February 01, 2012

Election 2012: The Long Game

After the American Century

So Romney has won Florida just as convincingly as Gingrich won South Carolina. But the race is not over. Far from it, for to win the nomination requires more than 1000 delegates, and Romeny has less than 100. Nevertheless, Romeny does have more money than his three rivals combined, and he has a strong organization up and running in each state. He was able to outspend Gingrich 5 to 1 in attack advertising, and Gingrich now has used up most of the millions he got from a Las Vegas casino owner and his wife. He claims to be a grassroots candidate, but so far the grassroots have not been sending in much money.

But Gingrich does have support in the Old South. He won in the Florida panhandle, which is the most southern part of that state, culturally speaking, precisely because it is the most northern part of the state, settled and developed by slaveholding families who joined in the Civil War. And Gingrich also can expect to do well in the primaries and caucuses of other southern states, such as his own Georgia, Alabama, etc. If he can also do well in the Mountain West, then Romney will have to outlast him.

For Gingrich the best scenario would be that Santorum soon drops out, due to lack of money and failure to do well since Iowa. His supporters would likely move to Gingrich, even if some of them might have to hold their noses to do so. On the other hand, Santorum may feel it is worth remaining in the race a while longer. He is not working at anything else, having lost his seat in the Senate, and by running he keeps himself before the nation, perhaps as a potential VP nominee. He may think that there is the possibility that Romney and Gingrich will discredit each other and Santorum can emerge as the alternative. 

And there is a big problem with Romney, from the point of view of a general election. The list of who gave money to his enormous PAC fund is now available for public scrutiny. It turns out the overwhelming majority of his backers are money men, investors, hedge-fund executives, and the like. Speculators. The very people who profited from the collapse of the economy. Americans are not exactly in love with bankers and hedge-funds at the moment. Not only did Romney run one of them, but people of this kind provide almost all of his campaign money. Many of them gave $1 million each. Expect Gingrich to remind the electorate. Often.

Meanwhile, Ron Paul keeps chugging along, with his 15% or so, which could become a factor at the National Convention. Imagine a scenario where neither Gringrich nor Romney has enough delegates, and they have to offer something to Paul to get his votes behind them on a second or third ballot. 

In short, this contest has the potential to last into the summer, especially if Gingrich can raise some money. The month of February is somewhat quieter than January, with just caucuses, and the focus shifts now to the longer game, with the first big test coming on Super Tuesday in March. Romney's money could be quite telling, as he will be able to saturate the airwaves of all the states with negative advertising, as he did in Florida. The many simultaneous primaries could be a decisive turning point. But then again, it might prolong the Republican agony and keep entertaining us until summer.