Wednesday, January 04, 2012

Coming Soon: The Second Ascent of Newt Gingrich

This looks like it was captured with a webcam in front of a TV set or something, but it was the only YouTube clip I could find of the scene I want to use to set up this post:

The situation isn't precisely analogous, but it's a good start. The thing to take away from it is that Mitt Romney can't win the New Hampshire primary next week. By "can't win," I mean that even the most crushing victory there will get him a yawn, but failing to pull away from the pack will just highlight his vulnerability.

As I noted in my Iowa wrap-up last night, Romney is the wounded gazelle. He entered this presidential race as the presumptive GOP frontrunner, and after six years of campaigning in Iowa, he "won" that state's caucus -- if the returns from Iowa really are finally final -- by a whopping eight votes, polling almost exactly as well in first place this year as he did in second place four years ago.

There's a smidgen of a chance that he'll take his big fall in New Hampshire: Instead of romping, or even credibly edging out his opponents, ending up in a three-way dogpile like he just did with Rick Santorum and Ron Paul in Iowa. If that happens, Newt Gingrich is more likely than Santorum to be the third guy in the mix.

The more likely scenario is that he ekes out a barely credible New Hampshire victory (anything less than 40%), then comes to grief in South Carolina (I know just the town for his primary night party there).

Who's going to bring him to a halt in South Carolina?

I know a lot of my readers want very much for Ron Paul to win the GOP presidential nomination. Sorry, I still don't see it happening. Like it or not, the bulk of Republicans still aren't with him on foreign policy, and the social conservatives don't trust his "states' rights" approach to issues they agree with him on. He does best in smaller states where a grass roots ground game and dedicated activist base pump him up versus turnout ... and even in those states, he's not winning outright. He's not going to win South Carolina. He's not going to win Florida. Dream of a deep enough split to get to a brokered convention if you want, but he's certainly not going to arrive in Tampa Bay with a majority of delegates.

Rick Santorum ran a hell of a campaign in Iowa (contrary to the claims of some Paulistinians who are screaming "fraud!"). He spent most of his time there, and most of his money there. He visited all 99 counties, and he had 250 volunteer county and precinct workers. And as a 100% Catholic candidate, he had the advantage of an electorate that's 23% Catholic. South Carolina is 7% Catholic. Absent a miracle of some sort, it's all downhill from here for Santorum. He doesn't have the money to buy South Carolina, and he doesn't have time to build the kind of ground game there that he ran in Iowa.

Michele Bachmann "suspended" her campaign about the time I started writing this post, and after her Iowa finish she didn't have the gas to get to South Carolina in fighting shape anyway.

It looks like Rick Perry's still in, but he's run a lackluster campaign so far, so much so that the pundit buzz continues to be that he's just basically burning money to make work for a raft of consultants who weren't able to get on payroll with other campaigns.

I'm not ready to write Perry off completely just yet, but the "Mitt is too moderate but I can't stomach Paul" vote is about to start coalescing either around Perry or around Gingrich, and Gingrich has the advantage.

The next two big primaries are in South Carolina and Florida, southern states adjacent to Gingrich's native Georgia. If he shuts Perry down there, it's going to be tough for the Texan to catch a break -- next comes the Nevada caucus, where Romney and Paul (and maybe Jon Huntsman, if he's still playing at this) will suck any anti-Gingrich air out of Perry's efforts.

By Super Tuesday, I expect the three remaining candidates who remain in the contest in anything but name to be Gingrich, Romney and Paul, with Gingrich in a clear lead for the nomination.

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