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News from the Votemaster

Gingrich Way Ahead in Iowa     Permalink

In the past 2 days, six different polls have been released for the Iowa caucuses. They are notoriously difficult to poll because turnout is always so low. Nevertheless, all six polls show Newt Gingrich leading. His margin over number 2, which is Mitt Romney in some polls and Ron Paul in others, is 14, 14, 15, 9, 8, and 11, points respectively. This is well beyond the margin of error, but this race is in such flux that a week from now anything could happen. Here is a bar chart showing the results. For each candidate, there are six bars, corresponding to the six polls: NYT-CBS, We Ask America, ABC-WaPo, Selzer, Marist, and PPP.

Iowa polls

Having Gingrich clearly leading the field in Iowa is certainly unexpected. In fact, it was unthinkable even a month ago and complete fantasy after his entire staff quit in dismay in June. But comebacks happen in politics from time to time. Think about the "Comeback Kid," Bill Clinton in 1992 and John McCain in 2008. But does Gingrich actually have a path to the nomination, or is yet another flash in the pan, like Bill Bradley, Gary Hart, Howard Dean, Mike Huckabee, and so many others who excited their supporters in January but were long gone by June? A Gingrich scenario has to be something like this. He wins very big in Iowa Jan. 3, preferably by 15-20% or more, with Romney finishing third behind Ron Paul. Then comes the big test a week later in New Hampshire. If Gingrich can beat Romney in his home territory, everyone will start to take him seriously. Then he will surely win in conservative South Carolina on Jan. 21. The second real test for him will be Florida, which advanced its primary to Jan. 31--against RNC rules. Florida is a big state and it requires a lot of money to run ads there. Gingrich doesn't have a lot of money and Romney does. A Florida win for Gingrich is essential to convince the voters and especially the party elite that he is for real.

Romney's strategy has to be to win Iowa, thus snuffing out Gingrich's candidacy before it really gets started. If Gingrich wins Iowa, then Romney absolutely has to make sure he wins in New Hampshire. He won't get much credit for winning in a state next to the one he governed and one in which he lives part time (when he isn't out of state campaigning), but at least he will prevent disaster. South Carolina is a lost cause for him, so he has to bet all his chips on Florida.

While news stories about election results are winner take all, delegates are not. The RNC changed the rules for this year to make primaries and caucuses before April 1 use proportional delegate allocation. So, for example, if Gingrich wins New Hampshire 35% to Romney's 25%, he gets 4 delegates to Romney's 3, hardly an earth-shaking result. As a consequence, if Gingrich wins Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina, and Florida, he will get a ton of free coverage, but only a handful more delegates than Romney. Since Romney is never going to give up, early wins by Gingrich will mean a long slog for months, with the well-financed Romney being able to go the distance and Gingrich desparately trying to fund his campaign (although winning the early events will bring in many small donations). In contrast, wins by Romney in Iowa and New Hampshire will probably mean he is the nominee and the general election campaign will start immediately.

Obama Gives Fiery Speech Attacking the Republicans     Permalink

President Obama finally did what many of his supporters have been calling for since the beginning of his term: a frontal attack on the Republicans and their economic program. He said that their economic policy of trickle-down economics doesn't work and never worked. He went after Newt Gingrich's suggestion that children should work in schools as janitors and said there is far too much economic inequality in the country. This approach is vastly different from the warm and fuzzy "Hope and change" of 2008.

The significance of this is that Obama is apparently planning to run on a campaign that the Republicans will label as class warfare. Obama wants to make it clear that he identifies with the 99%, not the 1%. If Mitt Romney ends up being the Republican nominee after all, count on Obama to paint him--a former Wall St. financier--as part of the 1%. The result of this strategy will be a more polarized campaign than any since World War II. Even the 1964 Goldwater-Johnson race was not about class warfare. Historically, when the Democrats can convince people that it is the poor and middle class against the rich, the Democrats win. When the Republicans can convince people that it is about the middle class and the rich against the poor, the Republicans win. Obama is apparently willing to bet the election trying this.

If Gingrich is the Republican nominee, a class-warfare strategy probably won't work and Obama will probably drop it in favor of painting Gingrich as an unpredictable extremist far outside the mainstream. Count on Gingrich's off-hand remark about having children work as janitors in schools--a wildly unpopular idea--to take center stage along with attacks on similar pronouncements.

Pelosi Backtracks on Releasing Dirt     Permalink

Earlier this week, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, a clever and partisan politician if ever there was one, made a big mistake when she threatened to release some of the dirt on Newt Gingrich that she learned while on the House panel investigating him. Gingrich instantly snapped that would be illegal and Pelosi backtracked immediately. She realized her mistake was going after Gingrich before he got the nomination. It is no accident that all the Democrats are attacking Romney and none of them are saying a word about Gingrich, except for Pelosi's slip-up. They all want Gingrich to be the nominee. As to whether Pelosi's backtracking is sincere, don't bet on it. She learned politics on the lap of her father--the mayor of Baltimore, not a city known for its squeaky-clean politics. If she actually has some new dirt and Gingrich miraculously wins the nomination, it will no doubt find its way to some friendly reporter who will enjoy a scoop and Pelosi will act very surprised when asked about it.

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-- The Votemaster