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Tags: Ron Paul

Romney Wins Virginia; Will He Get All Its Delegates?



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The networks are calling Virginia for Mitt Romney — a victory that gets a little easier when there’s only one other name on the ballot.

There’s a good chance that Romney will get all 46 delegates at stake today. The rules:

46 of 49 of Virginia’s delegates to the Republican National Convention are pledged to presidential contenders in today’s Virginia Presidential Primary.

33 district delegates are to be bound to presidential contenders based on the primary results in each of the 11 congressional districts: each congressional district is assigned 3 National Convention delegates and the presidential contender receiving the greatest number of votes in that district will receive all 3 of that district’s National Convention delegates.13 at-large delegates (10 base at-large delegates plus 3 bonus delegates) are to be bound to presidential contenders based on the primary results statewide. Compute percentages to 3 decimal places, that is, 50.000%. The delegates are allocated to the presidential contenders as follows:If a candidate receives 50.001% or more of the vote, that candidate is allocated all 13 at-large delegates.If no candidate receives 50.001% or more of the vote, the 13 at-large delegates are allocated proportionally among those candidates receiving 15.000% or more of the vote. Rounding rules: Beginning with the candidate receiving the largest number of votes, round the fraction to the next whole number of delegates. Continue this process with the next highest vote getter and repeat until all the delegates are allocated.

With 12.5 percent of precincts reporting, Romney has 59 percent of the vote.

Tags: Mitt Romney , Ron Paul

Crossover Votes in Virginia’s GOP Primary Today?



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I live in a neighborhood I nicknamed Yuppie Acres in Alexandria, Virginia, a deep-blue spot in a deep-blue district of Virginia, represented in Congress for a long time by the infamous Jim Moran. My neighbors are wonderful people, but in 2008 the houses came with Obama yard signs conveniently pre-installed. In 2009, when Bob McDonnell was winning Virginia by the largest margin of any Republican gubernatorial candidate ever, he won only 38 percent in this district and barely 37 percent in Alexandria City, although he did win 45 percent in my polling place.

Today is Super Tuesday, presidential primary day in Virginia, and there is no Democratic contest. As discussed earlier, the only names listed on the ballot are Mitt Romney and Ron Paul. There are no write-in options.

I was told I was the 60th voter at about 8:25 a.m. this morning, which seems a little high for the neighborhood. Way less than a “normal” primary day (with a competitive Democratic primary) or a general election, but significantly more than most other Republicans around the state have reported this morning.

That number could reflect Democrats crossing over. I recently asked McDonnell if Virginia would ever switch to voter registration by party, instead of the current nonpartisan system of voter registration.

“There was some legislation this session to have party registration. I believe it’s been killed,” McDonnell said. “I would support that, because I do think we’re at the point now where, while I want a big tent — and I want people of all conservative stripes to come in and be a part of our party — if a party doesn’t have the ability to control its nomination process for its candidates, it loses its ability to maintain itself as a party. You have seen efforts such as this in other states, and even by the Obama administration this time, knowing that Romney would be its strongest opponent, to try to have Democrats come in and vote for other candidates. That’s what happens. Now I have to say, those efforts are rarely successful. It’s hard to do, and it’s embarrassing when you get caught. But I do think the cleanest way to do that is to have party registration.”

“That’s what you do when you have a [state nominating] convention: You clearly are only going to have Republicans showing up at that,” he continued. “When you have people coming in who might actually be interested in undermining the process, that’s probably not good for the political parties on either side.”

Tags: Bob McDonnell , Mitt Romney , Ron Paul , Virginia

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

Consumer Confidence Almost Back Up to 1980, 1992 Levels



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Over at Politico, they point out that the recent happy talk surrounding Obama’s reelection chances are . . . not quite the whole story:

To hear Democrats (and much of the media) tell it, President Barack Obama is a man on the rebound…

There is a big problem with this Pollyanna punditry: There are a bunch of real-time numbers coming in that tell a much different tale.

In short, there’s a new Congressional Budget Office report that shows unemployment likely to climb to nearly 9 percent by the election, there’s polling data showing Obama tied or trailing Mitt Romney in the most important swing states (and doing only marginally better against Ron Paul), and there is mounting evidence that the assumption of a decisive Obama fundraising advantage for the fall might be flat wrong. All of this is happening while Republicans are at their worst, with Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich spending millions of dollars and using all of their air time explaining why the other is untrustworthy, deeply flawed and eminently beatable by Obama.

Back in August, former Bush strategist Mark McKinnon observed:

The average measure of the Michigan Consumer Confidence Index (the gold standard) for incumbent presidents when they win is 95.9. For incumbents when they lose, the average is 78.4. The index today is at 55.7.

This week:

The Thomson Reuters/University of Michigan final index of consumer sentiment climbed to 75 from 69.9 at the end of December. The median estimate in a Bloomberg News survey called for 74, which matched the preliminary reading. The gauge averaged 89 in the five years leading up to the 18-month recession that ended in June 2009.

In other words, under Obama, consumer confidence is almost all the way back up to the level of a losing incumbent.

Tags: Barack Obama , Mitt Romney , Ron Paul

If It Ain’t Brokered, Don’t Fix It!



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If you’re one of those voters who thinks I’ve been too cheery about Mitt Romney lately, today’s Morning Jolt is for you!

If It Ain’t Brokered, Don’t Fix It!

Oh, Mitt. Mitt, Mitt, Mitt. What are we going to do with you?

I remember during the height of RatherGate, marveling that folks like Charles Johnson at Little Green Footballs (it was a long time ago!) and the Powerline guys and Hugh Hewitt and Glenn Reynolds and myself (my apologies for all the Pajamahadin Vets for Truth who I’ve forgotten for their service against the Sauronic Eye) were beating the bushes on 1970s word processors and laying out the case that CBS News anchorman Dan Rather had tried to kneecap the president’s reelection bid with a laughable hoax. As exhilarating and exciting and thrilling and righteous as those days were, I remember wondering at the time . . . why were we the ones left to fight this fight? Where was the Bush-Cheney campaign? Where was the RNC? Why was it left to “a bunch of guys in pajamas” to make this argument and lay out how the Rather report was a pack of damnable lies?

I’m starting to get that same vibe from Romney. Avik Roy defends the work of Bain ten times better than the candidate himself. Romney’s entire argument against Gingrich’s work at Freddie Mac was based on the work of Tim Carney. Every day, I see better, more compelling arguments for Romney from outside the campaign from within the campaign.

Wednesday Jonah observed:

Elliot Abrams’s piece on Newt’s attacks on Reagan is an interesting read. While it does muddy Gingrich’s claims that he was sort of Reagan’s junior partner, I’m not sure everyone will see it as an all-out indictment. As Josh Treviño writes on twitter:  “I’ll take ’80s Gingrich attacking Reagan from the right over ’80s, ’90s, and ’00s Romney attacking Reagan from the left.”

But my question is, Why are we hearing this from Elliot Abrams now and not from Mitt Romney weeks ago? Seriously, Romney spends a lot of money on consultants. They couldn’t prep the boss to mention a floor speech by Gingrich excoriating Ronald Reagan?

And when Romney goes off-message, he needs a GPS to find his way back. Charlotte Hays is left slack-jawed:

Who on earth is advising Mitt Romney? Somebody should have stopped this:

“Romney blasts Gingrich over attack on debate moderators, news media”

Yikes!

Note to Mitt advisers: Republicans hate the news media. Got it? And that goes double for debate moderators who try to entrap conservative candidates with trick questions. Indeed, it was partly Newt’s attack on these scoundrels that catapulted him into first place in South Carolina. There’s absolutely no reason for Romney to say this.  

We’ve had almost 20 debates, and it feels like a hundred of them, not even counting Romney’s debut on the national stage four years ago. He’s had chance after chance to make his sales pitch and close the deal and he has, so far, largely failed to do so. On paper, this is the best environment for a Republican presidential candidate in decades:  “A president who many Republicans see as the breathing embodiment of liberalism sits in the Oval Office; an energetic grassroots movement to fight back spontaneously formed in the tea parties; the 2009 races in New Jersey and Virginia, the special election in Massachusetts, and the 2010 midterms all showed that Republicans can win (and win big) almost anywhere when they tap into that passion; the president’s record consists of enormously unpopular nationalized health care and a stimulus that didn’t make a dent in high unemployment. Throw in scandals such as those involving Solyndra and Fast and Furious, and Obama’s presidency represents the nightmare that every Republican would presumably be highly motivated to end.” If you can’t get people excited in an environment like that, you can’t get them excited.

Part of the problem is that it feels like Romney 2012 is trying to pull off a rerun of the Obama 2008 campaign, running as a largely blank slate, letting voters of diverse ideological stripes project their desires and preferences onto him. The problem is that you can run that when you’re a biracial young man with little or no political record (“Present!”), an exotic personal story (Indonesia! Hawaii! Harvard! The mean streets of Chicago!) and rhetorical skills that are, if overrated, effective at hitting the emotional soft spots of the media and low-information swing voters.

“I believe in America”? That’s what you’re going with this cycle, governor? I’m sorry, you don’t get to quote “The Godfather” unless you’ve killed a bunch of your enemies while attending a baptism. Sure, Romney can have his SuperPAC run some attack ads against Newt, but does anybody think of Mitt Romney as a tough guy? As a fighter? As somebody who you can disagree with, but who wouldn’t want to cross?

I’ve laid out my gripes with Newt. But Romney is making that divided convention, party-elders-look-for-a-unifying-candidate scenario look better and better each day. With Ron Paul playing the delegate game quite smartly, and neither Mitt nor Newt likely to close the deal with unimpressed Republican voters, the deadlocked convention scenario looks a lot more plausible than usual.

At least, let’s put off that final decision as long as possible. As Jordan Gehrke wrote not long ago: “It’s easy to get swept away in the feeling that this nominating process has to end early. But really, why should it? At the end of February, the Republican National Committee will have awarded only 174 RNC delegates out of the 1,143 needed to lock up the nomination. A long primary would allow Republicans to protect their nominee, grow the party, and avoid handing Obama an early target. Let’s hope history repeats itself.”

Tags: Mitt Romney , Newt Gingrich , Ron Paul

The New Delegate Leader: Newt Gingrich



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Newt Gingrich will win the 11 statewide delegates and two each from the five congressional districts he appears to be winning handily.

(The results by county can be found here; the new U.S. House district map can be found here.)

There are two patches where Romney is doing well; most of the map is Gingrich territory.

Worst-case scenario for Gingrich is he wins 21 delegates and Romney wins 4 delegates. The best-case scenario is that he wins all 25.

UPDATE: It now appears that Gingrich will sweep all seven of South Carolina’s congressional districts, putting all 25 at stake tonight into his pile.

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

Exit Polls: Gingrich Narrowly Winning Women Over Romney



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What jumps out of the South Carolina exit polls . . .

  • Gingrich won women over Romney, 36 percent to 30 percent.
  • Seven percent of exit-poll respondents identified themselves as “somewhat liberal,” 2 percent identified as “very liberal.” Among those who identified as “somewhat liberal,” 30 percent voted for Gingrich, 30 percent voted for Romney. (Never underestimate that some South Carolinians may simply want to mess with the exit pollsters.)
  • Gingrich won among voters who identified themselves as evangelical or born-again Christians, 42 percent to 22 percent.
  • Ron Paul won 14 percent of veterans. His supporters often emphasize how many veterans and enlisted men and women donate to his campaign; others have wondered if his stances on foreign policy and national security would come across as isolationist or dovish. Paul appears to do roughly as well as he does among veterans as among non-veterans.
  • A striking 87 percent said the debates were a factor in their vote; 64 percent said they were “important” to their vote.
  • Three-quarters of respondents said they made up their minds in the last month. Seventeen percent said they decided today.
  • Sixty-five percent approve of how Nikki Haley is handling her job as governor.
  • Thirty-nine percent said they could support Romney enthusiastically as the GOP nominee, 47 percent said they could support with him with reservations, and 12 percent said they would not support him.
  • Sixty-five percent view Romney’s “background as an investor” positively; 28 percent view it negatively.
  • Ninety-seven percent are worried about the economy, 79 percent describe themselves as “very worried.”

Tags: Mitt Romney , Newt Gingrich , Ron Paul

Next Hour’s Top Story: Alien Invasion!



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So, to review, Rick Perry is leaving the race and will endorse Gingrich, the South Carolina polls are tightening, Rick Santorum won the Iowa caucus as far as the state party can tell, but votes from eight precincts are missing, Marianne Gingrich is airing her husband’s dirty laundry to ABC News, and Ron Paul’s hot-air balloon is snarling traffic on Interstate 85.

Just another slow news day.

Tags: Newt Gingrich , Rick Perry , Rick Santorum , Ron Paul

The Latest Rounds From GOP Fight Club



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From the Tuesday Morning Jolt . . .

Monday Night Debates? I Miss Regular Season Football Already.

Funny how the debates get sharper and more clarifying as the stage gets smaller. I was reminded of that line from Fight Club: “A guy who came to Fight Club for the first time, his [tush] was a wad of cookie dough. After a few weeks, he was carved out of wood.”

Romney may have had one of his most troubled performances. His SuperPAC came up twice, and in the first exchange, he insisted for what felt like the millionth time that the SuperPAC is independent and that he has no control or influence over what advertising messages the PAC runs. Legally, that’s true, but that more or less avoids the obvious reason to set up a SuperPAC: you set up your own bad cop with nearly unlimited funds (at least if you’ve got some fans with deep pockets). You — or at least your former staffers and allies — can beat the heck out of everybody else, while you shrug your shoulders and lament the Byzantine rules that limit donations to actual campaigns but permit unlimited donations to SuperPACs.

On his second reference, when Gingrich again pointed out how brutally Romney’s SuperPACs had attacked him in the previous states, and asked Romney to tell his SuperPAC to stop it. Romney turned the tables and asked Gingrich whether it was, indeed, a felony for Romney to coordinate with his PAC. Gingrich responded affirmatively, and appeared to admit that he had just asked Romney to commit a felony.

As many observed, Gingrich had some stellar moments (slamming Juan Williams for not-too-subtly calling Gingrich’s rhetoric racially insensitive, ripping Ron Paul on how to deal with America’s enemies), Santorum pinned down Romney as clearly and uncomfortably as anyone has in this primary, in the unexpected topic of voting rights for convicted felons who have served their time; and Rick Perry had a few moments where he simply and succinctly summarized conservative Republicans’ views, to roaring applause from the audience.

(The audience sounded as if they did whiskey shots during commercial breaks. Newt would begin, “Frankly, I believe that fundamental reform requires–” and then you would hear, “WHOOOOO! FRANKLY! FUNDAMENTALLY! WHOOOO!”)

Of course, if you want to see Romney derailed, you didn’t need all three of the non-Mitt, non-Ron options thriving tonight. You would have preferred to see one excel and two stumble, to give one of them a big win in South Carolina, assuming the mantle of ‘Newtrick Peringrichum’ I’ve been writing about. The longer the Three Amigos of Newt, Perry, and Santorum stay in this race, the better the outlook is for Romney.

Of course, I hate to see candidates disappointing supporters in forty-eight or forty-seven states, by denying them the chance to cast a meaningful vote for them. Should two of the three drop out?

Chuck Todd: “Romney didn’t have great night; But because Gingrich, Santorum and even Perry (that order) shared some moments, Romney has to feel OK.”

Kurt Schilchter: “This was a good debate. Our nominee is going to be tested by fire when he faces BHO, who has been sheltered for 3 years.”

“I think this debate makes it a lot harder to choose between Santorum and Gingrich if you hate Romney,” concludes David Freddoso.

Robert George: “Strong debate for Newt. Perry/Santorum better than usual. Mitt rather weak until end. Ron Paul’s foreign policy didn’t work here.”

Guy Benson: “Newt’s = winner. Santorum pretty sharp, too. Romney had good 1st answer, slumped, then recovered in 2nd hour. Perry mixed, Paul incoherent.”

Susan Anne Hiller: “If Mitt cant even win a GOP debate this far into the campaign, how is he supposed to beat back the media and Obama?”

Larry Sabato thought the early Bain discussion went well for the frontrunner: “This subject is a gimme for Romney. 95%+ of Republicans back ‘free enterprise.’ That’s how Bain issue has HELPED him — within GOP.”

Alex Castellanos thought he saw a slip from the frontrunner when he was touting his economic plan and that he felt he had a more detailed plan than the president: “Romney: ‘I’m not even President.. yet.’ Small slip but dangerous. Can’t seem presumptuous or voters will let him know who’s in charge.”

“Mit’s arguments are so much more generic and modular than Newt and Santorum . . . he’s really going for broad, abstract GOP talking points,” Jeff Greenfield notes.

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

Virginia Republicans Could Have More Options Friday



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Today is the day Virginia is supposed to begin printing its absentee ballots for the Republican presidential primary, to be held March 6. The printing must be completed so that they can be mailed by January 21; that deadline is a result of federal law that requires ballots to be sent to members of the military (Virginia residents serving overseas) at least 45 days before the primary.

But . . . the printing of the ballots has been held up by the court fight over whether the ballot should include candidates besides Mitt Romney and Ron Paul.

According to Virginia state law, candidates seeking to be included on the primary ballot are required to obtain the signatures of at least 10,000 registered voters, with 400 from each of the state’s congressional districts. The problem the candidates face is the provision that only Virginia residents can collect the required signatures. The plaintiffs claim that it violates their right to freedom of speech and their right to freedom of association.

U.S. District Judge John A. Gibney will be holding a hearing on Friday to decide whether or not to include the four presidential candidates on the ballot. The judge has barred the distribution of absentee ballots until after Friday’s hearing and gave a five-page supplemental remark along with the order.

Gibney has indicated there’s a good chance he will have candidates added to the ballot, writing earlier, “The Court finds that there is a strong likelihood that the Court will find the residency requirement for petition circulators to be unconstitutional.”

Virginia Republicans expect that after Friday’s hearing, Gibney will probably rule quickly (probably that day) and the printing of the ballots can begin 24 hours. Ballots should get to the troops in time . . .

Tags: Mitt Romney , Ron Paul , Virginia

After All That Effort, Mitt Should Get . . .
Four Delegates!



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If my math is correct, tonight’s big winner, Mitt Romney, will get . . . four delegates. Ron Paul and Jon Huntsman will get three each. If Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum stay above 10 percent, they will get one each.

At this relatively early hour, it’s a tough night for Jon Huntsman. He is now on CNN, watching the results, and we’re told “they feel they can catch Ron Paul.” He’s at 18 percent, not quite terrible, but somewhat disappointing considering how Huntsman put all the marbles on this state. Is Huntsman an easy sell in South Carolina, or Florida, or Nevada?

UPDATE: The networks are now projecting that Huntsman will finish in third place.

He tells NBC he will not be dropping out of the race.

Tags: Jon Huntsman , Mitt Romney , Ron Paul

Mitt Romney Winning Independents So Far?



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Go figure: The early exit polls show 44 percent of the New Hampshire electorate so far is independent. The biggest winner among them? Mitt Romney with 30 percent. It’s another Iowa landslide in this survey result so far; Ron Paul is second at 29 percent, Jon Huntsman is third at 27 percent.

The polls are still open, and a poll of those who voted in the morning and afternoon hours does not provide a full picture. But if Romney indeed does best among independents, he could end up winning by a surprisingly large margin. The thinking was that Romney would do best among registered Republicans and that independents would fuel Paul and Huntsman to second and third places.

Tags: Jon Huntsman , Mitt Romney , Ron Paul

Ron Paul’s Non-Republican Voters Will Hurt Every Other Candidate



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One of the GOP consultants whom I chat with regularly notes about tomorrow, “Ron Paul clearly brings folks into this electorate that wouldn’t be there in his absence. In so doing, he lowers everybody’s percentage of the vote some just by increasing the denominator of the fraction.”

Fair or not, every candidate faces certain thresholds in these early states. Every percentage point counts, even if we don’t see another seven-vote margin separating the candidates this time around. For Jon Huntsman, taking second or third place with 20 or 25 percent makes a big deal; a 15 percent finish will be pretty disappointing considering the time, money, and energy he’s put into the state. For Romney, winning with 40 to 45 percent will underline a big win, while closer to 35 percent will seem like he finished with a bit of a slump. Not long ago, Newt was in the 20s; now he seems stuck at 9 percent, and another fourth-place finish, in a state where the Union Leader endorsed him, would seem deeply disappointing. (Remember, candidates need to hit 10 percent to win any delegates.)

The task before all of these candidates is complicated by Paul and the fact that he will be bringing in . . . a non-traditional crowd. Call them whatever you like: Libertarians, isolationists, gold bugs, drug-legalization advocates, classical liberals, cranks. (I’m sure you have your own names for them.) But their votes will drive down every other candidate’s share of the vote.

In my Iowa assessment, I noted:

According to the entrance polls, 38 percent of caucus-goers had never voted in a GOP caucus before; of those, by far the largest share, 37 percent, voted for Ron Paul. Among the registered so-called independents who took part in the caucus, 48 percent voted for Ron Paul, way ahead of anyone else. Next-highest was Romney with 16 percent. He’s a Republican candidate for those who hate all of the other Republican candidates. With no Democratic presidential primary to compete for the anti-war vote, he should do well in every open primary from here on out.

In the WMUR–University of New Hampshire poll:

Paul does best among Undeclared voters who identify as independents with 30%, followed by Huntsman (24%), and Romney (24%). And among Undeclared voters who identify as Democrats, Huntsman does best with 39%, followed by Romney (23%), and Paul (16%)

In PPP’s survey in New Hampshire, Ron Paul carried 18 percent, and 24 percent of Ron Paul supporters identified themselves as “very liberal,” 26 identified themselves as “somewhat” liberal, and 18 percent described themselves as “moderate.”

The only other candidate whose appeal to non-Republicans is comparable is Huntsman.

If New Hampshire had a closed primary, it is quite likely that Romney, Gingrich, Santorum and perhaps even Perry would finish with higher percentages than they will tomorrow night. As the WMUR survey found, “Among Registered Republicans, Romney leads with 48%, followed by Paul (14%), and Santorum (14%). Among those undeclared voters who identify as Republicans, Romney leads with 44%, followed by Paul (17%), and Santorum (11%).”

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

Iowa’s Big Winner Santorum . . . the Huckabee of 2012?



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Presuming the final results are similar to what we see at this hour, it is a mildly disappointing result for Romney, since he and his supporters sounded like they expected a solid win tonight. His percentage of the vote and vote total are likely to be below his final totals for the 2008 campaign, when he finished well behind Mike Huckabee. Having said that, very little that happened tonight is going to impact his lead in New Hampshire, and so a week from tonight he should be celebrating a big win in New Hampshire to go with a finish that is either first or a close second or (increasingly unlikely) a still-close third.

The night’s big winner is Rick Santorum. But the experience of Huckabee should be something of a warning sign to Santorum. Iowa’s caucusgoers, as a group, are different from Republican primary voters in most states. They’re more heavily focused on social issues, and they reward enormous time and effort in the state. Obviously, Santorum can’t replicate his Iowa effort in many other states.

A big question about Santorum has been whether he can assemble a campaign infrastructure in all the states to come, but somehow I suspect that the considerable number of anybody-but-Romney Republicans will eagerly step forward and help assemble that infrastructure. If the race comes down to Romney and Santorum, the former Pennsylvania senator will have access to funds from the grassroots. Perhaps not enough to go toe-to-toe with Romney, but enough to make it competitive.

Ron Paul . . . how do you evaluate a candidate like Ron Paul? According to the entrance polls, 38 percent of caucusgoers had never voted in a GOP caucus before; of those, by far the largest share, 37 percent, voted for Ron Paul. Among the registered so-called independents who took part in the caucus, 48 percent voted for Ron Paul, way ahead of anyone else. Next-highest was Romney with 16 percent. He’s a Republican candidate for those who hate all of the other Republican candidates. With no Democratic presidential primary to compete for the anti-war vote, he should do well in every open primary from here on out.

Newt Gingrich, Rick Perry, and Michele Bachmann all had bad nights. There will be talk of Bachmann dropping out, but as I have noted, we have seen a state with just under 1 percent of the U.S. population vote. Why should she deny 99 percent of the country the chance to vote? Having said that, if she can’t get more than a few percentage points in Iowa, where would she break out?

Oh, and the Ames Straw Poll should be ignored forevermore.

Tags: Iowa Caucuses , Michele Bachmann , Mitt Romney , Rick Santorum , Ron Paul

CNN Entrance Poll Has Paul, Romney, Santorum Leading



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CNN entrance poll: Paul, Romney, and Santorum are the “top three.”

Everyone else is in the “second tier.” No specific numbers revealed yet.

The only thing that makes this poll more useful than previous ones is that everyone is a definite caucus-goer, not a likely caucus-goer, and it is up-to-the-minute.

UPDATE: It is now being reported that the order is Paul, Romney, and Santorum, although MSNBC is calling the order “too close to call.”

46 percent of the respondents called themselves “very conservative.” 54 percent described themselves as evangelical conservatives.

Among those who described themselves as Tea Party members, Paul was ahead, with Santorum trailing by a bit; Romney was in third and Gingrich was fourth.

ANOTHER UPDATE: WOW. According to CNN’s entrance poll, 41 percent of caucus-goers have not attended a Republican caucus before.

Strangely, when asked party ID, 71 percent said Republican, 27 percent said independent, and 3 percent said Democrat.

Tags: Mitt Romney , Rick Santorum , Ron Paul

Three Factors to Watch Tonight



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What to watch for tonight:

1) Turnout. There are 613,521 registered Republicans in Iowa. In 2010, 226,965 voted in the Republican primary. Last cycle’s Republican caucus turnout, with a competitive Democratic primary drawing some of the independents, was about 119,000. With a competitive primary and anti-Obama animus stirring Republicans, turnout should be higher . . . but will it?

2) How does Mitt Romney perform compared to last cycle? Some folks think yesterday’s post laying his 2008 performance as a key threshold is setting the bar too high. But if Romney is a stronger candidate this time around, why shouldn’t he clear 25.19 percent and/or 30,021 votes? (If turnout is higher, it is possible Romney could pass 30,000 votes and still have a smaller percentage of the vote.) Romney had a lot of factors break his way in Iowa — Gingrich choosing to stay positive for so long, the rise of Paul, the infighting among Santorum and Perry. Few if any attack ads focused on Romney’s flaws. If the former Massachusetts governor can’t surpass his second-place finish, it will be the first rattle in the engine of a campaign that is supposed to be humming along smoothly.

3) Assume that the polls are accurate and Romney and Ron Paul finish first and second tonight, relatively close together. The rest of the race might depend on how close together or far apart slots three through six are. Santorum appears ready to have his day in the sun, and could end up enjoying a last-minute surge that scrambles the expectations. Is fourth place good enough for Gingrich? It depends on whether fourth place is 13–15 percent or whether fourth place is 7–10 percent. The same goes for Perry and Bachmann. If they can argue that they were within a few percentage points of third place, they’ll have an easier road ahead than if they have to sustain momentum after finishing in the mid to low single digits. They can and probably will go on after tomorrow, but as Giuliani demonstrated last year, even the biggest-name candidate runs into trouble with enough consecutive bad finishes.

Tags: Iowa Caucuses , Mitt Romney , Rick Santorum , Ron Paul

Can Romney Beat His 2008 Finish in Iowa?



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Reagan biographer* Craig Shirley points out that in 2008, Mitt Romney won 25.19 percent of the vote in the Iowa caucuses.

A big question will be whether he surpasses that this year. In the past four polls in Iowa, Romney finished with 23 percent, 19 percent, 24 percent, and 23 percent.

By many standards, the 2008 field of Republican competitors in Iowa was stronger than this one. Ron Paul remains, but last cycle’s class included a three-term governor with fantastic retail politicking skills (Mike Huckabee), a two-term senator famous from Hollywood and prime-time television (Fred Thompson), and two candidates who chose to not compete fully in Iowa, a four-term senator who had finished second in the 2000 presidential campaign (John McCain) and a two-term New York City mayor with a national reputation for leadership after 9/11 who was Time’s Man of the Year in 2001 (Rudy Giuliani).

This year’s crop includes a former Speaker of the House who has been out of office since 1998 (Newt Gingrich), a member of the House first elected in 2006 (Michele Bachmann), a four-term governor (Rick Perry), and a senator who lost his seat in 2006 by a landslide (Rick Santorum).

A core element of Romney’s argument is that he is the most electable Republican in the field. But if he can’t surpass his previous threshold in Iowa — or perhaps another threshold, his 30,021 votes from last cycle — one will wonder why the most-electable Romney can’t beat his previous finish against weaker competition.

(In Romney’s favor, he’s currently at 40.5 percent in the RealClearPolitics average of recent New Hampshire polls. Last cycle he finished with 31.5 percent of the vote and 75,675 votes.)

Still, another wise GOP mind points out that with Romney and Paul seeming to be assured of finishing first and second, the real contest is for the bronze medal. Ron Paul will always have his level of support but seems unlikely to break out; in a year of rapid bursts and collapses of frontrunners, Paul’s share of the vote remains between 5 percent and 15 percent in every national poll. If there will be a strong push from an anti-Romney conservative candidate, it is most likely to be the one who finishes first among Santorum, Bachmann, Perry, and Gingrich.

UPDATE: Some readers think it is worth noting that Shirley’s next book is an authorized biography of Newt Gingrich, entitled Citizen Newt: The Rise, Fall, and Future of Speaker Gingrich.

Tags: Iowa , Mitt Romney , New Hampshire , Ron Paul

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