Elections

Ads and Debates Rule the Day

Yesterday, I speculated that the traditional dynamic of the early states weeding out the also-ran candidates could be upended this cycle by the increased reliance on debates and super PACs. Last night, Mitt Romney won a resounding victory, yet no candidates are rushing to exit stage left this morning. In fact, all have packed up their bags to head south, either to South Carolina or Florida. The exit polls from last night show that the debates mattered as much as any other factor for voters in New Hampshire—whom the candidates showered with a level of personal face time no upcoming state's voters will be granted. A full 84 percent said the debates played an "important" role in their vote yesterday, and 52 percent of all voters said it was a "very important" part of their decision-making process. Just half of the New Hampshirites who turned out said they had been contacted by one of the candidate's campaigns. Advertising, however, clearly helped shape the script; 72 percent in the exit...

The Spoils of War

AP Photo/Charles Dharapak
Manchester, New Hampshire— This year’s Republican primaries look increasingly less like a battle and more like a mopping-up action after the fight. The dominant fact of the 2012 GOP contest is the complete absence of plausible alternatives to Mitt Romney. When those plausible alternatives either failed to show up (Mitch Daniels, Chris Christie—though Christie’s manner is probably too thuggish to achieve genuine plausibility) or showed up and turned instantly implausible (Rick Perry), the contest was over even before it began. Ron Paul? Jon Huntsman? Rick Santorum? Newt? Compared to the rest of the field, Romney looks like a giant—which is why the turnout in tonight’s primary and last week’s caucuses was altogether underwhelming. Jon Huntsman’s attempt to anoint himself the Comeback Kid of this year’s New Hampshire primary took place in a small, jam-packed restaurant on Elm Street, Manchester’s main drag. It was a sub-Clintonian performance, however. Huntsman’s talk was too short and...

It's the Money, Honey

AP Photo/Brian Bianco
Mitt Romney's march to the GOP nomination became even more likely last night after he thumped everybody else in the New Hampshire primary. Now the guesswork turns to South Carolina with the campaign press cadre picking up their bags and hopping on the next flights to Charleston and Columbia. But the bigger prize comes later in the month when Florida's 50 delegates are doled out. Mitt Romney already holds a commanding double-digit polling lead in the Sunshine State. That head-start matters more than in other states thanks to the prevalence of absentee and early voting in the primary. And now Romney's allies are chipping in to ensure that the month ends on a good note for the former Massachusetts governor. The Washington Post reports that Restore Our Future, the super PAC backing Romney's bid, has committed $3.6 million to a Florida ad buy while his opponents keep all their attention trained on South Carolina. It would make no difference if Santorum or Gingrich overcame their current...

Could Super PACs Prolong the Race?

Republicans have allocated just 40 delegates between Iowa and New Hampshire. In terms of the math, neither state is essential to boosting the candidates to the required 1,144 delegates. Rather, the first two states of the GOP nomination contest have traditionally winnowed the field in years; finishing near the bottom of the pack pushes the candidates off the front page of newspapers, and fickle donors flee to spend their dollars on a more likely winner. Iowa already succeeded in forcing Michele Bachmann out of the race , and tonight's results in New Hampshire may cause others to follow suit. On the other hand, the number of debates and the influence of unfiltered money from super PACs might allow candidates to stick it out longer than in years past. Ground organizations have played little role in this election; Rick Santorum had spent the most time in Iowa, and Jon Huntsman essentially lives in New Hampshire these days, but neither received a bump until the media started paying...

Mitt Romney, Mr. Sunshine

All eyes are on New Hampshire today as voters in the Granite State head to the first primary in the Republican nomination contest. Unlike the maddeningly slow trickle-in of the results in the Iowa caucuses last week, we should know the winner soon after the polls close tonight. Mitt Romney has held a dominating lead in the polls all year, and though his numbers have dipped slightly over the past few days, it's unlikely that he will place anything other than first—election sage Nate Silver of FiveThirtyEight puts the likelihood of Romney winning New Hampshire at a whopping 98 percent. The outstanding question is how the other candidates will do: Is Jon Huntman's momentum real or just a media fiction, and—egads!—could Buddy Roemer finish ahead of Rick Perry? Many of the candidates—including the two Ricks and Newt Gingrich—have set their hopes on South Carolina's January 21 primary, but it's the election at the end of the month that could prove to be the most important. Florida will be...

Same Schtick, Different Day

AP Images/Vince DeWitt
DERRY, NEW HAMPSHIRE— Newt Gingrich is a master of Stalinist history. In the New Hampshire campaign’s closing days, he made much of his own role in the job creation of the Reagan and Clinton years (though he never mentioned Clinton by name) and contrasted himself with his rivals by touting his ability to reach across the aisle during Clinton’s presidency. As Gingrich recounted it to a crowd of 300 gathered in a high-school auditorium in Derry late yesterday afternoon, he and Clinton both “concluded very early on that we really wanted to get together to do something for the country.” They would meet privately, he said, while bashing each other publicly. His account is notable for its obvious omissions. It makes no mention of Gingrich’s forcing Clinton to close the government down at the end of 1995 (Clinton wouldn’t accede to Gingrich’s demands to cut Medicare). It leaves out Gingrich’s decision to have congressional Republicans campaign for office in 1998 on a platform of impeaching...

Romney's Mini-Flub

Thanks to the array of options to watch TV online, I don't bother paying for cable at my home in DC. But I've been able to reacquaint myself with the hyperbole of cable news as I've been on the road reporting. This morning I learned of Mitt Romney's "breaking news" flub from MSNBC. At a morning stop in New Hampshire, Romney said, "I like being able to fire people who provide services to me." With increased attention being paid to Mitt Romney's time buying and selling companies, now might not be the best moment to revel in handing out pink slips. Hours later, Jon Hunstman has already incorporated the line into his attacks on Romney and the DNC was quick to push out this video clip: Politicians always disavow these kinds of quotes as being taken out of context by the media, and this is the rare instance where that's a proper defense. Here's the full quote from Romney discussing health insurance: I want individuals to have their own insurance. That means the insurance company will have...

Running on Faith

AP Photo/David Goldman
Jamelle Bouie Rick Perry seemed more like a preacher than a politician at a campaign stop in South Carolina Monday morning. Anderson, South Carolina —Five months ago, when Rick Perry announced his campaign for the Republican nomination in Charleston, South Carolina, he was the hottest kid on the block. The three-term governor of America’s second-largest state, he promised a credible Tea Party alternative to the opportunistic conservatism of former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney. But Perry wasn’t prepared for the rigors of a presidential campaign, and it showed. His campaign stumbled through debates, and alienated potential allies with tone-deaf rhetoric on immigration, and his position on the HPV vaccine as governor of Texas. By the end of year, his failures were a national joke and his campaign was abandoned by conservatives looking for someone to deliver them from Romney. After his fifth-place finish in Iowa, it looked as if Perry would drop out. Instead, he opted to renew his...

Romney's Jobs Claims Come Under Scrutiny

Mitt Romney's pitch to voters relies heavily on his executive experience. He doesn't spend much time dwelling on his time as the chief executive of Massachusetts (a more fitting selling point for someone seeking the presidency) but rather concentrates on his experience in the private sector as chief executive at Bain Capital. Romney claims himself to be a "job creator." "In the business I had, we invested in over 100 different businesses and net-net, taking out the ones where we lost jobs and those that we added, those businesses have now added over 100,000 jobs," he said over the weekend. There's no reliable way to vet that number unless Romney or Bain release supporting documents (which they have of course refused to), but the AP's Calvin Woodward offers good reason to be skeptical. "His campaign bases its claims on recent employment figures at three companies—Staples, Domino's, and Sports Authority—even though Romney's involvement with them ceased years ago," Woodward writes . "By...

Mitts Off

AP Photo/Charles Krupa
T he non-Romney Republicans had ten hours to stew over their abject failure to lay a glove on the Mittster in Saturday night’s lackluster prime-time debate. Nudged on Sunday morning by moderator David Gregory, who launched the proceedings by asking the aggrieved Newt Gingrich to make an argument against Romney’s electability, they came out with guns blazing at the Meet the Press debate. But it was almost certainly too little, too late, to bring down the frontrunner. Romney’s ludicrous pretense of being a non-politician was deflated at last, as Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich ganged up on him effectively. When Santorum asked why Romney didn’t run for re-election as governor of Massachusetts, given his great passion for improving the state, Romney revived his hoary rhetoric: “Politics is not a career. My life’s passion has been my family, my faith, and my country.” Gingrich parried: “Can we drop a little bit of the pious baloney? The fact is, you ran for Senate in 1994 and lost … you...

Mitt the Unassailed

AP Photo/Elise Amendola
Manchester, New Hampshire —Well, that was unremarkable. The last presidential debate until another begins ten hours from now saw none of Mitt Romney’s challengers actually challenge him. His toughest challenge probably came from George Stephanopoulos, who asked him if his assertions on Bain Capital’s job creation were really on the level—neither Newt, Ron, Jon nor the two Ricks, confronted Romney with anything as potentially threatening to his lead. Part of the problem, as my colleague Jamelle Bouie has pointed out, is that a number of these guys don’t really seem to be running for president. Ron Paul, who took off two-and-a-half days between the Iowa caucuses and his arrival in New Hampshire yesterday afternoon, is simply running to spread the libertarian word, and take shots at his inconstantly conservative rivals (focusing tonight on Rick Santorum—not Romney). Paul had a good night pitching to libertarians and anti-warriors. Santorum had a good night, too, but it’s not likely that...

What Can Replace Social Security?

AP Photo/Evan Vucci
Manchester, New Hampshire— Last night, some of Ron Paul’s younger supporters—and Ron Paul supporters are disproportionately young—held a pub crawl through the bars of downtown Manchester. During the first two hours (after which time I crawled away), about 50 largely male Paulists, behaving far too decorously for serious pub crawlers, drank and munched and yacked. Paul himself had arrived in the state just that afternoon—electing, for some mysterious reason, to spend Wednesday, Thursday and Friday morning back in Texas. At a welcome rally at Nashua’s small-plane airport, he spoke in his usual generalities about libertarian values, interspersing occasional anecdotes about unnamed congressional colleagues who had voted to fund one damned project after another. He was hailed, of course, as a conquering hero—Paul’s supporters are the only true zealots among the Republicans this year. One such zealot who turned up at the pub crawl was Nick, who’d driven all the way from Boston. Like many if...

One Strapped Santorum

AP Photo/Donald Traill
Manchester, New Hampshire— The fact that Rick Santorum doesn’t have much of an organization or an appreciable number of dollars has been increasingly apparent during the past several days in New Hampshire. Late yesterday afternoon, his campaign had scheduled a town hall in the back room of Belmont Hall, a modest restaurant in a working-class neighborhood of Manchester. The room was far too small for the crowd that turned out but everyone who’d turned out managed to squeeze in nonetheless. But shortly before the event was scheduled to begin, the restaurant owner stepped to the podium and announced that a fire marshal had shown up and ordered all but 100 of the attendees to leave, which would have meant 150 people would have to go. (Who called the fire marshal? Someone from another campaign, or someone who doesn’t like Santorum?) The volunteer representing the Santorum campaign called a campaign staffer and the decision was made to move the event into the restaurant’s parking lot. And...

Love Only Thy Neighbor

It's hard to keep a straight face when Rick Santorum says he is the most electable of the Republican candidates. "We need bold colors, not pale pastels," Santorum said last week in Iowa. "Ladies and gentlemen, be bold. Do not have a pyrrhic victory next November, where we elect a Republican, but we don't elect the person who can do what's necessary for America." He touts his experience winning in a swing state while maintaining his conservative credentials, an implicit ding against Mitt Romney's left-leaning record as governor of Massachusetts. It's a dubious claim for Santorum that's little related to reality considering he lost his last election by a historic 18 points. In today's Washington Post , Michael Gerson somehow manages to concoct an even more ludicrous framework to describe Santorum's appeal: He's a compassionate conservative. But perhaps the most surprising result of the Iowa caucuses was the return of compassionate conservatism from the margins of the Republican stage to...

Santorum the Moderate?

AP Photo/Elise Amendola
Windham, New Hampshire— Rick Santorum, the darling of the cultural-religious right, came here last night for a town-hall question-and-answer session with 500 eager listeners, only to find that his questioners were so far to his right that he was compelled to sound moderate by comparison. The disappointment— Santorum’s and the crowd’s—was mutual. The event—which was moved to a high-school auditorium three times larger than the venue originally scheduled, and where every seat was nonetheless filled— was hosted by a radical-right local group called the 9/12 Coalition. Alas for Santorum, the 9/12ers selected the first seven questioners, who peppered him with queries at once so arcane and so fantastical that Santorum must have harbored suspicions they’d been planted either by Mitt Romney or Ron Paul. Two of the questions were libertarian, even civil libertarian, though suffused with a conspiracy theorist’s fear that the government in general and Barack Obama in particular was on the verge...

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