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Election 2012 - View From February

In campaigns, some things (like momentum) are readily seen and tend to become the repetitive chatter heard among the political talking-heads. Repeated often enough, they soon begin getting associated with certain-sounding terms like "inevitablity". Lost among the noise, it the reality that is ignored among the actual results. This reality germinates with perceptions among many that the assumed definitives do not appear to be supported by what one sees.

For months, we have been told that Gov. Mitt Romeny is the Republican Presidential front-runner. Supporters are quick to announce him as the "strongest" candidate against President Obama in the General Election. They tout repeated polls as their evidence. His campaign is indeed the most well-organized (having been getting built for nearly six years - going back to his failed 2008 Republican Primary attempt). It is well-financed as evidenced by the fact that he regularly outspends all opponents collectively multiple orders of magnitude to one. The Governor cannot visit a state where he doesn't pickup endorsements. All of these advantages appear to support the notion (promoted by the Romney campaign & it's supporters) that his path to Tampa is a certainty.

Then, the results start coming in. Unfortunately for the Romney campaign, a simple premise begins to take form:

Money, Organization, and Endorsements simply make you, as a candidate, more of what you are! If you are a great candidate, they can be unsurmountable by your opponents. If you are a mediocre to bad candidate, they get you into position from which your faults and inabilities come to glaring light!

In 2008, Mitt Romney was the guy who lost to the guy who lost to President Obama. In 2012, (with due respect to Romney's newest endorsee, Donald Trump), he is now the guy who has lost multiple times to the guy who lost as a sitting Senator by nearly 20 points in his home state! He is expending enormous resources to execute a scorched-Earth campaign against opponents who (compared with his money, organization, and endorsements) should have posed no obstacle.

The realities are grim:

  • In Iowa, he finished in the same position as 2008 (2nd) only getting about 150 more votes. More concerning is that Ron Paul (the only other common opponent from 2008) got over 14K more votes and was within 3K of finishing above Romney. Of course, we hear this excuse to be the "caucus process" & its potential for uneven influence by a very "motivated" group with "excited" supporters. Maybe I'm confused, but I thought the objective of campaigns was to build a group of motivated & excited support!
  • In New Hampshire, Romney got more votes winning than did McCain in 2008 & gained over 20K more votes. If there has been a high point for Romney's campaign, the Granite State was it. In the safety of the Northeast in the confines of a neighboring state to where he was Governor, the allusions to invincibility became a daily topic of conversation. As difficult as it is to imagine, the majority opinion assumed the upcoming South Carolina primary to be a "coronation"!
  • In South Carolina, the race saw this campaign's biggest increase in voter turnout (measured 2012 versus 2008), Former Speaker Newt Gingrich (having earlier finished 4th & 5th respectively) won in a rout. Romney finishing 2nd actually got almost 100K more votes than 2008, but was buried in the avalanche that was Gingrich's nearly 100K more votes than 2008 winner McCain. To the surprise of everyone, the expected coronation looked more akin to a revolt!
  • In Florida, Romney's campaign responded in full-bore attack mode to stem Gingrich's rising tide. He won with his biggest margin to date (14% in front of 2nd place Gingrich). He increased his personal vote total by 175K votes over 2008 and got almost 75K more than McCain's winning total in that race. Florida was a big win, but it came at a heavy price. Estimates are that the Romney campaign outspent all opponents as much as 5-to-1 on advertising; according to analysis, as few as 1% of ads by Romney & his associated SuperPAC were actually about the candidate. Based on events that occurred after Florida, it could be that Romney's negative gambit may have succeeded in ending Gingrich's chances at the Republican nomination, but replaced him with Santorum.
  • In Nevada, Romney finally got to 50%. Problematic was the fact that he won Nevada (as he did in 2008) getting 6K fewer votes! While a win is a win, this result continued telling the story of weakness in its apparent exercise of strength.
  • In Colorado, Minnesota, & Missouri, some of the consequences of the Romney campaign's actions began to manifest. In its complete devolution into negativity attempting to defeat Gingrich, he opened a gaping door through which Santorum regained momentum. Santorum's underfunded, long-shot campaign (thought for dead after South Carolina) was the benefactor with surprise wins in all three contests. While the wins were damaging news to Romney's campaign, they infer a negative trend for Santorum as well. In Colorady, Romney got barely half as many votes in 2012 (finishing in 2nd) in a state that he won in 2008. For Missouri, his 2012 vote totals were barely a third of 2008; in Minnesota (a state he won in 2008) 2012 vote totals were barely a quarter of 2008. In ending Gingrich's momentum, Romney made his own campaign effectively toxic. Santorum won all three races, but earned those wins with only 60-70% of the vote totals that winners got in 2008.

Final results for the Maine caucuses are not available at this time, but the race has been announced as a win for the Romney campaign. While providing a much-needed win for his campaign, the net effect could be the damaging loss for the Paul campaign. Since neither Santorum nor Gingrich actively campaigned in the state, this was in effect a one-on-one race that Paul failed to win.

This campaign has proved anything, but predictable. Problematic for Romney, he has won only as many in 2012 as he won in 2008 (until Maine). For a campaign that has been underway since 2008, he appears to have the same political ceiling this time around (when he should do better) than he had previously. Gingrich, with a campaign declared dead previously, appears damaged by Romney's attacks. Santorum, the least-likely victor, looks the unwitting benefactor of Romney's strategy of addition-by-subtraction.

Time and future votes will only tell!