Thursday, March 1, 2012

Assessing the GOP Presidential Primary Race - Pre-Super Tuesday

Between now and March 10th, the GOP Presidential candidates will face off in 12 states.  This run starts off on March 3rd with a non-binding caucus in Washington, continues into the Super Tuesday contests of 10 states, and wraps up on March 10th's conclusion of Kansas's non-binding caucus.  All told, some 500 delegates will be up for grabs in this short period of time.

Setting the stage for this was the Michigan and Arizona primaries held on Tuesday.  While Mitt Romney decisively won the Arizona primary, he fought back from behind to defeat Rick Santorum in Michigan by 3 points.  In the Wyoming caucus yesterday, Mitt Romney was the winner - giving Romney three wins this week.

Rick Santorum, on the basis of his 'hat trick' wins in Colorado, Minnesota, and Missouri on February 7th, leaped to front runner status in the GOP race for the nomination.  In a PPP poll taken in Michigan between February 10th and 12th, he had a 15 point lead over Mitt Romney even though Michigan is Romney's 'home state'.  An Inside Michigan poll taken between the 13th and 14th of February showed that Santorum held a 10 point lead over Romney.  However, from those high points, Santorum continued a slow slide that culminated in polls showing Romney and Santorum in a virtual tie for the Michigan primary.

Pundits in the mainstream media started calling Michigan a must win for Mitt Romney.

Today, Rick Santorum declared that despite a 3 point loss in Michigan, because the delegates were split 15 and 15 between Mitt Romney and himself, Michigan was really a win for him.

This, I believe is a major mistake for Rick Santorum - particularly given not only his decline in the polls since his high point in the week after his 'hat trick', but by the fact that 4-6% of his margin in Michigan came from active efforts to gain Democrat crossover votes in an effort to disrupt Mitt Romney.  This takes the margin of victory for Romney from 3% to probably 7% - 10%.  Not quite a tie.

While too soon after the Arizona and Michigan results to see a real impact on polls, yesterday, Gallup and Rasmussen released some polling results that show some changes in not only the GOP race, but also in the standing of President Obama.

Gallup's poll on the national numbers of the GOP candidates shows Mitt Romney at 33%, Rick Santorum in 2nd with 25%, Newt Gingrich 16%, and Ron Paul 11%.  Santorum has slipped and Romney has regained the top spot.  Rasmussen also shows that Romney has picked up in a race against Barack Obama, now leading the President by 1 point 45% ti 44%.

Both Rasmussen and Gallup also show a renewed drop in the President's approval rating.  Gallup has only 45% approving of the President's performance with 50% disapproving.  Rasmussen has 48% approving and 51% disapproving.

With this, lets look at the upcoming races:

Open Primary
Semi-closed Primary
North Dakota
Semi-closed Primary
Open Primary
Open Primary
Open Primary

Newt Gingrich effectively passed competing in Michigan and Arizona this week in order to focus on the race in his home state of Georgia and the other conservative southern state of Tennessee.  Gingrich is holding, according to RealClearPolitics average, a 9 point lead in Georgia - which is his best opportunity for another win.  However, how the other candidates fare will also have an impact since Georgia is using a proportional allotment of its delegates based on the results.
Rick Santorum, as of today, has a double digit lead in Tennessee.
Mitt Romney is expected to win in Massachusetts and Vermont. 
Virginia is going to be a race between only Mitt Romney and Ron Paul as both Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum failed to qualify for the ballot...and it looks like another win for Mitt Romney.
The race that will be watched the closest is going to be Ohio - which is also seen as a battleground state for the November Presidential election.

In Ohio, the RealClearPolitics polling average for polls taken between January 28th and February 26th, the last data, Rick Santorum leads with 34.3% support.  Mitt Romney is in second, 26%, followed by Newt Gingrich 18%, and Ron Paul at 10.8%. 

But this data is before the Romney win's this week - and the signs of the new Romney surge on the national level.  Can Rick Santorum gain a win in Ohio?

His latest polling levels through 2/26 are 5% to 6% below his high water marks mid-February.  Nationally, Rasmussen today is reporting that Mitt Romney has jumped to a 16 point lead over Rick Santorum.  This is Romney's biggest lead of the entire race - and also the highest level of support any GOP candidate has gotten on a national survey of the GOP race.  Momentum seems clearly on the side of Mitt Romney at this point.

I fully expect Mitt Romney to continue to gain in Ohio - to the point where I believe he will get a 4% to 6% win in that state next Tuesday.  With an Ohio win, there is a real chance of subsequent primaries and caucuses jumping onto a Romney bandwagon.

If Romney does not pull out a win in Ohio, the race will continue to be a close battle between Romney and Santorum.  At this point, I believe Romney will continue to edge away from Santorum as he is, too many, seen as the better candidate and more electable against Barack Obama - particularly given the economic conditions we face. 

Santorum is starting to appear desperate to me - particularly with his effort to spin Michigan as a victory based on splitting the delegate count.  And that is where ultimately for all of these GOP candidates the rubber will meet the delegates. 1,144 are needed to win the GOP nomination.

Today, Mitt Romney has the delegate lead...

  • Romney - 153 delegates
  • Santorum - 70 delegates
  • Gingrich - 33 delegates
  • Paul - 26 delegates
While most of the delegates to be awarded in the Super Tuesday contests are going to be done on a proportional basis, Ohio, Vermont, and Virginia will award 100% of their delegates to any candidate who gets more than 50% of the vote in the primary.  This could deliver all of Vermont and Virginia's delegates to Mitt Romney as he has a real possibility of getting over 50% in those contests particularly since Gingrich and Santorum aren't on the Virginia ballot.

Super Tuesday should be good for Romney, and allow him to expand his lead in delegates over all of his competition.  A strong showing should also work to unify more Republicans nationally behind a Romney campaign - which in turn will increase Romney's odds of winning future primaries and caucuses.  I still believe Romney will be the GOP nominee.

Gingrich will get a boost from the Georgia win - which is a must win for him, but with his financial challenges, he's going to be playing the Ron Paul / Caucus strategy.  He's probably the most likely of the four remaining candidates to be the next to suspend his campaign.

Ron Paul will stay in as a spoiler - and for a seat at the table in the convention. 

I don't see, at this point, a brokered convention - but I also do see each of the three other candidates having some chips on the table to play at the convention for platform issues or possible roles in defining the ticket / cabinet.

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