Tuesday, May 31, 2011

The Effect of Gender and Race on the Race, Part I

The candidacy of Herman Cain and the candidacies of Michele Bachmann and/or Sarah Palin represent the first time that the Republican Party might nominate a presidential candidate who is not a white man. Is being non-white or a woman an asset or an obstacle? How big of a role will it play in the nominating process?

Many Democratic political commentators believe that the Republican Party generally possesses a bias against women and minorities. They are skeptical that Republicans would vote for a candidate who is not white and male, even if the candidate would otherwise be better than the alternatives. It's also conventional wisdom among Democrats that the Tea Party is especially bigoted. If true, Bachmann, Cain, and Palin would face extra difficulty winning the nomination.

The evidence suggests that these Democrats are mistaken, especially with regard to the Tea Party. The midterm election of 2010 saw many more women and minorities nominated by the Republican Party than in previous years. Partly this was because the Tea Party brought in new candidates, many of whom had not worked their way up the political ranks. This meant there was less of a reliance on the "old boys' networks" that had been built in past decades. Thus, the recent increase of women and minorities in Republican politics was more readily apparent.

It also displayed the Republican voters' focus on policy positions over "identity politics." Rather than voting for candidates who shared their demographic traits, Republican voters wanted someone who agreed with them on the issues. Political experience was actually a liability for some of the older (more frequently white and male) candidates, who had made compromises over the years.

As it turned out, not being white and/or male was an asset in many cases. In primary fields--especially at the state and local level--candidates tend to blur together, and they struggle to differentiate themselves. Being the only woman or minority in the field enabled some candidates to increase their visibility and, therefore, their chances of victory.

Given the results of the 2010 primaries, why is it so common for left-leaning political commentators to believe Republicans are less likely to vote for someone who is not a white man? For most Democrats, the prime factor is ignorance. Few Democrats are fully aware of what occurred during the 2010 election. The commentators themselves, however--who actually did follow the race and should be aware of its results--are motivated by a desire to maintain moral superiority over their opponents. If Republicans are bigoted, they are inferior; Democrats are righteous. This feeling is particularly attractive to Democrats who eschew "traditional morality" and feel a need to compensate.

Generalities aside, how will race and gender affect a presidential primary? One with Bachmann, Cain, and Palin in particular? We'll take a closer look in Part II.

Monday, May 30, 2011

Who or What is a RINO?

Diceros bicornis
Whenever a group of conservatives discuss the Republican primary field, the term "RINO" is likely to make an appearance. "RINO" stands for "Republican In Name Only," and is a disparaging term used to cast doubt on the authenticity of a politician's conservatism. But what does RINO mean in practice, and who is really a RINO?

Conservatives are frustrated by how often the Republican Party is represented by politicians who are not "genuine" conservatives. In the last several years, the Party nominated George Bush Sr., Bob Dole, and John McCain--all of whom are widely considered RINOs. Even George W. Bush inspired a feeling of betrayal among conservatives who felt he was not fiscally conservative enough. The Republican-controlled Congress at the time faced the same criticism. In many ways, the Tea Party resulted from the buildup of this frustration.

The Tea Party wing of the Republican Party is fearful that yet another RINO will win the 2012 primary. Are their fears justified? Let us consider the Elephant Watcher roster of candidates and the information contained in their Profiles. Each candidate is ranked on a scale of 1-3 on his "perceived conservatism."

Only Donald Trump (before he left the race) was given a low ranking; there were real doubts about whether he was even a Republican, let alone a conservative. Three active candidates have a medium ranking. These face consistent criticism from the right about their conservative credentials: Newt Gingrich, Ron Paul, and Mitt Romney. Paul is rarely the subject of much conversation, but Gingrich and Romney are frequently labeled RINOs. Recently, Gingrich and Romney have made blunders that reinforced this negative perception.

But it doesn't end there. Even most of the candidates with high perceived conservatism are tagged with the RINO epithet--at least, in certain quarters. Chris Christie is critiqued on gun control, Mitch Daniels (before departing) for his "truce" remark, Tim Pawlenty for once supporting cap-and-trade, and Rick Santorum as an accomplice to the big-spending Republican Congress.

Are all of these people really Democrats in disguise? Most primary voters are unlikely to see it that way. Polling has been done on which candidates Republicans will not support. For most, the attitude seems to be something to the effect of, "If Chris Christie is a RINO, then we need more RINOs."

Taken at face value, "RINO" appears to mean, roughly, "Anyone who is not Sarah Palin or Michele Bachmann." Tea Party favorite Herman Cain has not yet been tarred as a RINO, but given enough time, even he might be. (It's worth pointing out that each of these RINO-proof candidates has low perceived electability. That suggests the term is being employed against others as a kind of defense mechanism.) Enthusiastic supporters of one candidate or another are a bit too quick to dismiss every other candidate as a RINO. When one hears the label being used, it should be taken with a grain of salt.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

The Rise of Tim Pawlenty

Every so often, Elephant Watcher will review the strategy of a particular candidate and see how it has played out over the previous weeks. Each candidate's optimal strategy is outlined on the Profiles page. For an analysis of each candidate's position based on that strategy, check the Rankings page.

Over the past few weeks, Pawlenty's odds of winning the nomination have increased dramatically, from 4% to 15%; from fifth place to second. Pawlenty's strategy is to be the "last man standing," to be acceptable and inoffensive to all factions, even if he is not able to excite any of them. Pawlenty must wait out the competition, hoping they devour themselves. Then, when the dust settles, he takes center stage.

It's hard to imagine a better sequence of events for Pawlenty than what has actually unfolded: First, several of Pawlenty's competitors have chosen not to run. Among them was Mike Huckabee, who was the Iowa favorite. Then Mitch Daniels--Pawlenty's chief competitor for the "consensus candidate" position--bowed out of the race. Donald Trump, who probably never stood a chance, nonetheless exited politics by flaming out in spectacular fashion.

That wasn't all. Newt Gingrich entered the race and immediately caught heat for major gaffes during his first interview on Meet The Press. Just a few days earlier, Mitt Romney sabotaged his own campaign with a strategically unsound quasi-defense of Romneycare.

What did Pawlenty do? Essentially nothing. He has always been present, but never obnoxious. As Gingrich learned, this is more difficult than it sounds. It requires discipline on the part of the candidate. Time is on Pawlenty's side, and he needs to take few risks.

All that having been said, this strategy does have its downsides. It is a passive strategy, and the candidate's future is not under his own control. Pawlenty must hope that the other candidates harm themselves, and there's little he can do to make that happen. The "last man standing" strategy requires luck. So far, Pawlenty has had plenty of it.

But the race is far from over, and the candidates still in the race have time to rehabilitate themselves. Pawlenty, too, has time to break discipline make mistakes of his own. And Pawlenty is still at the mercy of Chris Christie. Christie, with his late-entry strategy, will come under less scrutiny than the rest of the candidates until he jumps in. If Christie does not self-destruct, Pawlenty has little chance of victory.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Will Rudy Giuliani Run? Will Paul Ryan? Rick Perry?

The departure of Donald Trump, Mike Huckabee, and Mitch Daniels from the 2012 primary has added to the consensus that the field is either weak or incomplete. Increasingly, political commentators suggest that some additional candidates may enter the race as late entrants. Why would someone enter late, and who could pull it off? Today we'll take a look at Rudy Giuliani, Paul Ryan, and Rick Perry, all of whom have been the focus of speculation these days.

A late entrant is usually someone who needs to be given an excuse to get into the field. Most commonly, it's a candidate who's new to the national scene, needs to show there's no one else on the horizon who's better, and wants to tack on additional months of experience in office. Barack Obama had only been a U.S. Senator for about two years before his run for president, and he wanted to wait as late as possible. So he continually denied he was running up until he was ready to announce.

The same could be true of Chris Christie and Ryan; they're both new to the national scene. As for Perry, a late entry would also make more sense: Texas reelected him last November, and starting a presidential run immediately afterward would have been a bit awkward.

This leaves us with Giuliani. He has no particular reason to run later than the other candidates in the field. If people wanted to support another Giuliani campaign, they already would have. This suggests Giuliani will not run. He would need to win New Hampshire, where competition will be stiff. In 2008, Giuliani skipped the four early primaries to focus on Florida. This was a dreadful mistake, but it was also due to the fact that he couldn't get traction elsewhere. There's little reason to think he would gain more traction this time. If anything, voters will be even less receptive to a candidate branded as "the anti-terrorism guy".

What about Ryan? In one way, it would make sense. A late-entry candidate should be someone who, like Christie, is acceptable to both the Tea Party and establishment wings of the Republican Party. On the other hand, Ryan is seen as more of a "policy wonk" (i.e. a nerd) than someone who fires up a crowd. A late entrant should be someone who has a more charismatic personality than Tim Pawlenty, who is already filling the "acceptable to both wings" role. In addition, Ryan is only a U.S. House Representative, so his perceived electability will be lower.

Ryan is also best known for his failed attempt at reforming Medicare this year. Most voters have only heard of him in that context. His attempt did not fail simply because it did not pass; after all, a Democratic president meant it was guaranteed not to pass. It failed because it did not persuade voters. The Republican Congress of the 1990s succeeded with welfare reform because it was so popular that it made President Clinton look bad for vetoing it. Clinton was then forced to change his mind and sign--even embrace--welfare reform. Ryan's supporters called his Medicare reform "brave" and "adult," but they did not call it "compelling," "ingenious," "effective," or "popular." There is no such thing as "brave" legislation; it's either persuasive or not. Ryan's plan did not convince voters, so it must be counted as a failure.

As for Perry, we have already seen that simply being a Southerner does not guarantee him an opening. However, Perry is more likely to enter the race than either Giuliani or Ryan. He can more easily claim to be a "stronger version of Pawlenty." On the other hand, his being another governor of Texas (and tied to George W. Bush) will be a big turn-off, even to Republicans. He might still be able to defeat someone like Pawlenty, but it will depress Perry's poll numbers and make him less likely to enter the race. Simply put, few people are clamoring for Perry to run. He doesn't have a base, even though he's had ample time in politics to develop one. He may want to run, but he won't be tempted unless his poll numbers rise.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Did Herman Cain's Gaffes on the 'Right of Return' and al-Awlaki Hurt Him?

Herman Cain's fortunes have improved over the last few weeks. The departure of other candidates, and the reluctance of Sarah Palin and Michele Bachmann to enter the race early, have made room for the Tea Party favorite. Cain's name recognition has increased, though he will need to deal with unified establishment opposition in Iowa in the form of Tim Pawlenty.

Cain is likely to receive more media attention--and scrutiny--in the near future. If he is able to hold up to the pressure, he may be able to improve perceptions about his candidacy's legitimacy. If not, he may be marginalized more than he already is.

Cain was interviewed on Fox News Sunday this week. When asked about the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, it became clear that he was unfamiliar with the "right of return" aspect of the debate (referring to the right of Palestinian refugees to return to lands they left during the mid-20th century). Later this week, Cain admitted that he had not known what the right of return was during that interview.

In a less-publicized gaffe, Cain revealed during an interview with The Atlantic this week that he was unfamiliar with President Obama's policy of killing "enemy combatants," even if they are American citizens (specifically, Anwar al-Awlaki).

Gaffes like these, if they become a pattern, will be fatal to Cain's candidacy. Since Cain has never held elective office, most voters view him as unelectable. Cain must combat this perception by appearing as informed--if not more so--than all the other candidates.

Cain's candidacy has not been weakened much yet, as few voters are paying attention. Gaffes that occur close to election time can be devastating, while gaffes that occur early in the campaign season are often forgotten. But this is more true of isolated gaffes. Gaffes that form a pattern create a "narrative," and it can be very hard to shake the negative impression they leave. Should Cain continue to make similar gaffes in the future, Republican primary voters will abandon him at the first opportunity.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Is Sarah Palin Helping Herman Cain?

Palin
The past few weeks have seen the 2012 Republican primary field take shape. The Campaign Status page shows that nearly all of the candidates have either entered the race, formed a presidential exploratory committee, or declined to run. Christie's strategy involves a late entry, so he will remain in the "potentially running" category for at least a few more months. Jon Huntsman, Jr., who is not yet included in our roster of candidates, has only recently returned from his post as U.S. Ambassador to China, which explains why he's getting a slow start. As we've observed earlier, Michele Bachmann has delayed because she wants to ensure Sarah Palin is not running before she decides to enter the race herself.

That leaves one candidate: Sarah Palin. She has been sphinx-like about her intentions. If she intends to run, she has financial incentive to delay announcing, because she can keep her contract with Fox News longer. But the same could have been said for Mike Huckabee, who announced his intention not to run earlier this month. And Palin's potential campaign has arguably been wounded by making people think she will not run, since her support then goes to other Tea Party favorites. That damage outweighs the benefit of a few months of paychecks from Fox, though she will still get a bounce if/when she declares her candidacy.

If Palin does not intend to run, she can theoretically put off making an announcement until whenever she feels like it. There are no real drawbacks. Thus, the more time passes before an announcement, the more likely the announcement will be that Palin is not running.

Meanwhile, Bachmann eagerly awaits Palin's decision. The longer Palin waits, the more it harms Bachmann. She, too, will get a bounce if/when she announces she's running. But in the meantime, the Tea Party will be looking at other candidates. One candidate in particular stands to benefit: Herman Cain.

Cain will certainly rely on the Tea Party to gain steam for his candidacy. He has low perceived electability, just as Bachmann and Palin do. History shows that most Republican primary voters care a great deal about electability. But some do not, especially voters who identify more as "Tea Party" than Republican. They want someone who can inspire them with fiery rhetoric. And they'd rather have a candidate with little or no political experience than one who disagrees with them on some issues.

Bachmann, Cain, and Palin will compete for these voters. As long as Bachmann is stuck waiting on the sidelines, they will flock to the previously unknown Cain. There's no question that Bachmann would have preferred to participate in the May 5th debate. She did not attend, and Cain used the event to his advantage. Bachmann will not want the same thing to happen at the June 13th debate.

Ultimately, all of this benefits the "electable" candidates--particularly Tim Pawlenty, who will focus on Iowa. It increases Cain's strength, spliting the vote that might otherwise be united behind Bachmann or Palin. It also increases the probability that a frustrated Bachmann might jump into the race only to find that Palin is running, splitting the vote further.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Tim Pawlenty, Jon Huntsman Odds Rise on Intrade

Now that Huckabee and Daniels have opted out of the 2012 Republican primary, it's time to check in with Intrade once again to see what it reveals. Though Intrade is not a reliable indicator of the future, it presents us with a picture of the conventional wisdom of the liberal Washington establishment. For previous posts examining Intrade, see the previous: One, Two, Three. Intrade's market for the 2012 Republican primary may be found here.

As with other candidates who made public declarations that they would not run, the odds for Mike Huckabee and Mitch Daniels have crashed to 0%. It's worth pointing out that candidates who have made unconvincing denials of their intentions to run (i.e., in response to interviewer questions rather than of their own initiative) have low odds, but not zero. Chris Christie and Rick Perry, for instance, are given about 2.3% by the market.

Newt Gingrich's stock on Intrade crashed almost as badly as the candidates who left the race. He is given 2.3%. That's on par with some people who say they're not running. Obviously Gingrich's fall was due to his terrible first weak of campainging. Did Gingrich's gaffes really doom his campaign? Maybe for those who follow politics closely, but most Republican primary voters are several months away from beginning to pay attention. It's common for politically-minded people to overreact to the temporary downs and ups of the 24-hour news cycle. Clearly this applies to Intrade investors.

Now for a look at the highest-rated candidates. A gulf has formed between the top three and everyone else. Mitt Romney is still the Intrade frontrunner at 28.3%. Tim Pawlenty has rocketed upward, and is not far behind at 25.0%. Intrade investors have correctly determined that most of Daniels' support will go to Pawlenty, who now has a much clearer path to victory in Iowa. It's long been the conventional view that Romney is the frontrunner. For second place to get so close is very impressive.

Jon Huntsman is in third, with 17.1%. Outside of the Washington establishment (and Utah, where he was governor), very few people have even heard of Huntsman. He has not officially started a campaign or even an exploratory committee. His high ranking reflects his status as a (newly-minted, perhaps temporary) darling of the Washington establishment.

Elephant Watcher will add Huntsman to the roster of candidates and conduct a full analysis if and when Huntsman runs (or forms an exploratory committee). For now, it is enough to say that his path to victory requires destroying Romney's campaign with a win in New Hampshire. Given Intrade's love of Romney, it's ironic that they would rate Huntsman so highly: One will doom the other in New Hampshire. Who wins Iowa, if not Pawlenty?

It's fair to say Intrade investors are more likely to discount the power of an Iowa/South Carolina strategy, even though it's a more natural fit than a New Hampshire/South Carolina strategy given the similarities between IA and SC. Intrade investors are also convinced that an electable candidate will win the Republican nomination.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

When Will Jon Huntsman Announce? When Will Michele Bachmann Announce?

We've already seen one primary debate this season, but most "first tier" candidates decided not to participate. The second debate, hosted by CNN in New Hampshire, is scheduled for June 13th. Do all of the candidates who intend to run need to join the race before then?

There is some evidence to suggest the debate calendar does influence the actions of the candidates. Candidates who wished to participate in the May 5th debate were required to at least form presidential exploratory committees, and several of them took this step during April. Gingrich chose to announce his campaign shortly after the debate so that he would not be expected to participate in it. Several other candidates made yes-or-no decisions in the following days.

It's probable that the candidates with exploratory committees (Romney and Santorum) will make their official declarations in advance of the June 13th debate, although it's not required. Unlike the May 5th debate, it's expected that the "first tier" candidates will actually participate on June 13th.

If so, the June 13th debate will be the first real contest. The pressure will be on for the fence-sitters (people who have not ruled out a run but haven't made an exploratory committee) to join the race. Palin, Bachmann, and Huntsman should make up their minds within the month. If Palin does not intend to run, there is no particular timetable she needs to follow. Bachmann would like to ensure Palin is not running before she gets into the race herself. If no answer is forthcoming from Palin in the next few weeks, Bachmann may jump in anyway so she can participate in the debate.

Whether or not the June 13th debate will be a "real" debate would have been up to Romney, whose decision to opt out of the May 5th debate muted the event's importance. Romney may not actually be the most likely candidate to win the nomination, but he was perceived as the frontrunner. With Pawlenty's position enhanced by Daniels' departure, the pressure is on Romney. If he chooses not to participate this time, observers will be puzzled.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Pawlenty Makes It Official

Pawlenty
For the seventh time in the last few weeks, the Campaign Status page has been updated to reflect a candidate's official announcement. Pawlenty--who has long had an exploratory committee and made no secret of his intentions--declared his candidacy today.

Pawlenty has had great difficulty generating excitement about his campaign. But, at the very least, he has been respected as a legitimate contender. His perceived electability is high, and his record is about as conservative as any other candidate's. Pawlenty's main weakness has been his low name recognition, but that makes little difference in Iowa, where primary voters get to know all the candidates very well.

Pawlenty is widely viewed as a bland, generic Republican. That's not necessarily a barrier to winning the nomination, however. Primary voters chiefly care about electability and conservatism. As long as the "flashier" candidates are weak in those areas, Pawlenty can win.

There are two types of candidates who can sink the Pawlenty campaign. First, someone with similarly high perceived electability and conservatism, but who has the additional ability to get people enthusiastic. Chris Christie is most likely to fill this role. Second, someone who is like Pawlenty, but a little better. Mitch Daniels fit that description: He is a lot like Pawlenty, but is generally considered a more successful governor.

Pawlenty received a big--and well-timed--boost when Daniels announced he would not run. Pawlenty and Daniels would have both needed Iowa, and would have split each others' support. With Daniels out, Pawlenty is in a much stronger position to win Iowa and the nomination.

Pawlenty might have been able to beat Daniels in Iowa anyway, but it would have been close. By contrast, if Christie enters the race, Pawlenty is deep trouble.

News posts related to Pawlenty will have the Pawlenty "tag". For detailed assessment of Pawlenty's strengths, weaknesses, and strategy, view his Profile. Elephant Watcher calculates Pawlenty has a 15% chance of winning the nomination.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Daniels Out, Pawlenty Up

Daniels' decision not to run has altered the landscape of the race in a significant way. Each time this happens, Elephant Watcher will recalculate the odds and issue an explanation for the changes. Each candidate's chances of winning the nomination are determined based on whether his unique "winning scenario" is likely to occur. An explanation of these scenarios and a graph of the race's changes over time may be found on the Rankings page.

The short version: Pawlenty benefits the most, as he and Daniels were somewhat interchangeable. Another of Pawlenty's main competitors in Iowa is gone; even better, Daniels will no longer split their vote.

Christie +2% -- The loss of another decent candidate from the field creates a bigger vacuum--and a greater desire for someone new to fill it. Anyone looking for an electable candidate who doesn't like either Pawlenty or Romney will now be even more dissatisfied with the field.

Pawlenty +8% -- Daniels and Pawlenty were similar in that they each have high perceived electability and conservatism, but are not Tea Party favorites. They also lack charisma. With Daniels gone, Pawlenty may claim the mantle of "electability" in Iowa. Aside from Christie, Pawlenty now has the best chance of winning the Iowa Caucus. He is the chief anti-Romney.

Romney -2% -- When a candidate leaves the race, it normally benefits every other candidate. However, Daniels' departure increases the odds of Pawlenty winning Iowa, and this hurts Romney. Romney's best-case scenario--other than winning Iowa himself--is for an unelectable Tea Party candidate to win there, forcing the Republican establishment (and any other strategic voter) to support the winner of New Hampshire (likely Romney). If Pawlenty wins Iowa, there's no great urgency for these voters to support Romney.

Cain -- There's a net-zero for Cain. On one hand, Cain's competitor in Iowa is assisted, which is bad. On the other hand, Cain will move up in the polls and increase his chances of being included in the major primary debates. He needs this to gain an aura of legitimacy as a candidate--despite having never held elective office.

Gingrich -- Gingrich is largely unaffected, fighting battles of his own.

Palin -1% -- Palin's only hope of winning Iowa is if the "establishment approved" candidates have their votes split. With Daniels gone, this is less likely to occur.

Santorum -- Some of Daniels' supporters might go to Santorum, but not enough. He needs a split vote more than anyone, and it is less likely to occur. He is unaffected, since his chance of winning the nomination is already 0%.

Paul -- As with Santorum, he needs his competitors to be split. His chances of winning are also at 0%, so things can't get worse.

Why Didn't Mitch Daniels Run?

Daniels
Earlier today, Mitch Daniels released a written statement announcing that he will not run for president. The Campaign Status page has been updated yet again. The field appears to be solidifying rapidly.

Daniels, like the other three candidates who have announced they will not run, announced his decision in a convincing manner. Now only Christie and Palin remain on the roster in the "Potentially Running" category. Everyone else has officially entered the race, created an exploratory committee, or declined to run. If Palin or Christie decline to enter the race, they are likely to issue prepared statements like those made by Barbour, Daniels, Huckabee, and Trump.

Why did Daniels opt out of the race? In his statement, Daniels cited his family, and explained that his wife did not want him to run. It's actually quite common for a presidential candidate's wife to discourage her husband from running. More often than not, there is at least some resistance. Sometimes she changes her mind, sometimes not. Sometimes a candidate decides to run anyway. In this case, Daniels said that his wife had a "veto" he could not override.

Daniels, like Huckabee, had a reasonable chance of winning the nomination. Prior to his decision today, Daniels had a 7% chance of winning. Without Daniels in the mix, the race will change somewhat dramatically, especially in Iowa. This represents the biggest shake-up since Huckageddon.

As a result, Elephant Watcher will analyze the race once again and recalculate each candidate's odds of winning the nomination.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Herman Cain Officially Enters the Race

Cain
Herman Cain's presidential run is now official. Cain was one of the first candidates to open a presidential exploratory committee. As with Paul's announcement earlier this month, this was an expected development. Cain participated in the May 5th primary debate. The Campaign Status page has been updated once again.

Cain's challenge will be to increase his name recognition and convince voters that they can take a chance on a candidate who has never held elective office. Cain has plentiful executive experience in the business world. Can he successfully argue that this is enough, or even preferable to political experience? History says no. As we saw in an earlier post, no one made his way to the presidency using a business background during the 20th or 21st century. Every president had political experience except for General Dwight Eisenhower who was the Supreme Allied Commander during World War II (a job which, in many ways, did involve politics).

Luckily for Cain, his competitors lack his ability to excite audiences. Most of the field consists of drab candidates, especially now that Huckabee and Trump are gone. Cain will need to bring his charisma onto the stages of the major primary debates. To do that, he will need to get sufficiently high poll numbers to be allowed at the debates. If the May 5th debate is any indication, the bar will be set low enough--at first.

Though Cain's performance on May 5th wasn't his best, he still received the most positive attention. As the only black candidate in the race, he is guaranteed a certain amount of publicity, while other candidates will struggle to distinguish themselves from the pack. Cain was further bolstered by Huckabee's decision not to run, opening the field in Iowa and South Carolina. After Huckageddon, Cain's odds were boosted just enough to push him into the top 5 in Elephant Watcher's Rankings.

Bachmann, Christie, and Palin have yet to enter the race, so Cain may be able to use this time to gain traction among the Tea Party wing. The Republican establishment wing, on the other hand, will never accept Cain since a candidate without political experience will not be viewed as electable. Most primary voters are strategic as well, and Cain will need to convince them he can beat Obama.

News posts related to Cain will have the Cain "tag". For detailed assessment of Cain's strengths, weaknesses, and strategy, view his Profile. Elephant Watcher calculates Cain has a 5% chance of winning the nomination.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Is There Room for Rick Perry in the 2012 Republican Primary?

Perry
News coverage of the primary has gone into a seemingly endless pattern of introducing, examining, and discarding one potential candidate after another. The back-to-back departure of Huckabee and Trump from the race is bound to trigger a search for more candidates.

This week, it was widely reported that Texas governor Rick Perry has been looking into the viability of a presidential run. Perry likely took note of the fact that the absence of Barbour and Huckabee means few Southerners are in the race: Few people associate Gingrich with the South, and Cain is considered a second- or third-tier candidate (so far).

It's true that there is a vacuum to be filled; Republicans are not satisfied with the existing field of candidates. Even before Huckabee and Trump dropped out, influential Republican leaders were already desperate enough to ask Christie to get into the race, despite his insistence that he won't run. The state of the race strongly resembles the "winning scenario" for Christie, which is why his probability of winning is so high.

But one point must be understood: Republicans aren't dissatisfied because there aren't enough Southerners in the field. There is no great demand for a candidate to fill the "Southerner" slot. Rather, Republicans want someone who can unify the Party, generate enthusiasm, claim to be a genuine conservative, and defeat Obama. They don't really care where the candidate is from.

This is why Barbour was not able to gain support for his own candidacy. He was Southern enough and conservative enough, but he could not unite the Party, display charisma, or demonstrate electability. Perry would face the same challenges, should he decide to run. Perry has denied any interest in running, but only in response to interviewer questions. As we've already seen, a denial is only definitive when it comes in the form of a self-initiated announcement or press release. Perry could run, but lack of voter interest is likely to deter him.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Elephant Watcher Q&A, Part I

As you may have noticed, Elephant Watcher's News page--especially on slow news days--often addresses common questions about the election process. For example, previous posts have discussed subjects such as the usefulness of national primary polls, how it's determined which candidates get included in a debate, the significance of Intrade, and others.

From time to time, we will also answer collections of questions sent by our readers. Elephant Watcher receives hundreds of e-mails, so it would be impossible to answer them all. However, if a similar question is asked by many different people, it may be addressed in a post like this one. Elephant Watcher's contact e-mail is linked here.

Q: How did you know Donald Trump's candidacy would collapse? You gave him a 1% chance of winning even when he was first place in the polls.

As with other candidates we profiled, Trump's challenges were identified early on, and explored further in a post dedicated to the subject. Trump suffered from low perceived conservatism and low perceived electability. A candidate possessing even one of those problems faces a significant hurdle. The Elephant Watcher calculation of Trump's odds was based on that fundamental assessment.

Q: Why are the rankings and odds so steady? What would it take to change them?

This question was more common prior to Huckageddon, when Huckabee's departure rattled the primary field. If an important candidate leaves the field suddenly, or if someone new appears, it can alter the odds. Otherwise, candidates demonstrate either ability or inability to face their unique challenges (like Trump's, described in the answer to the previous question). On the Profile page, you can see each candidate's strengths and weaknesses. Some candidates will overcome their weaknesses, while others will self-immolate. In the beginning, the Rankings are more stable, since fewer primary voters are paying attention to the race. Gaffes, etc. have less impact.

Q: How can Chris Christie be included if he says he's not running?

The roster would be incomplete without Christie for the same reason that a 2008 roster would be incomplete without Obama--despite the fact that Obama had said he was not running. Elephant Watcher has developed criteria to determine whether a candidate is actually staying out of the race. Note that Barbour, Huckabee, and Trump--the three who convincingly declined to run thus far--have all met the criteria, issuing carefully-prepared statements on their own. Christie has only made denials in response to interviewer questions. He has not yet met the criteria of a candidate who truly intends not to run.

Q: Where's Allen West's profile (or some other candidate's)?

This topic was addressed--specifically related to Michele Bachmann's potential candidacy--in an earlier post. It's likely a few additional candidates (like Bachmann and Huntsman) will enter the race and be added to the Elephant Watcher roster. At this point, the roster is complete enough so that it's only necessary to update it if/when new candidates actually announce a run or exploratory committee. Allen West has done neither. But the 2012 Republican primary may still have a few surprises in store.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

How Much Does Money Matter in a Political Campaign?

Mitt Romney held a major fundraiser Monday, collecting a total of more than $10 million for his campaign. Romney sought to establish himself as the frontrunner and overawe his competitors, none of whom can hope to match him in fundraising capability.

But what about the money itself? How much influence does money actually have in a political campaign? History tells us that the answer is: not as much as you might think.

Whether by accident or intelligent design, the early primary states are small, and the media markets relatively inexpensive. Moreover, early primary voters don't get their information from campaign ads. They watch the debates, they attend townhall events, and they often interact directly with the candidates themselves. All of this serves to diminish the influence of money.

The history of politics is littered with the failed campaigns of those who couldn't translate big money into big votes. In 2004, Howard Dean famously screamed after a disappointing third place in Iowa, despite having spent his huge money advantage. In 2008, Ron Paul was an impressive fundraiser, but he could not expand beyond his libertarian fanbase. The same year, Barack Obama outspent Hillary Clinton several times over during the Pennsylvania primary. But the voters simply preferred Hillary and handed her a huge win--even though Obama had all but wrapped up the nomination before the contest in Pennsylvania began.

And perhaps the most relevant example comes from Romney himself during the 2008 Republican primary. In Iowa, Romney spent twenty times as much money as Huckabee did. Yet Huckabee beat him all the same. Iowa voters watched Huckabee at the debates and liked what they saw. They weren't persuaded by Romney or his commercials.

Money plays a greater role further down the road, where bigger states have more expensive media markets and individual voters aren't as engaged in the process. Typically, however, a primary is decided by who wins in the first few states. Judging by their history, early primary voters just aren't for sale.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Gingrich's Campaign Off to a Rocky Start on Meet The Press

As you can see from Gingrich's Profile, he has medium perceived electability and medium perceived conservatism. His path to victory rests with leveraging his rhetorical skill (particularly during debates) to boost his perceived electability and conservatism. Gingrich appeared on Meet The Press last Sunday for the first major interview of his campaign, and he succeeded in doing precisely the opposite.

Gingrich criticized the Congressional Republicans' proposed budget, prompting the obvious negative response from Republican leaders. Even worse, he made some questionable remarks about the "individual mandate," the most hated component of Obamacare. When Gingrich was asked about his former support of the individual mandate, he suggested that he still supported some "variation" of it. After Gingrich was blasted in conservative media, he released a video stating he was unequivocally opposed to the individual mandate.

Gingrich's conservatism was already under fire, particularly due to his previous support of a cap and trade system. Gingrich had made a commercial with Nancy Pelosi while doing publicity in favor of cap and trade, and the resulting photograph of Gingrich sitting next to Pelosi will undoubtedly be plastered across every anti-Gingrich attack ad for the rest of the 2012 primary.

Perceived conservatism is not the only area where Gingrich is vulnerable. Earlier this year, Gingrich got negative press attention when he appeared to flip-flop on whether he supported intervening in Libya. Given his conflicting statements on the individual mandate, he may be painted as a flip-flopper--or simply dishonest.

Gingrich can only win New Hampshire by positioning himself to the right of Mitt Romney. There's no room to Romney's left. Nor can he even occupy the same space as Romney: Those who agree with Romney's views are more likely to support Romney than Gingrich because Romney is the "next in line" and has higher perceived electability.

The silver lining for Gingrich is that because fewer people are paying attention in the early months of the primary, gaffes have less impact. But they're still dangerous, and Gingrich needs to use his time wisely. As mentioned in the Profile, Gingrich needs to become a more disciplined campaigner. So far, there is no sign that he has. Elephant Watcher calculates that Gingrich has a 3% chance of winning the nomination.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Donald Trump Announces He Will Not Run

Trump
Trump released a written statement today declaring that he will not seek the presidency. This marks the fourth declaration--in or out--by candidates in the last several days, further reinforcing the notion that the field is taking shape. The Campaign Status page will be continually updated as candidates join or leave the field.

Why won't Trump run? In his written remarks, Trump said that business is his passion, and that his decision was made despite strong poll numbers. Actually, Trump's support has been in a state of collapse. Trump declined to run for the reason almost everyone else does: He does not believe he can win the nomination.

Elephant Watcher was a "Trump skeptic" from the beginning, never giving Trump more than a 1% chance of victory. His vulnerabilities were clear from the start, regardless of national primary polls. It was bad enough that he was not viewed as an electable candidate; his identity as a Republican was also in doubt.

Consequently, Trump's departure alters the field only slightly. Christie has taken Trump's 1%, bringing Christie up to a 63% chance of winning the nomination. Christie will step in and take the role from Trump of the brash, "tell it like it is" candidate.

Was Trump's candidacy just a publicity stunt? Probably not. Trump did gin up a lot of publicity and controversy, but he also did a lot of behind-the-scenes work that would not have made sense if he was not seriously considering a run. Most likely, Trump tested the waters at first, was thrilled by his high poll numbers (for awhile he led in the national primary polls), and set to work on a run for the presidency. Then, as it became more clear that Republicans were not buying his candidacy, he decided to save himself the humiliation (and work) of a failed presidential run.

What's the Best Job Experience for Running for President?

During a recent radio interview, Chris Christie was asked what kind of person he would support for president. Governor Christie replied that, preferably, the Republican nominee should be a governor. Historically, governors have fared well at the polls. It's not difficult to see why: Both the presidency and a governorship are executive positions. They are tasked with managing government, not voting on legislation as a Senator or House Representative would.

Of course, governors are not the only kind of candidates who win, and they are far from the only type of candidates who run. Nevertheless, primary voters do value electability, and the type of office held by a candidate does factor into electability. You may view the experience and perceived electability of all the Republican contenders on the Profiles page.

It's worth taking a look at the roster of Republican candidates in light of this factor. The following is a list of the candidates arranged by the type of offices they held. Afterward, we will compare it to the experience of the men who have been elected president.

Vice Presidents (0)
[none]

Governors (5)
Christie
Daniels
Palin
Pawlenty
Romney

Senators (1)
Santorum

House Reps (2)
Gingrich
Paul

Cabinet (0)
[none]

Military (0)
[none]

Business/Unconventional (2)
Cain
Trump

Christie should approve of such a governor-heavy field. But what about the men who have actually won the presidency? The following are the highest offices achieved by the men who were elected president during the 20th and 21st centuries. The list does not include those who did not win their first terms (i.e. they inherited the presidency due to death or resignation of the incumbent).

Vice Presidents (2)
Bush Sr.
Nixon

Governors (6)
Bush Jr.
Carter
Clinton
Reagan
Roosevelt
Wilson

Senators (3)
Harding
Kennedy
Obama

House Reps (0)
[none]

Cabinet (2)
Hoover
Taft

Military (1)
Eisenhower

Business/Unconventional (0)
[none]

There is a clear preference for governors, but a slight majority of the presidents held some other kind of office. What we do not see are House Representatives or men from a business (or unconventional) background. The challenges for House Reps is that they have not proven themselves capable of winning a state-wide election; they only need to win in their district. Senators, on the other hand, must win state-wide. Obviously winning the presidency requires the ability to win over a diverse coalition, and that may account for the difference.

For the current field of Republican candidates, precedent favors the governors. History is a hurdle for Cain, Gingrich, Paul, and Trump. Interestingly, according to Elephant Watcher's present calculation, the four most likely candidates to win the nomination are all governors.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Who Benefits Now That Huckabee's Not Running?

Huckabee's decision not to run provides the 2012 Republican primary with its first dramatic shake-up. In the aftermath of Huckageddon, Elephant Watcher has recalculated the odds of the nomination battle. Huckabee had a 12% chance of victory which is now dispersed among the candidates. For a full analysis and graph of the Elephant Watcher projection of the candidates' odds, see the Rankings page.

The following is an explanation for why each candidate did (or didn't) improve his chances of winning the nomination now that Huckabee is no longer a contender:

No one candidate got a big bounce from Huckabee's exit. Huckabee was leading the polls in Iowa and South Carolina, which presumably helps whomever is in second place there. The problem? There is no clear second place in those states. (See all the early state primary polling on the Primaries page.) There is also no "Huckabee Jr." candidate who will step exactly into his shoes. Instead, many candidates will benefit a little.

Christie +2% -- He benefits from any sense that there is a vacuum in the field. Huckabee's departure also removes an obstacle from Iowa, where Christie will need to prove he is not over-hyped. But other candidates will move in to fill the void. Christie's role is to be the one candidate who can unite the Tea Party and Republican establishment; Huckabee never played the role.

Romney +2% -- Though Romney is not interested in Iowa or South Carolina as much, Huckabee's absence lessens the possibility that the same person will with both states. This makes a New Hampshire strategy a bit more viable. There's little overlap between the Romney and Huckabee constituencies, but without Huckabee in the race, it's easier for Romney to claim the mantle of "next in line." Also, Romney will perform better in the IA and SC polls now, though it may be an illusion based on his name recognition.

Daniels +2% and Pawlenty +3% -- These two candidates were behind Huckabee in Iowa and each have high electability. Neither is objectionable to the Iowa voters and can at least claim to be serious candidates. Arguably, they benefit the most from Huckabee's departure. However, they are fighting over the same oxygen, and the gain is split between them. Pawlenty gets a slight edge because Huckabee's social conservatives may be wary of Daniels' earlier gaffe about a "truce" on social issues (see this earlier post).

Cain +2% -- Though much further down in the polls and perceived electability, Cain benefits because he shares some attributes with Huckabee that might help him pick up the pieces: He's a populist, Southern, rhetorically-gifted outsider who will rely on the debates to create campaign buzz. Without Huckabee above him on the poll list, it will be that much easier for Cain to get invited to the primary debates.

Palin +1% -- Like Huckabee, she is somewhat popular among evangelical Christians and needs to win Iowa. But Huckabee's supporters already had the option of moving over to Team Sarah and had not chosen to do so.

The following candidates do not receive an increase in their chances of winning the nomination:

Gingrich -- He may be fooled into thinking he should spend his resources in Iowa, but the reality is that social conservatives there will not accept him. He will need to rely on a New Hampshire strategy.

Trump -- Trump will also need to rely on a New Hampshire strategy.

Santorum -- In theory he should be able to attract Huckabee's social conservatives, but they will tend to gravitate toward someone with a higher profile.

Paul -- He has his own constituency and is unlikely to broaden it regardless of who drops out of the race.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Huckageddon: Huckabee Announces He Will Not Run

Huckabee
Mike Huckabee announced today that he will not seek the presidency. The announcement may be taken as genuine, for the reasons described in previous posts.

Huckabee's announcement will have an immediate impact on the race. Most candidates decline to run because they know they have no chance of winning the nomination. Huckabee, on the other hand, had a clear path to victory through Iowa and South Carolina, where he was leading in the polls. Huckabee's departure will leave a vacuum that other candidates will race to fill, radically altering the shape of the race. The 2012 Republican primary will be quite different without Huckabee.

His decision does not affect all candidates equally. Elephant Watcher will recalculate the odds and issue a thorough explanation of the changes later. Generally speaking, candidates who rely on a victory in Iowa will benefit more than those relying on New Hampshire. Candidates with a higher chance of winning will tend to benefit more than obscure ones, since most voters gravitate toward prominent candidates.

Given Huckabee's strong position in the race, many political commentators will speculate about his reasons for not running. Huckabee's contract with Fox News gives him a financial incentive not to run, though one wonders why he did not spend the next few months continuing to milk the speculation about his intentions. Besides, a strong presidential run would only enhance Huckabee's stature and ability to earn money through paid speeches, books, etc.

It's quite common for family members to discourage candidates from running. In 1996, Colin Powell wanted to run for president, but his wife was adamantly opposed, fearing he would be assassinated as Martin Luther King, Jr. was. Scandals can also play a role, as in 2008, when Al Gore's infidelity prevented him from making a run. Of course, some candidates run regardless of scandals, as both Hillary Clinton and John Edwards did in 2008. In Huckabee's case, there is no indication that scandals are a factor.

During his announcement during his TV show, Huckabee said that his family was fully supportive of him making a run, and the polls were in his favor. Huckabee said that his decision not to run came during spiritual deliberations that he cannot fully explain.

Unless Huckabee can elaborate further, his motives will remain a mystery. In any case, the 2012 Republican primary field has begun to take shape. Over the next few weeks, it's likely several other potential candidates will make official announcements. The fact that Huckabee is out may make others more inclined to run.

Who is Jon Huntsman? Intrade Revisited

In two previous posts, we examined Intrade, the "investment" site where people can place bets on political events. As we saw, Intrade is not very good at predicting election outcomes long in advance, but is a good indicator of the conventional wisdom according to the Washington establishment (particularly liberals). From time to time, we will revisit Intrade to see what its investors think about the Republican primary. Intrade's page on the Republican primary may be found here.

Several of the leading candidates are in the same position as they were the last time we checked Intrade. Romney remains in the lead with 25%, Pawlenty is second with 16.5%, and Daniels has 11.7%.

There are some interesting changes, too. Jon Huntsman, Jr. has risen from nowhere up to 12%, putting him in third place. One might be tempted to ask, "Who is Jon Huntsman, and what did he do lately?" Huntsman is the former governor of Utah and was, until recently, the U.S. Ambassador to China under Obama. Huntsman is not even included in the Elephant Watcher roster of candidates. If and when he forms a presidential exploratory committee or announces a run, he will be promptly analyzed and ranked by Elephant Watcher.

There are two potential explanations for Huntsman's sudden appearance. First, the Washington establishment has become aware that Huntsman is definitely planning a run for the presidency. But why is he ranked so high, when he never appears in the polls? Huntsman has not yet received a full assessment by Elephant Watcher; for now it is enough to say that he faces an uphill battle to win the nomination. The answer is simple: Huntsman has the approval of the Washington establishment. Some of his more moderate-to-liberal positions may also appeal to the Intrade investors, who tend to be more liberal.

The second potential explanation is that some of Huntsman's supporters may be placing bets on Huntsman to manipulate the market for publicity's sake. It is an unconventional approach, but it is not unheard of: The volume of trading is low enough that a candidate (or his fans) could bump up his numbers if so inclined.

Trump's numbers on Intrade, unsurprisingly, have crashed. He was at 8.5% and is now down below 4%. All of the recent bad news has taken its toll on Trump.

Meanwhile, Cain's appearance at the May 5th primary debate earned him some attention. He is still at only 3.9%, but he was at close to 0% before the debate.

As for Huckabee, his numbers have cratered. Intrade gives him 3%, down from his high of nearly 10%. This crash took place shortly after the news broke that Huckabee would announce his decision whether to run. Conventional wisdom rules Intrade: Obviously most investors took the news as a sign Huckabee is not running.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Romney Speech Reveals Flawed Strategy for Dealing with Romneycare

Romney
 NOTE: This article was originally posted Thursday, May 12th.

Romney gave what he touted as a "major speech" today addressing how he would tackle healthcare policy as president. The speech was designed to deal with his campaign's main problem: Answering for Romneycare, the healthcare reform he instituted in Massachusetts. But the speech revealed his strategy remains deeply flawed.

Romney has a unique advantage, one the other candidates wish they possessed. He knows exactly what his biggest challenge will be: answering for Romneycare. He knows he will be criticized for it, he knows that it will be ceaselessly compared to Obamacare, and he knows the Republican primary voters will demand an explanation.

Romney has had a few years to formulate a way to deal with the healthcare plan he instituted in Massachusetts. So far, however, Romney has failed to discover the proper strategy. He has a strategy, but it will not work. If Romney fails to win the nomination, it will likely be the result of a failure to correct this mistake.

Elephant Watcher has analyzed the Republican contenders and, based on the candidates' strengths and weaknesses, determined their best strategies for winning the nomination. These strategies are explained in the candidates' Profiles, including Romney's.

Romney's optimal strategy is discussed in some detail in the above-linked Profile. In this post, we will look at Romney's actual--that is, current--strategy for dealing with Romneycare, and how it compares to the strategy he should be taking.

There are three basic components to consider.

First, Romney should explain the motives he had when he created Romneycare. This is necessary because he must convince voters that he had good intentions--fixing a real problem with healthcare coverage and costs--rather than bad ones. Most Republican primary voters believe the purpose of Obamacare was to expand government. Romney needs to make sure voters don't think he was trying to do the same.

On this component, Romney's current strategy matches the proper one reasonably well. Romney does frequently explain what his motives were for trying Romneycare.

The second component to the Romneycare strategy is for Romney to explain what he would do about healthcare as president. This is the easiest part, because Congressional Republicans already laid out alternatives to Obamacare during 2009 and 2010.

On this component, Romney also does well. He promises that as president, he would sign a repeal of Obamacare. And Romney presents Republican-approved ideas as his own plan.

The third component is the most important one: Romney must make a clean break with Romneycare by convincing voters he knows it was a failure, and that he made a big mistake.

This is where Romney's current strategy goes off the rails. In Romney's speech, he said that he would not simply walk away from what he did in Massachusetts. Instead, he suggests that Romneycare really isn't all that bad. He contrasts it with Obamacare (Romneycare was a state plan rather than a federal one), and he says Romneycare has both good and bad aspects. At present, Romney is simply unwilling to cut ties with Romneycare. There are three main reasons why Romney is clinging to Romneycare, and none of them are good:

1. Some say Romneycare has actually been successful in Massachusetts, and Romney does not want to divorce himself from something that worked. The problem is that it's liberals who say Romneycare has worked. They have to say this, because they are so fully invested in defending Obamacare, which is similar to Romneycare. Likewise, Republicans are too heavily invested in opposing Obamacare to believe Romneycare is a success. Romney will never convince Republican primary voters that Romneycare is a good system.

2. Romney does not want to admit to a big mistake, because it would suggest he has bad judgment and would hurt his ego. Politicians find it very difficult to apologize. The irony is that apologies can be very effective in politics. By making a clean break with a mistake early on, it is difficult for opponents to repeatedly resurrect the subject. More importantly, Romney does not have the option of not admitting a mistake here. It may make him look bad, but he has no other choice.

3. Some say Romneycare was the centerpiece of his administration in Massachusetts, and admitting it was a mistake would suggest he did nothing good as governor. This is the worst of the reasons not to cut ties with Romneycare. It is not as if Republican primary voters will give him credit for Romneycare. Moreover, voters are not that concerned with what he did in Massachusetts. They simply want to know that he is a serious candidate. They already believe he is.

In closing, it is fair to say that Romney's handling of the Romneycare issue is still quite weak. His muddling approach leaves Republican primary voters unsatisfied. As a result, the issue will be raised and reraised again and again. The primary season is long; Romney cannot sneak around the issue. Until he definitively says Romneycare is good or bad (the latter, if he wants to win the nomination), he will not be able to get past this issue.

During the May 5th debate, Pawlenty illustrated how best to deal with a mistake: He completely disavowed his former embrace of cap-and-trade.

Candidates can (and frequently do) change their strategies. Elephant Watcher will continue to monitor Romney's statements on Romneycare to detect any change in strategy. If he corrects course, his odds of winning the nomination will improve. Elephant Watcher calculates that Romney presently has a 10% chance of winning the nomination.

Newt Gingrich Officially Announces He Is Running for President

Gingrich
 NOTE: This article was originally posted on Wednesday, May 11th.

The longstanding speculation about Gingrich has come to an end. Today, Gingrich made an official declaration that he will seek the Republican nomination for the presidency. The Campaign Status page has been updated; this is the first time that one of the major contenders has officially declared.

The timing of Gingrich's announcement is somewhat odd. Apparently he did not want to officially enter the race until after last week's debate. Gingrich may see himself as a top-tier candidate who shouldn't engage with second-tier candidates. In fact, Gingrich's poll numbers in the early primaries are quite weak. His only chance of winning the nomination is to deliver an outstanding performance at as many debates as possible.

Gingrich's path to victory remains unclear. The polling data for each early primary state is continually updated on the Primaries page. Gingrich's difficult task is plain to see: Despite his name recognition, he is neither first nor second in any poll in any state.

Some reporting suggests that Gingrich's campaign has focused on Iowa. But Gingrich's history of adultery, combined with several years of playing to the political center/left (e.g. on climate change), makes Iowa a difficult fit for Gingrich. New Hampshire, with its more independent bent, is probably where Gingrich will make his stand. So far, Romney is easily in the lead in that state. The competition will be fierce no matter where Gingrich chooses to play.

Gingrich comes with a lot of political baggage, and at a time when voters are looking for someone new. In an earlier post, we examined a poll showing 39% of Republicans are already opposed to Gingrich. Voters may change their minds about Gingrich, but they will have to see his intellectual capabilities firsthand at the debates. Gingrich needs to take risks and challenge his opponents directly. He will need to be a bit of a "brawler" on his home turf, because he will not win in a more traditional campaign.

There is one bright spot for Gingrich: People will take him more seriously now that he is actually running. For a long time, he had a reputation as someone who enjoyed flirting with the idea but never taking the leap. Now he has a chance to prove himself.

News posts related to Gingrich will have the Gingrich "tag". For detailed assessment of Gingrich's strengths, weaknesses, and strategy, view his Profile. Elephant Watcher calculates Gingrich has a 3% chance of winning the nomination.

Huckabee Set to Announce He's Not Running for President?

Huckabee
The executive producer of Huckabee's TV show released a statement claiming Huckabee will announce on tomorrow's show whether he's running for president. A New York Times article concerning the statement may be found here.

Summary: The announcement is a strong sign that Huckabee will not be running. Huckabee's aides are not aware of his decision; if he were to announce that he is running, he probably would have told his aides first. Moreover, there are complicated legal issues that would arise if Huckabee used his show to announce that he's running. By contrast, there's nothing wrong with using the show to say he's decided not to run.

Analysis: In an earlier post, we saw how a candidate may convincingly decline to run. An announcement of this nature would suffice. After all, the announcement is entirely voluntary, not prompted by an interviewer's question. In the post, we observed that if Huckabee announces he's not running, then he's not running.

If Huckabee declines to run, it will send a tremendous shockwave through the Republican field. Huckabee has been polling well, not just in national primary polls, but also in Iowa and South Carolina polls. Every candidate who has won both Iowa and South Carolina has won the Republican nomination. Huckabee nearly did it last time, and is in a good position to succeed this time.

Huckabee's departure would open the race considerably in Iowa and South Carolina. It might also increase the odds that the winner of New Hampshire could win in South Carolina--or at least, that the winners of Iowa and South Carolina would be different candidates.

Ron Paul Officially Enters the Race

Paul
Ron Paul declared his candidacy earlier today. Paul's decision to enter the race comes as a surprise to no one; he had already formed a presidential exploratory committee and participated in the first primary debate on May 5th.

Paul is only the second candidate on the Elephant Watcher roster to officially declare his candidacy. The first, Gingrich, declared two days ago. Gingrich and Paul may be the early birds, or it could be a sign that we are approaching the second phase of the primary season. You may follow the official status of all the candidates on the Campaign Status page.

Paul has no clear path to the nomination, as he does not poll well in any state. The fact that Paul has virtually no chance of winning does not make him unique. What sets him apart from the other candidates is that he does not seem to care much about winning. Nor is he attempting to play the "spoiler." Paul simply wants to promote his libertarian views to a wider audience.

Even Paul's critics give him credit for one thing: He speaks his mind, and he is consistent. This is one beneficial consequence of not caring whether you win the race: You can tell the truth as you see it. Paul does not need to pander to anyone.

Paul uses the primary debates as his main platform. Though Paul does not poll well enough to stand a chance at winning, he should poll well enough to earn an invitation to every debate until the field narrows. As long as the debate sponsors want to include candidates like Cain, they will need to include Paul. And no one loves the debates more than Paul, where his fans often sit in the audience and cheer wildly at everything he says.

When he ran in 2008, Paul was the target of much hostility for his criticism of American foreign policy. When other candidates wanted to get some applause, there was usually an opportunity for them to attack Paul. This time, he will have a more sympathetic audience, since more Republicans are questioning the military's continued presence in Iraq and Afghanistan (and Obama's new "kinetic action" in Libya). However, Paul recently suggested he would not have ordered the killing of Bin Laden, so he will remain a punching bag for other candidates.

News posts related to Paul will have the Paul "tag". For detailed assessment of Paul's strengths, weaknesses, and strategy, view his Profile. Elephant Watcher calculates Paul has a 0% chance of winning the nomination.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Mitch Daniels Signs Law Defunding Planned Parenthood, Seeks Truce with Social Conservatives

Daniels
As governor of Indiana, Daniels signed a state law that will end state-directed funding for businesses that perform abortions. Needless to say, Planned Parenthood--the long-time nemesis of the pro-life movement in America--falls into that category. Daniels' decision has political implications should he decide to run for president: Social conservatives, especially in Iowa, are overwhelmingly pro-life and anti-Planned Parenthood.

Daniels has another reason to court social conservatives: In 2010, he made a controversial statement about Republicans needing to "call a truce on social issues" and focus on economic matters. For many social conservatives, this raised a red flag.

Though Daniels made the remark a year ago, it hasn't been forgotten. Daniels did not participate in the May 5th debate, but that didn't stop the moderators from asking a question about it. (Santorum was given the question, and he took the opportunity to make an impassioned attack against the idea of such a "truce.")

For unknown candidates like Daniels, the media usually latch onto one or two details and repeat them over and over. This influences the reporting, political commentators' commentary, and even the questions a candidate receives at a debate. A good example of this is how the media treated Mike Huckabee during the 2008 campaign: Because he had been a Baptist preacher (years before he was the two-term governor of Arkansas), he received endless debate questions about religion. One can already see the two bullet points being written about some of the present candidates: Cain is black and used to run Godfather's Pizza, Santorum is a social conservative, Pawlenty is boring, etc.

Another reason Daniels' suggestion of a "truce" will harm him is that Republican primary voters are concerned--perhaps to the point of paranoia--about a "fake" conservative ("RINO") winning the nomination. For the social conservatives in Iowa, a Republican who doesn't seem to care about social issues would fairly be classified as a RINO.

As observed in Daniels' Profile and the Rankings page, Daniels' path to victory is through Iowa, after being selected as a "consensus candidate." Daniels is unlikely to win by being the most exciting or inspiring candidate; his best chance is to avoid being unacceptable to any faction of the Party. Daniels cannot afford to alienate anyone, especially not in Iowa.

Daniels has made an important step toward placating social conservatives. Daniels will also benefit from free (and badly needed) publicity if the news media do a lot of reporting on the anti-abortion legislation. This will not be the last time he is called to account for the "truce" gaffe, but it seems Daniels is on the right strategic track. Elephant Watcher calculates Daniels has a 5% chance of winning the nomination.

When No Means No: How A Candidate Convincingly Declines to Run

As you can see from the Campaign Status page, none of the prospective candidates has officially declared he is running for president--despite several having participated in a presidential debate.

Many of the candidates have formed presidential exploratory committees, and only one on the roster (Barbour) is categorized as "declined to run." This leaves some of the most well-known candidates in the nebulous "potentially running" category. One of these--Christie--has repeatedly stated he is not running. Others have not said one way or the other. How does a candidate convincingly deny that he is running for president?

The first rule is that simply declaring that one will not run for president is not enough. Today, Barack Obama is the best-known example of this principle: On October 22, 2006, Obama appeared on "Meet the Press" and said definitively that he would not run for president. Less than four months later, Obama officially announced he was running for president; he was likely preparing for the run long before that.

If a denial isn't enough, how can one can tell if a candidate is out of the race? There are a number of ways. First, a candidate who is already in the race would only withdraw if he meant it. Unless that person is Ross Perot, it simply would not make sense to get into the race and then get out if he really wanted to run. The same is true of someone who creates a presidential exploratory committee and then declines to run. Officially endorsing another candidate is one other way to make a permanent exit from the race.

A denial is also persuasive if it takes place after a candidate declares he is interested in running, or is considering it. Barbour fit into that category. For several months, Barbour attempted to create interest in his potential candidacy. When he announced he was out of the race, he knew it would put an end to that interest. Making that announcement only made sense because he had, in fact, decided not to run.

On that point, an unprompted announcement or released statement is far more trustworthy than a response to an interviewer's question (as when Obama was questioned on "Meet the Press"). Potential candidates like Huckabee and Palin will likely release statements about their intentions during the next few months. If they say they are not running, they're not running.

Ironically, the denial of an intention to run is least believable when it is consistent. During the period when Obama was denying his intention to run, he did not waffle, suggest he "might" be running, or say he would make up his mind later. He consistently denied it and moved on. The purpose was to avoid appearing presumptuous. It was simply too soon for Obama to run, because he had been elected senator so recently.

Christie faces a similar dilemma. Since he only took office in January 2010, it would appear presumptuous--neglectful of his office, even--for him to announce he is running. He can only enter the race if he is essentially drafted by the Party. The Party cannot claim to be out of options until the race is already underway. Thus, the only way for Christie to convincingly decline to run would be to either officially endorse another candidate, or remain out of the race beyond late 2011 (perhaps October or November), when it would be too late to run.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Iowa's GOP Donors Schedule Meeting to Beg Christie to Run for President

Christie
Associated Press reports that a group of influential big-money donors from Iowa will meet with Christie to plead with him to run for president. The story may be read here.

Summary: Prominent Republican donors from Iowa are scheduled to meet with Christie on May 31st. The stated goal of the meeting is for them to persuade Christie to run for president. The Iowan group is not satisfied with the current field of candidates; they believe they need someone who would both make a great president and be a great campaigner. Christie agreed to host the gathering at the governor's mansion in New Jersey. But Christie's spokesman says this does not mean Christie is hinting toward a run.

Analysis: As the article suggests, this is the latest sign--among many--that Republicans are divided and dissatisfied with the field thus far. No candidate has yet been able to unify the Party. As we discussed in a previous post, it's not just that Republicans are divided among different candidates and prefer their own. Rather, many Republicans find other candidates completely unacceptable.

At this point in the campaign, influential fundraisers such as the Iowan group would normally be picking a candidate (if they had not already done so). The contenders are eager to put their campaign infrastructure in place, and that takes money. They cannot go forward without the support of their donors. The fact that these donors would not only say "no" to the current candidates, but actually go to the lengths of meeting with someone who (repeatedly) said he would not run, shows how dire the situation is. Some might say it is a slap in the face of candidates like Romney and Pawlenty. It is doubly insulting coming on the heels of the Republican Party's first primary debate.

The article contains insights as to the kind of candidate the Republicans are seeking. They want someone who shares their conservatism, but that is not enough. They also want someone who can run a great campaign and beat Obama. Clearly, they do not yet see someone in the race who possesses both of those qualities.

The fundraisers' decision to arrange this meeting suggests they do not believe Christie when he denies he has an interest in running--or at least, that they believe he might reconsider. Christie's willingness to host such a meeting shows they have good reason to think so. After all, the donors made no secret of the meeting's sole purpose--to convince Christie to run--and he agreed to it. This is the clearest sign yet that Christie is indeed entertaining a run for the presidency. It is also the most public. Indeed, it was Christie's own spokesman who released this information to the Associated Press.

These are precisely the kinds of entreaties by prominent Republicans that Christie needs as an excuse to run. But the field is not yet fully developed: The primary will not begin in earnest until August-September. If Republicans are still as skeptical about the field then as they are now, Christie ought to feel comfortable about his chances of winning the nomination. So far, there are no indications that Republicans are changing their view of the field. Rather, the desperation appears to be growing. As such, Elephant Watcher calculates Christie has a 60% chance of winning the nomination.