Sunday, October 30, 2011

Who Will Win the Iowa Caucus in 2012?

Back in June, we considered the question of who will win the Iowa Caucus in 2012 by taking a look at the different scenarios that could take place. Much has changed in the last four months. Chris Christie's decision not to run means the "united party" scenario cannot play out: No candidate remains who can unite both wings of the Republican Party. Likewise, the "consensus candidate" scenario cannot occur, since Tim Pawlenty dropped out of the race: There is no establishment candidate who is inoffensive to the Tea Party. The removal of these two scenarios from the political chessboard has greatly enhanced the likelihood that Mitt Romney will win the nomination, since those were the scenarios he feared the most.

Meanwhile, the "moderately electable Tea Partier" scenario is less likely to occur, since Rick Perry's campaign has crashed. The future may allow Rick Santorum to step up and fill Perry's shoes, but he is currently nowhere in the polls. The two remaining scenarios are that Romney wins Iowa, or that an unelectable Tea Partier wins Iowa. In either case, Romney is the favorite to win the nomination.

Here is where the candidates currently stand in Iowa:

Iowa Caucus
10/26 Des Moines Reg -- Cain 23, Romney 22, Paul 12, Bachmann 8
10/25 CNN/Time -- Romney 24, Cain 21, Paul 12, Gingrich 10
10/19 Hawkeye/UIowa --Cain 37, Romney 27, Paul 11, Gingrich 8
10/19 Rasmussen -- Cain 28, Romney 21, Paul 10, Gingrich 9
10/16 Insider Adv -- Cain 26, Romney 18, Gingrich 12, Bachmann 11

Additional Iowa polling in the future may help us determine whether Herman Cain's lead over Romney has indeed disappeared, as the two most recent polls suggest. Until then, we may assume the following basic facts, which are present in each poll: Cain and Romney are leading in Iowa. Between the two of them, it's a close race. They are far ahead of the rest of the candidates, who are polling about 10% or less. Ron Paul and Newt Gingrich are probably at the front of the second-tier, with Michele Bachmann and Rick Perry not far behind.

Cain is the current Anti-Romney-in-Chief, but there are factors holding him back. The Tea Party vote is split. Romney remains within striking distance of winning Iowa. History suggests that voters will move in Romney's direction as voting day approaches, since primary voters--including those in Iowa--prefer to vote for electable candidates. If the past debates are any indication, Romney will benefit from additional debates in November and December.

In conclusion, Romney should probably be considered the favorite to win Iowa at the moment. He is a weak frontrunner, but Cain is a very weak alternative. The Anti-Romney vote may coalesce around someone, but Romney has advantages of his own. Romney should be happy with the situation in Iowa at the moment. A resurgent Perry or an ascendant Santorum would be the biggest threats to his winning the nomination, and neither is polling well.

Friday, October 28, 2011

How Did Michele Bachmann's Campaign Collapse?

In a recent post, we considered Rick Perry's terrible poll numbers: Perry is in third, fourth, or fifth even in his strongest states, and he has failed to take second in any recent poll. If Perry's numbers are terrible, then Michele Bachmann's are abysmal. Bachmann is currently in sixth in many polls. Even in her one "good" state--Iowa, where she has pinned all her hopes--she is in fifth. She has only managed to get to fourth place in one recent Iowa poll.

That's quite a collapse for Bachmann. During the summer, she was in first place in most Iowa polls. After Perry entered the race, she was still running second for a few weeks. Elephant Watcher has always voiced skepticism concerning Bachmann's campaign: She has never been given above a three percent chance of winning the nomination, and she is currently rated at 1%. Still, what happened to Bachmann?

Bachmann's central liability is the fact that she is considered unelectable. She has never won state-wide office and is prone to gaffes. Her reputation among independent voters is that of an extremist or a laughing stock. Her central asset is the purity of her conservative record. As for rhetorical skill, she is weak. What this adds up to is a candidate who can be easily cast aside and replaced if another conservative comes along who is either electable or rhetorically gifted.

Perry greatly assisted in the downfall of Bachmann. Before the attacks on his conservative credentials began in the September debates, he was viewed as an electable alternative to Bachmann. As soon as Perry entered the race in August, Bachmann's supporters immediately jumped ship. During September, Perry began to fall due to attacks against his conservatism and electability. But the former Bachmann supporters didn't jump back. By that point, their attention was already shifting to Herman Cain.

Cain, like Bachmann, is considered unelectable. But unlike Bachmann, Cain possesses charisma. Among the original Bachmann supporters, some wanted a more electable candidate, and they went to Perry. The rest, who demanded ideological purity, went to Cain. Since no one had yet attacked Cain's conservatism, voters assumed Cain was simply a charismatic version of Bachmann.

Meanwhile, perhaps a slice of Bachmann's former support went over to Newt Gingrich. Since he is neither viewed as ideologically pure or highly electable, we might suppose that he simply represents another "not Mitt Romney" figure. At the same time, voters experiencing an early "strategic shift" (putting the desire to defeat Barack Obama above all else) went to Mitt Romney.

If you want someone ideologically pure, you go to charismatic Cain (until someone attacks his conservatism, that is). If you want someone mostly conservative with more credentials than Bachmann, you go to Perry. If you want someone who can beat Obama, you go to Romney. If you're too disgusted by Romney's flip-flops to go to him (yet), you go to Gingrich. Bachmann has thus been squeezed out entirely.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

More Debates to Be Scheduled: Who Benefits?

Originally, the first contest in the 2012 Republican presidential primary--the Iowa Caucus--was scheduled to take place in early February 2012. In advance of Iowa, there were to be three debates held in January, two in December, and one in November. But the Florida Primary moved its own date up to January 31, forcing the other early states to move a month early. Now the sponsors of the debates originally scheduled for January are moving the debates up, too. In addition, good ratings for the most recent Republican primary debates have prompted debate sponsors (like CNN and Fox News) to schedule additional debates.

Now, instead of one debate in November, there may be as many as three; in December, there may be as many as five primary debates; in January, prior to the Florida Primary, there could be as many as six more. Which candidates benefit from all of these additional debates?

As a general rule, candidates who are behind in the polls want there to be as many debates as possible. Each debate represents an opportunity to shake things up. If you're behind, debates allow you to change that. Ordinarily, a candidate who is in the lead would rather there be fewer debates so that the status quo is less likely to be disturbed. Also, minor candidates--who have few resources--prefer as many debates as possible, since they are opportunities to get free TV time and to be taken seriously.

Mitt Romney is considered by most observers, including Elephant Watcher, to be the frontrunner in this race. Based upon the principles described above, wouldn't Romney have the most to lose by the scheduling of all these new debates? Not necessarily. One obvious principle not included in the preceding paragraph is the that candidates who are skilled debaters welcome the debates. Though Romney lacks charisma, and though he has occasionally been rattled by attacks at the debates, he has proven to be a skilled debater. The results speak for themselves: Before the September debates, he was polling behind, and now he's the frontrunner. If Romney can continue to deliver better debate performances than his foes--especially Rick Perry--then he is almost guaranteed the nomination.

Perry has proven to be the worst of the debaters. Again, the "before and after" picture of the polls speaks for itself. Yet if Perry can improve, the additional debates provide him additional opportunities to recover. His poll numbers at the moment are terrible. If Perry is at least mediocre in the future debates, the memory of his truly disastrous debate performances will fade. But if Perry is unable to articulate his thoughts in future debates, they will obliterate him.

Herman Cain is an interesting case. His entire campaign relied upon the debates, since he had no resources (and apparently little interest in running a conventional campaign). Yet he has peaked too soon. If he continues to poll well, the debates will simply provide an opportunity for him to be grilled by his opponents (and the debate moderators). He is good when speaking from his own turf, but otherwise he falls apart.

Newt Gingrich is often considered the best debater in the group. He usually gets a lot of applause at debates, and his poll numbers have risen a bit. In reality, however, Gingrich has done little debating at the debates. He has tended not to attack or argue with his opponents, preferring instead to go for the easy applause line. Thus, Gingrich is somewhat untested. If Gingrich is as good at debates as advertised, and if he were to engage his opponents, the extra debates will be a boon to Gingrich. A word of caution: Gingrich has not yet been attacked by his opponents.

The remaining minor candidates have benefited little from the debates thus far. If Cain crashes early enough, the Tea Party will be in the market for a new favorite. This will open up an opportunity for Rick Santorum to move up in the polls based on his debate performances. If something unexpected happens and Romney becomes vulnerable, perhaps Jon Huntsman will have an opportunity of his own. Meanwhile, Michele Bachmann and Ron Paul have little hope.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Rick Perry's Terrible Poll Numbers

On paper, Rick Perry has the potential to be a strong candidate in the race for the Republican 2012 presidential nomination: He is currently in office, he has been governor of the largest red state for the last ten years, there is a record of strong job growth in his state, he has a history of winning state-wide elections, he has a lot of financial backing from powerful Republican fundraisers, he is willing to "talk tough" against the Democrats, and he is generally considered to be a conservative.

Perry's "on-paper" credentials catapulted him to the front of the pack, but he has since collapsed. By showing his inability to debate and by making controversial attacks against social security, his perceived electability fell. By appearing soft on illegal immigration and attempting to force the HPV vaccine, his perceived conservatism fell.

Being undermined on both electability and conservatism is a deadly combination. Today's poll round-up will focus on just how far Perry has fallen. The following national and early state polls were conducted within the last two weeks. Perry's rank will be bolded on each poll.

National Primary Polls
10/17 Associated Press -- Romney 30, Cain 26, Perry 13, Paul 8
10/16 CNN/Opinion Research -- Romney 26, Cain 25, Perry 13, Paul 9
10/12 Rasmussen -- Romney 29, Cain 29, Gingrich 10, Perry 9
10/10 PPP (D) -- Cain 30, Romney 22, Gingrich 15, Perry 14
10/10 NBC/WSJ -- Cain 27, Romney 23, Perry 16, Paul 11
10/10 Reuters/Ipsos -- Romney 23, Cain 19, Paul 13, Perry 10

Iowa Caucus
10/19 Hawkeye/UIowa --Cain 37, Romney 27, Paul 11, Gingrich 8 (5th)
10/19 Rasmussen -- Cain 28, Romney 21, Paul 10, Gingrich 9 (5th)
10/16 Insider Adv -- Cain 26, Romney 18, Gingrich 12, Bachmann 11 (5th)
10/10 PPP (D) -- Cain 30, Romney 22, Paul 10, Perry 9

New Hampshire Primary
10/16 Insider Adv -- Romney 39, Cain 24, Paul 11, Huntsman 5 (5th)
10/13 Magellan (R) -- Romney 41, Cain 20, Paul 10, Huntsman 6 (5th)

South Carolina Primary
10/16 Insider Adv -- Cain 32, Romney 16, Perry 12, Gingrich 8
10/13 NBC/Marist -- Cain 31, Romney 28, Perry 10, Gingrich 7
10/10 ARG -- Cain 26, Romney 25, Perry 15, Gingrich 8

Florida Primary
10/16 Insider Adv -- Romney 33, Cain 30, Gingrich 12, Perry 3
10/12 NBC/Marist -- Romney 33, Cain 32, Perry 9, Gingrich 6
10/12 ARG -- Cain 34, Romney 28, Gingrich 11, Perry 5

These polls indicate that Perry is actually weakest in the earliest states; his national numbers are weak, but stronger than his Iowa and New Hampshire numbers. Were Perry to lose in Iowa and be crushed in New Hampshire, as the current polls suggest he would be, Perry would fall further behind in South Carolina and Florida. Perry has a long way to climb back, and he will need to get past Herman Cain and Newt Gingrich to do it. So far he has exhibited no inclination to do anything beyond attacking Mitt Romney.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Will Mitt Romney Shift Resources to Iowa?

According to the latest reporting, Mitt Romney has finally begun to make appearances in Iowa, and he may be shifting resources there (e.g. hiring staff, buying TV time on Iowan stations, etc.). What does this say about the state of the 2012 Republican presidential primary, and what are the implications if Romney does focus more on Iowa?

From the beginning of the primary season, the early contests have been divided into two groups: Those perceived to be in Tea Party favorite states, and those in establishment states. Iowa represented the best hope for (potential) candidates like Sarah Palin, Michele Bachmann, and Rick Perry, while New Hampshire would be won by an establishment candidate such as Romney or Chris Christie. As many of the establishment-friendly personalities dropped out of the race, New Hampshire became a stronghold for Romney. Meanwhile, Iowa became split among various Tea Party favorites--and Romney.

As Iowa polls have shown different frontrunners in that state each month, Romney has managed to hold onto a core group of voters. This has usually kept him in second place, though when Tea Party flavors-of-the-month crashed, Romney occasionally polled first. Meanwhile, Romney has enjoyed a commanding lead over all opponents in every New Hampshire poll taken this year.

In 2008, Romney learned that taking second place counts for little if you can't take first in one of the early contests. As a result, Romney has poured all of his resources into New Hampshire, guaranteeing him a win. He has avoided putting too much into Iowa, where he lost in 2008. Yet the prospect of winning Iowa must be tempting, since a Romney win in Iowa would guarantee him a swift nomination victory. If Romney has already guaranteed himself a win in New Hampshire, he has a free hand to move resources into Iowa. Over time, it will become more and more tempting.

Judging from the polls, Romney is always within striking distance of winning Iowa. If he puts resources into the state, he may increase in the polls. If he continues winning debates, he will rise even more. And in the weeks before votes are cast, a "strategic shift" will take place, with voters switching their support toward candidates they perceive as best able to defeat Barack Obama--in other words, a pro-Romney shift.

On the other hand, Romney has fared well in the Iowa polls partly due to the split among the different anti-Romney candidates. As voting day approaches, voters also shift in favor of the leading contenders. When the anti-Romney vote coalesces, it may become much more difficult for Romney to take first. If they remain divided, it will be easier. In either case, much will depend on just how effective Romney's resources are, once they are employed.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Will Newt Gingrich Be the Next Flavor of the Month?

From the beginning of the primary season, Mitt Romney has been the default "next in line" choice for the Republican Party. Because of Romney's flaws, the Party has been searching for an alternative. The reason why the Party--particularly those in the Tea Party who feel Romney is too liberal--has jumped from one candidate to the next is that there is no proper alternative to Romney. Chris Christie, Mike Huckabee, Mitch Daniels, and Tim Pawlenty could have been alternatives, but they are not running. Republican primary voters have gone from one flavor of the month to next, causing a spike in various candidates' poll numbers, only to watch them crash when they discover that candidate's flaws. First it was Herman Cain, then Michele Bachmann, then Rick Perry, then Herman Cain again (since few people were paying attention to the race when Cain was first popular).

As Elephant Watcher explained prior to this week's debate, Herman Cain is unlikely to win. He is simply too prone to gaffes, and he provides his opponents with plenty of ammunition to use against him. Cain's poll numbers are likely to drop within the next few weeks as Cain's negatives become more clear. This presents the Tea Party wing with the same old problem: Where do their votes go now?

Since they have already considered and dismissed Michele Bachmann and Rick Perry, they may try Newt Gingrich next. Despite Gingrich's high name recognition, he has long been under-performing in the polls. Three months ago, we considered the question of why Newt Gingrich's poll numbers are so low. At that time, Elephant Watcher correctly predicted that Gingrich's numbers would begin to rise in September. The debates allowed Gingrich to reintroduce himself to voters, and his numbers have risen, especially in Florida primary polls and national primary polls.

However, Gingrich is unlikely to succeed. He already suffers from the same problem of a "two-front war" that Elephant Watcher correctly predicted would damage Rick Perry in August. The problem is this: Republicans want a candidate who is electable and conservative. They may forgive a candidate for being an unreliable conservative if he is electable. They may even forgive him for lacking electability to a degree if he is conservative. But they will not choose a candidate if they doubt both his electability and conservatism.

The Tea Party dismissed Gingrich early on because of his image as an unreliable conservative, an impression captured best in a commercial he did in which he sat next to Nancy Pelosi on a couch. Though Gingrich is good at debates, the doubts about his ideological purity remain, just as they do for Romney. Gingrich also suffers from concerns about his electability. He has immense personal baggage and political baggage. Match-up polls of Gingrich vs. Obama tend to have Barack Obama winning by double-digits.

The dilemma is that a voter willing to compromise on conservatism will support an electable candidate like Romney, and a voter who only cares about ideological purity will support someone like Bachmann (or maybe Perry or Cain). This leaves Gingrich without a solid base.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Who Won the Republican Debate on October 18th?

Tonight's debate will likely reinforce Mitt Romney's status as the frontrunner in the 2012 Republican presidential primary. His closest competitor in the current polls, Herman Cain, was under heavy fire for his "9-9-9" tax plan. Being attacked for the first time, Cain seemed to lose his spark of charisma during the debate. Rick Perry continues to have difficulty articulating his thoughts, and he unwisely engaged in petty personal attacks against Romney. As Elephant Watcher observed yesterday, Perry should be focusing on his real competitor in Iowa and South Carolina: Herman Cain. Perry did himself no favors. Although Romney showed real annoyance (with Perry) for the first time, and although Romney took some heat, he generally remained calm and in control. If Republican voters want to choose the most "presidential" candidate, they will have no other choice than Romney.

The debate opened by asking every candidate to explain what they did not like about Herman Cain's "9-9-9" tax plan. The response was a difficult test for Cain: Michele Bachmann, Rick Santorum, and even Rick Perry, Ron Paul, and Mitt Romney attacked his plan. Clearly they all view Cain as a larger threat, thanks to Cain's performance in recent polls. Cain attempted to address their concerns (about the national sales tax component of the plan), but was overwhelmed. The candidates did damage to Cain right out of the gate.

Next, for the seventh time, Romney was attacked on Romneycare. Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich brought some new attacks against Romneycare, based on the failings of the Massachusetts plan. Romney emerged from the exchanges with confidence, though he did not do as good a job drawing distinctions between Romneycare and Obamacare. Perhaps he has done it in so many previous debates that he felt the need to avoid being repetitive. This was a mistake; many viewers simply have not watched previous debates. Romney acquitted himself well, but he took some heat. This was yet another example of how Romney's refusal to disavow Romneycare is a gift that keeps on giving for his opponents.

The debate got very heated when the subject turned to illegal immigration. Perry, still apparently believing that he is competing in the first tier, issued personal attacks against Romney. Perry accused Romney of being soft on illegal immigration by hiring illegal immigrants; it was the same negative attack (referring to a lawn mowing company) that failed to work for Rudy Giuliani when he tried it four years ago. Romney responded well, but was clearly annoyed by Perry's insistence on interrupting him. It was probably the most contentious moment of any debate so far. The audience, a very pro-Romney crowd from Nevada, agreed with Romney. Later in the debate, Perry brought up the issue yet again, and was booed by the audience.

Michele Bachmann remained tangential to the debate. For example, after the heated illegal immigration exchange between Romney and Perry, Bachmann claimed that the person who had real troubles was Barack Obama, because his aunt and uncle are illegal immigrants.

The Nevada crowd received plenty of pandering by the candidates on the issue of Yucca Mountain, a potential respository for nuclear waste. Nevadans oppose having nuclear waste at the site. Ron Paul, Perry, and Romney agreed. Romney did the best pandering, however.

Throughout the debate, Rick Santorum stuck to his theme of faith and family. He is waiting to pick up the pieces of the Evangelical vote in Iowa, whenever it might become available. Ron Paul was more rational in this debate (by his own standards), and was repeatedly applauded for his statements on the economy. The other candidates ignored him. Newt Gingrich did well and received plenty of applause, but once again he refused to tangle with the candidates who are ahead of him in the polls.

Jon Huntsman, so often invisible, was literally impossible to see tonight: He boycotted the debate. He was not mentioned by anyone, including the debate moderator, who let his absence go without comment.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Second October Primary Debate Tomorrow on CNN

It has only been a week since the last primary debate, but another will be held tomorrow on CNN at 8:00pm Eastern. This will be the final debate for the month of October.

Unlike the last debate, this one will be held on a cable channel most viewers are familiar with, so the ratings will be much higher. The stakes are higher as well. The impressions left by the candidates at tomorrow's debate will be left in many voters' minds until November.

In a sense, tomorrow's debate will be a repeat of last week's. The challenges faced by the various candidates are largely the same, and they will be given another opportunity to meet them. For Rick Perry, this means he has one final opportunity to do well in a debate. If he fails again, his supporters may not give him another chance. The primary calendar has been moved up to early January, and the Iowa Caucus may be held on January 3rd. Unless debates are rescheduled, there will be few debates between now and then. If Perry has another poor showing, he may simply run out of time.

For Mitt Romney, tomorrow's debate is an opportunity to cement his frontrunner status. He has done well in all of the previous debates (especially the last few). The other candidates seem incapable of derailing Romney, and they appear to be struggling to come up with new ways to attack him. For example, Romney has been attacked for his support of Romneycare at each of the six debates he's attended. It's unlikely that the seventh time will be the charm. If Romney gives another good performance, he will enjoy a positive media narrative for several weeks. He may be perceived as inevitable.

Herman Cain will be at the center of the debate. He is doing very well in the Iowa and South Carolina polls, and is even leading in some national primary polls. Yet he is almost entirely untested. In the past, Cain has shown weakness whenever he has been probed; he is clearly not a professional politician. If the other candidates decide to go on the attack, Cain will suffer tremendously. So far, the other candidates have not viewed him as a threat, and have left him alone. That will change tomorrow evening.

Ever since Perry got into the race, he has viewed Romney as his main competitor. Even after falling behind Cain in the latest polls, Perry has spent his time and money on attacking Romney. Now, perhaps, Perry will be forced to swallow his pride and admit that he's behind Cain. He needs to stop pretending he's still a first-tier candidate: The latest polling in early primary states (Iowa, South Carolina, Florida) have Rick Perry polling third, fourth, or even fifth place. Perry is no longer in a two-man race with Romney, no matter how much he would like it to be true. Perry must admit to himself that he needs to attack and defeat Cain if he is to get back into the race. If Perry focuses on attacking Romney instead, he will look pathetic.

The minor candidates are in a similar position. Michele Bachmann and Rick Santorum have little incentive to attack Romney or Perry now. Their attacks have helped cripple the Perry campaign, and Romney will be waiting in New Hampshire for the winner of Iowa. The present obstacle to the minor candidates is Herman Cain. To defeat him, they need to do to Cain what they did to Perry: successfully question his conservatism.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Can Herman Cain Really Win the Republican Nomination?

Herman Cain has enjoyed a sudden spike in his poll numbers, both in national primary polls and some early primary state polls (in Iowa, South Carolina, and Florida). But Cain's higher poll numbers have not been matched by a corresponding increase in Elephant Watcher's calculation of Cain's odds of winning the Republican nomination. Though Cain's odds may increase in future recalculations, he is still low, at 4%. Why is Cain unlikely to win, and why do his poll numbers overstate his support?

Cain is the latest in a long series of candidates whose poll numbers spiked, only to crash later. In April, Elephant Watcher explained why Donald Trump was unlikely to win despite polling well. A few months after Trump's crash, Michele Bachmann rose in the polls. Elephant Watcher then explained why Bachmann is unlikely to win. A few months later, Bachmann's numbers crashed in the face of a rising Rick Perry. Elephant Watcher responded by explaining why Perry is unlikely to win. Perry's numbers have crashed, and his support has gone to Cain. Now it's Cain's turn to be examined.

As with other candidates, Cain has been given a media honeymoon. Unlike Mitt Romney, whose flaws everyone is aware of, Cain is largely an unknown. He has received attention because of his charisma, but most voters haven't considered the disadvantages to nominating him. Until now, most haven't considered Cain a serious candidate. Now, by virtue of his poll numbers, he is. As time goes on, the media scrutiny will intensify.

Similarly, other candidates have felt little need to attack Cain, because they didn't consider him a real competitor. They were more afraid of alienating voters by unnecessarily attacking Cain. With Cain leading Bachmann and Perry in both national and early state polls, that will change. Perry has always considered Romney to be his chief opponent, and has spent millions of dollars on attack ads. Can Perry continue that strategy when Cain is taking away all his votes?

The authenticity of Cain's conservatism is untested. Voters have assumed that he is as conservative as it gets; he is a Tea Party favorite, after all. Once Cain's opponents research him, they may find that Cain, like every other candidate in the field (except perhaps Bachmann), has taken some very un-conservative positions over the years. And since Cain's electability is already doubtful, he could find himself in the same two-front war that destroyed Perry last month.

Cain is also prone to gaffes. Since Cain has never held elective office and is essentially brand new to politics, he tends to be less informed about various issues than, for example, Romney is. Earlier this year, Cain made a series of gaffes that helped enable Bachmann to take (temporarily) his Tea Party voters. At the moment, debate moderators, interviewers, and Cain's opponents seem more comfortable attacking his "9-9-9" tax plan. The trouble with that course is that Cain is familiar with his own tax plan, just as Mike Huckabee was comfortable fielding attacks against his religion in 2007-08. When Cain is asked about more obscure matters, he is likely to falter. On the other hand, his "9-9-9" plan is certainly open to attack, especially the sales tax component.

Cain will suffer in the coming months due to what we call the "strategic shift." As voting day approaches, voters become more strategic in their thinking. They put aside hopes of electing the candidate they like best, and they focus more on choosing a candidate who can win a general election. Unfortunately for Cain, his main rival will be Romney, who is perceived as highly electable. Cain is perceived as unelectable. The strategic shift will be punishing. If Cain were to win Iowa, it would spark a panic among Republicans who want to beat Barack Obama. They will flock to Romney.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Intrade Odds: Rick Perry Crashes Again, Ties Herman Cain

Rick Perry's odds on the Intrade market on the 2012 Republican nomination have crashed yet again following the Republican primary debate on October 11th. Perry peaked at 40% before the September debates; after them, he lost about half his support. Following this week's debate, Perry has lost another half of his support: He is currently trading at 10%.

Mitt Romney's odds have climbed a little higher, to 67.1%. Intrade investors believe he is twice as likely to win the nomination than the rest of the candidates combined. Herman Cain has also risen a little, to 9.5%. Cain and Perry are now essentially tied. Cain's rise on Intrade reflects Cain's rise in the latest polls. But Intrade investors are not quick to jump on the Cain train: If the polls are to be believed, Cain should be much higher than Perry.

As for the rest of the candidates, they are nowhere to be found. Jon Huntsman is the highest of them at 3.0%. Michele Bachmann is down to 1.1%. Intrade investors believe this is a three-man race, with Romney holding a whopping 57-point lead.

Perry's support has also collapsed in the Intrade markets on individual state contests. Whereas Perry was leading in the Iowa Caucus market and the South Carolina market, Romney is now leading in both, at 37.5% and 30%, respectively. It should be noted that although Romney is leading, he is still considered less than 50/50 to win those contests. Cain is splitting the Anti-Romney support.

In summary, the latest Intrade numbers reflect the perception that Mitt Romney is a huge favorite to win the nomination, that Rick Perry's support has crashed, that Herman Cain is rising, and that the Anti-Romney vote is split. The investors see some promise in Cain, but are skeptical of his ultimately winning. They have completely turned against former frontrunner Perry.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Who Won the Republican Debate on October 11th?

Who won the latest Republican debate? Going into the debate, Mitt Romney was the frontrunner. After the debate, he remains the frontrunner. Of all the candidates, Romney appeared the most presidential. He is becoming increasingly skilled in debates. Other candidates attempted to challenge Romney on a number of occasions, but he used them as opportunities to promote his candidacy. In some ways, Herman Cain was in the center of the debate. The crowd enjoyed Cain, but he runs the risk of becoming a one-note candidate, known only for his "9-9-9" plan. As for Rick Perry, he was not harmed as he was in previous debates, but he was flat. He seemed afraid of hurting himself. Romney and Cain were comfortable.

The Republican debate this evening had an unusual format. Rather than having each candidate at his own podium, as in all the previous debates, the candidates were seated at one big table. In the past, this format has been known to encourage the candidates to be a bit more civil. For some reason, candidates are less comfortable attacking each other when seated together.

For the first half of the debate, the candidates were indeed fairly civil. They used their responses to go into in-depth discussions of the issues, rather than attack each other. For the first half, there were none of the extended duels that we saw in the September debates (especially between Mitt Romney and Rick Perry).

During the second half of the debate, another unusual debate format was implemented: The candidates were instructed to ask questions of each other, rather than answer questions from the debate moderators. This gave the candidates an opportunity to attack each other.

Several candidates did decide Herman Cain was enough of a threat to attack him. Specifically, they criticized his "9-9-9" plan, saying it is impractical and unlikely to pass Congress. Rick Santorum sarcastically asked the audience whether they would approve of the sales tax portion. Santorum also attacked Cain for lacking experience. Michele Bachmann, odd as ever, made a "number of the beast" reference, noting that the plan is "6-6-6" if turned upside-down.

Though Cain's "9-9-9" plan was criticized, he stood firm. The crowd clearly enjoyed Cain's answers. Unfortunately for Perry, they enjoyed Cain much more than him. Perry missed an opportunity to hurt Cain, who is increasingly climbing in the polls in Perry's states. Ron Paul, being Ron Paul, only participated in a sideshow by attacking Cain for being connected to the Federal Reserve. But perhaps Cain hurt himself the most: Though everyone is now familiar with his plan, Cain runs the risk of becoming a one-note candidate.

Michele Bachmann savaged Rick Perry by questioning him about his lack of conservatism, particularly on spending. Most of the candidates attempted to attack Romney. But Romney was able to use these questions as opportunities to outline his economic plans. For the sixth debate in a row, Romney was asked about Romneycare (this time by Perry). Once more, Romney easily swatted away the question by distinguishing Romneycare from Obamacare--this time referring to Chris Christie's defense of Romney.

Romney did particularly well in answering Jon Huntsman's question about Bain Capital, a company criticized for laying off workers. Romney explained that Bain started many businesses, and he named several of them, including some large businesses like Staples.

Romney was the only candidate to use a clever tactic: Instead of attempting to harm a candidate with a question, he sent an open-ended softball question to Michele Bachmann. Romney obviously hopes to attack Perry by helping Bachmann. Romney's strategy allowed him to avoid looking contentious while also denying Perry a chance to speak.

In general, the minor candidates--except for Cain, if he can still be considered a minor candidate--did not have much opportunity to break out from the pack. Romney was the clear winner of the debate. While Perry did not harm himself, he was unable to do damage to his competitors. Perry is behind and is not catching up.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Republican Primary Debate in New Hampshire on October 11th

The first Republican primary debate of the month will be held on Tuesday. The debate, sponsored by the Washington Post and Bloomberg TV, will be televised on Bloomberg TV at 8:00pm Eastern. At this point, it's unclear how many people will actually watch the debate. Unlike previous debates, which have been aired on Fox News, CNN, and MSNBC, this debate will be on an obscure channel. Even people who want to watch the debate may have difficulty finding the channel. On the other hand, major gaffes can be broadcast in sound-bites on other networks. Thus, the post-debate coverage may be more important than the debate itself.

Once again, Rick Perry will have a lot to prove. Expectations for Perry are low, thanks to his poor debate performances last month. However, Perry's campaign promised he would be better prepared in future debates, and this will be his first opportunity to prove that he can improve. If Perry were to commit major gaffes during this debate, he could suffer further drops in the polls. If Perry acquits himself well--given the low expectations, an average performance may equal "well" for Perry--then his campaign will call him the "comeback kid."

Mitt Romney is likely to be in the crosshairs during the debate. Since Perry's fall, Romney has taken the lead in the latest Republican primary polls. As the new frontrunner, he will face attacks from Perry and perhaps the minor candidates. Questions about Romneycare have gotten stale--not a single debate has gone by without one. Yet Perry has new attack ads criticizing Romneycare, so Romney will probably be asked to address the issue once again.

Perry and/or Romney could be asked about the Mormon issue, as a Perry-allied pastor recently attacked Mormonism. If Romney is asked about Mormonism, he will brush the question aside, but it will be interesting to see if Perry disavows anti-Mormonism in the campaign. Meanwhile, Perry may be asked about recent news coverage of the racially-inflammatory former name of his ranch.

Another candidate viewers can expect to see in the crosshairs in Herman Cain. While Herman Cain is considered unelectable for a number of reasons, he has climbed in the polls thanks to Perry's fall. The debate moderators will feel it necessary to scrutinize his gaffes and policy positions. The bigger question is whether other candidates will also attack Cain. Do they consider him the "flavor of the week," or do they consider him a threat? Their decisions whether to attack Cain will enlighten.

The actions of the minor candidates with regard to Perry will also be revealing. Rick Santorum and Michele Bachmann did great damage to Perry by questioning his conservatism. Will they keep at it, since Perry is putting all his resources into Iowa and South Carolina, where they must also win? Or will they respond to the polls by spending less time on Perry and more on Romney? Unfortunately for the minor candidates, there has only been one Iowa Caucus poll released since the last September debate, and none released in South Carolina. They may not know which candidate to hit harder.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Mitt Romney Leads the Polls; Herman Cain Rises

With the September debates well behind us and the October debates to begin fairly soon, it's time for another look at the recent polls, including national primary polls and early state polls. Whenever possible, it's best to review polling data in groups rather than putting too much stock in each new poll. Individual polls can be--and often are--flawed. But if all the polls say the same thing, there's probably something to it.

There has been little polling in the early states, but several national polls have been conducted recently. Here's what the polls say:

National Primary Polls
10/04 Pew Research -- Romney 22, Perry 17, Cain 13, Paul 12
10/03 Quinnipiac -- Romney 22, Cain 17, Perry 14, Gingrich 8
10/02 ABC/Wash Post -- Romney 25, Cain 17, Perry 17, Gingrich 9
10/02 CBS News -- Romney 17, Cain 17, Perry 12, Gingrich 8
09/27 Fox News -- Romney 23, Perry 19, Cain 17, Gingrich 11

Iowa Caucus
09/27 ARG -- Romney 21, Bachmann 15, Perry 14, Paul 12

New Hampshire Primary
10/06 UNH/WMUR -- Romney 37, Cain 12, Paul 9, Giuliani 8

Florida Primary
09/27 SurveyUSA -- Romney 27, Cain 25, Perry 13, Gingrich 6

The first thing that should stand out is the fact that Mitt Romney is leading in every single poll, both national and state-by-state, including the Iowa poll. That feat might have been more difficult to pull off if South Carolina had been polled recently, as Romney tends not to do as well there. In one poll (the national CBS News one), Herman Cain is tied with Romney for first. That's the outlier of the bunch.

It's obvious that the Romney camp should be happy. About a month and a half ago, Rick Perry led in the Republican primary polls, at least the national ones. Now Romney is back on top. Leading in Iowa should be particularly encouraging--though it's only one poll--because if Romney takes Iowa, the race is over.

On the other hand, Romney's lead is quite small. Aside from the New Hampshire poll, Romney leads by no more than a handful of points. Moreover, putting the NH poll aside again, Romney has a ceiling of 27 points. Nationally, he tends to poll in the low 20s. That's not where a strong frontrunner polls.

Even so, Romney's position is even stronger than the polls indicate. In explaining who will win the Republican primary in 2012, we noted that voters make their strategic shift only in the weeks before the votes are cast. Romney's chief virtue is his high perceived electability. Thus, it's only in the future that voters will be saying "I just want someone who can beat Barack Obama, so I'll support Romney." Until then, voters will consider unelectable candidates. Romney's poll numbers are likely to spike in December.

There are other interesting tidbits to be gleaned from the latest polls: Rick Perry is certainly down, and Herman Cain has gone up dramatically. It seems most of Perry's support has gone to Cain, as opposed to Romney or Michele Bachmann. Since Bachmann is gunning for the same voters as Perry, that's a terrible sign for Bachmann. Whether Cain can hold onto his numbers will be the subject of a future post.

Not to be missed is the fact that Newt Gingrich is pulling into fourth place. Partly he benefits from high name recognition, but it also has to do with his debate performances. Voters have negative memories of Gingrich, and they like him better on stage. They have essentially been reintroduced to him. Unfortunately for Gingrich, he is a distant fourth, and he has no early state in which to play. But at least he's better off than Rick Santorum and Jon Huntsman, who so far are nowhere to be seen. As for Michele Bachmann, these are truly awful numbers.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Intrade Odds: Mitt Romney Dominates the Competition

Now that Chris Christie and Sarah Palin have finally departed, it's time for another look at the Intrade odds. It has been just over two weeks since the Republican primary debate on September 22nd, after which Rick Perry suffered a tremendous loss in support. There has been ample time for that development to sink in for the Intrade market on the 2012 Republican nomination.

Mitt Romney's lead has grown, especially since Christie's odds vaporized. Romney has climbed to 61.5%. That's more than double what he had prior to the September debates, and actually much higher than any candidate--including Romney himself--posted earlier this year. Before now, frontrunners tended to top out at about 40%.

Intrade investors have experienced no second thoughts about Perry's decline. In fact, Perry's support has eroded several more points since last time we checked: Perry is down to 19.1%. Thus, Romney has more than triple the odds of his nearest competitor. Interestingly, the Intrade odds on the nomination are beginning to look much more like Elephant Watcher's assessment of the odds of each candidate winning the Republican primary.

In third place, Herman Cain has 7.0%, and everyone else is under 5%. Cain has benefited from some good polling recently, but Intrade investors are clearly skeptical about his chances. They still perceive Perry to be in second place. Michele Bachmann is far behind at 1.4%. The investors have little faith in Rick Santorum's ability to break out of the pack: He's at 0.5%. This reflects the Intrade markets' emphasis on polling data. Santorum may have gotten some attention at recent debates, but his poll numbers have gone nowhere--yet.

Finally, a shift has occurred for the first time in the Intrade markets on the individual state contests. In the Iowa Intrade market, Perry's advantage has shrunk to 41% over Romney's 27%. Bachmann, who once dominated the Iowa polls, is down to 18%. Cain has only an 11% chance, which clearly reflects some error in the Intrade market. If Cain has a 7% chance of winning the nomination, surely he should have greater than an 11% chance of winning Iowa, which would be crucial for him?

The New Hampshire Intrade market has Romney dominating with nearly an 80% chance to win. No one else is even in double-digits there.

The news is much better for Perry in the South Carolina Intrade market, where he is given 71% to Romney's 30%. There's also evidence of market inefficiency here, as Cain is given only 12.5%. (The total figures don't always add up to 100% due to the difference between buy and sell orders on low-volume markets.)

The Florida Intrade market is interesting. It has Perry and Romney tied at about 40% each. Florida often serves as a tie-breaker, and surely if Romney had as great a chance at winning the nomination as Intrade believes, Romney ought to be the favorite in Florida. The latest Florida primary polls also show Romney ahead. The Intrade market may reflect an assumption that Perry has an advantage in a Southern state, and perhaps that Romney would prevail in a drawn-out contest, even if Perry wins the tie-breaker.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Sarah Palin Announces She Will Not Run for President

Sarah Palin released a written statement today explaining that she will not run for president in 2012. The long-awaited announcement, coming only a day after Chris Christie's own, finally puts all speculation to an end: There are eight Republicans running for president, and all the rest have declined to run--except for Tim Pawlenty, who withdrew a few months after entering the race. The field is set in stone. It will not change until the next candidate withdraws from the race, likely after the Iowa Caucus.

It's worth contrasting Palin with the other five candidates who declined to enter the race. Haley Barbour announced his intentions in April, while Mike Huckabee, Mitch Daniels, and Donald Trump did the same back in May. Only Sarah Palin and Chris Christie waited until the last possible moment to make their announcements. But while Christie was genuinely undecided until the night before his press conference, Palin likely made her final decision no later than early June of this year.

Why? Unlike the actual late entrants, Palin never had any reason to delay getting into the race. Michele Bachmann had to wait because she feared Palin getting in the race; Jon Huntsman had to return from his post in China; Rick Perry had to at least serve some time in his third term as Texas governor. By contrast, Palin would have had every reason to get in early. In fact, it would have been vital for her to get in the race early enough to prevent Bachmann from getting in and splitting her vote. Unlike the others on the Fox News payroll (Rick Santorum, Newt Gingrich, and Mike Huckabee), Palin was never required to make a public decision in May. She may have made private assurances to Fox News that she was not going to run.

Thus, it is fair to assume that Palin has spent the last several months confident that she would not run. Why didn't she make her announcement? Palin enjoyed the media attention. Her high profile was also necessary for her to continue making an income as a conservative firebrand. Unlike the other candidates, Palin manipulated her supporters into getting their hopes up, only to dash them in the end.

Why didn't Palin run? There were two good reasons. First, all of the polls showed that Palin had no chance of winning either the Republican primary or the general election. It wasn't a close call; it was overwhelming. Palin had no desire to be humiliated in an unsuccessful run which would have lasted for the better part of a year. Second, Palin realized that she could make more money for less work by being a political celebrity rather than a political candidate. The year after her failed run for the vice presidency, Palin abruptly announced that she was resigning from her position as governor of Alaska. She then set about making money that she could not have legally made while serving as governor. Her resignation was one of the prime factors that made her incapable of winning the Republican presidential primary. Indeed, at that point she may have already decided against running for president.

What will be the effect on the race now that Palin isn't running? There will be little impact. Nearly all Republican voters either discounted her or did not plan to vote for her. There are therefore few votes to redistribute. Only the diehard Palin supporters remained. Those votes are likely to go to other unelectable Tea Party candidates, such as Herman Cain. Michele Bachmann is an obvious choice for disaffected Palin supporters, but the feud between Bachmann and Palin poisoned the well.

Elephant Watcher has long calculated that Palin's odds of winning the nomination were 0%. Thus, her departure does not raise any other candidate's chances of winning.

Mitt Romney Projected to Win Republican 2012 Primary

With 0 of the primaries and caucuses complete, and with 0% of the delegates awarded, Elephant Watcher is now able to project that former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney will win the Republican presidential primary of 2012. Elephant Watcher calculates that Romney's odds of winning the Republican nomination are currently 62%.

Romney has prevailed in spite of the deep skepticism many Republicans have about his authenticity. Romney's continued support of the healthcare plan he instituted in Massachusetts (frequently derided as "Romneycare" and compared to Obamacare) has done lasting damage to his conservative credentials. The Tea Party widely regards Romney as a "RINO." Romney, though presidential in appearance, lacks the charisma and loyal followers that normally mark a strong candidate.

How did Romney secure victory in the Republican primary? Essentially by default. Primary voters value electability above all else, and the other highly-electable candidates have either declined to run or withdrawn from the race. Chris Christie was very likely to defeat Romney, but he decided not to run. Chris Christie's decision not to run was the final domino to fall, but it was not the only one. Earlier this year, Romney faced a tough potential competitor in Mike Huckabee, who led in all of the Iowa and South Carolina polls. But Huckabee inexplicably decided not to run.

Other highly-electable consensus candidates also stepped aside. Mitch Daniels declined to enter the race, and Tim Pawlenty unwisely chose to quit the race after a poor showing in the Ames straw poll in August. This left only Romney and Jon Huntsman with a high electability ranking. If the 2012 Republican primary has proven anything, it's that the race becomes easier to win when all of your competitors forfeit.

Romney's strongest remaining competitor, Rick Perry, also self-destructed, though he has not left the race. Perry's poor debate performances and attempts to directly attack Romney on stage only served to highlight Romney's superior status.

The primary calendar isn't heavily tilted in Romney's favor, given that Iowa and South Carolina are not favorable turf. But New Hampshire has thus far been an unassailable stronghold for Romney.

National polls are again showing Romney in the lead. Yet the polls understate Romney's strength for a number of reasons. First, voters typically shift in favor of electable candidates only as voting day approaches. When that strategic shift occurs (probably in December), Romney will be the only beneficiary, since his chief competitors are considered unelectable. Second, Romney has a stronger stage presence than the last time he ran. As voting day draws closer, more voters will pay attention to the race and will see the "new" Romney. Third, Romney is better at debating than his competitors. Though Perry has a chance to improve, it's just as likely that Romney will become even more skilled at slapping him down. The more debates that take place, and the more people who watch the debates, the more Romney's image as "the adult in the room" will solidify. Fourth, not all of Romney's competitors have had their time in the sun yet; when candidates like Cain or Santorum go up in the polls, they will be subject to more scrutiny and their numbers will fall again. Finally, the Christie supporters will now move into the Romney camp. All of the money and campaign resources that have heretofore been on the sidelines will be acquired by Romney.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Chris Christie Announces He Is Not Running for President

In a long-awaited announcement of his intentions, Chris Christie held a press conference today and declared that he will not be a candidate for the presidency in 2012. Christie cited his commitment to the state of New Jersey as the sole reason for his deciding not to run. He said that he could never get past the idea of leaving the state early.

Christie's announcement finally places him in the "declined to run" category on the Campaign Status page. Only Sarah Palin remains as a candidate who has not officially declared her intentions.

Christie has long held that he would not run, and repeatedly--emphatically--denied that he would enter the race. But Elephant Watcher dismissed those denials because they were not made in a convincing manner. Today, Christie met the criteria for an actual denial. Until now, Christie only denied his intentions in response to questions. Today's press conference, like Mike Huckabee's prepared TV statement and the written statements by Haley Barbour, Mitch Daniels, and Donald Trump, was was initiated by the candidate himself.

If Christie's previous denials had meant anything, it would not have been necessary for Christie to hold a press conference today. Christie's actions, consistent with the criteria for a "convincing denial," have vindicated the criteria, which may be used as a guide in future election seasons. If a candidate makes a denial only in response to someone else's question (e.g. during a TV interview or public Q&A session), it is not on his own timetable, and therefore carries no weight.

Christie's departure changes the race dramatically. Elephant Watcher has recalculated the odds of each candidate winning the Republican primary, and a detailed analysis will be released in a future post.

Why didn't Christie run? Many political commentators will point to the difficulty of entering the race so late in the game. If Christie's decision was primarily governed by his wife's veto, and if his wife changed her mind too late in the game, then perhaps there is some merit to that argument. However, it is more likely that there were other factors. A late run would be more difficult, but not by much. Christie's odds of winning the nomination were still great, since most voters are influenced by the debates and the candidates' fundamental attributes. Most voters, even a large percentage of those in early primary states, have not even begun paying attention to the race. Thus, if Christie wanted to run and win, he could have done it.

It's more likely that Christie's decision was, as he said, influenced by his commitment to the state of New Jersey. Christie has only served a bit more than a year and a half out of his four-year term. Christie's concern and love for New Jersey is genuine. Running for president now would have essentially ended Christie's governorship, given the time commitment. Even if Christie lost the Republican presidential primary and dropped out a few months from now, New Jerseyans would never look at him the same way. Christie may have also been influenced by new polling that suggests he can win reelection in New Jersey.

Furthermore, Christie must have felt that the country does not need him to run. If the frontrunner or strongest candidates were unelectable and/or unacceptable to Christie, he would have felt a greater need to run. For now, Mitt Romney is the frontrunner, and Christie likely approves of Romney. Romney's strong showing in the debates not only would have made Romney look better in Christie's eyes, but would also have made Romney appear a more formidable primary opponent. Were Christie to run, he would have needed to defeat Romney in New Hampshire.

Ultimately, this was a case of poor timing. Christie has unusually powerful rhetorical gifts, and he is an effective politician. If he had become New Jersey's governor a few years earlier, it is likely that he would be the next president of the United States. Now it is questionable whether he will ever have the chance to run for the presidency. If Romney wins the presidency in 2012, Christie cannot run in 2016; if not, Marco Rubio may still pose an insurmountable obstacle in 2016 or 2020, having potentially served as Romney's vice president and/or running mate.

Only time will tell whether Christie will live to regret today's decision.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Florida's January Primary Date Pushes the Calendar

The Florida state Republican Party has decided to schedule its primary for January 31, 2012. As with the 2008 primary, this move places Florida among the ranks of the early primary states--the others being Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada, and South Carolina. The dates of the primaries and caucuses are determined by the Republican Party in each state. But the national Republican Party sets certain guidelines to ensure that the states hold their contests in an orderly manner.

Originally, the first contest was supposed to be the Iowa Caucus, scheduled for February 6th. The national Republican Party's rules provide that if a state like Florida holds its primary before then, the state is punished by having its primary delegates reduced by half. To illustrate the concept, recall that during presidential elections, each state has a certain number of electoral votes based on the state's population size. During the Republican nomination process, each state has a certain number of delegates, also based on state population. Florida's punishment will reduce its delegate count, making the state less valuable to win--in theory.

The reality is different. Unlike the general election, in which all states vote simultaneously, the Republican primary is conducted over a period of months, with some states voting much earlier than others. The earliest states are the most important to win, because they allow a candidate to display his ability to win, gain media attention, and gain momentum. If a candidate fails to win in early primary states, his candidacy will lose steam. By the time the later states begin holding their contests, the nomination is usually wrapped up.

Thus, even though Florida loses half its delegates, it is far more valuable to win now because its contest will take place early in the calendar. That having been said, Florida will probably be the fifth contest, as the traditional early primaries (IA, NH, NV, SC) will move up their own primary dates earlier in the calendar.

Florida will be early, but it will be last among the early states. In 2008, Rudy Giuliani put all of his resources into Florida. By the time the Florida Primary rolled around, he was already out of the race. Florida's role is that of a tie-breaker: If one candidate wins IA and SC while another candidate wins NH and NV, the winner of Florida will have the edge going forward.

What is the effect of this? Since the early primaries will move up their contests to January, the order will not change. The primary season will be one month shorter, but that probably will not have much of an impact, even upon a late entrant like Chris Christie. It may be frustrating for minor candidates like Rick Santorum or Herman Cain, who will take awhile to pick up steam (if they can at all).

Instead, the biggest impact is on the primary debates. There are three primary debates already scheduled for January. Under the original calendar, all three would have taken place before the Iowa Caucus. Now, it's possible that two or three of those debates will take place only after Iowa has voted. A candidate like Rick Perry might breathe a sigh of relief. But there are still many debates to be held.

Finally, Elephant Watcher has added the Florida primary polls to the Primaries page. Florida's polls should always be taken with a grain of salt. One must remember that by the time Florida votes, the voters will be heavily influenced by the outcome of the previous four contests. Elephant Watcher does not compile the state polls for contests taking place after Florida, since polls of those states are rare, and because they will be even more influenced by the outcome of earlier contests. Florida's polls are included because it is at least somewhat useful to see the early shape of the field.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

2012 Republican Primary in Review: September 2011

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

September marked the beginning of Phase Three of the Republican primary. From this point forward, the candidates had a real chance to speak with the voters in early primary states, who had just begun to pay attention. Primary debates, which had taken place only intermittently during the earlier phases of the campaign, dominated the timeline. There were three debates scheduled in September, and the candidates would be put to the test.

Rick Perry started the month in a fairly strong position. He was the frontrunner in all of the national primary polls. In reality, Perry's status as the frontrunner was exaggerated: While easily leading South Carolina polls, he only had a tenuous lead in Iowa, and he was dominated by Mitt Romney in New Hampshire. Nevertheless, the Perry-as-frontrunner meme took hold. Only half a month after entering the race, Perry was considered by most observers to be well ahead of Romney.

It didn't take long for Perry to get himself into trouble. During the Republican debate on September 7th, he had harsh words for Social Security. Romney performed better, and Intrade investors put the two candidates at parity. Meanwhile, Michele Bachmann seemed to vanish.

Less than a week later, at the Republican debate on September 12th, Perry stumbled again. He took heat from minor candidates, including Rick Santorum and Michele Bachmann, for not being conservative enough. Perry found it difficult to parry these attacks. Romney seemed presidential by comparison.

In response to Perry's weak performances at the first two debates, the media narrative placed Perry and Romney in roughly equivalent positions, calling it a "two-man race." But it was clear that the momentum was with Romney, who fared better in each debate.

At the Republican debate on September 22nd, Perry suffered his third strike. Not only was he repeatedly attacked by Santorum and counter-attacked by Romney at every turn, Perry had difficulty speaking coherently. The cumulative effect of Perry's three weak debate performances was disastrous.

Although there were few polls being conducted (especially in early primary states), Perry's supporters sensed trouble and began looking elsewhere. Bachmann was unable to take advantage in Iowa as she, too, seemed to be wasting away into irrelevance. By comparison, Herman Cain and Santorum looked appealing to those looking for a new Anti-Romney.

As Perry crashed and burned, speculation about the possibility of Chris Christie announcing he will run for president reached a fever pitch. Although Christie had previously denied that he would run (with each denial made in an unconvincing manner), new reports repeatedly indicated that Christie was reconsidering. The Anti-Romney forces, especially those among the Republican establishment, begged Christie to enter the race. As the month closed, all eyes were on Christie. His decision promised to produce a seismic shift in the race. Elephant Watcher calculates that Christie's odds of winning the Republican nomination are 57%.