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Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Newt, Mitt, and the Months Ahead

One reason Gingrich is moving ahead of Romney in Iowa? 42% of voters say they would have major concerns about a candidate who supported an individual mandate for health care to just 34% who say they'd have major concerns about a candidate who cheated on his spouse. Romney's health care plan is a bigger liability than Gingrich's marriages. There's also not much evidence that Gingrich's immigration stance will prove to be an issue. Only 29% of caucus voters think illegal immigrants who have been in the country for 25 years and paid their taxes and obeyed the law should be deported, to 44% who think they should not be. Something may sink Newt's campaign in the next month, but it's not likely to be that issue.

For all that there's one piece of news in this poll that's very good for Romney and very bad for Gingrich. 66% of Romney's remaining supporters in Iowa are strongly committed to him. 62% of Paul's supporters are strongly committed to him. But only 49% of Gingrich's supporters say they'll definitely vote for him. Newt's support is comparatively weak. And the second choice of Gingrich voters? For 26% of them it's none other than Mitt Romney to 17% for Perry, 15% for Bachmann, and 13% for Paul. So if Gingrich's campaign does fade over the course of December we could end up with Romney back at the top, just like was expected all along.

At Politico, Jonathan Martin writes:

Newt Gingrich’s surge is prompting the first signs of nervousness among top Mitt Romney supporters, some of whom are urging their candidate to take a more aggressive approach to arrest the former House speaker’s sudden rise.


“If Newt is the nominee, he’ll hurt our chances everywhere — House, Senate, etc.,” said a Republican lobbyist who is backing Romney. “Everyone thinks Romney hangs on [and still wins the nomination]. I’m not so sure.”

This Romney supporter’s idea for pushback? “Marianne Gingrich needs to cut an ad in Iowa and South Carolina.”

That would be the candidate’s second wife, whom he divorced after carrying on an affair with his current wife, Callista.

Not every Romney supporter wants to go to that political equivalent of nuclear war right now, but conversations with high-profile backers of Romney reveal an unmistakable sense that Gingrich is for real and not a so-called “flavor of the month.”

Coming at a moment when Romney has already made a few missteps — most notably a testy interview with Fox News anchor Bret Baier that reflected poorly on his ability to weather tough questions — his supporters are on edge.

One former RNC chair said there’s “no question” that the Romney camp’s pulse has begun racing and that Boston is being urged to confront Gingrich.

“I do know that that the message is coming through to them that, ‘You need to have a third party going after Newt and if you can’t do it that way you’ve got to do it yourself,’” said the former chair.

Trip Gabriel and Jeff Zeleny write at The New York Times:

If neither candidate succeeds in knocking out the other in the burst of early tests in Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina and Florida, Mr. Gingrich could be faced with the ultimate challenge to his campaign: the need to survive a war of attrition of the sort for which he is unprepared at the moment.

Where volunteers for Mr. Romney have gathered voters’ signatures to be on the ballots of Alabama, Illinois, Indiana, Vermont and Virginia, Mr. Gingrich’s campaign is only beginning to activate volunteers in those states.

And adding to the specter of a drawn-out battle is a change in the delegate selection process, which could make the contest a Republican version of the protracted 2008 Democratic primary fight between Barack Obama and Hillary Rodham Clinton, which was not resolved until all states had voted.

Republicans operated under a winner-takes-all system in the past, which set the stage for an early victor, but this time most delegates will be awarded proportionally for contests taking place before April 1, which means finishing second can be nearly as fruitful as winning.

A long contest requires significant organization, which the Romney campaign has been building through an exhaustive state-by-state delegate operation. The Gingrich campaign, which went dormant in the summer, is racing to catch up. Mr. Gingrich, for example, will not appear on the Missouri ballot because his campaign missed the filing deadline last month and failed to send a $1,000 check to the secretary of state’s office.