Thursday, February 09, 2012

GOP Update: Primaries on Deck: Michigan and Arizona (2-29 and 2-30) – 1 CNN Debate on 2-22 - A Santorum win in Michigan and Arizona (Analysis)

The GOP Contenders (Minus Ron Paul) image politico

With less than three weeks to go before the Arizona and Michigan primaries, speculation on who, of the four remaining GOP candidates, will rise to the occasion, is rampant. (ABS News). In particular, the GOP Establishment candidate, Mitt Romney, who has won two states, has the majority of the delegates, with Rick Santorum second at this early stage in the game.

The delegate count is currently: *Romney (107), Santorum (68), Newt Gingrich (32) and Ron Paul (9) (Fox News via AP Analysis)
. The Delegate Counts are somewhat confusing - Romney’s 107 delegates come from a combination of actual delegates won in proportional Iowa, New Hampshire and Florida, however, the some of the delegates come from the GOP “Super Delegates”, those senators and congressmen and other party leaders who have endorsed Romney – (AP) inflating his advantage in this early stage. In real terms Romney has 85, to Santorum’s 35, Gingrich’s 34, and Ron Paul’s 13, which is closer to the actual count, and includes the states actual proportional distribution. With 1144 Delegates needed to win, one can see where endorsements might help with overall front-runner’s “bragging rights” (Real Clear Politics). However, each delegate tally appears to be different depending upon the source, given the fact that some reports include the total delegates awarded, while some adjust for early primary penalties for States holding primary/caucuses prior to a certain date. Looking at the numbers provided by Real Clear Politics in terms of actual popular vote count delegates, adjusted for proportional distribution and penalties, it looks more like a horse race, or what it truly is, anyone’s game.

The next two states to weigh in are Arizona and Minnesota, and the pundits are looking towards the 2008 election as a way to judge just how well Mitt Romney will do in both states – a tactic that apparently failed dismally in Colorado. In the 2008 races, Romney held fast to the northern and more moderate Western States, where if he lost, it was to the more Moderate John McCain (especially Arizona, where it is literally McCain’s home state. There have been some changes to the party narrative since 2008 – namely the Tea Party and the 2010 elections.

Now in Arizona, under the direction of Governor Jan Brewer (*a Tea Party favorite), the state will most likely vote on the issue of immigration in part while in Michigan, which was a completely moderate State in 2008), took a change towards conservatism in 2010, and has not looked back. However, there is a large voting bloc of Mormon's which may, or may not sustain Romney. Michigan, one of Mitt Romney’s home states (the state where he grew up and his father was Governor for three terms) belies the fact that Santorum has more of a connect to the rank and file voter given his background, than Romney (Detroit Free Press). Michigan, not unlike other states, north, south, east and west, became more Conservative in 2010, which means that 2008 results must be adjusted or they become totally useless.

Romney is not taking this laying down, an article in Business week suggests that Romney’s scored earth method of winning hearts and minds, will turn his attention towards Rick Santorum – who, after besting Romney in the West and Midwest Contests of CO, MO and MN, needs a dose of what it is that Romney does best, either through his actual campaign or his Super PAC – attack, without regards to facts, candidates that are in his way to the nomination.

The problem with this method, the constant attacks, the barrage of ads, may have worn out its’ welcome, especially against a candidate whose record is primarily squeaky clean, and one who is able to counter with facts on Romney’s records – Between Santorum and Gingrich, Romney is playing a game that will end up, once again, costing him the nomination (refer to 2008). Negative advertising may work at first, but it grows old, and fast, in the high tech world of today where every ad played in Iowa, has been seen in all 50 states via YouTube, and the cable networks.

Rick Santorum, to his credit, is taking this in stride (so far) and rebutting Romney’s initial salvo’s with calm and measured facts. Given the fact that debates have played a huge part in the fortunes of candidates in each of the primaries, the primary on the 22nd, is the one where Romney needs to step away from the teleprompter and come up presidential. If Gingrich is in attack mode, (as he has vowed to stop Romney), and goads Romney into rebuttals, Santorum will be able to pull out of this debate looking as squeaky clean as Ron Paul. Gingrich and Romney’s dislike for one another is almost palpable at this stage in the contest, and one cannot see Romney not taking the “bait’ so to speak. Now with the podiums in order of Romney in the middle with undoubtedly Santorum and Gingrich as bookends, the CNN debate will be the one to watch, and the winner, will be the one who will undoubtedly do best in both Arizona and Michigan. One other note: despite the debate coach, Romney still has problems with delivery and connecting to the “average person” and Michigan, an industrial state, is tailor made for Santorum and his pro-manufacturing proposals, and background.

Arizona, is most likely to go to the least establishment candidate, one who has a strong border policy. It is difficult, at this point, to tell which candidate will end up rising in Phoenix.

However, if one were to place bets on first and strong second finishes in both Arizona and Michigan, one might want to take the Pennsylvania Senator over the former Massachusetts Governor, given the aforementioned. Especially if Gingrich goads Romney into attacks during the debate and if Romney ramps up over the top attack ads on Santorum in either of these states (a la Florida and Iowa vis a vis Gingrich), it may be yet another route for Santorum in the long run.

Voter turnout - it has been dismal in the first states, which can be explained one of two ways, (the notion that Republican's and Independents are satisfied with the current administration should be taken with a very large grain of salt. Most likely it is a question of why show up - on the one hand, the establishment candidate, Mitt Romney has been touted as a foregone conclusion. If the base actually feels he can lose to a less moderate candidate, and after this week's Santorum wins, that is more than possible, the voter turnout will improve - or, alternately, another theory is that no matter who wins, the rank and file will come out and vote in droves in November. One is tempted to believe the former rather than the later.

Best line from the Tuesday night Caucus, via CNN - on Missouri, "Romney is more vulnerable when he is faced with a one on one race" (paraphrased), delivered by CNN Analysis during caucus watch.

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