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Monday, January 09, 2012

New Hampshire Primary Preview and Predictions

How's that for alliteration?

Here are five of my biggest questions and curiosities for tomorrow's New Hampshire Primary. Below I have my prediction for their performance and include each candidate's best and worst realistic scenario.

1. Who will place second?
All the candidates are making their final push, but we know Mitt Romney has the New Hampshire Primary in the bag. Still, we wonder who will place second.

Most New Hampshire polls point to a Ron Paul as runner up. The Real Clear Politics polling average, which averages the last handful of relevant polls together, shows Romney with a solid 38.5 percentage points to Paul's 19.8. Jon Huntsman and Rick Santorum sit tied for the important final top 3 spot at 11.5, and Gingrich has fallen to fifth place at 9.5. Rick Perry, spending his time in South Carolina this week, barely registers.

The reason this question tops the list is because a strong second place showing from Paul likely marginalizes Romney's real rivals for the nomination, namely Gingrich and Santorum. A Huntsman third place would reinforce this marginalization for the Speaker and former Pennsylvania senator. If you're a fan of an elongated primary process with the outcome in doubt, you are rooting against Ron Paul tomorrow. You want either Gingrich, Santorum, or both to succeed.

2. Can the candidates make Romney's win look like a loss?If Romney and Paul do finish 1-2, the remaining candidates have one hope remaining in the New Hampshire Primary. They have to hope that all their attacks, like the ones that cite his tenure with Bain Capital, limit Romney's win margin. If Romney wins with a percentage in the low 30s--this in a state where Romney has a home, where he ran the state next door, and where he once registered around 50 percent--Romney will seem as vulnerable as ever moving to South Carolina.

Recent New Hampshire poll numbers suggest this downward turn isn't completely out of the questioned. The aforementioned RCP average that cited Romney at 38.5 took into consideration the latest six New Hampshire polls. These were done, in chronological order, by the Washington Times/JZ Analytics, NBC News/Marist, Rasmussen, WMUR/UNH, Public Policy Polling, and Suffolk/7 News across the last five days. However, if we examine the trend across these five days, we'll see that Romney has not only leveled off in the polls, but is sinking a bit. The first four of those polls, whose polling began on January 4 and 5, registered Romney at 38, 42, 42, and 41. The final two polls, each of which took place on January 7 and 8, registered Romney at a considerably weaker 35 and 33.

In sum, Romney's lead, though safe, is slipping. Perhaps the balance of power has worked. Hope remains for the "Non"meys.

3. Did the Jon Huntsman strategy work?As I've written before, this strategy fascinates me. Is there something to be said for ignoring Iowa while all other candidates scramble for it while putting all your own resources into New Hampshire? We might find out. If Huntsman steals second place from Paul, I would say it did work. Still, perhaps he picked the wrong year to do it! This strategy, perhaps, would best work in a year where the New Hampshire winner is not decided, like it will be tomorrow.

Another wrinkle to this is that Huntsman's moderate conservative base seems to resemble Romney's. If Huntsman does well--and he has benefitted from recent attacks against Romney--that likely means he limited Romney's votes. If Huntsman disappoints, that could mean a big day for his fellow Mormon.

4. Will the New Hampshire results make clear around which anti-Romney candidate the conservative base can rally? Will any candidate of Santorum, Gingrich, or Huntsman soundly beat expectations and ride that momentum into South Carolina and Florida as the last, best hope to keep Romney from the Republican nomination? There are too many possible finishes for the three candidates to truly break down, but if any two of these candidates have a rough final day in New Hampshire, the third could be the biggest benefactor, and he could leapfrog Ron Paul into a strong second place. If any of them can get into the mid-to-upper 20s, and if they can all as a group limit Romney to the low 30s, then the viable, conservative alternative would finally be identified.

5. Are we about to see Romney clinch 50 states?If the answers to 2, 3, and 4 are No, the answer to 5 might be Yes. If Romney wins with, say, 40 percent of the vote, and if Jon Huntsman's similar base of support did not support their candidate enough and limit Romney, and if no clear Republican alternative emerges, then not only does Romney soundly win New Hampshire, but all the remaining candidates--none of which are eliminated by finishing too far behind their "Non"mey rivals--will push forth to South Carolina and continue to split the vote with each other. With Romney already in the lead in South Carolina, having Gingrich, Perry, and Santorum split the anti-Romney vote there will clinch the state for the former Massachusetts governor.

Then, with three primary wins and zero losses, he'll ride that momentum into Florida, where he's already running ads before any other candidate and already leading in Florida Primary polls. It then seems perfectly plausible that he runs the table, especially considering his solid national lead. Perry will be gone by Texas, Huntsman by Utah, and Gingrich by Georgia. Ron Paul will stay--and will finish with the second most delegates--but he can't carry any single state. Thus, we could, indeed, have Romney win 50 states.

After all the political fighting and drama of 2011, who saw that coming? If it does happen, hats off to the Romney campaign for playing it perfectly.
But it might NOT happen. For possible results tomorrow, see below. Here is a brief preview and prediction for each candidate tomorrow, in order of predicted finish.

1. Mitt RomneyOverview: I've said enough.
Best realistic case: Somewhere in the 40s.
Worst realistic case: 30. (I already know my first line to Wednesday's blog if he finishes in the low 30s. Hint: it'll be a quote from a boxing movie sequel.)

2. Ron Paul
Overview: Rock solid floor, as always. Just looking to continue to finish near the top of all contests, but not win enough to garner the nomination.
Best realistic case: High 20s (wouldn't matter for himself, but would benefit Romney)
Worst realistic case: Mid teens (wouldn't matter for himself, but could hurt Romney)

3. Jon Huntsman
Overview: He has the momentum. His numbers were climbing even before his great debate performance on Sunday, including the line of the debate talking about Romney's divisiveness. He registered at 8 or 9 in last week's polls, but this week, PPP and Suffolk have him at 16 and 13, respectively.
Best realistic case: Second place, maybe the low 20s, and a heartbeat.
Worst realistic case: Single digits and the end of his campaign.

4. Newt Gingrich
Overview: I feel pretty good about the above #'s 1-3 and #6 below, but I can't put my finger on who will finish 4th and 5th. I think Gingrich's crusade against Romney has resonated more with New Hampshire voters than Santorum's far right conservatism (including his spat with some New Hampshire youth, who might turn out to vote for a rival just to vote against Santorum.) I'm leaning Gingrich. Leaning.
Best realistic case: See Huntsman.
Worst realistic case: See Huntsman.

5. Rick Santorum--See Gingrich

6. Rick Perry
Overview: We only know two finishes for certain. Romney will win, and Perry will finish in last.
Best realistic case: 3%
Worst realistic case: 1%

Only one day until the first primary of the season! Stay tuned.



Anonymous said...

I'm really enjoying watching the candidates use liberal language (as Rush has so astutely identified) to tear down Romney's performance at Bain. I think that liberal language speaks the kind of truth the Rush (and certainly Romney) would like to suppress. I wonder how many "conservatives" are seeing any truth in that language -- the talk about vultures and exploitation and lack of ethics.

And that leads to a bigger and more fundamental issue. How many "conservatives" are liberals and don't know it? How many of them are mad about the Wall St. bailout (as liberals are), mad about the expense of war (as liberals are), mad about government lies (as liberals are), mad about corporate influence over government (as liberals are), mad about the federal deficit (as liberals are).

I had a guy, who surely thought himself a conservative, tell me he wanted the government to get off his back. I asked what the government was doing to him.It took him a while to think of something. All he could think of was that his social security was getting cut. I think he was actually blaming liberals for it, though he didn't way.

Andy said...

Is it me IC or are these New Hamp results exactly what you predicted?

IC said...

Anon, those are interesting observations. Clearly the right has succeeded to making "liberal" a bad word, regardless of its historical meaning. Sure, it might be bad, it might be good... but I'm not sure many people know what it means, if one looks at history.

Andy, it does look like I nailed it. I'm punching up analysis around 9:30.

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