Tuesday, August 30, 2011

The State of the States

A few days ago we did a round-up of the latest national 2012 Republican primary polls. The primary will actually take place in a series of state-by-state contests, with each state's results influencing subsequent contests. This means it is more important to look at the state of the race in each state. If history is any indication, the results of the first four contests will shape the rest of the primary--if not decide the winner completely.

Today, we will examine the latest polls in each of the four early primaries. Polls which were conducted after Rick Perry's entry on August 13th will be in bold, as they are the ones which should be taken most seriously.

As always, all of the early state primary polls can be found on the Primaries page.

Iowa Caucus
08/23 Magellan (R) -- Perry 24, Bachmann 22, Romney 19, Paul 9
08/22 WPA (R-Perry) -- Perry 23, Bachmann 20, Romney 16, Paul 9
08/21 PPP (D) -- Perry 21, Romney 18, Bachmann 15, Paul 12

08/04 Rasmussen -- Bachmann 22, Romney 21, Paul 16, Perry 12
07/12 Magellan (R) -- Bachmann 29, Romney 16, Pawlenty 8, Cain 8
07/11 ARG -- Bachmann 21, Romney 18, Paul 14, Palin 11
07/07 Mason-Dixon -- Bachmann 32, Romney 29, Pawlenty 7, Santorum 6

In Iowa, Perry holds onto a small lead over Michele Bachmann and Mitt Romney. What's most clear is that Bachmann has fallen as Perry gained, and that both Bachmann and Romney are within striking distance of first place.

Time favors electable candidates, as voters make strategic decisions toward the end of the race. That's good for Romney and bad for Perry and (especially) Bachmann. The good news for Perry is that voters also tend to leave low-polling candidates at the very end. If Perry is able to get a substantial lead over Bachmann, her support will fall away at the last moment and rally around Perry.

Assuming Chris Christie doesn't jump into the race, either Perry or Romney could win Iowa. For the moment, the odds favor Perry, but not overwhelmingly.

New Hampshire Primary
08/16 Magellan (R) -- Romney 36, Perry 18, Paul 14, Bachmann 10
07/13 ARG -- Romney 29, Bachmann 12, Giuliani 9, Palin 8
07/05 PPP (D) -- Romney 25, Bachmann 18, Palin 11, Paul 9
07/01 UNH/WMUR -- Romney 35, Bachmann 12, Paul 7, Giuliani 7

Thus far, Romney has always managed to hold a giant lead in New Hampshire. Were he to win Iowa, his lead would grow further, and he would likely win the Republican nomination with ease. If Perry wins Iowa, Perry's numbers in New Hampshire will likely increase; Bachmann's defeat to Perry in Iowa would also result in Bachmann's numbers (such as they are) in New Hampshire to decrease. Thus, a Perry win in Iowa would make the contest in New Hampshire closer.

At this time, no one expects a winner in New Hampshire other than Romney. Instead, pundits will focus on the size of his win. If Perry comes close in New Hampshire, Romney will be seen as losing to an extent.

Nevada Caucus
07/31 PPP (D) -- Romney 31, Perry 18, Bachmann 10, Palin 10

Almost no polling has been conducted in Nevada (and none after Perry's entry), which reflects the lesser importance that Nevada is usually given, despite its place in the schedule. In 2008, Romney easily carried Nevada, thanks to overwhelming support from the Mormon vote. As with New Hampshire, pundits--to the extent that they consider the results in Nevada much at all--will be looking at the size of Romney's win.

South Carolina Primary
08/23 Magellan (R) -- Perry 31, Romney 20, Bachmann 14, Cain 9
07/17 ARG -- Romney 25, Palin 16, Bachmann 13, Cain 10

Very little polling has been done in South Carolina. Its polling does not seem to be a twin of Iowa's, mainly owing to Bachmann's lesser strength here than Iowa, the state of her birth. If Bachmann loses to Perry in Iowa, Perry's lead over her in South Carolina will balloon. Bachmann's candidacy could be crushed here, removing her as a threat to Perry. (That doesn't necessarily mean she will quit the race, however.)

Perry, as the Southerner in the race, is expected to win in South Carolina. In some ways, South Carolina is the reverse of New Hampshire; people will scrutinize the size of Perry's win. If Romney gets close, it will be a loss of sorts for Perry.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Could Sarah Palin Jump into the Race?

During the early months of the Republican primary, there was much speculation that Sarah Palin might run for president. In fact, she was viewed as a frontrunner of sorts, especially on Intrade. But as time passed and many other candidates did get into the race, Palin stayed out. Michele Bachmann, who had decided not to run if Palin did, put her campaign on hold, waiting to see what Palin would do. By mid-June, Bachmann had determined that Palin was almost certainly not going to run, and she declared her own candidacy. For the past few months, the consensus has been that Palin, though she continually asserts that she might run, is out.

Part of the reason for the consensus is that Palin, unlike everyone else who delayed entry (Bachmann, Jon Huntsman, Rick Perry, potentially Chris Christie), Palin had no reason to delay. If she were going to run, there would be no reason for her to wait until everyone else had entered the race. In fact, she had very good reason to get in on time: to keep Bachmann out. If Palin had intended to run, her delays not only frittered away her time, they invited Bachmann into the race; Bachmann would almost certainly split her constituency.

There was also some "crying wolf": Palin's bus tour during the summer, her appearance at a pro-Palin movie premiering in Iowa, etc. The media covered Palin, and she didn't make any movements toward running. At last, they tired of being manipulated. Unlike polls earlier this year, current polls rarely include Palin.

It's fair to conclude that Palin decided earlier this year that she would not run for president. There were early signs, as she let hints slip in bits and pieces in various interviews. Palin recognized that general election polls and Republican primary polls showed she was too polarizing. She was very unlikely to win the nomination, and almost certain to lose the general election. Since she could not win, there was little point in running. There was plenty of downside: She would lose the opportunity to make money, and her reputation would be tarnished.

But, once again, political commentators are suggesting Palin might indeed jump into the race. Some have said that her schedule in September looks like a candidate's. Others believe she will announce her candidacy on September 3rd. What could explain this?

Partly these rumors can be chalked up to wishful thinking. The media finds it easy to cover Palin, and if she actually did run for the presidency, it would sell a lot of newspapers. Liberals are keen to see Palin run because they enjoy attacking Palin, they like that Palin's image casts the Republican Party in a negative light, and because they would like to see Barack Obama beat her in a general election. Some Republicans would also like to see her run. Palin fans, of course, want her to run. But supporters of Perry and Mitt Romney also want to see Palin run, because it would split Bachmann's vote and ensure Bachmann could not win Iowa.

Still others have floated Palin's name because they want Chris Christie to run, and it's easier to write about that when they can disguise their intention by talking about how "other candidates" might run (e.g. Paul Ryan).

Ultimately, however, the rumors about Palin persist because she still could run, if she wanted to do it. Unlike Mike Huckabee or Mitch Daniels, she has never made a declaration that she will not run. And although Palin did earlier decide not to run, she could change her mind. She may have seen Bachmann doing well in the (Iowa) polls and stealing her position as the "Alpha Female" of the right wing. Palin decided not to run because she believed she couldn't win. She also thinks Bachmann can't win. And if Bachmann can do well in Iowa polls and win the Iowa straw poll, perhaps Palin would be motivated to enter the race, purely out of spite. Time will tell.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Rick Perry Starts Strong in National Polls

National polls show that Rick Perry is off to a strong start in the Republican primary. He leads the other candidates by a significant margin. Is Perry in the lead? Primary polls that poll the entire country are less useful than early state primary polls for a number of reasons. First, voters in the early primary states (e.g. Iowa and New Hampshire) pay attention to the race earlier. Most of the country will not pay close attention until next year, so the opinions they hold today are subject to factors like name recognition. Second, the perceptions people have of the candidates will be changed by who wins (and loses) the early primaries.

With those caveats out of the way, here are the most recent national primary polls, all of which were conducted after Perry entered the race:

National Primary Polls
08/21 Gallup -- Perry 29, Romney 17, Paul 13, Bachmann 10, Cain 4
08/21 PPP (D) -- Perry 33, Romney 20, Bachmann 16, Gingrich 8, Cain 6
08/15 Rasmussen -- Perry 29, Romney 18, Bachmann 13, Paul 9, Cain 6

Looking at polls from several different pollsters is helpful. One poll may be off, but you can trust something if it forms a pattern across multiple polls. Here, despite data coming from very different pollsters, the results are almost identical. Perry has a commanding lead, and is near one-third of the vote. Mitt Romney is clearly in second place. Not too far behind is Michele Bachmann, and everyone else is in the single-digits.

Two main points are revealed in these polls. First, Romney's support is quite shallow. He took a beating from the entry of another candidate. While many support him, few are very dedicated to him. The second point is that Bachmann has also been tossed aside by the Tea Party in favor of Perry.

Based on these polls, it's possible that the media may change its prevailing narrative of Romney as the front-runner, and begin treating Perry as the main threat to win. Other candidates may do so as well. But the reality we see in early state primary polls is that the race is split between Iowa and New Hampshire. In Iowa, Perry must fight off Bachmann (who is much stronger there than she is nationally) and Romney. In New Hampshire, Romney has a lock.

We can conclude that the configuration of the early primaries tends to favor Romney and hurt Perry, compared to the country as a whole. This isn't too unusual. Recall that in 2008, Rudy Giuliani led many national primary polls, but the early states disliked him. Without a state to win in early, Giuliani was quickly out of the race.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Increased Buzz About Potential Chris Christie Run

In a two-part series several weeks ago, we pondered whether Chris Christie is running for president. The conclusion was that Christie has the motive and means to run, but whether 2012 presents an opportunity is up to Christie and his family. The reason why someone as new to the national stage as Christie could run, and the reason why he could win despite entering the race so late is simple: There is a vacuum in the field of Republican candidates.

The reason Republicans are dissatisfied with their choices and perceive the vacuum is that no single candidate excites both the establishment wing and the Tea Party wing of the Republican Party, aside from Christie. Tim Pawlenty was acceptable to both wings (and exciting to neither), but he took himself out of the race.

Rick Perry sensed the void in the field and decided to jump into the race, hoping to fill it. Can Perry fill the void? On the one hand, he should be able to excite the Tea Party wing, which has tended to like him. On the other hand, the Republican establishment has always been troubled by concerns about Perry's electability. They do, however, generally appreciate his economic record in Texas.

Shortly after Perry entered the race, he made headlines with a remark that the Chairman of the Federal Reserve would be treated "ugly" in Texas and that printing more money before the election would be "almost treasonous." The Republican establishment immediately became concerned that Perry could be prone to extreme language and, combined with the problem of being another Texas governor, unelectable.

While the Republican establishment has not yet made up its mind about Perry, doubts about his electability have fueled more talk that Christie is needed to save the Republican Party and defeat Barack Obama. Increasingly, buzz about a potential run by Christie has found its way into the political conversation. Christie himself, however, has made no public indication that he is more open to running than before. (Though he's avoided making any convincing denials of his intention to run.)

The Christie talk isn't just a repudiation of Perry. It also demonstrates how "soft" the support is for Mitt Romney. If the establishment were satisfied with Romney, there would be no need for Christie--and certainly no need to even consider Perry.

Speculation about Christie has prompted some political strategists to research the last possible date someone could enter the race in time to meet the filing deadlines for all primaries. That date is apparently October 14th, the deadline for the Michigan primary (though Michigan will not be one of the early primaries). Elephant Watcher believes that a candidate is very unlikely to enter the race much later than the beginning of October. Until then, dissatisfied Republicans will probably spend more than a little time wondering about Christie's intentions.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Rick Perry's Two-Front War

As Rick Perry's campaign for the presidency begins, he will find himself and his record under increasing scrutiny. But does Perry have more to fear from Michele Bachmann or Mitt Romney? How should he position himself to maximize his chances of winning the Republican nomination? Is he more vulnerable to attacks from the right or from the left?

Perry's first test will be in Iowa, where he will do battle against Bachmann. If he knocks Bachmann out of the race, he will need to deal with Romney. If Chris Christie enters the race, the field is completely different; otherwise, Perry's opponents are Bachmann and Romney. The challenge for Perry is that Bachmann and Romney will be hitting him from two different angles.

Bachmann's strategy is to present herself as the one true conservative, the only person that the Tea Party can trust. This necessarily means Bachmann will attack Perry from the right, and argue that Perry is just another RINO: a "Republican In Name Only." Months ago, when Perry was barely on the radar screen, we explained the definition of a RINO. To many in the Tea Party, a RINO is "Anyone who is not Sarah Palin or Michele Bachmann." Though Perry is perceived as a very conservative candidate, he, like all other politicians, can be criticized for doing things that were not conservative.

It's unlikely that Bachmann will be able to convince many people that Perry is not a real conservative. However, she may be able to convince people that Perry is not as conservative as advertised. This is dangerous for Perry, because to win, Perry must be perceived as more conservative than Romney. Why? Because Romney is perceived as more electable than Perry. If Perry and Romney are similar in their conservative credentials, then Romney wins on electability. It is only by being sufficiently more reliably conservative than Romney that Perry can compensate for his lesser electability.

So while Perry is doing battle with Bachmann in Iowa, he may be tempted to make provocative remarks to prove he is a true Tea Partier. But in making provocative remarks, he may further reinforce the notion that he is not electable. This is also dangerous for Perry. When discussing who will win the Iowa Caucus, we learned that primary voters--even in Iowa--favor electability above all else. Perry's goal is the mirror of Romney's: Perry wants to be sufficiently similar in electability to Romney so that he wins on conservatism.

The dynamics of the primary can be seen in the Candidate Profiles, where each candidate's perceived electability and perceived conservatism are rated on a scale of 1-3. Romney's perceived electability is a 3; Perry's is a 2. Romney's perceived conservatism is a 2; Perry's is a 3. The two start off on roughly equal footing, though Romney arguably has the advantage because electability is more important to primary voters than conservatism.

Perry has to walk a fine line. While defeating Bachmann, he must avoid making provocative statements that hurt his perceived electability, but he must also defend himself from Bachmann's attacks, which could hurt his perceived conservatism. If Perry begins on roughly equal footing with Romney, he cannot afford to lose either perceived electability or conservatism.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Rick Perry Takes the Lead on Intrade

The last few weeks have been rather eventful, so it's time to take another look at the Intrade market on the 2012 Republican nomination, where Intrade investors place bets on the outcome of the primary.

Last month, the Intrade investors perceived a two-man race between Mitt Romney and Rick Perry, with Romney still holding onto a small lead. Prior to the Perry boom, Romney had held a comfortable lead for quite a long time. Now Intrade puts Perry in the lead, with a 36.0% chance of victory. Romney is not far behind with 31.0%.

And what of Michele Bachmann, fresh off her win at the Ames straw poll? Apparently the Intrade investors don't think too highly of the straw poll. Rather than seeing Bachmann in closer competition with Perry and Romney, Intrade actually has lower numbers for Bachmann than before: 5.8%. Intrade appears more certain than ever that the primary is a two-man race. Bachmann's 5.8% is tied with Jon Huntsman for the third-highest percentage. With Tim Pawlenty out of the race, Intrade says it's Perry, Romney...and everyone else, way behind.

How did the investors arrive at this conclusion? Although Perry is doing well in some national polls, he has not yet polled well in any early state primaries; few such primary polls have been taken since Perry entered the race. We can take a deeper look into the mind of Intrade investors by examining their markets for the early primaries.

In the Intrade market for the Iowa Caucus, Bachmann is virtually tied with Perry at about 38%. Everyone else is far behind. Meanwhile, on the New Hampshire Intrade market, Romney sits comfortably at 44%, with Perry down in the 20s.

But if Perry and Bachmann have an equal chance of winning the Iowa Caucus, how can Perry have such a higher percentage chance of winning the nomination? In the South Carolina Intrade market, Perry has a 60% chance, with Bachmann down at 13%. Thus, we can conclude that the Intrade investors believe even if Bachmann wins Iowa, it will be a fluke corrected by the voters of South Carolina.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Perry In, Pawlenty Out

For the first time in nearly two months, the landscape of the Republican primary has significantly changed. Rick Perry's entry and Tim Pawlenty's exit both made an impact. Elephant Watcher has recalculated the odds of each candidate's chances of winning the nomination.

Bachmann +1% -- Perry's entry may not snuff out Bachmann's loyal base, but it puts a ceiling on her chances in Iowa. Fortunately for her, the electable Tim Pawlenty is no longer a factor there.

Cain -2% -- Cain has suffered from Bachmann's hogging of the Tea Party spotlight, but Perry makes matters much worse. Cain will struggle to get any attention.

Christie -9% -- Perry hopes to fill the vacuum in the race. Though he may not succeed, his presence will, for a time at least, diminish the Republicans' hunger for a new candidate. Pawlenty's departure adds to the void of electable conservatives, but his time was to come later, and Christie's decision on whether or not to run will need to be made soon.

Gingrich -- Like Cain, Gingrich will struggle for attention now that Perry is taking up much of the oxygen. Gingrich has failed to demonstrate that he knows he must make his stand in New Hampshire, not Iowa. But there are many debates left on the calendar.

Huntsman -- Though Huntsman should benefit from the electable Pawlenty's departure, he has not been able to make any progress against Romney. Unless he goes on the attack, he will need to hope for self-destruction on Romney's part.

Palin -1% -- Few serious observers have seen any sign that Palin intends to run; if she ever did, Bachmann stole her thunder. But Perry puts the final nail in her coffin. Palin now has a zero percent chance of becoming the Republican nominee.

Paul -- Ron Paul can never be the Republican nominee, and that will not change unless a mass extinction event occurs.

Pawlenty -15% -- Pawlenty suffered from Perry's entry, which allowed another candidate to suck up all the oxygen in Iowa and present an alternative to Bachmann. Pawlenty still had a chance to win, but he forfeited it by quitting the race.

Perry +16% -- Perry already had a strong chance to win Iowa, and Pawlenty's departure increased it all the more. Aside from Christie and Romney, no highly electable candidate is competing there. Perry's real challenge is to defeat the winner of New Hampshire, who will argue Perry is not so electable.

Romney +10% -- With Pawlenty out, only Christie and Huntsman can seriously argue they are as electable as Romney. Christie may not run, and Huntsman may not run very hard.

Santorum -- Try as he might, Santorum cannot appear on anyone's radar, and that's no way to win an election.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Tim Pawlenty Quits the Race

Tim Pawlenty announced today that he has ended his campaign for the presidency. He explained that he simply could not see a pathway to victory, and that he had failed to get the boost he needed from the Ames straw poll (in which he placed third). This marks the first time that a candidate who entered the race has quit, and the Campaign Status page has been updated accordingly.

The Ames straw poll is sometimes referred to as the "graveyard" of campaigns, because although the winner doesn't always go forward to victory, candidates who perform very poorly often quit after Ames. Apparently Pawlenty had decided in advance that he would only remain in the race if he placed first or second (or perhaps a very close third) at Ames.

The fact that Pawlenty is the first candidate to quit is ironic, because his optimal role in the primary was to be the "last man standing," the candidate who remained after the rest of the field destroyed itself. But by the end of June, Elephant Watcher noted that Pawlenty's campaign was schizophrenic and showed signs that it didn't have a proper strategy. Rather than avoiding enemies and playing the role of the consensus candidate, Pawlenty was increasingly attacking others.

Pawlenty's decision to quit early was also ill-advised. A candidate with the "last man standing" strategy needs patience, as he is unlikely to pick up steam until the end of the campaign. Instead, Pawlenty quit the race before it had even begun. During Phase Two of the primary, even voters in early states like Iowa and New Hampshire are not yet paying close attention to the race.

This serves as a good demonstration of the fact that political candidates and their advisors are very fallible. One might expect those who run for the presidency to know quite a lot about campaign strategy. But as Rudy Giuliani showed in 2008 with his "Florida first" strategy, it's possible for candidates to be completely clueless. Pawlenty's inability to grasp what kind of candidate he was doomed his campaign.

A detailed analysis of how Pawlenty's departure affects the race will be the subject of a future post.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Michele Bachmann Wins Ames Straw Poll

Michele Bachmann received the most votes in the Ames straw poll, a voting event that occurs during August before the primaries. The event has no formal impact; candidates do not win any delegates from the straw poll. The straw poll is also completely unlike the Iowa Caucus. Instead, only a small number of votes are cast by people who have been bussed to Ames, Iowa. Most often, "voters" in the straw poll are paid to attend. The straw poll results sometimes reflect the strength of candidates, however: In 2008, Mitt Romney won the straw poll, and Mike Huckabee came in a surprise second. (Huckabee won first and Romney placed second in the Iowa Caucus.)

Fewer than 17,000 votes were cast in the straw poll. Several candidates did not participate, including Rick Perry, Mitt Romney, and Jon Huntsman (though they received write-in votes). The results were as follows:

Ames Straw Poll
Bachmann 4,823
Paul 4,671
Pawlenty 2,293
Santorum 1,657
Cain 1,456
Perry 718 (write-in)
Romney 567 (write-in)
Gingrich 385
Huntsman 69 (write-in)

Bachmann was expected to win. The very close second-place finish of Ron Paul, who is not a serious candidate and has no chance of winning Iowa, emphasizes the fact that the straw poll is not necessarily attached to the reality of voters on the ground. The non-participation of Romney and Perry further minimizes the importance of the results--by those campaigns' design.

Tim Pawlenty will likely be disappointed, as he hoped to finish higher. His entire campaign strategy relies on Iowa. However, his actual scenario for winning does not involve doing well early on. Instead, he would serve as a consensus candidate after the others have torn each other apart or self-destructed. With such a scenario, the candidate cannot be impatient; if Pawlenty does well in the Iowa Caucus, his poll numbers will not reflect his strength until the end of the year.

Herman Cain and Rick Santorum, to say nothing of Newt Gingrich, also under-performed.

The only likely impact of Bachmann's win--if there is any impact--will be to irritate many in the Republican establishment. Mainstream Republican voters have grown tired of fearing the possible nomination of Bachmann, which they believe would result in a guaranteed win for Barack Obama. Perry and Romney will both be warning voters that if they don't get the nomination, Bachmann could.

Rick Perry Officially Enters the Race

At long last, Rick Perry has formally entered the race for the Republican nomination. As Elephant Watcher predicted back in June, Perry timed his entry to just barely avoid the August debate and the Ames straw poll, and thereby overshadow both. Perry's candidacy will become the central focus of the primary for some time to come. The Campaign Status page has been updated for the first time since Huntsman's entry. Now all that remains is for Sarah Palin and Chris Christie to make formal announcements about their intentions--which they may not do.

Perry's mission is to fill the vacuum that has long existed in the Republican field: He wants to unify the Republican establishment and the Tea Party wings of the Republican Party. While Christie could do the job easily, Perry will struggle, as there are real concerns about his ability to win the general election. The Republican establishment will likely come to a consensus about what they think of Perry during the coming weeks. Is he the savior of the Party, or is he just another George W. Bush?

Perry's campaign strategy is to win Iowa and South Carolina, leaving New Hampshire to Mitt Romney. Thus, Perry will do battle with the likes of Michele Bachmann and Herman Cain, who lack perceived electability even more than Perry does. While Perry may not be as electable as Tim Pawlenty, he will certainly take away some of Pawlenty's electability argument. Perry is another candidate who must self-destruct in order for Pawlenty to win.

While Perry does not have much in the way of rhetorical skill or charisma, neither does most of the rest of the field: Christie is not in the race (yet), and Mike Huckabee bowed out back in May. Perry will attempt to use his "tough" demeanor to make up the difference.

Elephant Watcher has added Perry to the roster of candidates and recalculated each candidate's odds of winning the nomination. As Perry's entry fundamentally shakes up the race, a detailed explanation of his effect on the odds will come in a later post.

News posts related to Perry will have the Perry "tag". For detailed assessment of Perry's strengths, weaknesses, and strategy, view his Profile. Elephant Watcher calculates Perry has a 14% chance of winning the nomination.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Who Won the Republican Debate on August 11th?

The third primary debate was held tonight. Which candidates helped themselves, and who ended the night in a worse position?

Tonight was Jon Huntsman's first appearance at a primary debate. Unlike Michele Bachmann and Herman Cain, who offered "red meat to the base" during their first appearances, Huntsman just fit in. Being a firebrand is simply not in Huntsman's personality, and he never attacked Mitt Romney, the man standing in his way in New Hampshire. Huntsman also suffered from receiving few questions. It's still unclear whether Huntsman is willing to do what's necessary to make a genuine run for the presidency.

Herman Cain, whose debate appearances are essentially the whole of his campaign, had trouble breaking out from the crowd, just as he did at the June 13th debate. The "Tea Party candidate" focus appears to have gone entirely over to Bachmann and Rick Perry, who is not yet in the race. Cain may fear his moment has passed.

Newt Gingrich, another candidate whose campaign relies solely on the debates, also missed an opportunity to make a real splash tonight. He made no missteps, but he did not effectively engage the other candidates. As we've observed before, Newt Gingrich needs to go on the offensive to leverage his debate talent. Rather than engaging the other candidates, he spent more time attacking the debate moderators.

The main event of the debate was the battle between Minnesotans Michele Bachmann and Tim Pawlenty. Pawlenty was more willing to engage with an opponent, and he wisely stuck to his record. At first, rather than attacking Bachmann personally, he contrasted his executive experience with hers. He was fairly tough when he attacked her "non-existent record."

Bachmann struck back with specific attacks against Pawlenty's policies as governor of Minnesota, and it was clear that she had prepared for this debate battle. And fortunately for Bachmann, the crowd was on her side, as her fans packed the room. When Pawlenty responded, he was more harsh, accusing Bachmann of having a history of making false statements. The crowd was not pleased. Even if Pawlenty had the better of the argument, Bachmann may have appeared the winner to many observers, based on the crowd reaction. It's clear Republicans do not wish to see the candidates go too negative (against each other) just yet.

As one might expect, Mitt Romney was asked about his defense of Romneycare again. Once more, he deflected the question with his well-rehearsed argument about the differences between Romneycare and Obamacare. The moderators seemed more willing to argue with him than the moderators of the June 13th debate. But a debate is really about the candidates. Pawlenty did attack Romney, but he was not able to do any damage, and it did not develop into an extended duel like his conflict with Bachmann.

Ron Paul seemed more awkward and uncomfortable during the debate than normal, yet he was the recipient of a surprisingly large amount of airtime. Poor Rick Santorum, who made a complaint about not getting enough questions, received the distinction of having the Gary Johnson / Mike Gravel moment, and it always makes the whining candidate look smaller. But Santorum did get far more opportunities than usual to get his message out, and he was stronger than in previous debates.

There were no game-changing moments. Romney was likely pleased that he got the opportunity to showcase his economic views. Rick Perry was likely pleased that two of his main competitors in Iowa (Bachmann and Pawlenty) were attacking each other. Indeed, Perry may have been the real winner of the debate.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Primary Debate Tomorrow in Ames Iowa

Fox News is hosting a primary debate in Ames, Iowa tomorrow evening. This time around, eight candidates will participate (the eight "officially running" candidates listed on the Campaign Status page): Bachmann, Cain, Gingrich, Huntsman, Paul, Pawlenty, Romney, and Santorum. Each of these candidates have attended at least one previous debate, except for Jon Huntsman. The former governor of New Mexico, Gary Johnson, was not invited to attend; he may well find himself excluded from the remaining debates.

Since this is Huntsman's first debate appearance, it will give him an opportunity to make a good--or bad--first impression. First impressions in debates can be useful; Michele Bachmann and Herman Cain each boosted their visibility and popularity following their initial debate performances. Most people have never seen or heard Huntsman, so he will have the task of introducing himself to the public on a solid footing. But it may be difficult for him to get attention, given how many players are on the stage.

Tomorrow's debate will be at an awkward time in the race: Most watchers' eyes are on Rick Perry, who is poised to enter the race. But as Elephant Watcher predicted back in June, Perry will enter the race immediately after the debate and the Ames straw poll, in order to blunt their impact. Thus, Perry will be on everyone's mind, but he won't be present. This may give the impression that the debate (and Ames straw poll) are sort of a waste of time.

There are a few things to watch for, however. Tim Pawlenty's criticism of Bachmann in recent weeks may encourage the debate moderators to stoke a fight between the two. Sarah Palin appears to have dropped off the radar entirely, so a new "feud" will need to be developed. Pawlenty is in a difficult position: He stands to lose much and gain little by attacking Bachmann, but because he refused to attack Mitt Romney during the June debate, he will be tagged as a timid candidate if he runs from another fight.

Meanwhile, both Newt Gingrich and Herman Cain will need to make full use of their debate platforms to re-energize their campaigns and get media attention. Otherwise, they'll descend from the field of view. Romney, on the other hand, will attempt to stay above the fray. The big question for Romney will be whether he is forced to address the Romneycare issue more fully, or if he gets another pass.

Monday, August 1, 2011

2012 Republican Primary in Review: July 2011

The Elephant Watcher News archive for the month of July, 2011.

In July, the contest for the Republican nomination for president entered the dead zone, a period of relative inactivity. No candidates joined or departed during the month. Nor were there any debates or (obviously) contests.

Nevertheless, there were a few important developments that took place during in the July doldrums. Michele Bachmann surged in the polls, particularly in Iowa. There was increased polling of the early primary states in early-to-mid-July. That polling suggested Bachmann was in first in Iowa, and second place (to Mitt Romney) elsewhere.

The polling came to a halt in mid-July, however. Bachmann got increased visibility and media attention, but she was not able to establish herself as a credible, electable candidate. Nor was she able to do anything to ward off the increasing threat of a Rick Perry candidacy, which would surely encroach upon her Tea Party support.

The other important development was, of course, Perry. Though he made no official announcement entering the race, it became increasingly clear that he intends to run. Taking advantage of the Republican voters' desire for someone to fill the void, Perry gained support under the radar. On the Intrade markets, he entered direct competition with Romney for frontrunner status, while Bachmann's numbers waned.

Meanwhile, other candidates attempted to get some attention, but they could not. Without any debates to appear at, and with voting day so far away, few in the country paid much attention to the Republican primary.

Despite increased focus on the possibility of a Perry run, no one was able to challenge Chris Christie's status as the one potential candidate who can unite the Republican establishment and Tea Party. The only obstacle in Christie's path is the question of whether he will actually enter the race. Across July, Elephant Watcher's calculation of the odds was unchanged: Christie maintained a huge lead with a 66% chance of winning the nomination.