Romney Getting Close

Posted April 4th, 2012 at 9:13 pm (UTC+0)
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Shifts Focus to Obama

Mitt Romney closes in on the Republican Party nomination after three primary wins this week. Photo: AP

Mitt Romney’s trifectas of victories in Maryland, the District of Columbia and Wisconsin have solidified the notion that he is closing in on the Republican Party presidential nomination and appears unstoppable at this point.

The only question about the latest round of primaries Tuesday was whether Rick Santorum could pull off an upset in Wisconsin and raise fresh doubts about Romney and his struggles to appeal to the conservative Republican base.  Santorum failed and increasingly this once hard-fought primary campaign is starting to look like one of those balloons with the air oozing out of it.

Santorum promises to soldier on, at least until the April 24th primary in his home state of Pennsylvania.  But the risks of staying in are high for him if he has an eye on the 2016 campaign because an embarrassing loss to Romney in his home state would be an unnecessary self-inflicted wound.

The last time Santorum was on the ballot in Pennsylvania was six years ago and he got trounced by Democratic Bob Casey, Jr. by double-digits.  The pressure is likely to increase in the coming days from Republican leaders for him to exit the race soon and get behind Romney as the party’s inevitable nominee and allow everyone to focus on the coming battle against President Obama in November.

Rick Santorum now counting on his home state of Pennsylvania to stay in the Republican race. Photo: AP

Each day, it seems, Romney is shifting his attention more and more to the general election.  Addressing a newspaper group this week in Washington, Romney said the November election will present voters with what he called “a defining decision.”

He went on to say that the choice will not be about party or personality, but about principle.  The previous day, President Obama offered a similar analysis in a speech to a group of AP editors and publishers when he said he couldn’t remember a time when the competing visions offered by the two main parties were “so unambiguously clear.”

So basically, it’s game on from now until November 6th. The American public will have to brace itself for another long, and most likely negative, election campaign that will play out over the next seven months.

 

Gingrich and Paul Hang in, but Why?

As for the other two Republican contenders, Newt Gingrich and Ron Paul, they have sort of reached the footnote stage in the race.  Gingrich says he’ll carry on to the convention in Tampa, but is anyone paying attention?  He and Romney have acknowledged having contact, so at some point we can expect a big endorsement announcement with plenty of flattery for the former House speaker.

As for Ron Paul, he has always charted his own course and one assumes he is banking on a speaking slot at the Tampa convention that would allow him to highlight his brand of libertarian conservatism during prime TV time.

Some are now speculating that Gingrich may want to have a major role in putting the Republican platform together at the convention in Tampa, but that process is usually controlled by the nominee-to-be and his staff, not a rival for the nomination.

Gingrich could be useful to Romney in the fall campaign, however, as someone who could fire up the Republican base in ways that Romney has generally failed to do.  Gingrich still has a flair for rhetoric and a knack for being able to encapsulate conservative gripes and values.  He also loves to get under the skin of what he likes to call the “liberal elites” and the “elite media.”  So I would expect him to play a surrogate role of some kind during the campaign.

As for Ron Paul, I’m not so sure about the surrogate role.  He just might fade into the background during the November campaign.

Paul will try to seize the moment during the Republican convention in Tampa. But for all the crowds he has drawn on the campaign trail this year, he still has little to show for it in terms of delegates and momentum.

Paul has been able to win over younger supporters during his campaign, but will that translate somehow into a youth movement for Romney?  Not likely. Paul is more about Paul than helping the Republicans, and I would expect that to continue to play out after the convention in August as well.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Republicans Closing Ranks Behind Romney

Posted March 30th, 2012 at 8:24 pm (UTC+0)
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Pulling Out the big Guns

Well, the big boys are starting to show their hands.  Former President George H.W. Bush joined his son Jeb this week in endorsing Mitt Romney to be the Republican Party presidential candidate.  Florida Senator Marco Rubio also got into the action.

Mitt Romney collects the big endorsements this week. Photo: AP

Sure, the Romney camp would have liked more of the Republican elites to swing behind their guy sooner, but now is a pretty good time to build some endorsement momentum and get more people used to the idea that Romney will be the party’s inevitable nominee no matter how long Rick Santorum, Newt Gingrich and Ron Paul plan to stay in the race.

Rubio, of course, is a heavy favorite to be on the short list of possible vice presidential picks for Romney before the Republican convention in Tampa in late August.  The Republican senator has long been seen as a rising star in the party and whether or not he’s on the ticket this year probably won’t alter that calculation for the future.  He is from a key battleground state, Florida, and has great appeal to Hispanic-American voters with his Cuban background.

As the Hispanic voting population continues to grow in the U.S. over the next few decades, Republicans are going to have to find ways to appeal to this electorate and cut down on the Democratic victory margins among these voters.  Rubio also won his Senate seat in Florida with help from the Tea Party movement, so he represents a new kind of Republican with at least the potential to bridge the divide between moderate Hispanics drawn to the Republican’s conservative views on social issues and the often anti-illegal immigration Tea Party crowd that demands secure borders and in some cases the expulsion of illegals back to their home countries. Rubio has been talking about introducing some sort of limited immigration reform measure aimed at improving Hispanic perceptions of the Republican Party.

Will Marco Rubio be the vice presidential candidate? Photo: AP

Assuming Romney winds up being the nominee, he and his brain trust will have to decide if Rubio has enough experience to go on the ticket as veep, or whether it would be safer to go with a more traditional-type pick like Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell or Ohio Senator Rob Portman, both of whom also come from swing states in the general election.

Santorum and Gingrich Press On But How Much Longer?

 

Tuesday’s next round of primaries includes Washington, D.C., Maryland and Wisconsin.  Romney seems strong in the first two, so Wisconsin is shaping up as one of the last true showdown contests between Romney and Santorum.  A Santorum victory in Wisconsin might give him enough gas to get to the end of May and the primary in Texas, where he should do well.  On the other hand, if Romney can sweep on Tuesday, it will just add more fuel to the fire of Republicans saying enough is enough, let’s get behind Romney and get on with this thing.  The latest polls give Romney an edge in Wisconsin.

Ohio Representative Steve Chabot told my colleague Carol Castiel this week (for VOA’s Press Conference USA program) that he would like to see the Republican primary race wrap up so that his party can focus its fire on President Obama.  So keep an eye on the results from Wisconsin.  A Romney win there would just make it harder for Rick Santorum to justify why he stays in the race week after week.

Newt Gingrich winds down his active campaigning. Photo: AP

As for Newt Gingrich, he has sharply cut back his campaign staff and seems to have adopted a strategy of trying to win over individual delegates prior to the August convention in some last ditch effort to stop Romney.  Even his main Super PAC backer, casino magnate Sheldon Adelson, says Newt seems to be winding down his campaign after several disappointing finishes in recent primaries.

Romney has confirmed that he met with Gingrich recently, but there is no word on what exactly they discussed.  Would Gingrich demand something from Romney as a condition for getting out of the race?   It’s not clear, but all of the contenders who will come up short against Romney for the nomination must be thinking about the mechanics and timing of exiting the race and getting behind Romney as the expected nominee.

 

 

The Supremes and Health Care Politics

 

So we will know by the end of June the fate of the Obama health care law.  The Supreme Court could go any number of ways, but the tenor of the questions from several of the justices during the oral arguments this past week suggest the conservatives plus noted swing vote Justice Anthony Kennedy seem skeptical, to put it mildly, of the individual insurance mandate, the cornerstone of the reform act.

Striking down the mandate or, more broadly the entire law, would be a huge setback for President Obama and his Democratic supporters.  To have the signature achievement of your administration ruled unconstitutional by the high court could depress Democrats and validate the claims of Republican opponents that the law is too far-reaching and violates some of the individual liberty precepts in the U.S. Constitution.

That is not to say that Democrats would take a negative ruling on the health care law lying down.  For sure, it could energize some Obama supporters to make sure he is re-elected in November.  And for many Democrats, striking down the health care law would point to the perils of a court dominated by conservative justices appointed by Republican presidents.  There would be echoes of the political fallout from the Bush versus Gore decision from 2000 that legitimized George W. Bush’s election victory over Al Gore, and more recently the Citizens United case of two years ago that dramatically scaled back regulations on unions, corporations and private citizens from spending unlimited amounts of money on behalf of presidential and congressional candidates, as long as they do not coordinate with specific campaigns.

It’s too early to know what the court decision will be, or the scale of any possible backlash, but the high court this week was the crossroads of politics and law in the U.S. and the passions on display from both sides on the sidewalk outside the court were notable and a preview of what’s to come once the court ruling is announced in June.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Legal Showdown over Health Care

Posted March 27th, 2012 at 6:53 pm (UTC+0)
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Supreme Court Ruling Could Impact Election

Arguments are underway in the U.S. Supreme Court, above, over the Obama administration's key health care law. Photo: Alison Klein, VOA

This week marks one of those rare instances where what happens at the U.S. Supreme Court could have an impact on the presidential election results in November.  The battle over the Obama health care law has pretty much defined the first three years of the president’s administration.  It also gave rise to the Tea Party conservative movement that proved influential in the 2010 congressional elections, helping Republicans retake control of the House of Representatives and picking up seats in the Senate.

The high court will rule on the constitutionality of the health care law sometime before the end of June. And while the state of the domestic economy will be the biggest factor in this year’s election, whichever way the court rules on health care could motivate one side or the other, or both for that matter.

Tuesday’s oral arguments at the court dealt with the most controversial aspect of the law, the so-called individual mandate that by 2014 would require all Americans to buy some form of health insurance.  Supporters say the mandate is crucial to cover the costs of people who get health care treatment but don’t buy insurance.  Critics say it is an unconstitutional power-grab by the central government.

The tenor of Tuesday’s arguments indicated that the four conservatives on the high court plus swing Justice Anthony Kennedy were skeptical of the constitutionality of the individual mandate.  The four justices appointed by Democratic presidents seemed more supportive of the law.

President Obama, returning from a trip to Asia, has a lot at stake in the Supreme Court case. Photo: AP

A decision by the court to strike down the health care law would be seen as vindication by Republicans, Tea Party activists and libertarian thinkers who want to limit the power of the central government.  But it could also serve to anger supporters of the health care law, who focus on its benefits, and could help get them out to vote in November for President Obama.

On the other hand, a ruling that upholds the law would be a major source of frustration to opponents and could whip up support among anti-Obama activists and help the Republican presidential nominee, which at this point likely will be Mitt Romney.  If the law is upheld, opponents will see replacing Obama as the only way to ensure that the law is repealed and it could spark renewed energy, not only for the Republican presidential nominee, but for Republican congressional candidates as well.

Health care reform has long been a major fault line in U.S. politics.  Bill Clinton made health care reform a major cause of his administration in the early 1990s and put then-First Lady Hillary Clinton in charge of the effort.

That, as we remember, didn’t work out too well for the Democrats.  The program was seen by many as over-reaching and voters punished Democrats at the polls in the 1994 midterm congressional elections, electing Republican majorities in both the House and Senate for the first time in 40 years.

So the election results in 2012 will tell us a lot about whether the country is in a different place now on the issue of health care than where it was 18 years ago.

 

Santorum Struggling to Hang on

 

It was a bit of an up and down week for Rick Santorum — a big win in the Louisiana primary followed by a meltdown in an exchange with a reporter from the New York Times.  Santorum let loose after he felt he’d been taken out of context when he said Mitt Romney was the worst Republican in the country to challenge President Obama over health care, given Romney’s history with a similar law in Massachusetts.  But the exchange on Santorum’s end was short on substance and heavy on indignation and it seemed to tell the story of a candidate growing increasingly frustrated that he can’t cut into Romney’s lead in the delegate count.

Rick Santorum speaks in front of Supreme Court as it considers the Obama administration health care law. Photo: AP

Santorum’s win in Louisiana showed that evangelical Christians and conservative activists still have problems making the switch over to Romney.  But in the end, Santorum picked up little ground on Romney in the delegate totals.  The latest Associated Press tally puts Romney at 568 and Santorum at 273.

Romney is well on his way to the 1,144 number he needs to secure the party nomination, but he probably won’t get close to nailing down that total until sometime in June when big states like California and New Jersey weigh in.

It’s possible that frustration with the delegate math is taking a toll on Rick Santorum.

Here’s a guy who emerged from nowhere in the cornfields of Iowa to become Mitt Romney’s main challenger, only to come up short in the big primary showdowns in Michigan, Ohio and Illinois.  For now he stays in the race, but each day Romney announces new Republican endorsements, including from some notable Tea Party types like Senator Mike Lee of Utah.  It may take a while but Romney seems on a trajectory toward the Republican Party nomination and there seems to be no clear path for Santorum to change the dynamics of the race or the delegate math in any significant way.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Romney Closing In

Posted March 21st, 2012 at 8:43 pm (UTC+0)
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Santorum Looks to Rebound in Louisiana

So is Mitt Romney’s win in Illinois the boost he’s been looking for to get him over the hump in his quest for the Republican Party presidential nomination? It’s a little early to tell, but the fact that he soundly beat main rival Rick Santorum does take him a big step closer to nailing down the nomination even if there are 20 or so primary contests yet to come.

Ann and Mitt Romney celebrate his win in the Illinois Republican primary. Photo: AP

Romney defeated Santorum in some crucial voting groups on Tuesday, especially among more moderate Republicans who live in the suburbs and exurbs near the larger towns and cities. These are the groups the Republican nominee will have to pull from if they have any hope of defeating President Obama in November.
Romney also increased his standing among those whose first priority is defeating President Obama. It may be dawning on more and more Republicans that their best shot of defeating Mr. Obama, maybe their only one, is to put up someone who can really compete with the president for the votes of independents and swing voters.
Adding to his Illinois bounty, Romney finally got the long-sought after endorsement of former Florida governor Jeb Bush. The Romney campaign hopes that Bush’s call to the party to rally around Romney as the presumptive nominee will start a kind of unstoppable avalanche of party endorsements that will shift the balance of power so much that Romney will begin cruising toward the magic number of 1,144 delegates to secure the party’s nomination.

Former Florida governor Jeb Bush gives Mitt Romney a key endorsement for the Republican presidential nomination. Photo: AP

Some of the Republican luminaries had wanted Jeb Bush to run this year, arguing that his charisma and ability to appeal to both conservatives and moderates would make him a cinch for the nomination. But I’ve often wondered how Bush would fare in the age of Tea Party activists and other conservatives focused solely on social issues. Bush was a governor and like Romney he had to make compromises along the way during his two terms in office. He has his baggage as well.
Plus, don’t forget that all along Romney has been winning endorsements from senators, members of Congress and even some governors and they haven’t exactly sealed the deal for him or put off his challengers, especially Santorum and Newt Gingrich. But Bush coming aboard is a sign that one of the more shrewd and cautious Republican heavyweights has finally decided it’s safe to cast his lot with Romney in the nomination battle.

 

 

Santorum Paying a Price for Stumbles

It’s true that Rick Santorum’s trump card in the primary race is that he is the darling of conservatives, especially evangelical Christians. Romney, by the way, does pretty well among Catholics despite some lingering reservations about his Mormon background.
But Santorum’s main problem of late has been Santorum. Spending time campaigning in Puerto Rico in a fruitless quest for delegates? Mistake. Saying there were bigger issues in the campaign that caring about the unemployment rate? Oops. Combine those clumsy missteps with some organizational failures — like failing to qualify to compete for 10 of the 54 delegates in Illinois — and you have the kind of unforced errors that can erode hope in a political campaign.

Rick Santorum looks for support in Saturday's Louisiana Republican primary. Photo: AP

Part of Santorum’s strength is that he generally says what he means and will answer any question put to him, even if he risks getting away from the campaign themes that helped him rise to become Romney’s main challenger.
This all came about because for most of 2011 Rick Santorum was an afterthought in the Republican race. He struggled to get asked questions in the televised debates and mostly wandered around rural Iowa in a pickup truck trying to round up conservative Christians to spread the word that he was the only legitimate social conservative in the race.
Santorum’s surprise win in Iowa catapulted him to the top of the field of Romney alternatives and he’s used that stature to pull off some wins in the Midwest, the West, and especially the South. Santorum is well-positioned to win in Louisiana on Saturday but beyond that he will need to pick a state where Romney is favored and make a stand so he can somehow change the narrative that Romney is on an unstoppable course to the nomination.
His best remaining opportunity may come April 3rd in Wisconsin where a victory could resurrect party fears about Romney’s viability and give Santorum enough of a momentum jolt to stage a comeback and at least deny Romney the chance to secure the 1,144 delegates before the end of the primary schedule on June 26th. But to do, that Santorum will have to run a more disciplined campaign and avoid some of the unforced errors that have hurt him at crucial moments.

Republican Showdown in Illinois

Posted March 19th, 2012 at 8:27 pm (UTC+0)
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Rick Santorum and his wife Karen greet supporters as they walk through Old San Juan, Puerto Rico, March 15, 2012. (AP)

 

Another week and another chance for Rick Santorum to change the dynamics of the Republican presidential race.  A Santorum victory in Illinois would raise fresh doubts about what Mitt Romney argues is his unstoppable march to the nomination.

Romney says it is all about the math and that it is simply not possible for either Santorum or Newt Gingrich to win enough delegates in the remaining primaries and caucuses to win the nomination.
Delegate Count
But what they can do, and what Santorum freely admits he is trying to do, is prevent Romney from securing the 1144 delegates he needs at the Republican convention in August and make the Tampa conclave a true contested convention, the first one in the Republican Party since incumbent President Gerald Ford narrowly defeated Ronald Reagan in 1976.

At the moment, a simple reading of the math clearly favors Romney and suggests that his wrapping up the Republican race is more a question of when, rather than if.  In the wake of his victory in Puerto Rico on Sunday, the Associated Press unofficial delegate count gives Romney 521 compared to 253 for Santorum, 136 for Gingrich and 50 for Ron Paul.

Santorum’s problem is there are very few winner-take-all contests remaining in the Republican slate of primaries and that means even when he wins a state he will share some delegates with Romney.  It’s just not possible for Santorum to win the large chunks of delegates he needs to make a dent in Romney’s delegate lead and change the complexion of the race.

Rick Santorum signs autographs after speaking at a campaign rally, March 19, 2012, in Dixon, Illinois. (AP)

What Santorum is hoping for is to demonstrate that he and not Romney has the political momentum.  Santorum can’t win the math argument so he has to pull an upset and stop Romney in a state where he is favored, like Illinois, in hopes of changing the argument away from the delegate count to who has the momentum heading into the rest of the primaries.  A win in Illinois would give Santorum a chance to make that argument, but the polls show he’s trailing and he could come up short as he did in two other crucial Midwest tests—Michigan and Ohio.

Gingrich and Paul Not Going Away

A lot of experts thought Newt Gingrich might end his presidential quest last week after disappointing finishes in both Alabama and Mississippi.  But Gingrich is soldiering on and now targets the March 24th contest in Louisiana as perhaps his last chance for a breakthrough in order to remain in the race.

The Gingrich strategy always assumed he would build on a base in the South, starting with his victory in South Carolina in January and another win in his former home state of Georgia on Super Tuesday (March 6).  But the Gingrich magic never translated across borders into other southern states and that effectively stalled his strategy and allowed Rick Santorum to become the darling of conservative activists suspicious of Mitt Romney’s commitment to the conservative cause.

Newt Gingrich speaks at the airport in Lake in the Hills, Illinois, March 15, 2012. (AP)

The question is, will Gingrich decide it’s time to get out of the race if he loses in Louisiana on Saturday or will he stick to his pledge that he’s in the race until the convention?  At this point probably only Gingrich knows for sure.

Then there is Ron Paul, who keeps on despite having less and less impact each week.  Paul wants to bring a stash of delegates with him to the convention in Tampa in August so at the very least he can claim a speaking spot.  But his low total so far, which the Associated Press estimates at 50, may not buy him one of the coveted prime time TV address slots during the four nights of the convention.

On the other hand, the eventual nominee — be it Romney, Santorum or someone else not yet picked up on radar — is not going to want to go into the general election campaign for November having alienated Paul’s diehard supporters.  Not only that, they also know that any perceived insult or slight of the Paul crowd might just convince the congressman to change his mind and run as a third party presidential candidate anyway, further complicating a difficult Republican challenge of the president in November.

 

Santorum Surges but Romney Remains in Lead

Posted March 14th, 2012 at 6:42 pm (UTC+0)
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Southern Sweep Portends Long Race

Rick Santorum celebrates after winning the Mississippi and Alabama Republican Party primaries. Photo: AP

So in the aftermath of Rick Santorum’s sweep of the primary election battles in the South, are we any closer to picking a Republican Party presidential nominee?  Well, in one sense no, but in another, yes.

Santorum has got something Mitt Romney, the supposed front-runner, would love to have—solid support from base conservatives, Tea Party folks and evangelical Christians.  But Romney has the delegate lead even after the Santorum victories in Alabama and Mississippi and continues his slow slog toward the nomination.

Mitt Romney falters in the South, but leads in the Republican delegate count that determines the nomination. Photo: AP

It’s true, Romney seems to be drifting toward his goal rather than seizing it. And it’s got to cause no small amount of angst among the Republican elite that he just can’t seem to close the deal.

Too many Republicans still want to vote with their heart, not their head, it appears, so the whole “Romney would be a better general election candidate” thing still seems to have limited appeal among the true conservative believers.  Ever since the rise of the Tea Party in 2010 it was clear that activist conservatives were going to demand, above all else, an anti-Obama campaign from their nominee in 2012.

Well, they’ve held the auditions and after all the screaming, their preference for that role would be filled by Santorum.

So Romney gets beat in the southern states, or the smaller ones with large rural populations, and manages to eke out some victories in larger states where more moderate Republicans cluster in the suburbs near the larger cities.

Newt Gingrich staying in the race has helped Romney, splitting the conservative vote with Santorum in enough places to help Romney hold on for some nail-biting wins like in Ohio and Michigan.

So what happens if Gingrich finally leaves the race?  That is what the Santorum crowd desperately wants to see if they can puncture the vaunted Romney regime even more.  But it’s not a given that all the support for Gingrich would automatically transfer to Santorum.

Newt Gingrich falls short in his home region. Photo: AP

Santorum’s main problem is the lack of winner-take-all opportunities in the remaining primaries where he could make up some real ground in the delegate hunt against Romney.  His best shot now is to slow down Romney enough to deny him the 1,144 delegates he needs before the party convention in Tampa in August. Then Santorum would hope for some sort of groundswell among conservatives to overturn the Romney parade float when the party faithful gather.

It’s a long shot, but the longer Romney struggles to close deal, if it’s his to close, the more the conservative doubters will squawk from the sidelines that a former Massachusetts governor once known as a moderate simply should not be the standard bearer for a party that wears its heart on its right sleeve.

I wonder when we get to the point where if Romney is not able to line up the necessary delegates before the convention, the rumors and speculation will begin about Romney cutting a deal with either Santorum or Gingrich to get enough delegates to get over the threshold.  So which ticket sounds better—Romney-Santorum or Romney-Gingrich?

 

Obama’s Gas Problem

Obama supporters who have grown more confident of re-election in recent weeks have begun to notice an elephant over in one corner of the room in the shape of a giant gasoline pump.

Quick, name the one thing incumbent presidents hate?  If you guessed THINGS OUT OF THEIR CONTROL, you win.

It was just a week or two ago that things were looking rosy for the Obama White House.  The economy continued in uptick form, more jobs were being created each month and more people were looking for those jobs.  Plus, the Republicans running for president were savaging each other on what appeared to be a “bridge to nowhere” and all of sudden, Democrats were feeling pretty good about themselves and starting to wonder just how big a re-election victory Mr. Obama could pull off.

But as gas prices edge above $4 a gallon and head for $5, you can forget about that.  Look, most people have little use for politics until it affects them where they live — food prices, housing and the cost of fuel.

When things get bad they look to blame somebody in a hurry and they are probably not going to consult a spread sheet to apportion blame.  It comes down to who’s on watch at any given time, and that happens to be the incumbent president.

And just in case we need to cite history here, consider the case of one James Earl Carter, the unlucky 39th President of the United States.

Yes, it was the Iran hostages and the economy in general that helped to do in Carter in 1979-1980, but one of the most searing images from the end of his presidency were the long lines at gasoline stations with people waiting to fill up.  That is like the ultimate bad karma for any politician seeking re-election.  If that slide showed up on a power point presentation for wannabe politicians, it would have a circle with a line through it with a disclaimer that reads, AVOID AT ALL COSTS.

So what can the president do about it?  Not too much, really.  Hope people cut back on their driving a bit and force the price down a bit or that the world market somehow eases at some point and the prices trickle back down a bit.

You can be sure they are tracking this stuff at the White House in very fine increments.  Look at the recent polls and you’ll see why.  The president’s approval rating has come down in two major polls recently, and it seems pretty clear there is a close correlation between rising gas prices and falling confidence in the president’s ability to handle the economy.

 

 

 

The Republican Race Heads South

Posted March 9th, 2012 at 7:52 pm (UTC+0)
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Romney’s Upcoming Rough Patch

After winning six of 10 Republican Party presidential primaries on Super Tuesday, Mitt Romney faces perhaps his most difficult stretch on what is turning into a slow slog toward the Republican nomination.

Mitt Romney looks for support in Jackson, Mississippi. Photo: AP

A Massachusetts Yankee trying to win hearts and minds down south in Dixie could get downright awkward if not ugly.  The contests in Alabama and Mississippi on Tuesday present real opportunities for Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum, while Romney has to grin and bear it and hope to win a few delegates before the candidates move on to the next round.

Gingrich in particular has a lot riding on Tuesday.  I think he has to win at least one of the two southern primaries outright or the calls for him to quit will become deafening.  Winning his home state of Georgia on Super Tuesday was only a ticket to continue for one more week, because if Gingrich can’t spread his brand of conservative cheer to the Deep South, it might be time for him to start another historical novel.

 

Rick Santorum looks for a helping hand in Alabama. Photo: AP

Santorum also has to deliver to keep his chances alive.  He wants to sweep both southern primaries so that conservative Republican leaders can legitimately call on Gingrich to bow out gracefully and let Santorum take on Romney one-one-one.

Romney will hope to salvage something with the Hawaii caucuses, also being held on Tuesday.  Then he has to hold on until Illinois on March 20th to restart the bandwagon that goes something like, “Well, it’s going to be Mitt sooner or later so you might as well join now while we are on a semi-roll.”

Because most of the Republican contests reward delegates on a proportional basis, Romney shouldn’t see his delegate lead slip too much.  His problem has always been the perception that the party’s conservative base just isn’t enthusiastic about his candidacy, as well as the belief — or hope — that people are eventually going to fall in line behind him because there is no one else.

 

Super PACS and Delegate Rules Help Extend Republican Race

The Wall Street Journal notes that the so-called Super PACS – privately financed political action groups — behind the Republican candidates spent three times as much money as the candidates themselves in the two week period leading up to Super Tuesday.

The Super PACS are largely an outgrowth of the 2010 Supreme Court decision known as Citizens United in which a 5-4 court majority decided to knock down most legal restrictions that prevented corporations, unions and wealthy individuals from raising money for candidates as long as they did not coordinate their efforts with the official campaigns.

Wife Callista looks on as Newt Gingrich works the crowd in Mississippi. Photo: AP

As a result this year, Newt Gingrich could count on Las Vegas casino magnate Sheldon Adelson and the “Winning Our Future” Super PAC to keep him in the race even when he was doing poorly in the primaries.

Likewise, Rick Santorum has been able to rely on the “Red White and Blue Fund” to keep his campaign afloat during some early rough patches after his victory in Iowa.

The most potent of all has turned out to be the group supporting Mitt Romney, “Restore Our Future,” which has spent more than $30 million on his behalf.

In the past, candidates who went on a losing streak during the primaries generally found their funding dried up, which forced them out of the race.  But this year, the role of Super PACS has been a lifeline for candidates in trouble and has allowed them to either keep breathing in terms of fundraising (often Gingrich), or helped them to revive their prospects after setbacks and turn them into a real contender (Santorum).

It should be pointed out, however, that Romney has dwarfed his rivals both in regular campaign fundraising and in Super PAC prowess.

In addition to the money angle, the Republican Party’s move away from winner-take-all delegate allocations from the state contests has really helped to stretch out the race, much as it did for the Democrats in 2008 when Barack Obama eventually outlasted Hillary Clinton.

But a few winner-take-all Republican contests near the end of the primary season could help put Romney close to the goal of securing the 1144 delegates necessary to claim the nomination.

In April Romney will have winner-take-all opportunities in Maryland, Wisconsin, Washington D.C., and Delaware.  And near the end of the primary calendar in June, Romney could boost his delegate total with winner-take-all victories in New Jersey and Utah.

 

 

Romney on Track but Santorum Sticking Around

Posted March 7th, 2012 at 6:26 pm (UTC+0)
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It’s a Long and Winding Road to Tampa

 

Of the 10 contests for the Republican Party presidential nomination on Super Tuesday, Mitt Romney won six.

Mitt Romney celebrates his wins on Super Tuesday. Photo: AP

He is now well ahead in the delegate count compiled by the Associated Press, with more than 400 delegates in his corner.  Rick Santorum is next at 176, with Newt Gingrich and Ron Paul trailing behind.

Romney is now about one-third of the way toward getting the 1,144 delegates he needs to win the Republican nomination.  So, like, it’s over, right?

Well, not quite.  Romney won where he was supposed to (in New England and Idaho) and barely held on where he had to (Ohio).  Santorum showed strength in the South (Oklahoma and Tennessee) and among conservatives, while Gingrich at least rejoins the discussion with his win in Georgia.

A narrow win in Ohio is a lot better than a narrow loss for Romney.  But he didn’t do much to quell the doubt among conservative Republicans that he’ll ever win their hearts or minds.

Rick Santorum did well too on Tuesday. Photo: AP

Santorum now has more than enough fuel to keep going and Gingrich hopes to further his resurgence next week in Alabama and Mississippi.  The upcoming schedule does not look kind to Romney, with Kansas and Missouri about to weigh in, providing ample opportunities for the non-Romney’s to stay in the game.

Further down the line, the schedule should help Romney once we get to Illinois later in March, and then Maryland and Wisconsin in early April.

Romney may be looking to nail things down, at least psychologically, by April 24th when Connecticut, Delaware, New York, Pennsylvania and Rhode Island hold their contests. With the exception of Pennsylvania, Santorum’s home state, that should be a big night for Romney and could finally allow him to claim that he is the presumptive nominee.

But there’s a lot of time between now and then.

 

Romney Still Facing Conservative Skeptics

So you’re out covering a primary and asking voters what they think about Mitt Romney.  You begin to realize that about every third or fourth conservative person you ask initially gives you a non-verbal reaction like an eye-roll or a gag reflex.

Folks, this is not good.  Again these tend to be the hard-core conservative voters, the people who invoke the names of Ronald Reagan and Barry Goldwater with a wistful sense of “if only they were around today.”

Romney has always had a problem with these people because they don’t trust him, don’t think he’s authentic.

They think he’s a moderate trying too hard to remake himself into a true conservative.  They recall his health care program in Massachusetts and some of the moderate things he said while running for the Senate against Ted Kennedy in 1994, and just don’t buy the new conservative Mitt.

Some recent polls suggest Romney may be chipping away at the resistance from conservatives and Tea Party supporters and even some southerners.  But this is going to take a while and will be primarily driven, in the end, by some sort of acceptance by conservatives that he is the only viable alternative to take on President Obama.

But in the wake of Super Tuesday, the primary results continue to say we are not there yet, and this process has to play out.

You simply can’t go that quickly from a party dominated by the screaming activists of the Tea Party in 2010 that led to a takeover of the House of Representatives, to a more moderate, cautious presence as the party’s presidential nominee two years later.

Romney will have to continue to wear them down and convince them that he is sincere.  The problem is that could literally take a couple of months and in the process he could damage his standing with independent voters, women and Hispanic-Americans.

 

Obama Reaps the Benefits of the Republican Catfight

 

We’ve talked about the four Republican contenders, but there is one other candidate who appears to be doing pretty well as a result of the Republican primaries—President Obama.

Improvements in the U.S. economy have led to the political equivalent of “incumbent’s gold,” the slowly growing perception among the public that the economy is actually improving.  Pair that with a falling unemployment rate and you’ve got a winning formula for re-election (see Reagan, R. circa 1984).

The contentious Republican primary battle between Romney, Santorum and the others is helping Obama, at least for now, because the Republicans keep pushing each other further to right, raising doubts among independent voters who generally vote for a candidate who gets results, not someone tied to a specific ideology.

President Obama reaps the benefits. Photo: AP

In addition, Obama benefits from the recent flap over birth control and the caustic remarks from conservative radio talk show host Rush Limbaugh targeting Sandra Fluke, a law school student at the center of the birth control debate. These have turned off independent women voters and fired up women activists on the Democratic side.

Further, Romney’s efforts to convince the right that he is tough on illegal immigration have put off Hispanic voters, an increasingly important voting bloc in national elections.  One recent poll had Romney winning favorable reviews from only 14 percent of Hispanics, well below the percentage of support he would like to have in a general election matchup with President Obama.

Much of this could change later this year, however.  Once a candidate secures the party nomination, there is a tendency for many voters to press the ‘reset’ button and take another look at the one-on-one matchup for November.  At least at this point, that’s what many Republicans are hoping.

Super Tuesday Preview

Posted March 2nd, 2012 at 9:58 pm (UTC+0)
1 comment

Results Important But Not Likely Decisive

Right now, the question looming for the 10 Super Tuesday Republican Party primary contests is will we have two winners or three? Will Newt Gingrich join Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum in racking up any victories on Tuesday?
Put Mitt Romney down for his home state of Massachusetts, neighboring Vermont and Virginia. He lucks out in Virginia because both Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich couldn’t get enough signatures to qualify for the ballot. So in the swing state of Virginia, it’s Romney versus Ron Paul.

Mitt Romney is looking stronger after his Republican primary wins in Michigan and Arizona. Photo: AP

But let’s keep moving around the Super Tuesday map. Santorum has real opportunities in Oklahoma, Tennessee and Ohio. In fact, Ohio will be the big prize on Tuesday, not only because of the number of delegates at stake (66), but also because it’s the best test of a Romney-Santorum showdown among the states voting that day.

Ohio is always critically important in the general election. No Republican has ever won the White House without carrying it. Now it looms as a major test in the Republican primary battle with the latest public opinion polls showing a tightening race between Santorum and Romney, who appears to be gaining a bit after his recent wins in Arizona and Michigan.

Santorum really needs a win in Ohio to make the argument that he is strong enough to continue in the race as the leading conservative alternative to Romney.

Rick Santorum needs a win in Ohio. Photo: AP

The former Pennsylvania senator came close in Michigan, thanks to social conservatives and men. But Santorum lost the women’s vote to Romney and probably didn’t help himself in the final days with strident comments about separation of church and state and a blast at President Obama for wanting to make it easier to send kids to college. Republican voters in Ohio tend to be a little older, a little poorer and even a little more evangelical than those in Michigan and that could give Santorum a real boost there.

Santorum would love to win Ohio and rout Newt Gingrich in both Oklahoma and Tennessee. Gingrich desperately needs to win his home state of Georgia. If he doesn’t one, it’s hard to see his rationale for staying in the race. Gingrich’s original hope was to spread his southern popularity from Georgia to Tennessee and Oklahoma as well, but that’s looking iffy at best. Some polls even have Gingrich slipping in Georgia and Santorum rising, so Gingrich is a bit on the ropes here with lots to lose if he can’t pull off a win in his home state.

As for Ron Paul, look West, my son, as the saying goes. Paul is hoping for good showings in some of the smaller caucus states like North Dakota, Idaho and Alaska. But remember that Idaho has a large number of Mormons and that should help Romney, who got a pretty enthusiastic welcome there during a recent campaign stop.

And the Winner of the Michigan Primary is….Barack Obama!

So let’s see, a lot of people in Michigan believe the Obama bailout of the auto industry worked, right? And we just had a Republican primary election where all four of the Republican candidates on the ballot were opposed to the bailout, right? Okay, so it shouldn’t be any surprise, then, that the polls show President Obama easily winning Michigan this Fall against any of the Republicans now running.

Polls show President Obama getting stronger. Photo: AP

In fact the poll margins are large enough that some of the pundits say the Republicans should write off any hope of winning Michigan now and focus on some of the other key battleground states in the Middle West.
This is important because the more the Obama campaign can whittle down the number of battleground or swing states for the November general elections, the better its chances of winning.

The fact is that the upper tier of Midwest states from Ohio in the east through Michigan, Wisconsin and Minnesota, and then south to Iowa, and maybe Missouri, is perhaps the key electoral ‘crescent’ that decides most of our presidential elections. Win most of those states and the White House is yours. The only other true battleground region is the Southwest where the growth in Hispanic-American populations has made things competitive in several states, including New Mexico, Colorado and Nevada.

Florida is in its own category as a swing state (see Bush v. Gore, 2000). Obama hopes to keep Virginia and North Carolina in his column from 2008, but that won’t be easy. The only true northeastern swing state looks to be New Hampshire this year.

As the Snowe Flies, or, ‘Dude, where are my moderates?’

Most people outside of her native Maine aren’t that familiar with Republican Senator Olympia Snowe. But she sent off some shockwaves in Washington this week when she announced she is retiring and won’t run for re-election later this year. Snowe cited an atmosphere of political polarization that has festered in the nation’s capital for years, but seems as though it has gotten exceptionally raw in the last few years.

Snowe opts out over Washington gridlock. Photo: AP

Snowe is the latest in a steady stream of Senate moderates to announce their retirements. For 2012, that includes Democrats Ben Nelson from Nebraska, Kent Conrad from North Dakota and Jim Webb from Virginia. Connecticut Independent Joe Lieberman and Texas Republican Kay Bailey Hutchison of Texas are also headed for the exits.

The departure of Snowe and the others is a sad commentary on the political state of affairs in Washington and the endless gridlock that seems to depress the public and push congressional approval ratings to some of their lowest levels ever (like 9 percent at one point last year).

If there is one thing I’ve heard over and over from voters in the primary states this year, it’s a deep disappointment that Congress can never seem to get its act together and find ways to compromise and work out solutions. To be sure, some moderates are left in Congress, and it will be increasingly up to a new generation of centrists on both sides of the political aisle to lead the way in search of meaningful compromise in the years ahead. But the mass exodus of congressional moderates seems to signal a deepening frustration with Congress as an institution and the ability of lawmakers to put aside ideological and political concerns and come together for the good of the country.

Republican Race About to Enter Crucial Phase

Posted February 24th, 2012 at 7:55 pm (UTC+0)
1 comment

Tuesday Primaries in Michigan and Arizona Set Up Super Tuesday

It’s getting to be crunch time in the Republican Party presidential nomination battle.  What happens in Tuesday’s primary elections in Michigan and Arizona will have a big impact on the race no matter what, but it won’t likely be determinative.

It will serve to set up the Super Tuesday primaries and caucuses on March 6th, which to some extent already loom as a likely split decision among George Romney, Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich as they battle in 10 different states for delegates.

Republican presidential candidates Mitt Romney Rick Santorum argue at a Republican presidential debate Feb. 22, 2012, in Mesa, Ariz. (AP)

The Michigan primary on Feb. 28th is important because it’s Romney’s home state.  A loss there to Santorum would be embarrassing, but wouldn’t knock him out of the race.  Romney is polling well in Arizona, the other state to vote on Tuesday.  So at worst, the Romney campaign is expecting a split decision.  Not great, but not the end of the world either.

The public opinion polls show a close race in Michigan between Romney and Santorum.  Santorum has been ahead in some polls but the latest momentum seems to be with Romney, perhaps because yet another barrage of negative ads is bombarding Michigan voters with Santorum squarely in the gun sights.

At this point even a narrow Romney win in Michigan would give him a boost, but it wouldn’t finish off Santorum.  Newt Gingrich and Ron Paul remain in the game but are banking on doing better in some of the contests down the line.  Gingrich is hoping for a revival on Super Tuesday, March 6th, when his home state of Georgia votes along with nine other states.  He is also hoping to do well in Tennessee and Oklahoma, which vote on the same day.

In the only debate between now and Super Tuesday, Romney had a pretty good go at Santorum the other night and put him on the defensive at several points during the evening.  The thrust of the attacks was that Santorum claims to be a consistent conservative, but that while he was in Congress — both in the Senate and before that in the House of Representatives — he didn’t always vote that way.

That’s one of the challenges of having a congressional record and then taking it into a presidential campaign.  It can be picked apart by your rivals, not only in debates but in TV attack ads funded either by your opponents or the wealthy, unregulated so-called super PACs standing behind them.  Bob Dole ran into this problem when he ran for president in 1996 as his lengthy and at times inconsistent voting record came into question, first by his Republican rivals, then by President Bill Clinton.

By the way, as of now there are no more Republican debates scheduled to which any of the major contenders have committed.  It will be interesting to see what happens now since the debates had such a huge impact both this year and last on weeding out the Republican field and allowing candidates in trouble, like Gingrich, to stay in the race.

Whatever happens this coming Tuesday, will set the stage for Super Tuesday. The 10 contests on that one day do offer opportunities for most of the candidates to stake a claim to delegates and at least a bit of momentum somewhere on that 10-state map.

Super Tuesday Stakes Preview

The big prize on March 6th will be Ohio, which also happens to be a crucial swing state in the general election.  Ohio is always crucial for Republicans in national elections.  No Republican has ever been elected president without winning Ohio in the general election.

Ohio represents Santorum’s best shot at a breakout win that could change the dynamic of the Republican race.  It is also a crucial test for Romney, who will no doubt rely on the Republican establishment in the state to help him carry the vote.

Republican presidential candidate Newt Gingrich at a debate watching party, Feb. 22, 2012 in Scottsdale, Ariz. (AP)

Gingrich also wants to play in Ohio, but first he has to make sure that he wins his home state of Georgia.  A Gingrich loss in Georgia would probably undermine any hope he has of staying in the race for the long term.

As for the other states on Super Tuesday, there is something for everyone, as the saying goes.

Romney can look to Massachusetts, where he was governor, and to Vermont, another New England state, where his Republican brand remains fairly popular.  Gingrich is focused on Georgia and hoping his popularity will spread to neighboring Tennessee and maybe Oklahoma further out west.  None of these three states would seem to prime for Romney.  Ron Paul may look for breakthroughs in Alaska and North Dakota, where he has done some campaigning.

One other state on Super Tuesday is likely to go to Romney by default and that is Virginia.  Only Romney and Paul, among active candidates, will appear on the Virginia primary ballot because the others failed to get enough petition signatures needed to get their names on the ballot.  So Romney expects an easy victory there.

No matter what happens Super Tuesday, the result is likely to be some sort of split decision.  The main question is whether Gingrich will figure much in that decision — and if not, where does he go from there.

 

 

 

 

Jim Malone

Jim Malone

After a stint in the Peace Corps in Swaziland, Jim joined VOA in 1983 as a reporter and anchor on English broadcasts to Africa.  He served as East Africa correspondent, then covered Congress in the early 1990’s.   Since 1995, Jim has served as VOA national correspondent responsible for coverage of U.S. politics, elections, the Supreme Court and Justice Department.  Jim has been involved in VOA’s election coverage since the 1984 presidential campaign and has co-anchored live VOA broadcasts of numerous national political conventions, candidate debates and election night coverage.

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