Thursday, December 1, 2011

2012 Republican Primary in Review: November 2011

Each month, Elephant Watcher recaps the activity that occurred in the Republican primary during the previous month. Follow these links to read earlier recaps: May, June, July, August, September, October.

The month of November saw the decline of Herman Cain, the rise of Newt Gingrich to the lead in the polls, and the annihilation of Rick Perry.

As the month began, the story dominating the political headlines was the Cain sexual harassment scandal. Though Republican voters were highly resistant to believing that Cain was guilty, Cain became vulnerable, and some of his supporters began switching over to the Gingrich camp. At the same time, Cain proved incapable of discussing foreign policy issues. To make matters worse, two of the three debates (on November 12th and 22nd) were focused entirely on foreign policy. Cain's numbers eroded.

Perry was already weak when November began. Cain had taken over the Tea Party segment of the Republican Party. But Perry absolutely finished himself off at the November 9th Republican debate, where he made an extraordinary gaffe by forgetting his own three-point list. Perry didn't quit the race, but he may as well have.

As the month wore on, the Tea Party segment of the Party and the Anti-Romney contingent increasingly gravitated toward Gingrich. They did not take a closer look at any of the other candidates; they all failed to gain traction. Mitt Romney retained his stronghold in New Hampshire, according to the polls. But as soon as Cain fell in Iowa and South Carolina, Gingrich picked up the slack in those states. The debates assisted Gingrich, who was as comfortable discussing foreign policy as Cain was uncomfortable. Gingrich's rise occurred even more rapidly than Cain's had during October.

At the close of the month, new allegations surfaced about Cain having a long-term affair with a woman who was willing to speak publicly about it. Cain did not drop out of the race, but admitted he was considering it. Cain's supporters--already buckling--then broke. Cain's numbers appeared ready to collapse as precipitously as Perry's had. All indications were that Cain's supporters would flock to Gingrich as the last remaining alternative to Romney.

But as November came to a close, the situation was not as bright for Gingrich or as dire for Romney as the polls made it appear. Gingrich remained completely unvetted, having not been attacked by his competitors or examined by the media. A month remained before the Iowa Caucus for Gingrich to fall under the weight of his personal and political baggage. Romney, having already been vetted (multiple times), remained secure in New Hampshire and the favorite to win the nomination. Elephant Watcher calculates that Romney's odds of winning the Republican nomination are currently 70%.