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News from the Votemaster

Newton Defies Gravity     Permalink

In any reasonable universe, Newt Gingrich would not be a serious contender for the Republican presidential nomination. Yet now we have a poll in New Hampshire showing him to be in a statistical tie with front runner Mitt Romney. If true, this is a significant development.

For at least a year, three quarters of the Republican voters have made it clear they do not want Mitt Romney as their nominee, despite the fact that he has an excellent chance of beating President Obama next November. He might even have enough coattails to flip the Senate and give the Republicans control of the White House and Congress. But Romney is not a fire-breathing conservative, so many conservative voters have been desperately searching for another standard bearer. Donald Trump, Michele Bachmann, Rick Perry, and Herman Cain have all been tried and found wanting, basically all due to personal flaws. With the exception of Perry, none of them were even serious candidates since major parties virtually always nominate people who have previously held high elected office (usually Vice Presidents, governors, or senators) or who are popular generals who have won wars.

Gingrich is different from the others (except Perry) because he is an experienced politician who once held the third-highest office in the country: Speaker of the House. That would automatically make him a serious candidate were it not for two things. First, he hasn't held public office for 13 years. Second, he has more baggage than a fully loaded Boeing 747-400.

While the first point doesn't help, it is not necessarily fatal. Abraham Lincoln was elected President 12 years after his one and only term in the House had finished. The second point is far worse. From the Democrats' point of view, Gingrich is a target-rich environment. Some of the many things they could (and if he is the nominee, will) attack are:

    - His two very messy divorces
    - His affair with a young staffer while attacking Bill Clinton for his affair with an intern
    - His fine of $300,000 from the full House for an ethics violation     - His leading the unpopular government shutdown in 1995     - His $500,000 line of credit at Tiffany & Co, an upscale jeweler     - His role at Freddie Mac, for which they paid him $1.6 million over 10 years

Most of these, and other items, have been known for years, but the voters desperately searching for the not-Romney don't seem to care. The thing that could make Gingrich different from the other failed not-Romneys is the potential to win the New Hampshire primary. If Romney does not compete in Iowa--and so far he doesn't appear to be--then a Gingrich win there would not mean much. But a Gingrich win in a state Romney was expected to win by 20 or 30 points would be devastating and lead to a Gingrich win in conservative South Carolina 11 days later. At that point we could have a nasty two-man race that could go on for months and weaken the eventual winner.

Another factor to keep in mind is Ron Paul. While he is not going to win the nomination, he might stay in the race until the end and continue to collect delegates. If Romney and Gingrich each went into the convention with fewer than 50% of the delegates, Paul would become kingmaker. Alternatively, Paul could drop out of the Republican contest and run as a third-party candidate, something he did in 1988 on the Libertarian ticket. Should he do this, he could easily play the role Ralph Nader had in 2000, drawing enough votes to guarantee the election of the person his supporters most hate (in Paul's case, Obama). Paul is 76 not running for Congress this year, so this is his last hurrah. He might decide to make it a big one.

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-- The Votemaster