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News from the Votemaster

Romney Offers Perry a $10,000 Bet During Debate     Permalink

While all the pundits were expecting last night's Republican debate at Drake University in Des Moines, Iowa, to focus on the new frontrunner, Newt Gingrich, the most interesting moment actually didn't involve him. At one point Rick Perry accused Mitt Romney of deleting his support for the individual health care mandate from the reprinted version of a book he wrote. Romney said Perry was wrong and offered to bet him $10,000 on this, even though Mormons are not allowed to gamble. Perry, who grew up dirt-poor in Paint Creek, Texas, said he was not in the betting business and declined.

But by this point, Democrats around the country couldn't believe their ears. For most Americans, $10,000 is a lot of money. Apparently. for Romney it is not. His estimated net worth is said to be at least $200 million. Thus for him, $10,000 represents 1/200 of 1% of his net worth. For the median family, whose net worth is about $100,000 (including home equity), 1/200 of 1% is $5. So for Romney, making a $10,000 bet takes about as much forethought as for the average person to make a $5 bet. Put in another light, $10,000 is 2-3 months income for the average family. Nobody bets that casually. If Romney ultimately becomes the nominee--and this is much less sure than it was a month ago--the Democrats will constantly remind people that he belongs to the 1% and can throw $10,000 around as if it were $5. This is the perfect opening to point out that he grew up rich and became richer through his work at Bain Capital, where he bought up failing companies with borrowed money, fired workers, and later resold the companies at a profit. It could be a potent argument when Romney attacks Obama for mishandling the economy. This off-hand remark overshadowed everything else Romney said in all the debates.

Normally, Romney is exceedingly cautious and makes few mistakes, but for a second he forgot that while in his circles $10,000 is petty cash, for a lot of Americans it represents their entire investment portfolio. Unfortunately for Gingrich, he can't capitalize on this gaffe because he has been in the news lately for being paid $1.5 million as a lobbyist for Freddie Mac, which got him a $500,000 credit line at Tiffany's. While he clearly is not in Romney's financial zipcode, he's no Joe Sixpack, either.

Other than the betting incident, most of the rest of the debate consisted of darts thrown in the direction of Gingrich. Perry said: "I've always been of the opinion that if you cheat on your wife you'll cheat on your business partner, so I think that issue of fidelity is important." But unlike former candidate Herman Cain, who simply denied allegations of improper behavior with five women, Gingrich admitted his infidelities and asked for forgiveness. With 60% of the likely Iowa caucus goers expected to be evangelicals--for whom sinning and repenting is daily fare--this dart may not stick although if Gingrich is the nominee it will be far more damaging in the general election. When asked if he really believed the Palestinians were an invented people, Gingrich doubled down and said they were all terrorists. Of course that is total nonsense, but in some Republican circles anything that seems to support Israel is good.

Although Gingrich came under constant attack, he was no pinata. He went on the offensive, too. Probably the cleverest remark of any of the debates so far came when Romney said he was a lifelong businessman and Gingrich was a career politician. Gingrich replied: "The only reason you didn't become a career politician is that you lost to Teddy Kennedy in 1994." That has to be right up there with Lloyd Bentsen's "Senator, you're no Jack Kennedy."

On the whole, Gingrich performed well. His years as a college professor and Speaker of the House have made him comfortable as a public speaker. He also can think quickly on his feet and can parry most attacks well, as he did last night. To the extent that the nature of campaigning has changed this year, with televised debates taking the place of retail campaigning, that is, meeting people in small groups at factories, diners, and shopping centers, it has worked in Gingrich's favor. In short, Gingrich was definitely the target last night and all the darts hit the bullseye but none of them stuck. If Romney is to catch Gingrich in Iowa, he has another week to do it. Then Christmas sets in and people stop paying attention to politics until after their New Year's Eve hangover is gone. But with the Iowa caucuses set for Jan. 3, it is now or never for Romney in Iowa.

Where is Sarah Palin?     Permalink

Despite all the activity in the Republican campaign, Sarah Palin has gone radio silent. Only a few months ago, a 140-character tweet from her was the major news story of the day. Now she has surprisingly vanished from the scene completely. While she is not running for office, an endorsement from her would still be big news and she could travel around the country with her chosen endorsee getting the attention she used to delight in. Nothing. Maybe her contract with Fox forbids this but if it doesn't, it is certainly a mystery. The only other plausible explanation is that she hates Romney but expects him to be the nominee. Remember that her whole appeal is class resentment and although she is now wealthy, until 2009 she wasn't and probably still resents Romney and his whole class. So endorsing him is definitely out but endorsing someone she expects to lose is not a winning move so the best thing for her to do is keep quiet, and that's what she is doing. But with Gingrich now a likely winner in some of the early primaries, she could still jump on the bandwagon. Waiting until after the Iowa caucuses to pick sides is not going to win her any awards for bravery.

The 2012 Contest: Whole Foods Clients vs. Cracker Barrel Shoppers     Permalink

The Washington Post has an amusing--but probably fundamentally true--story today about food and politics. In 2008, Barack Obama carried 81% of the counties with a Whole Foods and just 36% of the counties with a Cracker Barrel. This is hardly a coincidence. Whole Foods locates its stores in upscale urban areas with an educated, environmentally conscious population full of young people and professionals--precisely the people who tend to vote Democratic. Cracker Barrel's restaurants and gift shops have a Southern theme and hark back to an earlier America of small towns and friendly neighbors. The demographics of its customers clearly skew Republican. No doubt someone will soon get a list of where each company has its stores and use it to predict the 2012 presidential election.

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-- The Votemaster