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Saturday, February 18, 2012

Why 2012 May Be Different

Though the front-runner, Romney is in jeopardy and Santorum has at least an outside chance of winning the nomination.  Conventional wisdom said that such a thing would not happen, since the other candidates would fade out as the leading candidate took command.  What happened?  

At Bloomberg, Julie Hirschfeld Davis and Michael Tackett point to Super PACs and the tea party:
The strength of political parties is being undercut as the full impact of the U.S. Supreme Court (1000L) Citizens United case is being felt for the first time. The court held that the government can’t limit political spending, hastening the rise of a new class of political action committees dubbed super-PACs because they can accept unlimited contributions from individuals, corporations and unions.

Now a candidate’s run can be kept alive from a single wealthy individual as when Sheldon Adelson, a Las Vegas casino owner, sustained Newt Gingrich and Foster Friess, a fund manager based in Wyoming, helped do the same for Rick Santorum.

The decision has created “a countervailing force on the money side,” said Tom Rath, a former member of the Republican National Committee and Romney supporter.

“The great rule was that after a startup period and the politics of the day became clearer, it became harder and harder to raise money if you were under-performing politically,” he said. “The existence of super-PACs countermands that. You can have life beyond your quarterly filings.”

In addition, the rise of anti-tax, anti-government spending Tea Party activists who rely on social media and see their lack of a formal organization as a virtue has undercut the authority of more establishment groups.
Other tentative answers come to mind.

One is the de facto end of federal financing.  Under the "10 percent rule," a candidate who failed to get 10 percent of the vote in two consecutive primaries lost eligibility for the funds was was effectively out of the race. Now survival depends on contributors, who may stick with a candidate even after subpar showings.

Another is the calendar.  Initially, the backloaded schedule seemed to favor Romney, who had the money to compete all the way through.  Now it may be giving Santorum the gift of time.  Under frontloading, he would have had little chance to capitalize on early victories.  Now he has ample time to build up his warchest and organization.

A third is the growing significance of the social media and other Internet resources.   There has been a lot of cyber-hype about this element, but it does seem to have enhanced the importance of debates (as key moments '-- "Oops!" -- instantly reverberate on YouTube and Twitter) and provided underfunded candidates a way to communicate with followers.

Of course, nothing here rules out a Romney victory.  But even if he does win, his path to victory is already far more difficult than it would have been before these new developments.