week that Mississippi and Alabama were “away games” for him, but they were far from Santorum’s Pennsylvania home, too — and he won both.

The biggest loser of the night was Newt Gingrich, who had predicted success in Tuesday’s primaries but couldn’t follow up his lone Super Tuesday victory — in his home state of Georgia — with a win even in the neighboring state of Alabama. Gingrich finished second in both Alabama and Mississippi, with Romney a close third. Ron Paul ran a distant fourth in both states.

Gingrich’s miscalculation was coupled by his decision — alone among the four candidates — to remain here in Alabama through the voting. When he and his wife came out to face the cameras and their disappointed followers, both attempted to make the most of it. Callista Gingrich warmed up the crowd by proclaiming, “Our only opponent is Barack Obama and we are committed to removing him from the White House.” She then introduced her husband as “the next president of the United States.”

So now Gingrich is recalculating his goals, according to the Wall Street Journal:

Still, Mr. Gingrich and his advisers say he isn’t going anywhere. In a concession speech, Mr. Gingrich was gracious to Mr. Santorum, while calling the results an indictment of Mr. Romney, widely seen as the front-runner. “I believe that after the primaries are over it will be obvious the so-called front-runner in fact didn’t get there, and from that point we will be in a whole different conversation,” Mr. Gingrich said.

As those remarks suggest, Mr. Gingrich and his campaign have embraced a new goal, which is to block Mr. Romney. “He believes the long haul is to get enough delegates to stop Romney from getting the nomination before the convention,” said campaign chairman Bob Walker, a former congressman. “If Romney is stopped, I don’t think he gets the nomination at the convention.”

Joe Scarborough: “Last night’s headline is not about Newt. It is about a guy with all the money and organization coming in 3rd behind Newt and Rick.”

Except that once you throw in Hawaii and American Samoa, Romney had a better night in terms of delegates. I know, I know. “As goes American Samoa, so goes America.”

Chuck Todd: “Looks like with HI (and assuming an America Samoa sweep for Romney) the Santorum delegate net gain could be as small as 3 from last night.”

The American Spectator’s Jim Antle studied the early exit poll numbers… and noticed some results that seem, at least at first glance, to not make sense: “Mitt Romney won plurality of MS voters who thought Paul’s positions ‘just right.’ Paul came in second. In Alabama, 25 percent say Paul’s positions are ‘just right.’ Santorum beats Paul among this group by 10 points.”

Tags: Mitt Romney , Newt Gingrich , Rick Santorum

Gingrich-Perry: A Winning Ticket? Or Inspired Buddy Cop Movie?



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The first Morning Jolt of the week looks at the delegate count, a former Florida congressman who’s a menace on the roads of his home state, and then this intriguing rumor breaking late Sunday:

 Newt-Perry 2012: One Won’t Stop Talking. One Always Felt Actions Spoke Louder.

When you’ve only won two of the first twenty-six contests, you don’t have many cards left to play. Naming a running mate may be one of the better cards remaining in Newt Gingrich’s hand. Fox News’ Ed Henry passes along word from his colleague, ‘Campaign Carl’:

Sources close to Gingrich camp tell Fox’s Carl Cameron they’re holding preliminary conversations w/Rick Perry folks about Newt-Perry ticket. Idea is Gingrich camp thinks announcing Newt-Perry ticket well before Tampa will help Gingrich get evangelicals now … We’ll see. As Carl Cameron notes: Newt floating Perry as running mate 2 days before Alabama, Mississippi could energize conservatives or turn them off. A senior aide to Rick Santorum called Gingrich-Perry trial balloon a desperate Hail Mary to create buzz ahead of Alabama & Mississippi.

Late Sunday night, the denials arose:

But Gingrich spokesman R.C. Hammond said no one in the campaign has reached out to Perry’s camp about a shared ticket.

“While there’s certainly a lot of people who are great admirers of Rick Perry on our campaign. whether or not the campaign has gone as far as to reach out to Governor Perry about a possible VP ticket, any sort of talks along those lines would be premature — it would be something more appropriate for later on in the process,” Hammond told CBS News.

Catherine Frazier, a spokesman for Perry, also called the speculation “humbling but premature.”

Of course, the pick would create as many problems as it solves. For starters, one has to wonder how comfortable Perry would be in a supporting role. Obviously, Perry demonstrated limited appeal on the campaign trail in his own bid, even in states where one might have expected him to catch fire, like South Carolina.

The argument that it would help Newt win two must-win primary states seems quite typical of the candidate: making one of his most important decisions based upon a short-term political need.

Should the Republican presidential candidate really be all that worried about nailing down evangelicals? (Yes, I realize there’s increasing evidence that Mitt Romney has the same problem.) In a field of potential running mates that includes a stellar bench like Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, Pennsylvania Sen. Pat Toomey, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan, New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez, Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell, Ohio Sen. Rob Portman, and Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval, the GOP would end up with… Perry?

And while the concept of geographic diversity on the ticket is overstated, if not overrated… a Georgian and a Texan? Really?

What’s Perry doing these days?

At an intimate event held at CNN’s Grill in downtown Austin, Perry answered questions about his run as a Republican candidate. But being that is was a technology and interactive show, he kicked off the interview talking about his Twitter use.

“In 2009, when we were discussing our campaign, we had heard there was this new thing they are going to be doing called Twitter. We picked up on it, and I thought it was highly successful,” he said. Perry himself tweets from his account and was the only candidate to do so.

“Thank you for reminding me when I misspell something,” he told his followers. Perry noted that he liked to use the service to “bypass the mainstream media” and the fact that “everyone becomes a reporter.” Perry continued to speak candidly on the subject of his loss and the current candidates.

“We still have a lot of time to go,” Perry said when asked who he thought would be the Republican nominee. He did, however, say that Newt Gingrich is still in the fight. Perry endorsed Gingrich when he ended his campaign in January. Perry also addressed Texas as a hub for technology.

Earlier on Friday, he announced that Apple would be creating a $304 million campus in Austin that would make available more than 3,600 jobs. Despite having his arm in a sling because of recent surgery on his right clavicle, Perry was upbeat and humorous. He closed the event by saying that if he were to run in 2016 he would “work on some debate skills and always remember the third thing.”

If indeed Rick Perry has interest in running for president again in the future… will his odds in a future bid be better or worse if he accepts an offer to be Gingrich’s running mate?

As I noted on Twitter, “‘Gingrich-Perry.’ The question is, Rick, Katy, Tyler, The Band, or Platypus?”

Tags: Newt Gingrich , Rick Perry

Mitt’s Got Trouble. Right Here in River City.



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From the . . . Super Wednesday edition of the Morning Jolt:

A Super Tuesday Stupor?

It didn’t take much — just my vote! — to jinx Mitt Romney.

This was not such a super Tuesday for Romney. Sure, he won Virginia — but he was supposed to, it was a head-to-head matchup with Ron Paul. Sure, he won his home state, Massachusetts, and a 17-delegate New England state in Vermont. Ohio was his big win, and he needed it . . . but he won by one percent, about 12,000 votes, at this hour.

The losses in Georgia, Tennessee, and Oklahoma themselves aren’t bad, but Romney’s share of the vote is pretty disappointing: 26 percent in Georgia, 28 percent in Oklahoma, 28 percent in Tennessee. Throw in 24 percent in North Dakota.

I suppose he and his team can boast that they won Idaho (62 percent, even more than in Virginia) and Alaska (32 percent, 3 percentage points over Santorum).

But after last week’s big wins in Michigan and Arizona, we were supposed to see signs of the party starting to unify around Romney. Instead, the frontrunner has a problem with the Midwest and South that is keeping him at less than 3 in 10 right now. That was good enough for second place in most of these states, but that’s still setting a low bar — beat out Ron Paul and, in most cases, Newt, who is becoming an afterthought. (More on this below.) Sure, Romney had a great night in terms of delegates. I stand by my assessment that his road to the nomination is the hardest, except for all of the others. But he’s still got glaring weaknesses in connecting with people. Maybe it’s the Mormon issue. Maybe it’s his background. But I think the “brokered convention yields a surprise nominee” talk just got a new jolt of energy this morning.

As for Newt, I received this message from his campaign at 8:49 last night:

This is Herman Cain and I am writing to tell you that my good friend Newt Gingrich is back! So many times in this presidential campaign, the elites in the liberal media and the establishment have written off Newt Gingrich. But thank to support of conservatives like you, Newt won an impressive victory tonight. He won Georgia, the state with the most delegates on Super Tuesday. He’s got the momentum right now. Now Newt needs our help to keep it rolling. Will you join us?

Er . . . he won his home state. That’s kind of a given for most candidates. Based upon that, he’s back?

Newt’s total votes in North Dakota, as of this hour, with 76 percent of caucus precincts reporting: 962. Astoundingly, he’ll get 2 delegates out of that, based on CNN’s projection.

Permit me to share a series of thoughts offered by Patrick Ruffini on his Twitter feed:

We have created this thing where there is money in speaking to the conservative subculture that conservatives can’t speak to the country. When you can make a decent living off Fox appearances and book contracts, you aren’t going to change when you run for President. There is strikingly little thought given to applying conservative principles to the median voter. That doesn’t mean compromise. Compromise is unnecessary because voters don’t care about ideology. Rather its selling yourself as one of them. Success lies in selling whatever ideology you have as moderate, sensible and normal. That is the essence of politics. Reagan was a conservative. You know what he also was? A salesman.

Tags: Mitt Romney , Newt Gingrich , Rick Santorum

Gingrich’s Dry Spell Comes to an End!



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The polls have closed in Georgia, and Newt Gingrich is the projected winner.

The victory ends a bit of a dry spell for the former speaker. Since winning South Carolina January 21, Newt has placed second in Florida with 31.9 percent and then shown a slow decline: 21.1 percent in the low-turnout Nevada caucuses (29 percentage points behind Romney), and then 10.8 percent in the nonbinding results in Minnesota, 12.8 percent in the nonbinding results in Colorado, 6.7 percent in Maine, 6.5 percent in Michigan, 16.2 percent in Arizona, and 10.3 percent in Washington.

Despite the recent spate of third- and fourth-place finishes, Newt has the second-most votes, with about 990,000 votes cast before today’s results. Santorum is just behind him with 959,000 votes.

Tags: Georgia , Newt Gingrich

53% of Self-Identified Democrats Voted for Santorum



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CBS News’ Exit Poll finds that 9 percent of respondents identified themselves as Democrats. Among that group, 3 percent voted for New Gingrich, 17 percent each for Ron Paul and Mitt Romney, and 53 percent for Rick Santorum.

So did the pro-Santorum robocalls, hitting Romney for opposing the auto industry bailout (a position Santorum held as well), end up influencing about 4.5 percent of the total turnout in a Republican primary?

Tags: Michigan , Mitt Romney , Newt Gingrich , Rick Santorum , Ron Paul

Romney: The Weakest Candidate, Except for All the Others



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In the first Morning Jolt of the week, a look at John Hinckley Jr.’s desire to be seen as more than just a would-be assassin; a zany, but supremely unlikely choice for the Republican presidential candidate in 2012, and then the latest state of play…

Hope You Didn’t Have Plans for Spring: Our Long Haul Gets Longer

I’m actually going to express a bit of skepticism of the theme of the big New York Times story this Sunday:

Whether Mitt Romney wins or loses the Michigan and Arizona primaries on Tuesday, his advisers are warning donors and other supporters to prepare for a longer, more bruising and more expensive fight for the Republican presidential nomination that may not be settled until at least May.

That is prompting a new round of intensified fund-raising by his financial team, which had hoped by this point to be collecting money for a general election match with President Obama. The campaign is increasingly trying to quell anxiety among Republican leaders, while intently focusing on the mechanics of accumulating delegates needed to secure the nomination.

Mr. Romney’s aides said they were confident their sustained attacks portraying Rick Santorum as a Washington insider, and Mr. Santorum’s shaky debate performance in Arizona on Wednesday, had slowed their rival’s recent surge here in Michigan.

Yes, losing Michigan would be disastrous for Romney. But here are the last four polls: Santorum by 3, Romney by 2, Romney by 3, Romney by 6. He’s solidly ahead in Arizona, which is winner-take-all.  So Romney is probably coming out of Tuesday with all 29 of Arizona’s delegates and about 16 out of Michigan’s 30. His strongest challenger of the moment, Rick Santorum, will probably finally break double digits and have about 18-20 total delegates; Romney will have about 118.

Then it’s into Super Tuesday, where Romney will probably be the lone candidate capable of being on-air in every state. He doesn’t need to win Georgia; Gingrich can and should win there. He’ll have a one-on-one fight with Ron Paul in Virginia. He’s got his home state of Massachusetts. He should be at least competitive in the caucus states of Alaska, Idaho, North Dakota because of his campaign’s organizational skills. (He won the only binding caucus so far in Nevada and nearly won Iowa.) Ohio will be the big showdown. He should be competitive or a winner in Oklahoma, Tennessee, and Vermont.

In other words, he’s not likely to land a bunch of knockout punches, but he’s going to finish with the biggest pile of delegates, week after week. Santorum, Gingrich, and Ron Paul can declare that they’re in until the convention, and they’ll continue to get delegates in dribs and drabs (keep in mind, quite a few states have minimum thresholds to receive any delegates, and in some states, if a candidate wins more than 50 percent, they’re automatically given all delegates, a sort-of super-bonus threshold). But how far back can a candidate fall and remain competitive? Keep in mind, at this point, semi-frontrunner Santorum was won 15.9 percent of all votes and is last in terms of delegates. Ron Paul, who was supposedly pursuing this shrewd, delegate-based strategy, has 9 delegates and 11.4 percent of the votes cast so far. Newt Gingrich, who has the second-highest total of votes and delegates (29), has won only one state.

Mitt Romney’s position as frontrunner looks weak, until you look at the path and obstacles facing all of his rivals.

Oh, and one other point to note widely: Mark it: “Prices rise above $5 for a gallon of premium gas at a Shell station at Olympic Boulevard and Fairfax Avenue in Los Angeles, California February 21, 2012.”

Tags: Mitt Romney , Newt Gingrich , Rick Santorum , Ron Paul

Too Many Cliffhangers in the Debate Show’s Season Finale



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The Thursday edition of the Morning Jolt features Chris Christie on a tear, the great Mark Edward Taylor, author of Branding Obamessiah and National Review cruiser, analyzing the “monster lighting” on Rick Santorum at a recent event, and, of course, a big debate wrap-up:

And Now, the Dramatic Season Finale of . . . ‘The Republican Debates’

Bobby Ewing in the shower on “Dallas.” Agent Cooper staring into the mirror and seeing BOB in “Twin Peaks.” Fringe’s dramatic introduction to a world where recent history played out quite differently. Locutus.

The bar is set high for shocking season finales, but the year’s breakout prime-time ratings hit, the Republican Presidential Primary Debates, aimed to offer a grand finale.

The Debates have been one of television’s longest-running series (or at least it feels that way) and they have delivered on programmers’ promises of a thrill ride of twists and turns: Tim Pawlenty’s hesitation on using the “Obamneycare” attack in the second episode. Rick Perry’s sudden amnesia. The revelation that Jon Huntsman had been briefly replaced by a lookalike that only spoke Chinese. The back-to-back episodes where Newt Gingrich went rogue and pursued his own vendetta of vengeance against moderators Juan Williams and John King. The series took a positively David Lynchian-twist when George Stephanopolous revealed a bizarre obsession with the candidates’ alleged secret plans to ban contraception, and Diane Sawyer’s loopy, nonsensical night driven senseless by cold medicine.

Occasionally the writers would phone it in, like two episodes ago with a Brian Williams-centered episode that droned on and on and was completely devoid of action. And a lot of viewers have argued that the series should shift away from the protagonist of Mitt Romney, suggesting he’s too bland, uninteresting, and doesn’t pack enough punch to be the series hero that viewers are demanding.

Wednesday night didn’t quite offer the game changer some viewers hoped for. And the mysterious “Brokered Convention”/“Mysterious Figure in the Wings” plotline was left frustratingly unresolved. We should have figured they would end on a cliffhanger.

Having beaten the debates-as-television-series metaphor into the ground, on to the assessment. Romney is, bit by bit, proving to be a better debater than people thought. Yes, he’s pretty shameless about going after opponents’ inconsistencies and unpopular positions that he himself held earlier in his career – but the audaciousness of it tends to leave the opposition flustered and infuriated.

Last night, he jabbed at Santorum, “When I was fighting to save the Olympics, you were fighting to save the Bridge to Nowhere.” Really, after lines like that, people doubt Romney’s willingness to go after Obama? If nominated, Romney will probably lacerate Obama on the individual mandate, not cutting spending, insufficient support for drilling, demonizing the wealthy, and so on. Obama may coolly point out Romney’s past support for those positions . . . and I suspect Romney will just ignore it and point out that those positions are the wrong ones, and the American public opposes them. Would voters prefer the consistent man who stands for ideas they oppose? Or will they prefer a flip-flopper who currently holds the positions they support?

You and I, who have watched Romney as a passionately pro-choice candidate, bragging that he would be better for Massachusetts gays than Ted Kennedy in 1994, look at his current emphatic table pointing during these debates, and think, ‘He might just be saying what he needs to get the nomination. I don’t know if I trust him. He sounds sincere now, but Massachusetts liberals probably thought he agreed with them in 2002, too.’ But I suspect casual voters ignore anything before, say, last weekend. I suspect they put a whole lot more into a candidate’s nonverbal communication, and whether that conveys sincerity and constancy, than anything that would require them to, you know, read something. If you doubt me . . . look at Obama’s election.

Santorum’s a fighter, no doubt about it. Rip-snorting, you might say. Of course, he has two terms in the Senate full of difficult votes to explain, and during the debate he had to express contrition for No Child Left Behind, to insist the earmark process wasn’t that bad until a couple of lawmakers starting abusing it, that backing Arlen Specter over Pat Toomey in 2004 was the right call (fighting words, from where I sit), and that bailing out the steel industry was good economic policy. Oh, and his one-word description of himself was “courage.”

Newt Gingrich had a good night. I think his answer on women in combat was fantastic. But unless something very dramatic happens, he’s going to have a bad Tuesday, and finish with no delegates. South Carolina gets further and further into the rear view mirror. As Greg Gutfeld put it, “Newt came off as the irrelevant ex-boyfriend. Still shows up at Monday bowling night, but there’s a new boyfriend, and he’s there. Awkward.”

Jeff Greenfield: “First big debate reaction: “Holy smoke! I missed the Knick blowout of Atlanta for THIS?”

Michael Graham remained unimpressed with the topic selection: “How’d ya like CNN’s excellent questions on gas prices, economy, jobs, energy, and Obama’s new $250 billion tax hike . . .oh, wait.”

Mollie Hemingway noticed, “CNN, which couldn’t find a woman to ask a question, says ‘there are a lot of women on Twitter who think these candidates are living in the past.’ Specifically, it was David Gergen who offered that assessment.”

Howard Kurtz: “A somewhat muted debate that did nothing to shake up the race. Which is good for Santorum. Romney didn’t hurt himself.”

Josh Trevino: “Tough to figure a winner this evening, but the loser was America, so there’s that.” I’ll bet it hurt to catch that glimpse of Rick Perry in the audience.

Among those who saw a Romney win, and/or a tough night for Rick Santorum:

Bob McDonnell: “Great story from Mitt Romney tonight at the GOP debate about my daughter Jeanine, the Iraq veteran. Thanks for telling the story!”

Gerry Dales detects political gravity: “Every time someone in the GOP rises to the top, they have their worst debate performance shortly after.”

John Tabin: “Not a great night for anyone, but an especially bad night for Santorum, I think.”

Kevin Eder has a suspicious mind: “Did anyone else notice that Newt and Mitt really didn’t attack each other tonight?”

“David Axelrod sent more than a dozen tweets during the debate, nearly all against Romney. I wonder why,” observes Brit Hume.

Andy Levy of Red Eye was pretty happy: “Debate grades: Romney A+, Santorum A+, Gingrich A+, Paul A+. (Note: I didn’t see it.)”

Still, some saw a reversal as the night went on. Gabe Malor: “Santorum had a really rough night, but a good finish. Romney had a good night, but his final answer was awful.”

Tags: Debates , Mitt Romney , Newt Gingrich , Rick Santorum , Ron Paul

Santorum, the National Frontrunner With 3 Delegates



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A reminder of the official delegate count, as seen by the RNC: Mitt Romney 73, Newt Gingrich 29, Ron Paul 8, Perceived Frontrunner Rick Santorum 3, Jon Huntsman 2.

Some of the caucuses so far have begun the process of selecting delegates to the national convention — the local caucuses select delegates to the county conventions, who select delegates to the state convention, who select the delegates who go to the GOP convention in Tampa. Some media organizations have projected the likely allocation of the delegates based upon the first round of the caucus.

Using this formula, the AP has Romney at 105, Santorum at 71, Gingrich at 29, Paul at 18, and Huntsman at 2.

Tags: Jon Huntsman , Mitt Romney , Newt Gingrich , Rick Santorum , Ron Paul

Santorum, Gingrich, Obama Face Petition Challenges in Indiana



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Before the filing deadline, I talked to the Indiana Secretary of State’s office, and they indicated that there were no indications that any of the major-party candidates having trouble qualifying for the primary ballot. That assessment was anecdotal and was before all of the campaigns turned in their signatures. At the end of the week, the state Election Commission will sort out the challenges:

The Indiana Secretary of State has announced that forty-eight challenges in opposition to candidates seeking ballot placement for the May 2012 Primary Election have been logged with the Indiana Election Division. Challenged presidential primary candidates include Democrat President Barack Obama and Republicans Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich. Other candidates challenged include incumbent U.S. Senate candidate Richard Lugar (R), and Republican gubernatorial candidates Mike Pence and Jim Wallace. Two lesser known candidates for president, Patricia Inez Sandifer (R), Lafayette, Indiana, and Mark Callahan (R), Eugene, Oregon, have also been challenged.

The bipartisan Indiana Election Commission will consider and likely rule on the challenges when it convenes this Friday, February 24, 2012 at 9:00 a.m. (EST) in State House Room 404. The proceedings will be webcast live and may be viewed at the following web page: http://www.in.gov/legislative/2441.htm. The four-member Indiana Election Commission consists of two Democrats and two Republicans appointed by the governor upon recommendation of the state chairman of each political party.

Before you get your hopes up about Obama, apparently the challenge to his petitions revolves around “longstanding questions about Obama’s U.S. citizenship.”

Tags: Barack Obama , Newt Gingrich , Rick Santorum

MIRS Michigan Poll: Romney Back on Top?



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A fan of Mitt sends along the results of the subscription-only MIRS/Mitchell Research Poll, which puts Mitt Romney at 32 percent, Rick Santorum at 30 percent, Newt Gingrich at 9 percent, and Ron Paul at 7 percent. The pollster notes that 22 percent remain undecided and Santorum had led the last nine polls. The pollster notes, “The automated telephone survey of 420 likely Republican presidential primary voters had a margin of error of 4.7 percent.”

UPDATE: Full release here. “Reports show Romney is spending twice as much on media as Santorum and it would seem as though it is having an impact.  Romney has turned the race around and has gone back into the lead by 2%. Romney has made big inroads with conservatives that had gone to Santorum in the last poll.  Santorum’s lead among Tea Party voters has been cut from 15% to 5%, his lead with Evangelical Christians has been cut from 16% to 11%, and his huge lead among those that say they are ‘very conservative´ has been cut in half, from 31% to 15%.  The strong negative ads being run in Michigan defining Santorum as a big spender have had a huge impact. Romney’s message and resources have put him back into the lead,´ Steve Mitchell, president of Mitchell Research & Communications, Inc. said.

Tags: Mitt Romney , Newt Gingrich , Rick Santorum

Why Is Newt’s Biggest Donor So Opposed to Santorum?



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A fascinating detail in this Wall Street Journal article on billionaire casino magnate Sheldon Adelson. The billionare has provided a large chunk of the financial fuel for Newt Gingrich’s campaign — particularly the pro-Newt super PAC — and is apparently motivated not merely by a desire to help Gingrich, but in particular to halt the rise of Rick Santorum:

Mr. Adelson doesn’t oppose Mr. Santorum, but he doesn’t share the former Pennsylvania senator’s socially conservative positions, including his strong antiabortion views, associates said. Mr. Santorum was one of only two Republicans who didn’t meet with Mr. Adelson in October around the time of a candidates’ debate in Las Vegas, according to a person familiar with the matter.

Though he isn’t yet switching allegiance, Mr. Adelson is thought to be comfortable with Mr. Romney as the ultimate nominee, friends said. The two men met before the Feb. 4 Nevada Republican caucuses, according to a person familiar with the matter. That person described the meeting as a “warm” one.

Obviously, Adelson’s views are not Newt’s views, and Newt’s not responsible for the perspective of Adelson, one of the ten richest people in America who’s funding his super PAC to the tune of $11 million or so. But . . . it certainly might make some pro-lifers wonder why a guy who is, apparently, not that much of a social conservative can be so comfortable with Gingrich or Mitt Romney, candidates who would probably insist that they are indeed social conservatives.

Perhaps Adelson sees Santorum as a potential threat to his businesses. In an interview with Jon Ralston in Nevada, Santorum seemed to suggest that he is very critical of legal gambling.

Asked about the legalization of online gambling, Santorum responds:

I’m someone who takes the opinion that gaming is not something that is beneficial, particularly having that access on the Internet. Just as we’ve seen from a lot of other things that are vices on the Internet, they end to grow exponentially as a result of that. It’s one thing to come to Las Vegas and do gaming and participate in the shows and that kind of thing as entertainment, it’s another thing to sit in your home and have access to that it. I think it would be dangerous to our country to have that type of access to gaming on the Internet.

Freedom’s not absolute. What rights in the Constitution are absolute? There is no right to absolute freedom. There are limitations. You might want to say the same thing about a whole variety of other things that are on the Internet — “let everybody have it, let everybody do it.” No. There are certain things that actually do cost people a lot of money, cost them their lives, cost them their fortunes that we shouldn’t have and make available, to make it that easy to do. That’s why we regulate gambling. You have a big commission here that regulates gambling, for a reason.

I opposed gaming in Pennsylvania . . . A lot of people obviously don’t responsibly gamble and lose a lot and end up in not so great economic straits as a result of that. I believe there should be limitations.

 

Tags: Mitt Romney , Newt Gingrich , Rick Santorum , Sheldon Adelson

Moot Gingrich?



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I’m scheduled to be on MSNBC this morning, around 10 a.m., talking about the bosses’ editorial declaring 

“It is not clear whether Gingrich remains in the race because he still believes he could become president next year or because he wants to avenge his wounded pride: an ambiguity that suggests the problem with him as a leader. When he led Santorum in the polls, he urged the Pennsylvanian to leave the race. On his own arguments the proper course for him now is to endorse Santorum and exit.”

Sneak preview: Gingrich’s decision to leave the race, if it comes before the convention, will come from the candidate himself. But the decision on whether he remains much of a factor is in the hands of GOP primary voters. If a guy is drawing 11 percent in Michigan, 17 percent in California, 16-17 percent nationally and 13 percent in Pennsylvania… he may not be out of the race, but we can debate just how much he’s still in it. If Gingrich tumbles further to single digits, Newt may be… moot.

UPDATE: Video of today’s appearance:

Visit msnbc.com for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

Tags: Newt Gingrich

Could Michigan Be the Turning Point of the GOP Primary?



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If the Public Policy Polling survey is accurate, and Rick Santorum really is 15 points ahead of Mitt Romney, we’re about to witness another sea change in this most tumultuous of GOP presidential primaries.

I had wondered if a big win in Arizona might be a higher priority for Santorum; if Newt Gingrich failed to get traction in Arizona, one could reasonably ask where he could win, outside of South Carolina so far (and his home state of Georgia). But Gingrich may already be an afterthought (11 percent in Michigan, 17 percent in California, 16-17 percent nationally, 13 percent in Pennsylvania). Santorum has already established himself as the top rival to Romney; now he’s competing with him for frontrunner status.

Beating Romney in Michigan… would be a game-changer. Mitt Romney won four years ago by a wide margin when his campaign needed it most. Romney began his career there; his father, George Romney, was a two-term governor and successful auto executive there. (Of course, this factor is easily overstated; roughly 65 percent of Michiganders were not alive when Romney was last governor, in 1969. What’s more, Michigan’s population was estimated at 10,002,486 in 2008 and 9,876,187 in 2011, meaning that while the Michigan exodus has slowed in recent years, some of Romney’s backers from four years ago may not be around this cycle. The PPP survey notes that only 26 percent of primary voters think of Romney as a Michigander (interestingly, 33 percent of Romney backers don’t consider him to be one).

Four years ago, Romney swept the more urban eastern counties, while McCain carried most of the western counties and the upper peninsula. Romney ran up his margin in the counties with highest raw turnout, 25,326 Romney votes in Kent (to McCain’s 20,927),  35,022 in Macomb (to McCain’s 19,042) 43,853 in Wayne (to McCain’s 25,778) and 62,298 in Oakland (to McCain’s 35,752).

Tags: Mitt Romney , Newt Gingrich , Rick Santorum

‘Hip has nearly wrecked the country. Let’s try square for a while.’



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Ann Coulter, usually one of CPAC’s most popular speakers, made some really controversial moves this year . . . she touted Romney and slammed Newt Gingrich.

“If we’re betting the future of our country on Newt Gingrich not scaring independents, I want my money back.”

She said the objection to Romney is mostly that he’s stiff and boring, a contention that I suspect many Romney critics will dispute.

“I think we’ve had enough of hip. Hip has nearly wrecked the country. Let’s try square for a while.”

Tags: Ann Coulter , Mitt Romney , Newt Gingrich

Romney Winning Independents, But Losing Ground Overall?



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Fox News shares a somewhat surprising poll result:

Looking ahead to November, Obama edges Republican Mitt Romney by 5 percentage points (47-42 percent) in a hypothetical matchup today. In January, the president had a narrow one-point edge (46-45 percent). Both leads are within the polls’ margins of sampling error.

The president’s advantage widens against the other GOP contenders. Obama leads Ron Paul by 10 percentage points (48-38 percent), Rick Santorum by 12 points (50-38 percent) and Newt Gingrich by 13 points (51-38 percent).

Among independents, Romney tops Obama by 9 points. Last month, independents also broke for Romney (by 5 points).

Now, keep in mind that this is a survey of registered voters, not likely voters. But if Romney is increasing his poll numbers among independents, shouldn’t he be in better shape? The most likely explanation is that the partisan sample in the poll changed, increasing the number of Democrats . . . or perhaps a certain number of Republicans are telling the pollster that they just couldn’t bring themselves to vote for Romney.

Tags: Barack Obama , Mitt Romney , Newt Gingrich , Rick Santorum

‘Missouri tells me that in a clean one-on-one against Romney, we beat him.’



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Over on the homepage, a quick look at what yesterday revealed, most notably, the likelihood that Santorum has overtaken Gingrich as the preeminent anti-Romney candidate:

Santorum began this contest as the man of the hour, the little engine that could in a sweater-vest who challenged and beat the much-better-funded Mitt Romney . . . and yet he has, at the moment, an entire three delegates committed to him. (Iowa’s delegates to the national convention will formally be selected at a state convention on June 16.)

Santorum won no more than 17 percent in any of the subsequent contests, until last night, and he finished with a disappointing 10 percent in Nevada’s caucuses Saturday. Gingrich has declared, with increasing loudness and insistence, that the former Pennsylvania senator should leave the race to unite conservatives behind his candidacy.

Thirty-five days after the Iowa caucuses, Rick Santorum needed a win — even a purely symbolic win — to remind Republicans nationwide that he was still a serious contender. Tuesday night, he got it. Missouri was called for him first, shortly thereafter Minnesota followed, and in Colorado he looked likely to finish no worse than a close second. His two wins were landslides. [Three, really; at the time of writing, Colorado was much closer.]

For conservatives hoping to unite behind one Romney rival, Missouri offered a tantalizing look at what the race would be like if Gingrich and Santorum were not splitting that segment of the GOP electorate.

Gingrich was not listed on the Missouri ballot; he and his campaign said that they did not bother to qualify for it because they deemed the nonbinding contest irrelevant. Cynics may notice the Gingrich campaign’s inability to qualify for the ballot in Virginia and wonder just how deliberate their approach to Missouri was.

In the reduced field, Santorum didn’t just win, he thrashed Romney. With 90 percent of precincts reporting, Santorum led in every Missouri county that was reporting results.

Rick Santorum adviser John Brabender told CNBC’s John Harwood: “Missouri tells me that in a clean one-on-one against Romney, we beat him.” Expect to hear a lot of this argument from Santorum and his supporters. You’ll also hear quite a few assertions that Santorum has won four contests to Gingrich’s one; the former speaker and his backers will furiously dispute that any of tonight’s results count as legitimate wins.

“We doubled him up in Missouri and Minnesota!” Santorum exulted in his victory speech last night. He added, “In Massachusetts, your votes were particularly loud tonight!”

Of course, it seems hard to imagine Gingrich voluntarily leaving the race; last night, he told Wolf Blitzer: “I’m certainly in it all the way to the convention.”

Santorum’s support surged dramatically in the final days before the Iowa caucuses, as polling indicated the former senator had a chance to win and would not be regarded as a “wasted vote.” Perhaps the largest obstacle to Santorum’s campaign is clearing that psychological threshold nationally; if so, last night and its consequent surge of funds and volunteers should go a long way.

Tags: Newt Gingrich , Rick Santorum

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