Wednesday, February 29, 2012

You Can't Lose What You Never Had

To borrow a well-worn word of Newt Gingrich, there's been a "fundamental" misreading of Tuesday's Michigan GOP Primary results. Here are two examples [bolding by me], first from TAP's "Ringside Seat":
Conceding his narrow defeat in Michigan, Santorum set aside the culture-war logorrhea that likely cost him a narrative-changing win over Mitt Romney ...
And second, from TPM:
On the national level, Santorum lost the establishment when he pulled out his social issue trump card to take on Romney by courting the evangelical vote.

That process reached its peak when he told a tea party crowd outside Detroit that President Obama wants to send more kids to college so he could turn them into liberals. The comment went viral, and likely did not do Santorum many favors outside the ultra-conservative base.

The social issues fight has left Santorum severely wounded when it comes to courting independents and moderate Republicans.
Wait ... there was "establishment" support for Rick Santorum that he ended up losing? There were scores of "moderate Republicans" and socially moderate "independents" who were going to vote for Rick Santorum but then decided not to? I don't remember either ever being the case. Santorum never had such support, and he was never going to get it. You can't lose what you never had.

In Michigan, "Romney Country" is the Detroit Tri-County Area of Macomb, Oakland and Wayne counties. This is where one will find the heaviest amount of "moderate" Republicans and Republican-leaning "independents" in Michigan. Romney cleaned-up here in 2008 (versus an arguably more "moderate" candidate named John McCain) and in 2012. Santorum could have moderated his rhetoric all he wanted, but there was no way that Santorum was going to win these votes. These are Romney votes no matter what. Santorum would have been wasting his time in attempting to win them.

Santorum worked Michigan to a virtual tie in votes and an actual tie in delegates because of his social conservative rhetoric. He racked up big margins in socially conservative western Michigan and the Upper Peninsula. There is no way that Santorum would have done so well especially in western Michigan without his "culture warrior" rhetoric. At the same time, a more "moderated" rhetoric wouldn't have done Santorum any good in winning over Romney Country. Santorum was, you know, trying to win the primary election and crafted a strategy and engaged in tactics designed to achieve that goal. He knew that he had to enthuse his "very conservative" base, and he did a pretty good job at it. He did such a good job at it that he very likely won among those voters who cast ballots on Tuesday ... but ended up losing the total vote count due to the superior early voting campaign of Mitt Romney - the "favorite son" and "establishment" candidate.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Romney's Early Voting Campaign May Have Been the Difference in Michigan

According to Sunday evening's PPP tracking poll, 16% of Michigan's likely GOP primary voters had already early voted by mail. Of that 16%, 62% had cast their votes for Mitt Romney, and 29% had cast their votes for Rick Santorum. If PPP's numbers were right, then before the polls opened on Tuesday morning, Romney had roughly a built-in 5-point lead on Santorum (10 points to 5 points).

Romney ended up besting Santorum in Michigan by a 3-point margin: 41% to 38%. So if PPP's likely voter model for Michigan was correct, then Santorum bested Romney among those votes that were cast on Tuesday, because Santorum narrowed Romney's 5-point lead to a 3-point lead. Romney still won, though, because the campaign had banked enough absentee votes to serve as a cushion against the Santorum insurgency.

I can't say it for sure, but it looks to me like the Romney campaign's early voter aspect of its campaign in Michigan was the difference-maker. If Romney hadn't had such an early voting advantage when the polls opened on Tuesday morning, then it would certainly have been very close on Tuesday night.

Absentee vote campaigns are the kind of thing where organization and state official endorsements really make it happen. Romney had both. Santorum had neither.

Monday, February 27, 2012

The Existential Angst of the 27%

Rick Santorum, Faith, Family and Freedom of the 27% Incarnate, wants to throw up. He wants to throw up after hearing words that were spoken by a man some 52 years ago - words spoken by a man whose success later in the Autumn of that year allowed an Italian-American immigrant father to tell his young son "Rick, you can grow up to be President of the United States of America" and actually, confidently mean those words.

Rick Santorum, Faith, Family and Freedom of the 27% Incarnate, stands at the edge of the cliff.

Rick Santorum is nauseous.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Lacking Enthusiasm from Moderate GOP Voters, Romney is Forced Rhetorically Rightward

Have you ever heard of the Front Range Urban Corridor? It's a "Megaregion" of the United States consisting of urban/suburban counties whose northern end is Laramie County, Wyoming and whose southern end is Pueblo County, Colorado. Denver and its surrounding counties are in the middle. Here is what it looks like (the blue county is Laramie County, Wyoming, the red counties are "North Central" Colorado and the green counties are "South Central" Colorado):
Excluding the one non-Colorado county (Laramie) from the region, the Front Range Corridor is populated by roughly 4.2 million people. The state of Colorado is populated by roughly 5.1 million people. So, roughly 80% of Colorado's population is in the Front Range Corridor. It's where the bulk of Colorado's votes are, whether in a general election or in a party caucus/primary election.

In the 2008 Colorado Republican Caucus against John McCain, Mike Huckabee and Ron Paul, Mitt Romney swept the Front Range Corridor on his way to winning the state caucus. Romney tallied 36,231 caucus votes from the Front Range Corridor, accounting for 85% of Romney's state-wide tally of 42,218 caucus votes.

70,229 caucus votes were cast state-wide in the 2008 Colorado Republican Caucus, with 58,759 of the votes cast in the Front Range Corridor. 84% of the state-wide GOP caucus vote came from the Front Range Corridor.

In the 2012 Colorado Republican Caucus against Rick Santorum, Newt Gingrich and Ron Paul, Romney did not sweep the Front Range Corridor. Romney lost the northern and southern ends of the Front Range Corridor to Rick Santorum. Romney did win Denver and most of its surrounding counties. Nevertheless, Romney's margin of victory and raw caucus vote totals in this central part of the corridor were dramatically lower. Romney tallied 18,790 caucus votes from the Front Range Corridor, accounting for 82% of Romney's state-wide tally of 23,012 caucus votes. Romney lost the 2012 Colorado Republican Caucus to Rick Santorum, who tallied 26,614 state-wide caucus votes.

66,027 caucus votes were cast state-wide in the 2012 Colorado Republican Caucus, with 52,176 of the votes cast in the Front Range Corridor. 79% of the state-wide 2012 GOP caucus vote came from the Front Range Corridor.

So, here's what's interesting to me about comparing the Colorado GOP Caucus vote in 2008 to the GOP caucus vote in 2012:

State-wide, the 2012 Colorado GOP Caucus turnout was 94% of what it was in 2008. That's not all that dramatic of a drop in turnout, especially given the fact that there wasn't a buzz-creating concurrently contested Democratic caucus as was the case in 2008. In fact, 2012 GOP caucus turnout was down only in the Front Range Corridor. Front Range Corridor GOP turnout in 2012 was 89% of what it was in 2008. Meanwhile, "out-state" GOP caucus turnout in 2012 was 121% of what it was in 2008. "Out-state" turnout increased. But just as importantly, Front Range Corridor turnout decreased.

A lot of ink and pixels have been spent discussing Romney's difficulty winning over voters who consider themselves to be "very conservative," e.g. the "Republican Base." What's been less discussed is Romney's difficulty since the very beginning in Iowa with turning-out the more moderate urban and suburban GOP voters who, on paper at least, should be Romney's "base." And looking at the 2008 Colorado caucus results, Romney indeed used to turn out these GOP voters. In 2008, Romney tallied 36,231 caucus votes from the Front Range Corridor. In 2012, Romney tallied 18,790 caucus votes from the Front Range Corridor. In 2012, Romney's performance in the Front Range Corridor was 52% of what it was in 2008. Romney lost 17,441 caucus votes from 2008 to 2012 in the Front Range Corridor.

Granted, some or perhaps even most of Romney's lost Front Range Corridor caucus votes from 2008 to 2012 may have gone to Santorum, Gingrich and/or Paul this year ... but all 17,441 caucus votes? Moreover, how many of Romney's lost 17,441 Front Range Corridor caucus votes are the 6,583 FRC caucus votes that were cast in 2008 but not 2012?

Romney's secondary problem is that he can't enthuse self-described "very conservative" GOP voters. Romney's primary problem is that he can't sufficiently enthuse self-described "moderate" GOP voters. Romney lost to Santorum in Colorado this year by 3,602 caucus votes. If Romney had been able to tally caucus votes in the Front Range Corridor in 2012 at only 62% of his tally there in 2008, then Romney would have won the Colorado caucus.

Over this past week, it appears that the Romney campaign has given up on spending its time and resources on motivating suburban/urban GOP voters. Perhaps the campaign has decided that it's not worth it. For whatever reason, Romney just isn't enthusing the moderates as much as, on paper, he should be. So, without being able to get the kind of margins in the Detroit suburbs to beat Santorum's margins in Western Michigan, it's time for Romney to try and out-conservative Santorum, or at the very least constantly depict Santorum as not a "true" conservative to depress enthusiasm for Santorum.

Headlines from Saturday's Michigan campaigning:

Romney, Santorum battle over who's more conservative


Rick Santorum, Mitt Romney battle for upper hand in Michigan primary

TROY, Mich. — Rick Santorum and Mitt Romney tried vigorously to undermine each other’s conservative bona fides Saturday in a bid to rally new supporters ahead of a crucial primary for the two leading Republican presidential candidates.

oh ... and ...

Rick Santorum Labels Romney An ‘Elite’ And Obama A ‘Snob’

So much for moderation.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Prominent Party Actor Alliances, GOP Voter Enthusiasm and Santorum's Rhetorical Doubling-Down in Michigan

Steve Kornacki:
[Santorum's] Wednesday night [debate performance] clearly hurt Santorum’s standing with GOP elites. The Huffington Post’s survey of “Power Outsiders” — GOP leaders and activists around the country — found that 44 percent of them judged Romney the winner of the debate, compared to just 15 percent for Santorum.
Kornacki here puts the cart before the horse. Santorum has had very little support from GOP "leaders and activists from around the country." Santorum has very few elected official endorsements, and consequently very few surrogates to spin for him post-debate. Without that "opinion-shaper" spinning on behalf of Santorum, stuff like this becomes the debate performance conventional wisdom (Kornacki again):
Santorum came across as hesitant and defensive, lapsing over and over again into DC-speak as Romney blasted him for his past support of earmarks, No Child Left Behind and Arlen Specter. Santorum’s defense of his No Child Left Behind vote — “Sometimes, you take one for the team” — was particularly damaging, and has given Romney a weapon to wield for as long as the campaign lasts. To the casual observer, it seemed like Santorum, and not Romney, was the candidate facing a skeptical party base.
The candidate without spinning surrogates is at a disadvantage in "winning" a televised debate. Jonathan Bernstein looks at GOP media figures' reactions to the Wednesday debate:
Even with debate ratings relatively high this year, far more voters are likely to hear sound bites after the fact than they are to sit through the whole thing. Even the memories of those who watched it will fade and recycled sound bites will be what lingers. And for Republican primary voters, that means what Fox News, Rush Limbaugh, and the rest of the Republican Party press talk about now will matter most. By that standard, Rick Santorum seems to have been a clear loser.


[I]t harms Santorum that he has virtually no prominent support from Republican officials who have endorsed him and are willing to spin for him — the kind of official who may be well-positioned to influence the Republican partisan press. No governors, no senators, nothing.
Rick Santorum isn't stupid. One doesn't get as far in the process as Santorum has without having at least some political intelligence. I'm quite sure that he's aware of his lack of prominent party official endorsements and lack (save for Glenn Beck, which I'll get to later) of prominent media figure alliances. At the same time, I'm sure that Santorum is aware of this particular and important Romney problem that Nate Silver identifies:
In states and counties that would appear to be strong for [Romney], turnout is generally running below its 2008 pace. But in [Romney's] weaker areas [...] it has been steady or has improved some.
In terms of the universe of GOP primary/caucus voters, Romney does best in urban and suburban counties where GOP primary/caucus voters tend to be much less socially conservative and less doctrinaire in terms of economic conservatism as compared to voters in exurban counties and rural counties. Throughout the primaries and caucuses, Romney has been winning the urban and suburban counties percentage-wise, but the overall (e.g. aggregate) turnout in these counties consistently has been lower than it was in the 2008 primaries and caucuses. In other words, Romney's GOP primary/caucus "base" is not as enthusiastic about Romney as, on paper, Romney's "base" should be.

Meanwhile, GOP primary/caucus voters in rural and exurban counties (who tend to be more conservative) in 2012 have been turning out at levels equal to or greater than the 2008 primaries and caucuses.

So, if you're Rick Santorum and you want to win Michigan's GOP primary (which, by the way, is critical for you in terms of momentum toward Super Tuesday), then what do you do to try and win it? You're not getting any endorsements from any elected officials willing to be your surrogate spinner in the media and you're not getting any support from GOP-friendly "opinion-makers," while Mitt Romney has both of these things going for him in spades. Still, the urban and suburban population centers that should be Romney's base aren't all that enthusiastic about Romney. Romney isn't going to get the turnout that, on paper, he should get.

If you're Rick Santorum trying to win the Michigan GOP primary, then you double-down on your social conservative rhetoric. You try and turn out more of your base than Mitt Romney's base. You go on Glenn Beck's show and say stuff like this:

Republican presidential candidate Rick Santorum said Thursday that President Obama wants more young adults to go to college so they can undergo “indoctrination” to a secular world view.

In an hour-long interview with conservative television host Glenn Beck, Santorum also defended his record on abortion and his vote in favor of President George W. Bush’s No Child Left Behind education law.

On the president’s efforts to boost college attendance, Santorum said, “I understand why Barack Obama wants to send every kid to college, because of their indoctrination mills, absolutely … The indoctrination that is going on at the university level is a harm to our country.”

He claimed that “62 percent of kids who go into college with a faith commitment leave without it,” but declined to cite a source for the figure. And he floated the idea of requiring that universities that receive public funds have “intellectual diversity” on campus.

And you double-down on the rhetoric because the rhetoric is what got you here in the first place. You know that there was never going to be any winning-over of "opinion makers" because if you hadn't won them over by now then they'd never be won over. The "opinion-makers" cast their lot with Romney a long time ago. What you need are votes - more votes than Romney. You might not succeed, but this is the only way that you can try and get those votes. You're hoping that you can enthuse Western Michigan GOP voters more than Romney can enthuse Detroit suburban GOP voters. It's your best strategy.

It looks like a close one next Tuesday night. It'll be all about how enthusiasm translates into turnout.