Romney’s State in Iowa

September 23, 2007

Unabashedly tapping his personal fortune to bolster his name recognition and organization, Mitt Romney has propelled himself to be the Republican frontrunner in Iowa. The former governor of Massachusetts has blanketed the states with ads implicitly casting him in the mold of Ronald Reagan.  The ads and intense campaigning are working, providing Romney a double-digit lead over his nearest competitors in the crucial, first in the nation state.  As the days wind down to January 14, when the ballots are cast, will Romney’s lead withstand increased pressure?

            Romney’s Achilles’ heel is his flip-flopping.  Iowans regard him as the most honest and trustworthy Republican candidate, an unfitting label reflecting the tepidity of attacks directed toward his vulnerable record.  Attacks have either been weak in nature, from weak candidates, or brief mentions in a debate.  Take Jim Gilmore, a former governor of Virginia who dropped out of the race after never gaining traction.  Gilmore lumped the leading Republicans’ liberal views into the conglomerate candidate “Rudy McRomney”.  The hesitant Gilmore repeated this phrase at his paltry campaign events, but declined to vigorously press the charges during the nationally televised debates.  McCain has appeared the most willing to go after Romney’s record, but usually drops in his one or two sentence criticism when ending an answer in a debate.  McCain’s campaign registered, a site intended to highlight Romney’s varying stances, but encountered their own problems and shelved the idea.  No one yet has forcefully attacked Romney’s changing positions. 

            Either Giuliani or Thompson is suited to go after Romney on his record.  The mayor is running a campaign portraying him as a strong, tough leader.  He isn’t forced into running a purely positive campaign, it fits with his personality to criticize Romney.  Although Giuliani’s criticism would lead to backlash highlighting his own liberal views, Giuliani’s campaign seems to have moved beyond that.  Who do you want more – a leader tough on terrorism, or someone else? 

            It makes political sense for Thompson to confront Romney about his record, since both of them are pursuing the same social conservatives.  In fact, an anti-Fred site surfaced yesterday, full of opposition research hammering Thompson for his lobbying work, policy positions and more.  The creator of the site, Wes Donohue, is an employee for the South Carolina consulting firm overseeing Romney’s campaign in the state.  Romney’s campaign spokesmen distanced themselves from the site, but evidently Romney supporters are afraid of losing voters to Thompson.  Again, there is potential backlash for Thompson, who was a lobbyist for a pro-choice group. 

            Another problem for Romney is his unfavorability.  At his peak in May, the percentage of his favorables minus the percentage of his unfavorables was 8%.  Since then it has trended downward to -9%.  Troublingly, as people find out more about him, the less they like him.  That doesn’t bode well for his electability, an important issue to a party desperate to prolong its hold in the White House.  With the Republicans appearing to lose seats in Congress in 2008, it’s even more important they maintain the presidency.              

Romney has progressed so far in Iowa buoyed by hard campaigning.  None of Giuliani, Thompson, McCain has even remotely neared his efforts.  Giuliani was ambivalent early, entertaining the idea of skipping the state to focus on more moderate, delegate-rich states voting later.  Thompson has gotten into the race late, and McCain is running a bare-bones operation due to low fundraising.  All three also skipped the Ames straw poll, which Romney won resoundingly.  Romney can no longer benefit from this lack of effort, as Giuliani has intensified his efforts recently and Thompson is starting campaigning there.  As said before, Romney faces significant competition with Thompson’s entrance in courting the social conservative bloc, the backbone of Romney’s support.  Without even campaigning, Thompson already ranks second in national polling and has benefited from the post-announcement bump.    Nonetheless, Thompson still has to establish an organization in Iowa and show the same effort Romney has devoted to the state.

Republican support is not very committed in Iowa, less than 50% of voters are strongly backing a candidate.  Iowa caucus-goers are known for deciding in the last week whom to support.  Romney’s campaign seems fragile, and a properly applied push could send it downward. 


Correlation on Intrade

September 15, 2007

Over at Intrade, Hillary Clinton has shot up over the summer (67.9 for the Democratic nomination), while Barack Obama has plunged to 16.3. The correlation between Clinton’s contract and Obama’s contract is a strong -0.853. Basically, if one goes up, there’s a strong chance the other will go down by close to that amount.

The correlation means the Intrade traders have effectively deemed the Democratic nomination a two-person race with a small chance for someone else to break through, the same view put forth by the media.

The graph below (click on it to enlarge) shows Clinton’s contract price + Obama’s contract price starting a week after Obama’s announcement. You can see a steady trend upwards as the days until the first primary dwindle, showing the narrowing into a two-person race.


Annotating Fred

September 14, 2007

Let’s take a look at some early quotes from Fred Thompson’s nascent candidacy.

Hannity: When you look at the other current crop of candidates, Republicans, where is the distinction between your positions and what you view as theirs?

Thompson: Well, to tell you the truth, I haven’t spent a whole lot of time going into the details of their positions.

Now I see why Thompson isn’t doing any debates until October, he’s simply not prepared. How does he expect to distinguish himself from his opponents? And here’s a candidate who was proposing Lincoln-Douglas type debates on one issue, yet rarely gets into specifics on the campaign trail.

King: But, at that moment in time, Senator, there was no global terrorism emanating from Iraq. So, even if you thought it was a good idea to get [bin Laden], there are those who say, get bin Laden first, kill al Qaeda first. Then get [Saddam].

Thompson: You are not served up these issues one at a time. They come when they come, and you have to — you have to deal with them. Some might say, stop efforts in other parts of the world and concentrate on Iraq. We don’t have that luxury. There is, you know, a debate still raging over the interconnectedness of it.

Any debate I know about the “interconnectedness” between 9/11 and Saddam was resolved a long time ago.

Thompson: I attend church when I’m in Tennessee. I’m in McLean right now. I don’t attend regularly when I’m up there.

Like there aren’t churches in McLean? And I thought Thompson was supposed to be filling the void for religious conservatives. A Quinnipiac poll (limited to Florida) says among white evangelical Christians, 64 percent are more likely to vote for a church-going candidate.

With Thompson’s less than satisfactory reception in Iowa, it’s a mixed start for the campaign.

Warner’s Running for Senate

September 12, 2007

Mark Warner, former governor of Virgina, will announce a Senate run tomorrow in an email to supporters.   His entrance gives the Democrats an excellent shot at picking up a Senate seat in a state morphing from red to purple, as Warner ended his gubernatorial term with approval ratings over 70%.

In a way, the Senate seems like an odd fit for Warner – a Democratic version of Mitt Romney, extremely successful in business before entering the executive branch.  Warner co-founded Capital Cellular Corporation and was an early investor in Nextel, building up his net worth to an estimated $200 million.  An executive in the private and public sector, Warner may dislike the legislative environment in the Senate at first.  Nonetheless, Warner’s entrance is excellent for the Democrats seeking to pad their majority in Congress.

Mitt’s Up on the Air in Florida

September 12, 2007

Mitt Romney now goes up on the air in Florida, the first major effort of any presidential candidate in the state. Television ads have contributed to the governor’s success in Iowa and New Hampshire, now he’s started airing ads in South Carolina and Florida. How long will the other candidates let Romney rule the airwaves? Giuliani’s early ambivalence about competing in Iowa let Romney take a huge lead in the state, the mayor can’t risk that happening in Florida.

Republican Debate Roundup

September 6, 2007

Winners: Rudy Giuliani.  He adeptly stayed from the social issues, firmly repeating his “tough on crime, tough on terrorism” litany.  Giuliani again tried to direct his fire toward the Democrats, but also made a few subtle jabs at Romney.  In contrast, he was exceedingly kind to McCain, eagerly hoping for his endorsement if McCain drops out before the primaries.

John McCain: McCain’s favorite state is New Hampshire, and it showed last night.  Although McCain seemed fairly tepid in the first half on the topics of Thompson and immigration, he brightened up when foreign policy was broached.  He harshly told Romney the surge was working and stood firmly behind his Iraq policy.   McCain’s been battered by the media in the period between debates, and voters got to see the actual candidate without the media’s varnish.

Losers: Fred Thompson.  New Hampshire Republican chairman Fergus Cullen fired the initial volley against Thompson, saying “campaigns should be more than 30-seconds”, right after a Thompson commercial aired on the same network.  He also said, “In New Hampshire, candidates do the hard work”.  The barrage continued when the candidates threw out a vast array of one-liners, many focusing on Thompson’s lack of personally engaging with voters.  Thompson loomed over the debate, but with a negative effect to his campaign.

Mitt Romney: Last night was a hostile environment for Romney, criticized by McCain on the Iraq surge and by a New Hampshire voter for comparing his sons’ work on his campaign to the sacrifice of soldiers in Iraq.  Romney gave a brief response to the NH voter before clumsily switching to talking about the global battle against jihad.  Romney will have to show he can do better when under the pressure of being a front-runner.

Florida and Michigan Give a Hand to Clinton

September 6, 2007

When Florida and Michigan passed legislation moving their primaries up in defiance to the Democratic National Committee’s rules, the DNC removed the two states’ national delegates, and the candidates signed a pledge not to campaign there.  As a result, the state legislatures in Florida and Michigan have granted almost certain victories to the Clinton campaign.  Clinton, aided by her 100% name recognition, regularly beats Obama by double-digits in Florida and Michigan.  And due to the pledge, Obama can’t campaign in the two taboo states to attempt to bolster his position.  Doing so would draw the ire of influential Iowa and New Hampshire activists afraid of their positions in the primary process being usurped.

Even though delegates gained from victories in the rule-breaking states are worthless, a triumph in either primary would serve as a huge momentum-dampener for any candidate breaking out after an Iowa/NH win.  Clinton is facing her toughest competition in Iowa, polling neck-and-neck with Edwards and Obama.  However, Michigan is merely one day after Iowa in the current calendar, providing a near certain fall-back plan for Clinton.  New Hampshire’s primary is on the 22nd, with Florida and South Carolina a week later.   Again, if Clinton loses New Hampshire, she can rely on a Florida victory to re-establish herself.  Then, she remains strong for February 5th and is an excellent position for the nomination.