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Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Shameless Iowa Speculation

According to this PPP poll, Ron Paul is making a big move in Iowa at the expense of New Gingrich, who leads Paul now only by a single point:

Upon reflection, I think this actually understates the difficulty Newt is going to have in Iowa, which is a caucus state.  Newt has surged to frontrunner status in recent months almost entirely because everybody else the rabid Republican base could love has imploded.  And that would be fine if Iowa were a primary.  But the fact Iowa is a caucus state means Newt’s people actually have to get caucus goers out to vote for him, and that usually requires a good ground game.

And Newt, who famously took a two week Greek cruise immediately after announcing his candidacy and whose entire campaign staff then quit in a huff, probably doesn’t have a good ground game.  In fact, I was talking with a fried in Iowa yesterday who told me that it is his impression that Newt still doesn’t have much on the ground in Iowa, but that Paul’s organization appears tight, organized and big for a candidate being written off nationally as a joke.

So let’s suppose Ron Paul crushes Newt in Iowa.  Mitt Romney, who only recently decided to compete in the state, probably doesn’t have much of a ground game there either so Iowa ends up going Paul – Newt – Mitt.  That will pretty much be it for Ron Paul; he’s gonna stay in as a spoiler and to pick up delegates, but the national media dismissal of his candidacy and his total lack of support from any Establishment Republicans means that he probably has no ability to catapult himself from an Iowa win into frontrunner status.  Even if Paul wins, the race will still be between Gingrich and Romney.

It’s fairly easy to predict how the national press will react to a Paul/Gingrich/Romney outcome in Iowa:  Is Newt a Paper Tiger?  How Could Newt Fall So Low, So Fast?  As a result, Romney catches a tailwind and proceeds to clobber Newt in New Hampshire one week later.

But . . . both South Carolina (Jan. 21st) and Florida (Jan. 31st) are primary states and Newt can be expected to win both of those in big ways.  He is well ahead of Mitt in the polls and Republicans in these southern states don’t really take their voting cues from New Hampshire.

So now let’s say that after Florida the GOP nomination is still fairly up for grabs.  I’ve got no idea what happens after that.  From February 4th through the 11th Nevada, Maine, Colorado, Missouri and Minnesota each hold technically non-binding caucuses.  Romney should do well in Nevada given its large Mormon population, but I’ve got no idea about any of the other states and no information about either party’s organization in those states.  Romney, of course, has the private funds to simply throw money at those caucus goers, Newt will have to rely on donations – which means that he’ll still have to be perceived by deep pocket donors as being at least on par with Romney to win.
This leaves us with two primaries on February 28th (Arizona and Michigan), and the caucus in Washington on March 3rd.  My sense is that Gingrich does well in Arizona – the Republican Party there seems like a home for the rabid base – while Michigan goes to Romney, if only because his daddy used to be governor.  Washington is probably more of a toss-up, although presumably the fact it is a caucus state favors Romney.

But my guess is that Newt after Nevada will basically ignore all of these states specifically while concentrating instead on accruing huge national media exposure in anticipation of the Republicans’ Super Tuesday on March 6th.  I think Newt will gamble that the non-binding nature of the caucuses, and the GOP’s threat to strip half the delegates from the primary states (for holding their primaries too early) means that he won’t have to spend too much in resources on a state-by-state basis.  I think he is going to county on merely making a decent showing so that he can remain on par with Romney going into Super Tuesday.

On March 6th Alaska, Idaho, and North Dakota hold caucuses.  Georgia, Massachusetts, Ohio, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Texas, Vermont and Virginia each hold primary contests.  Note that all of these states allocate delegates proportionally.  This means that if the Newt/Romney contest is approximately even going into Super Tuesday, it could very well remain even by delegate count.

Conclusion – But again, going by my gut feel for how this looks to be shaping up, I’m abiding by my original prediction that Gingrich ends up grabbing the brass ring, although I’m not feeling as confident as I was three weeks ago.  Here’s how:

Ron Paul wins Iowa, with Gingrich in a distant second.  Our clueless political press reports this as “a huge upset.”  Romney wins New Hampshire, with Paul and Gingrich essentially splitting the remainder of the vote to share a distant second.  Gingrich absolutely romps all over the field in Florida and South Carolina, with the other candidates so far back their particular rankings don’t really matter.  Gingrich and Romney end up splitting Nevada fairly evenly and the voting remains split through Super Tuesday, which – being mostly primary states – can be won or lost depending on the national media shapes voters’ perceptions.

But on Super Tuesday I’d expect to see (just based on demographics) Newt to do well in Alaska, Idaho, Georgia, Oklahoma, Tennessee and Virginia.  I’d also expect him to do well in Massachusetts, just because the only state to have seen Romney close up really doesn’t like him at all.  That would leave Romney winning in just Vermont and (maybe Ohio and North Dakota, although I’d expect those to be closely split).

And that, I think, is that.  Even though all the Super Tuesday elections are proportional contests and therefore Romney will almost certainly win enough delegates to keep him in the race technically, I think Newt is the clear favorite to “win” most of these elections – and the media will report each one as a “win” or a “loss.”  If Gingrich comes out of Super Tuesday the anointed winner, then Romney’s entire election strategy – his inevitability, his electability – gets flushed down the toilet.

All the remaining states, who don’t really like Romney much anyway (who does?), finally conclude that he is no less electable than is Newt Gingrich, and so now the rabid Republican base has the green light to vote with its heart and not worry about its head.  Since the remaining states are all “winner take all” contests, Gingrich pretty sweeps the rest of ‘em.

Gad!  I can’t wait to see how woefully, woefully wrong I turn out to be about all this.

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