Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Intrade Odds: Rick Perry Soars, Michele Bachmann Past Her Peak?

In the weeks since our last visit to the Intrade market on the 2012 Republican nomination, the race has taken a new shape. According to Intrade's investors, the primary has become something of a two-man race: Mitt Romney versus Rick Perry.

Romney is still in the lead with 33.7%. But he's only just ahead of his nearest competitor now: Perry has jumped up to 28.5%. Previously, Romney had enjoyed a very comfortable lead; now, it's a race. The odds have been influenced by continued reports from Texas that Perry does intend to run for president. If and when he does officially get into the race, it's likely that Perry will increases his chances even more.

The other shift in the dynamic is how Intrade investors view Michele Bachmann. A few weeks ago, she peaked at over 18% and was tied for second with Perry. Now, her odds have shrunk to 9.1%. A couple things have happened. First, negative press about Bachmann has diminished the perception that she is a credible candidate. Second, the character of the average Intrade investor has reasserted itself. Intrade investors tend to reflect the conventional wisdom of the Washington establishment. They may hope someone as unelectable as Bachmann wins the nomination (to help the Democratic Party's chances of retaining control of the presidency). But they tend to have a bias in favor of traditional, establishment candidates.

Thus, Bachmann--even in spite of her polling of late--has fallen to a second-tier, which she shares with Tim Pawlenty and even Jon Huntsman, who are at 6.0% and 8.0%, respectively. Intrade investors are more likely to think of Perry, a three-term governor of a major state, as a real contender. The Intrade market for the Iowa Caucus reflects the change: Bachmann still has decent odds at 41.0%, but Perry has more than doubled his previous odds to 30.0%.

Though the wisdom of the Intrade investors is easy to critique, they must be given credit for doing more than simply looking at the recent poll numbers. They correctly perceive the potential in Perry, and they show signs of understanding Bachmann's challenges.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

The July Campaign Dead Zone

As Phase Two of the Republican primary plods along, it's worth taking a look at the overall timeline of the 2012 nomination race. July has been relatively inactive, even compared to May and June, several months before many people take interest in the primary. The good news is that early primary polling has picked up significantly this month. This may reflect the fact that the field is mostly settled, and pollsters don't have to worry about candidates dropping out of the race. Or it could reflect an interest in Michele Bachmann's spike in popularity, as most of the new polls come out of Iowa.

At any rate, activity in the 2012 primary has likely reached its lowest point this month. For reasons that will become clear in the timeline below, more will happen in August. In September, Phase Three will begin and campaign activity will gradually increase until someone wins the nomination next year. If the candidates can consider what they're currently doing a vacation, this is it. July will be their last opportunity to breathe.

The following is a timeline of the "structured" events that have occurred and are scheduled to occur until the early primaries begin. It does not include major news events (such as gaffes during interviews).

April 2011
04/25 -- Haley Barbour declines to run

May 2011
05/05 -- Primary debate
05/11 -- Newt Gingrich enters the race
05/13 -- Ron Paul enters the race
05/14 -- Mike Huckabee declines to run
05/16 -- Donald Trump declines to run
05/21 -- Herman Cain enters the race
05/22 -- Mitch Daniels declines to run
05/23 -- Tim Pawlenty enters the race

June 2011
06/02 -- Mitt Romney enters the race
06/06 -- Rick Santorum enters the race
06/13 -- Primary debate
06/13 -- Michele Bachmann enters the race
06/21 -- Jon Huntsman, Jr. enters the race

July 2011

August 2011
08/?? -- Rick Perry enters the race(?)
08/11 -- Primary debate
08/13 -- Ames Straw Poll

September 2011
09/?? -- Sarah Palin declines to run(?)
09/?? -- Chris Christie enters the race(?)
09/07 -- Primary debate
09/12 -- Primary debate
09/22 -- Primary debate

October 2011
10/11 -- Primary debate
10/18 -- Primary debate

November 2011
[debates to be announced?]

December 2011
12/10 -- Primary debate
12/?? -- Candidates break for Christmas

January 2012
01/12 -- Primary debate
01/19 -- Primary debate
01/30 -- Primary debate

February 2012
02/06 -- Iowa Caucus
02/14 -- New Hampshire Primary
02/18 -- Nevada Caucus
02/?? -- Primary debate
02/?? -- Primary debate
02/?? -- South Carolina Primary

March 2012
03/05 -- Primary debate
03/06 -- Later Primaries/Caucuses begin

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Why Is Newt Gingrich Doing So Badly in the Polls?

Of all the declared candidates with high name recognition--Michele Bachmann, Newt Gingrich, Ron Paul, and Mitt Romney--Gingrich has fared the worst in the polls. This is particularly true when you exclude Paul, who cannot win, from consideration. In the early state primary polls, Gingrich has struggled to even make fourth place. He has done even worse since Bachmann entered the race in mid-June.

Given the fact that Gingrich has such high name recognition, why is he doing so badly in the polls? After all, we know that early polling is often a function of name recognition, as most voters know next to nothing about the low-recognition candidates--if they've even heard of them. As we've detailed on a number of occasions, Gingrich stumbled out of the gate, and the media has generally written him off as a serious candidate. But there's more to it than that.

Although the name Gingrich is familiar to most voters, the Gingrich running for president in 2012 is not the same as the man who resigned in defeat in the late '90s. Nor is he the same Gingrich as the one who attempted to reach the middle and soften his partisan image with commercials where he sat on a couch with Nancy Pelosi and Al Sharpton. Gingrich faces a unique challenge: He must reinvent himself so that he is perceived differently by people who already know a fair bit about him.

Thus, Gingrich is probably more comparable to one of the candidates with low name recognition. Like them, he must introduce himself to the voters of early primary states. He must win them over in town hall meetings, speeches, and debate performances. That being the case, he is unlikely to rise in the polls until much later: Even early primary voters are not paying attention to the race during Phase Two of the primary. But if Gingrich does well enough in the many debates over the course of Phase Three, he will rise in the polls.

Gingrich's other issue is that none of the early primary states really suits him the way it may suit others. Gingrich is not a Tea Party candidate, or an establishment candidate, or even really a Southern candidate. Some feel he is too bitterly partisan, while many others think he is a RINO. Elephant Watcher believes that as long as a candidate faces serious questions about whether he is conservative enough to be a "true" Republican nominee, he's better off running in New Hampshire than Iowa or South Carolina. Thus, Gingrich must compete against Mitt Romney and Jon Huntsman in New Hampshire. That's a tall order. Elephant Watcher calculates that Gingrich currently has a 2% chance of winning the nomination.

Friday, July 15, 2011

When Is Sarah Palin Considered Out of the Race?

As you have probably noticed over the past few weeks, the media and the pundits have shifted their attention away from Sarah Palin and toward Michele Bachmann. Partly this is due to the fact that most people no longer believe that Palin will run. Nevertheless, Palin has never made any public statements--not even in response to interviewer questions--indicating that she will not run. She has remained equivocal.

This represents a conundrum for voters, especially those who would prefer to support Palin but have a few other options (like Bachmann). It also offers some confusion to pollsters, who must decide whether or not to include Palin as an option. There is no consensus. You can see thise confusion reflected in the recent round-up of national polls and from the current early primary polls (which are being updated much more frequently now). Some pollsters are including Palin, and others aren't. Additionally, some pollsters are releasing multiple sets of polls, with Palin and without.

In nearly every case where Palin is included, Bachmann is now leading her. But once again, these results are influenced by the fact that voters prefer to support candidates whom they believe are actually running. Palin may not have said she isn't running, but she hasn't taken any steps that indicate she will run.

For the time being, Elephant Watcher is including Palin in the "potentially running" category, rather than the "declined to run" category. Why? Because Palin, while not in the race, still exerts some influence. Bachmann may lead Palin in the polls, but Palin still gets a fair amount of support in them. Were Palin to step aside officially, Bachmann (and Cain) might get a boost in support.

On the other hand, Palin is under no obligation to say that she isn't running. The speculation keeps Palin in the public eye, which she prefers, so it's likely she will not officially declare herself out of the race until the last moment.

Consequently, Elephant Watcher will place her in the "declined to run" category under the following conditions:
(1) Palin states that she will not run, or
(2) Palin does not enter the race by some point in September, after which it is too late to run.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Jon Huntsman Attacks Mitt Romney

The Jon Huntsman campaign has begun seriously criticizing its chief rival in New Hampshire, Mitt Romney. According to a CNN report, Huntsman has been making a number of attacks against Romney's economic record, especially as pertains to jobs. He hasn't shied away from tough rhetoric: A Huntsman spokesman said that Romney's job creation record is "abysmal by every standard."

Remarks like that from campaign spokesmen do not mean as much as something from the candidate himself. Typically, a spokesman is more willing to make a harsh criticism because the candidate himself can disavow it if it misfires. Campaign staffers may also disagree as to the intensity of attacks the campaign should be making--recall, for instance, the apparent turmoil in the Tim Pawlenty campaign about whether he should "go negative."

But Huntsman has been willing to shed a little of his diplomatic aura by attacking Romney himself, especially when prompted to do so by reporters. When asked whether he agreed with his spokesman's statement, Huntsman responded: "Forty-seventh is forty-seventh; first is first...Let the facts speak for themselves." It's not as intensely negative as Pawlenty's attacks against Bachmann, but tougher than anything we had seen from Huntsman before.

Elephant Watcher has observed that Huntsman may have mixed motives for running for president. Huntsman may be planning a run in 2016, or perhaps jockeying for a Secretary of State appointment. Huntsman's attacks against Romney are only consistent with a serious effort at winning the presidency this time around. Perhaps even more noteworthy is the fact that Huntsman focused on the economy--jobs, no less--which is obviously tailored for the current political environment. It will be interesting to see whether he returns to talking about his foreign policy experience, which would be more relevant for a Secretary of State position (or even a 2016 presidential run).

The true test will be at the next major primary debate, scheduled for mid-August. It will be the first debate attended by Huntsman, and he may even be asked about his criticisms of Romney. As we saw with Pawlenty at the previous debate, a candidate may back down in person if he's not fully committed to an offensive strategy. It doesn't make much sense to "go negative" early, but for Huntsman, New Hampshire is everything. Romney is really his only competitor there. If there were many candidates who could gain from Romney's downfall, Huntsman would be wise to sit back and build himself up, but an offensive strategy makes sense in New Hampshire.

What could account for this sudden change in Huntsman? Perhaps it is Michele Bachmann's rise in the polls, which has as much to do with Romney's vulnerability as it does with anything attractive about Bachmann. Huntsman may see Romney as less than invincible.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Who Would Rick Perry's Campaign Hurt?

With the Republican field almost finalized, campaign speculation continues to focus on whether or not Texas governor Rick Perry will run for president. Political commentators and sources close to Perry are increasingly confident that he will indeed enter the race, most likely in August. If Perry does run, from whom would he take votes? Which candidates would be hurt the most by his entry?

Perry's campaign strategy would consist of winning Iowa and South Carolina; he would leave Mitt Romney to win New Hampshire uncontested. He would hope to win the support of the Tea Party and appeal to the middle by casting himself as a conservative who has substance (with the implication being that Michele Bachmann and Herman Cain lack substance). Perry would also make a point of criticizing President Obama and the Democrats in tough, blunt language, and would emphasize his record as an economic conservative in Texas.

From that sketch, it's possible to derive the basics of how a Perry candidacy would affect the race. First, since Perry would be pursuing Tea Party support, it would hurt Tea Party candidates. Bachmann and Cain would be in Perry's crosshairs. Would they really lose support to Perry? Yes, quite a bit of support. History tells us that voters prefer governors as president; more importantly, they never support business candidates or House Reps. Cain and Bachmann would lose a lot of Tea Party voters who want someone with more credible experience. They'll also be looking for someone who has won a state-wide race. Also note that the Tea Party is already a bit split, and adding Perry into the mix would split it further. It would be unsurprising if only one of either Cain or Bachmann survived a few months after Perry's entry.

What about Tim Pawlenty, the former governor of Minnesota? He's essentially trying to do the same thing Perry would, arguing he's a conservative (Tea Partier) who has the credibility to get elected. Pawlenty has a better electability argument than Perry, since Perry's similarity to George W. Bush and talk of secession will leave many voters cold. But at the same time, there's a reason why the field has a vacuum in it: Pawlenty isn't perceived as tough enough. He's a consensus candidate, but he lacks charisma and the "toughness" that people temporarily appreciated about Donald Trump. Thus, Pawlenty would be weakened by Perry as well.

Which brings us to Chris Christie. Christie has the ability to unite the Tea Party and the Republican establishment, and would be better at appealing to the establishment than Perry. But Christie would also be seeking to fill the same "strong leader" and "tough talk" attributes that Perry exudes and Pawlenty lacks. Because of concerns about electability, Perry would not be able to fill the vacuum the same way Christie can. But Perry would at least reduce the size of the vacuum. Any candidate who can do that would harm Christie's chances.

As we saw with the Iowa Caucus winner scenarios, Romney is most afraid of a highly electable candidate emerging from Iowa. Pawlenty and Christie are both threatening to Romney. Perry harms Pawlenty and Christie while not harming Romney. Therefore, Perry's candidacy would benefit Romney. Perry might be able to defeat Romney down the road, but Romney could at least make an electability argument against Perry that he can't bring against Pawlenty or Christie.

On the other hand, Perry's candidacy would harm the chances of Bachmann and Cain, either of whom Romney would like to see win Iowa. But since Bachmann and Cain are less likely to win Iowa,
it's a net benefit for Romney. He would gladly watch Bachmann and Cain burn if it means weakening Christie or Pawlenty.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Why Is Michele Bachmann Unlikely to Win?

Although Michele Bachmann has gained in the polls, she has not gained much in the Elephant Watcher ranking of candidates. She is currently given only a 2% chance of winning the nomination. Why?

When Elephant Watcher began analyzing the 2012 Republican presidential primary, a similar post was needed to explain Donald Trump's low ranking. At the time, he was doing very well in the polls, too. Perhaps the best way to answer the Bachmann question is to thoroughly list the hurdles she must overcome before she can win the nomination.

1. Media Onslaught. Bachmann is despised by the media--on both the left and the right. For the moment, the media views her poll numbers as a symbol of the Republican field's weakness. But if she continues to post good numbers, they will consider her a more serious threat. Public curiosity about her well grow, and media scrutiny will intensify.

2. Name Recognition Advantage Fades. She may not be as famous as Mitt Romney or Sarah Palin, but Bachmann has a lot of name recognition. This accounts for a large portion of her polling. Consider: Other than Romney, the only candidates in the race with greater name recognition than Bachmann are Newt Gingrich (has a lot of baggage, suffered disastrous campaign setbacks, lacks a natural constituency) and Ron Paul (cannot win). Everyone else is essentially unknown. When early primary voters begin paying attention to the race, the name recognition advantage will fade, allowing candidates like Herman Cain and Tim Pawlenty to chew away at Bachmann's support.

3. New Candidates. If a candidate has both Tea Party support and is considered significantly more electable than Bachmann, that candidate will seriously threaten Bachmann. At the moment, the other Tea Party favorite is Cain, who is likewise considered unelectable. But if Rick Perry, Chris Christie, or both enter the race, Bachmann has a big problem on her hands.

4. Unforced Errors. It's a long time between now and the Iowa Caucus, which Bachmann must win. Every time Bachmann makes a gaffe, the media will endlessly replay it to build the narrative that Bachmann is unserious, weird, or cannot win. It's difficult enough for a disciplined candidate to avoid mistakes. Bachmann has a history of gaffes, and must avoid them from now on. Each error will be a high-profile one.

5. Frontrunner-itis. If Bachmann continues to do well, other candidates will begin to attack her. Bachmann is not the only candidate who needs a win in Iowa. The gloves will come off as the date of the Iowa Caucus approaches.

6. Electability Valued. As Iowa draws near, voters tend to coalesce around an electable candidate. The winners of the Iowa Caucus have been considered electable, and not always conservative. Even those who initially support a charismatic or exciting candidate often switch to a more sober choice at the last moment.

7. Strategic Voter Shock. If Bachmann does manage to win Iowa, it will create a panic among strategic voters (i.e. those who want an electable candidate, even if he's not the most conservative in the field). They will flock to whomever is leading in New Hampshire (most likely Romney), where he will have an anti-Bachmann firewall, even if they don't like him very much. Everyone who is afraid of giving away the 2012 general election will coalesce around the New Hampshire winner to defeat Bachmann. A grinding battle will ensue and last for the remainder of the primary season.

None of these difficulties are yet accounted for in the early polls. Thus, Bachmann's support is greatly exaggerated. Vaulting over the hurdles in front of Bachmann will be no easy feat.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Tim Pawlenty Attacks Michele Bachmann on Meet The Press

Tim Pawlenty had his first major Meet The Press interview of the campaign season this Sunday. Although these interviews tend to address a wide range of topics, usually only a few excerpts will make news. It can be treacherous territory. Recall that back in May, Newt Gingrich stumbled out of the gate by making serious gaffes during a Meet The Press interview.

This time, the big news is that Pawlenty issued a fairly strong attack against his rival, Michele Bachmann. Pawlenty's precise words were that "[Bachmann's] record of accomplishment in Congress is non-existent." Although candidates frequently can (and must) contrast their accomplishments with their opponents', Pawlenty's statement was rather categorical: Bachmann has achieved nothing.

Was Pawlenty wise to make such a strong attack against Bachmann?

We've observed in the past that Pawlenty's campaign has a split personality. Sometimes he is criticized for being too "Minnesota nice" and failing to take a stand. Other times he seems to go overboard with his attacks. This reflects the challenge of a consensus candidate strategy. His aim is to be the last man standing. He must allow his opponents to devour each other, while he stays out of harm's way. But it's very easy to become impatient. The consensus candidate strategy does not pay off until near the end of the game. Up until that point, such a candidate will appear to be making little progress.

It seems that Pawlenty's enduringly low poll numbers have spooked his campaign, and Pawlenty is trying to appear more tough. There's value in appearing tough, as (potential) candidates like Chris Christie, Donald Trump, and Rick Perry have demonstrated. But it can't be an act. It's not natural for Pawlenty, and voters will see through it.

The more fundamental problem with Pawlenty's approach is that a candidate cannot build himself up by tearing others down--not when there are so many candidates in the field. Even if he did hurt Bachmann, the benefit would not necessarily go to him. In fact, "going negative" early will leave voters with a bad feeling about Pawlenty.

True, Pawlenty is competing for many of the same people who currently support Bachmann (at least in the polls). But that's all the more reason not to alienate those voters. It's a good idea for Pawlenty to show off his own accomplishments. That's a far cry from writing Bachmann off as "nonexistent" in Congress, however. Many of Bachmann's early supporters will likely find their way into the camps of other candidates later on. They may even eventually buy into the idea that Bachmann doesn't have a record of legislative accomplishments. Unfortunately for Pawlenty, they won't join his camp if they remember him as the guy who attacked Bachmann.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Should Rick Perry Attack George W. Bush?

As speculation grows about a presidential run by Texas governor Rick Perry, rumors have also arisen about a rift between Perry and George W. Bush. Perry has occasionally suggested that Bush was not a true fiscal conservative. Bush's inner circle is annoyed with Perry and believes it would only harm Perry to put distance between himself and Bush. Supposing Perry does run for president, would he be wise to criticize Bush, or should he try appealing to Bush supporters instead?

There are a number of reasons why Perry might want to attack Bush. First, Perry's greatest weakness is the fact that he resembles the unpopular former president: They were governors of the same state, Perry was appointed by Bush, and even their styles of speaking are similar. Many Republican voters are unreceptive by the idea of nominating another Texas governor. Other Republicans are more favorable to Perry, but fear that a Texas governor would not be electable in 2012. By attacking Bush, Perry might hope to draw a contrast, and distinguish himself from Bush. He knows that he must create his own identity, for he cannot win as a Bush clone.

Second, many in the Tea Party did see Bush (and his Republican Congress) as unfaithful to conservative principles. They feel Bush did not do enough to reign in government spending, and they were disturbed by various other Bush policies, such as the TARP bailout and Bush's proposed immigration reform. Perry could appeal to Tea Partiers by casting himself as a genuine conservative, and he cannot maintain conservative authenticity if he avoids criticizing Bush's policies.

What about the potential drawbacks to attacking Bush? Wouldn't he lose support among a vital constituency? After all, wouldn't Perry need all of the Bush supporters from Texas in his coalition?

Not really. Perry lost favor among Bush's inner circle years ago. The Bush crowd even attempted to end Perry's political career by supporting a Republican challenger (U.S. Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison) when Perry ran for reelection as Texas governor in 2010. Hutchison was highly favored in early polling and she became confident she would defeat Perry. As a result, she announced that she would resign her U.S. Senate seat prior to the gubernatorial election. Perry quickly announced that he would appoint Tea Party favorite Michael Williams as her replacement. (As governor, it would be Perry's job to appoint someone to fill the vacancy.) Williams would have been the only black U.S. Senator. However, Hutchison decided to renege on her pledge and remained in her seat. Perry dialed up his rhetoric and continued taking measures to appeal to the Tea Party crowd. When the Republican primary day arrived, Perry easily defeated Hutchison and was reelected.

Thus, not only did Perry win in Texas without Bush's supporters, but he won with them actively campaigning against him. If Perry ran, it's doubtful that Bush's inner circle would support him anyway; they are more likely to affiliate themselves with an establishment candidate like Mitt Romney.

Bush's supporters would be even less influential in states like Iowa and South Carolina than they are in Texas. Those early primary states are the ones that will decide Perry's fate. If he can win Tea Party support in those early contests by attacking Bush, he would be wise to do so.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Elephant Watcher Q&A, Part II

It's time for another round of Q&A with Elephant Watcher, to address some of the more commonly asked questions sent in by readers from around the world. For previous Q&A, see the following: Part I.

Q: Why isn't Gary Johnson (the former governor of New Mexico) included in the roster of candidates? He's in the race and has attended a primary debate.

In Part I, we addressed a similar set of questions about candidates like Allen West and Michele Bachmann (who was not yet in the race). The field of candidates is wide. Just as with the primary debates, the line has to be drawn somewhere. Candidates like Johnson or U.S. Congressman from Michigan Thaddeus McCotter do have more credentials than the "joke" perennial candidates who have never held office. If a candidate or potential candidate can have some impact on the race, Elephant Watcher is inclined to include him. Johnson attended the first debate, but it does not appear likely that he will be included in any future debates. Johnson is also rendered moot by the candidacy of fellow libertarian Ron Paul, who also has a 0% chance of winning the nomination but who has much higher poll numbers and will attend most of the debates.

The media pays no attention to Johnson because they do not believe his candidacy is viable. It may be unfair that Johnson will fade into obscurity, especially when the media's lack of attention to him makes that sort of a self-fulfilling prophecy. But Johnson did have ample opportunity to make his case at the May 5th primary debate, and he failed. By contrast, Herman Cain succeeded.

Q: How can Tim Pawlenty have a better chance of winning the nomination than someone like Mitt Romney or Michele Bachmann? His poll numbers are consistently bad.

While we are still in Phase Two of the primary, poll numbers are less useful in predicting the outcome of the race. Candidates with little charisma or name recognition are unable to gain in the polls because few people--even in early primary states--are paying any attention to the race. Even Mike Huckabee, with his considerable rhetorical skills, was polling at about 0% at this time in the last presidential primary.

Instead, it is more useful to look at candidates' attributes and where they fit into the field of candidates. For detailed information of this kind about each of the candidates, see the Profiles page. A candidate like Bachmann or Romney will benefit from high name recognition in the early polls, but name recognition means less as time goes by. Early primary voters will inspect each candidate to find one who is perceived as very conservative and very electable. Voters currently have serious questions about Romney's conservatism, and they do not believe Bachmann can win the presidency. Those candidates will need to fix those problems to boost their chances of winning the nomination.

Meanwhile, Pawlenty's biggest perceived weakness is that he is a boring speaker. Judging by the most recent winners of the Republican presidential nomination (John McCain, George W. Bush, Bob Dole, and George H.W. Bush), this is not as big an obstacle.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Who Will Win the South Carolina Primary in 2012?

In previous posts we examined the possible winners of the Iowa Caucus and the New Hampshire Primary. Today, we will look at the primary that has been won by the eventual Republican presidential nominee in every election since 1980: South Carolina.

South Carolina has a reputation for being receptive to conservative candidates, particularly socially conservative ones. Today, the struggle in the Republican Party is between those who align with the Tea Party movement, and those whom the Tea Party members label "RINOs." South Carolina would not seem like a great place to campaign if you're a moderate, establishment Republican. But as we saw in the history of both Iowa and New Hampshire, South Carolina frequently votes for such candidates.

The following is a list of the winners of the South Carolina Primary since it began in 1980. (Years with incumbent presidents have been excluded, since the incumbent president won each time almost automatically.)

South Carolina
1980 -- Ronald Reagan
1988 -- George Bush, Sr.
1996 -- Bob Dole
2000 -- George W. Bush
2008 -- John McCain

Unlike Iowa and New Hampshire, South Carolina is heavily influenced by who wins earlier contests. This means that it's not just South Carolina whose preferences matter, but also Iowa's and New Hampshire's. Winning one of the earlier contests will give a candidate a big boost, and failing to win either will diminish a candidate. It should be said that in 2008, McCain only barely defeated Huckabee. But Huckabee and McCain had both won a contest before South Carolina.

Where does that leave South Carolina? Early polling is even less help here. There have been few South Carolina polls so far; only one has been taken since Mike Huckabee left the race. None have been taken since Michele Bachmann entered the race. Even worse, no South Carolina poll can take into account the effect of the results of the Iowa Caucus and New Hampshire Primary.

Still, we can at least set forth some basic scenarios, as with did with the other early contests.

Scenario #1: United Party. A candidate emerges who can unite both the Tea Party and establishment wings of the Republican Party.

As before, this is the Chris Christie scenario. If he wins Iowa and either wins or does well in New Hampshire, he will easily go on to win South Carolina and the Republican nomination.

Scenario #2: Frontrunner Wins. Mitt Romney has the campaign infrastructure built up sufficiently to compete everywhere, and no one is able to knock him down.

If Romney wins Iowa and New Hampshire, he will win South Carolina. Though South Carolinians may not like him very much, it will be almost impossible for an anti-Romney candidate to lose Iowa and come back to win South Carolina.

Scenario #3: Electable Anti-Romney. A highly electable candidate who is perceived as being to the right of Romney wins Iowa, but doesn't do as well in New Hampshire.

If the winner of Iowa is perceived as being just as electable as Romney, but more conservative than him, then that candidate is likely to win South Carolina. Tim Pawlenty is the candidate most likely to fit this description (putting aside Christie, of the "United Party" scenario).

Scenario #4: Moderately Electable Anti-Romney. A candidate to the right of Romney wins Iowa, but there is some real doubt as to whether he will be able to defeat President Obama in the general election. Then Romney wins New Hampshire.

If Rick Perry enters the race, then this scenario is made for him. If it occurs, Perry will argue that he's the man with the true conservative credentials. Romney will argue that he's the more electable one. It will be an interesting test. Perry may be able to squeeze out a win, since South Carolina is more favorable turf for him. Then Romney will spin that he did "better than expected" in the Southern state.

Scenario #5: Unelectable Anti-Romney. A Tea Partier with little chance of winning the general election manages to win in Iowa, while Romney wins New Hampshire.

This would be Bachmann's or Herman Cain's scenario. Romney hopes that voters will put a high premium on electability. As history has shown, voters tend to do this. It's possible that an insurgent Tea Partier will win anyway, and again Romney will attempt to spin the results.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

New Hampshire Poll Shows Mitt Romney's Competitor Is Chris Christie

From the beginning, Elephant Watcher has cautioned that early polls are problematic for a number of reasons. One of the biggest issues is that a poll's results can be skewed simply by a pollster's choice of which candidates to include. Whenever a pollster chooses to include an unusual set of candidates, particularly if Chris Christie is one of them, it's worth taking a closer look.

Public Policy Polling, a Democratic pollster, has released a new poll of New Hampshire. One might expect a Democratic pollster's results to lean left, such as that moderate candidates overperform. However, as we saw in our polling round-up a few days ago, PPP's polls tend to skew in favor of candidates like Michele Bachmann and Herman Cain. (Then again, a Democratic pollster might want to push candidates perceived to be unable to defeat President Obama in the general election.)

At any rate, PPP did a New Hampshire poll that included some candidates who either say they aren't running or are unlikely to run, including Jeb Bush, Paul Ryan, Rudy Giuliani, and Chris Christie. Here are the results:

New Hampshire
Mitt Romney 26
Chris Christie 20
Michele Bachmann 14
Rudy Giuliani 9
Jeb Bush 8
Sarah Palin 8
Tim Pawlenty 5
Paul Ryan 3

Although Christie has repeatedly said he's not running, though most pundits assume he won't, and although New Hampshire is widely considered a Romney stronghold, Christie trails by only 6 points. This demonstrates an impressive amount of latent support for Christie--and vulnerability for Romney. Were Christie to run, Romney would need to pour every resource he has into New Hampshire. This is another good reason why Romney shouldn't gamble too much on Iowa. If he loses New Hampshire, his campaign is over.

Another interesting finding from PPP's data is the level of support Christie receives from Tea Partiers. Christie is governor of New Jersey and has generally avoided alienating social moderates. The Republican establishment views him favorably. But, in fact, it is the Tea Party that supports him most. Of those who identify with the Tea Party movement, 81% view him favorably and 7% unfavorably. Even Michele Bachmann, the "Queen of the Tea Party," only posts comparable numbers: 86% favorable, 11% unfavorable. No other candidate comes close. Sarah Palin receives 70% to 19%. Romney gets 59% favorable, 34% unfavorable.

That data suggests that Christie's Tea Party opponents will be hard pressed to call him a "RINO" or a moderate. As Christie is so uniquely poised to gain support from both wings of the Party, he has the best position in the race. Elephant Watcher calculates that Christie currently has a 66% chance of winning the nomination.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Mitt Romney's Strategy: Play the Frontrunner

It's time once again for a review of a candidate's strategy. This time, we will consider how Mitt Romney is doing. 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.

We have discussed at length how Romney's Achilles heel is Romneycare, the state health care program he instituted in Massachusetts, and which he has refused to disavow. It might seem odd to focus on one policy--after all, every candidate has supported one policy or another that Republicans don't like. What makes Romneycare particularly damaging is that it is so similar to Obamacare, the very thing that most animated the Tea Party and Republican opposition to President Obama. However, Romney has so far managed to avoid being attacked for it. If Romney isn't careful, he may be lulled into a false sense of security--he's bound to have to face up to Romneycare eventually.

Romney's Profile indicates that his overall weakness is voter skepticism about whether he's really a conservative. By contrast, he has a high "perceived electability" rating. He has only a medium "rhetorical skill" rating, but Republicans generally don't mind a stiff candidate. In fact, every Republican presidential nominee for more than a quarter of a century has lacked rhetorical skill: John McCain, George W. Bush, Bob Dole, and George H.W. Bush all had fair-to-poor speaking ability.

At this point, it's unlikely that there is much Romney can do to enhance his level of perceived conservatism. He'll have to work on his answer for Romneycare, but otherwise, people either see him as a flip-flopping "RINO" or they don't. So what can Romney do? He can redirect the conversation, as much as possible, to his strengths. That's electability: his image as a credible, traditional candidate who knows about the economy.

So far, New Hampshire polls suggest that New Hampshirites are very receptive to Romney. The usual caveats about early polling apply, but his leads in New Hampshire polls have been enormous. They can't be written off as merely the byproduct of name recognition.

Iowa is a different story. We've reviewed the possible winners of Iowa. Some would be easy for Romney to defeat, others would be quite difficult. For now, Romney seems to understand the proper course to take: Assume the winner of the Iowa Caucus will have electability issues, and provide a contrast. Romney doesn't need to attack people like Michele Bachmann or Herman Cain. The media and the Republican establishment will do that for him. Besides, the stronger they are, the more strategic voters will flock to a "safe" candidate like Romney. Romney has instead concentrated on showing that he is presidential.

There's some indication that Romney may begin the primary campaign by essentially pretending he's already in the general election, by attacking Obama on the economy. As long as the chief "Anti-Romney" candidate isn't someone who shares his high perceived electability, he may as well run against Obama. If the Anti-Romney is someone electable, however, intra-Party fighting will commence.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Who Will Win the New Hampshire Primary in 2012?

Previously, we took a look at the different scenarios of who might win the Iowa Caucus. There were quite a few different possibilities; the field is wide open. The contest in New Hampshire will be almost as important as the one in Iowa, but it has fewer players.

Listed roughly in order of their probability, the following are the basic New Hampshire scenarios, followed by a discussion of the implications:

Scenario #1: United Party. A new candidate enters the race who is able to unify and excite both the Tea Party and the Republican establishment.

Once again, this is the Chris Christie scenario. If Christie enters the race and wins Iowa, it's likely that he will take New Hampshire as well, or come close to it. This is a "game over" possibility: If it occurs, the 2012 Republican nomination becomes a coronation, and the race comes to a rapid conclusion.

Scenario #2: Romney Holds His Lead. Mitt Romney, who has maintained a significant lead in the New Hampshire polls, wins with relative ease.

There are a number of reasons why Romney might maintain his lead. It could be because an unelectable candidate wins Iowa, scaring people into making sure an electable candidate wins New Hampshire. Or it could be because New Hampshirites are unbothered by Romneycare and think he's a good candidate.

Scenario #3: Huntsman Takes Out Romney. Jon Huntsman, whose entire strategy is based around New Hampshire, manages to convince New Hampshirites that he makes a better establishment candidate than Romney.

If Huntsman aggressively pursues the presidency in 2012 (as opposed to some other job), he might be able to beat Romney. New Hampshire's voters may want someone new.

Scenario #4: Pawlenty's Dream. Tim Pawlenty becomes the last man standing, a true consensus candidate. After Pawlenty wins Iowa, Romney implodes, and Pawlenty either takes New Hampshire or does well there.

Given the level of Republicans' dissatisfaction with the candidates they know, this is a possibility. They don't really know Pawlenty yet, so they don't have much chance to dislike him. But they do believe he's electable and to the right of Romney.

What should immediately stand out is that each of these scenarios involves a candidate (Christie, Romney, Huntsman, or Pawlenty) winning New Hampshire who is classified as highly electable on his Profile. It's not that New Hampshire inherently prefers electable establishment candidates more than Iowa; history has shown us that it isn't the case. It simply turned out that way.

Since Republican primary voters place a premium on electability, it's likely that the New Hampshire winner will win the nomination--but only if the Iowa winner (assuming it's a different person) has questionable electability. New Hampshire-centric candidates should fear someone like Christie or Pawlenty winning Iowa, but should not be too frightened by Michele Bachmann or Herman Cain. Rick Perry would present a more balanced matchup.

Monday, July 4, 2011

What Job Is Jon Huntsman Running For?

Jon Huntsman, Jr. entered the race to little fanfare last month. Though he is a favorite of the Washington establishment, few people took much notice of his campaign, and he made little effort to get notice. Huntsman deliberately timed his entry into the race after the June 13th debate, even though he had been preparing for the run in advance of it. Huntsman, unlike most other candidates, entered the race realizing how low his poll numbers were, and how difficult it would be to win the nomination. By contrast, candidates like Tim Pawlenty and Herman Cain made preparations for their campaigns before there was any good polling data. They took a leap of faith, not knowing how voters would respond to them--or even whom their opponents would be. Why would Huntsman get into the race if he knew in advance how slim his chances would be?

As Elephant Watcher observed when Huntsman made his announcement, it's possible that Huntsman feels there's a benefit to running even if he doesn't win. If, say, Mitt Romney wins the nomination and President Obama is reelected in 2012, there will be an opening for a Republican to run in 2016 with no incumbent opponent from either party. Since the Republican Party has a history of nominating the runner-up from the previous nomination contest (or at least someone who has run before), it could be to Huntsman's benefit in 2016 if he ran in 2012.

Another theory is that Jon Huntsman, with his considerable diplomatic and foreign policy experience, is actually running for the position of secretary of state. If one of his opponents wins the Republican nomination and defeats Obama, that new Republican president could appoint Huntsman as his secretary of state. The idea goes that by running for the nomination and failing, Huntsman still raises his visibility and gets many opportunities to advertise his diplomatic credentials.

The third theory is the most obvious one, that Huntsman intends to win the presidency in 2012. The odds may be against him, but he does have a path to victory: through Romney. If Huntsman can topple Romney in New Hampshire, he will replace Romney and have a shot at the nomination. Anyone who wins the Republican nomination, especially if he is highly electable, stands a good chance at winning the general election.

It may be possible to deduce from Huntsman's behavior which of the jobs he's after. Each of these theories requires a different scenario. Let's start by looking at the first scenario, where Huntsman intends to run for president in 2016. This requires Obama to win reelection. Thus, we would expect Huntsman to spend a lot less time attacking Obama. Normally a candidate spends a lot of time criticizing the incumbent of the other party, but in this scenario Huntsman actually wants Obama to win reelection. Huntsman may even want to spend more time attacking his Republican opponents, though he would want to avoid making permanent enemies.

If Huntsman wants to be secretary of state, he needs for Obama to lose. Thus, he may be more willing to attack Obama. He would be a lot less willing to attack the Republican whom he thinks will win the nomination; after all, that would be the person who wins the general election and appoints Huntsman secretary of state. The biggest hint of all would be if Huntsman spends a lot of his campaign talking about foreign policy. As we've observed numerous times, the 2012 election will be about the economy. Huntsman has a conservative economic record, so it's not as though he needs to avoid that topic in lieu of discussing foreign policy. But if Huntsman wants to be appointed secretary of state, it would make more sense for him to advertise his diplomatic and foreign policy credentials.

Finally, if Huntsman truly intends to win the presidency in 2012, he will need to attack Romney and Obama. He needs both of them to lose for himself to win. And he will focus more on economic policy, since that will be the issue voters look at when picking their president.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Michele Bachmann Surges in the Polls

Over half a month has past since Michele Bachmann entered the race at the June 13th primary debate. That's enough time for a lot of polls to be taken that reflect Bachmann's entry. Most of the polls are national primary polls, but there have been some state primary polls taken, as well. Bachmann has surged in the polls since the debate. It's worth taking a closer look to determine how well she's doing, and whether the polls accurately reflect her position in the race. First we'll look at national primary polls:

National Primary Polls
06/14 Rasmussen -- Romney 33, Bachmann 19, Cain 10, Gingrich 9
06/21 Zogby -- Bachmann 24, Cain 15, Romney 15, Paul 13
06/23 Marist -- Romney 19, Giuliani 13, Perry 13, Palin 11
06/28 Fox News -- Romney 18, Perry 13, Bachmann 11, Giuliani 10

Next, the most recent polls of early primaries:

06/22 Des Moines Register -- Romney 23, Bachmann 22, Cain 10, Gingrich 7

New Hampshire
06/25 Suffolk/7News -- Romney 36, Bachmann 11, Paul 8, Giuliani 5
06/15 Magellan (R) -- Romney 42, Bachmann 10, Paul 10, Palin 7

Finally, random primary polls from later state contests. For some reason, Public Policy Polling (PPP) has been a busy bee:

06/19 PPP (D) -- Romney 27, Bachmann 17, Palin 17, Cain 10

New Mexico
06/26 PPP (D) -- Bachmann 22, Romney 22, Palin 14, Cain 10

06/21 PPP (D) -- Romney 28, Bachmann 18, Palin 16, Paul 9

So what do all of these polls tell us? First, that Mitt Romney is leading in the early polls. Second, that PPP and Zogby polls seem to love Bachmann. Looking at the state polls, you would think Bachmann is in second place. But the national primary polls have a lot of variance, with potential candidates like Rick Perry and Rudy Giuliani mixing things up.

Earlier this year, we saw how problematic early national primary polls are. The same could be said for state polls of later contests, such as the ones PPP is aggressively polling. People simply aren't paying much attention to the race yet, and by the time they do, their opinions will be shaped by the results of Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada, and South Carolina. That's why it's best to concentrate on polling data in those early states.

Of course, the 2012 primary is only in Phase Two, when even the voters of early primary states have not begun paying attention. Polls are heavily influenced by name recognition and can be warped by the decision of the pollster on which candidates to include. Note, for instance, that some of the polls include Sarah Palin and some do not. Some include Perry or Giuliani, while others don't. And none include Chris Christie. As a demonstration of the strange results, consider the Zogby and Marist national primary polls: Zogby has Bachmann in first place, while Marist doesn't even have her in the top four.

What we can tell is that Bachmann is in a stronger starting position than other well-known candidates, like Newt Gingrich and Ron Paul, and probably Sarah Palin and Rudy Giuliani. Romney is doing better, but depending upon the poll, isn't doing better by much.

Perhaps the most reasonable conclusion that can be drawn from all of these polls is that the race is wide open. Romney does not have a prohibitive lead, even against someone with Bachmann's weaknesses. And the polls including people like Perry, Palin, and Giuliani show that people aren't clear on who is running yet. All of this reinforces the idea that there is a vacuum in the field. One candidate has not arrived yet who can unite the Republican Party.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Is Chris Christie Running for President? Part II

Continued from Part I.

What kind of analysis can we employ to make a guess about whether a potential candidate will actually run for president? Ultimately it is a "guess," especially when a candidate has the ability to change his mind, but there are three factors worth looking at: Motive, means, and opportunity. In popular culture, these are the elements needed to prove that a suspect committed a crime. Perhaps unnervingly, they can also be used to predict someone's presidential intentions.

The first element, motive, refers to a candidate's desire to run for president and to become president. For most high-level politicians, motive is assumed. It's rare for someone to gain high political office without first possessing a lot of ambition. That's because politics is a difficult business, and ambition is needed to motivate a politician to get through the difficult times.

But motive isn't always present. As we mentioned in Part I, Mike Huckabee decided not to run because for whatever reason, his heart wasn't in it. In 2008, Fred Thompson did run, but he did so in a half-hearted way because he wasn't fully committed. A large portion of Newt Gingrich's campaign staff quit, apparently feeling Gingrich wasn't taking the campaign seriously enough. Other examples include those who lack a desire to get into politics. General David Petraeus has been asked about whether he might run for president, but it's clear he's not interested. Donald Trump could have gotten involved in politics, but he'd rather stick with the business world.

What about Chris Christie? While he denies he'll run for president this time, he won't close the door on 2016. That's a strong hint that he has a desire to become president--if not now, then later. When interviewed by Piers Morgan on CNN earlier this month, Morgan visited Christie's high school and observed that Christie was "president of everything" when he was a student. It's fair to say Christie possesses the motive to run for president.

The second element, means, refers to a candidate's political abilities. Specifically, a candidate possesses the means if he is capable of winning the presidential nomination of his party and winning a general election. Since we're dealing with a candidate's own decision whether to run, this is a matter of his perception. If a candidate thinks he has the capability of winning the presidency, he has the means.

Politicians who operate at a high level not only possess ambition, but also ego. Usually they think they can become president unless there's evidence to the contrary: lack of popularity, low poll numbers, etc. If Sarah Palin finally decides not to run, it will be because she's seen enough polls to convince her she lacks the means to win--her negatives are too high.

As for Christie, he's largely answered this question. Earlier this year, Christie claimed in an interview that politically-minded people had been coming to him plotting out a course where he could win. Christie explained that he already knew that he could win the nomination and the presidency. Christie's popularity, combined with positive feedback from Republicans around the country and political commentators, have almost certainly convinced Christie he is presidential material. It's fair to say Christie thinks he possesses the means.

The final element, opportunity, refers to timing. If a candidate thinks he has the means to become president, does he think he can win this election? Again, it's a matter of the candidate's own perception.

Even the best and most confident politicians can feel the timing isn't right. If the incumbent president is a member of your own party, it's unlikely you'll run against him. You'll wait for the next election instead. Likewise, if you think the other party's incumbent is unbeatable for reelection, you'll take a pass. In 1992, nearly all of the top Democratic contenders thought George Bush, Sr. was unbeatable after America won the Persian Gulf War. They skipped the election and were stunned to see Bill Clinton win. In 2004, Hillary Clinton knew she could win the nomination of her party, but thought George W. Bush was too difficult to defeat. She felt 2008 was her opportunity. And there are a number of rising stars in the Republican Party today who intend to run in 2016 or 2020, when they have more experience.

Christie, too, probably did not originally think he had the opportunity to run in 2012. He was too new to the national scene, and wanted to serve out a full term as New Jersey's governor. But then videos of Christie went "viral" and he became a favorite of both the Tea Party and establishment wings of the Republican Party. When the Republican 2012 field became settled, voters were dissatisfied with the available choices. And President Obama's approval ratings flatlined, making the Republican nomination very attractive.

Christie's remarks about "knowing" he can win were directed at the 2012 nomination and presidency. On that basis, it may be fair to say Christie knows he has the opportunity. Over the next few months, which comprise Phase Two of the primary, Republicans will decide whether they are still dissatisfied with the candidates already in the race. If things continue as they are, Christie should feel he has the motive, means, and opportunity to become president.

On the other hand, as we saw with Mitch Daniels, family matters. Christie's wife and children could decide it's too soon, and Christie might give them veto power. They could have already done so. But families can change their minds, too. Especially if, by September, the Republican Party still thinks it needs Christie.

Friday, July 1, 2011

2012 Republican Primary in Review: June 2011

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

In June, the contest for the Republican nomination for president entered Phase Two, and the field of candidates was almost finalized. Over the course of the month, Mitt Romney, Rick Santorum, Jon Huntsman, and Michele Bachmann all officially entered the race. Meanwhile, Sarah Palin stayed out of the race, leading many to conclude that she will not run; she made no commitment either way.

The key moment of the month was the debate on June 13th. It was the first major debate of the primary season, though five candidates (including Gary Johnson) debated in early May. Conventional wisdom crystallized about the relative strength of some of the candidates. Mitt Romney, who topped all of the state primary polls after Mike Huckabee's departure in May, solidified his position as the frontrunner. He was not seriously attacked on the Romneycare issue. Tim Pawlenty appeared weak at the debate for failing to challenge Romney. His low poll numbers gave his campaign the impression of being in dire shape.

Michele Bachmann's appearance at the debate, combined with Sarah Palin's absence, marked a transition. Before, much attention was given to Palin. Bachmann shied away from getting into the race because she feared Palin might run. With no official word from Palin, Bachmann jumped into the race. A feud developed between the two, particularly after Bachmann's campaign manager, Ed Rollins, made disparaging remarks about Palin. But Bachmann was composed at the debate and did well in an Iowa poll. By the end of the month, the media turned its attention away from Palin and toward Bachmann.

Meanwhile, Herman Cain struggled to maintain his position as the Tea Party's favorite candidate. Before Bachmann got into the race, he got plenty of attention. Unfortunately, journalists and voters sensed weakness in Cain as they got a closer look at him. With Cain's honeymoon period wearing off and Bachmann's honeymoon beginning, Cain quickly lost ground.

June was a disaster for Newt Gingrich, whose campaign suffered a series of mass resignations. Gingrich kept calm and carried on, but was written off by the media. The campaigns of Rick Santorum and Jon Huntsman struggled to get off the ground. While Huntsman at least got some media attention, no one could quite articulate why Huntsman was running.

Rick Perry showed increasing signs of entering the race. He had previously denied that he would run, but suggested he might change his mind. A vacuum remained in the race, as most Republicans felt that the field of candidates was unsatisfactory. Perry likely perceived mixed reactions from voters as to whether they thought he could fill the void.

Chris Christie remained in the public eye, but under the radar as far as the 2012 primary was concerned. He was repeatedly questioned by interviewers whether he would run, and he continued to deny that he would. Elephant Watcher's calculation of the odds was relatively unchanged throughout the month; Christie maintained a huge lead with a 66% chance of winning the nomination. By the end of June, the sense of a void in the field was as great as ever. But Perry may attempt to fill it before Christie can.