Sunday, January 22, 2012

Reviewing South Carolina and Previewing Florida

One way to look at the signficance of what happened in South Carolina last night is to look at my predictions for South Carolina, where they were off, and what that tells us about where the race is headed.

I pegged Gingrich at 37% and he got 40% of the vote. It seems those polls that were showing Gingrich still surging on Friday night and Saturday were correct. But to really understand the depth and meaning of this defeat for Romney, you have to consider that BOTH Gingrich and Santorum overperformed my prediction (and Nate Silver's for that matter). In other words, what I suggested might happen ("some Santorum voters may defect to Gingrich") to drive Gingrich to a bigger victory is NOT what caused the blowout. Instead, some conservative voters, tea party voters, etc., defected from Romney to both Gingrich and Santorum. I have seen many analyses suggest this morning that Gingrich won because conservative voters were "coalescing" behind Gingrich. That's not quite true. It is more accurate to say that conservative voters are coalescing "against Romney." Many are moving to Gingrich. But some moved to Santorum, who received 17% (I had predicted 15%, Silver had him at 14%).

In sum, South Carolina was more a rejection of Romney by conservatives than an endorsement of Gingrich. Among the 36% of South Carolina Primary voters who described themselves as "very conservative," Gingrich got 48% and Romney got 19%. But just imagine if these "very conservative" voters had, in fact, "coalesced" around Gingrich as some have suggested. What I didn't mention was that Santorum got 23% of these "very conservative" voters. Assuming those voters break out on a 2.5 to 1 Gingrich to Romney ratio as they were distributed if it were a head-to-head matchup, and Gingrich's lead is 62% to 26%. And guess what? Romney didn't do well among the 32% who described themselves as "somewhat conservative" either (Gingrich won 41% to 30% there).

Now take that math to Florida. Yes, Romney has more money and yes, some 200,000 voters have already cast ballots in Florida and that is an advantage for Romney. But Florida is a closed primary (unlike South Carolina) and, in 2008, 61% of Florida Republican Primary voters described themselves as "conservative." This is not too short of the 68% of South Carolina voters who described themselves as either "very conservative" or "somewhat conservative." The turf is a little better for Romney but not enough to make up for a deficit of the size we saw in South Carolina. Romney needs the deck to be shuffled. So what does he do?

This morning, Romney announced he will be releasing his 2010 tax returns on Tuesday. This is not going to be good for Romney but he doesn't have good options at this point on his tax returns. The right move for Romney would have been to release 10 years worth of his returns a year ago. He can't go back and fix that mistake now. The best thing now is to get everything out there that he can and take his lumps as soon as possible so that he can get past it as soon as possible. Why he's only releasing one year of returns is beyond me though. Better to get everything out there right away and deal with it. Also, releasing a flood of material will allow at least some of the bad details to get buried under the really bad details. A drip, drip, drip of releases only extends and highlights the narrative.

I had said a few days ago that Mitt Romney's campaign team was guilty of campaign malpractice. Last night, on MSNBC, one commentator suggested that Romney's team should have had a discussion and an answer on the tax returns question a year ago. Steve Schmidt, McCain's campaign manager from 2008, chimed in that it was a discussion they should have had "FIVE years ago!" He's right.

Republicans are really in between a rock and a hard place right now. Mitt is the rock ... stiff, inflexible, sinking, and apparently unable to adjust. Newt is the hard place ... the nominee the very conservative wing of the Party seems to want and the nominee that would SURELY lose in the Fall and probably in a big landslide.

At a minimum, Romney is going to expend a lot of resources and has to find a way to win conservatives over. That will mean tacking more to the right and alienating independents at least temporarily. At worst, a Romney loss in Florida will lead to unmitigated panic in the GOP to find an electable alternative to Gingrich.

1 comment: said...

Spoiler Alert!