Monday, January 23, 2012
Notes from the Political Middle: Newt's in the Lead? What the Heck is Going On?
I’m the first to admit that I’m no fan of Newt Gingrich for a whole host of reasons, which will likely come as no surprise from someone who refers to herself as a “Massachusetts moderate” when Gingrich appears so fond of maligning moderate folks, especially those who hail from the Bay State.
And while I can understand that Republican primary voters are looking for a candidate who exudes strength, conviction and doesn’t seemed easily cowed by others – traits that Gingrich exuded in spades during last week’s CNN debate and in the Fox News debate before that – I can’t believe that voters sincerely believe that the former House speaker could actually lure any undecided/independent voters to his campaign. Even if he successfully won every single conservative vote in the general election, that wouldn’t be sufficient to reserve his spot behind the Oval Office desk. He’s going to need some independents and dissatisfied Democrats to come on board. And he's not the type of candidate who appeals to those folks.
That being said, the double-digit Gingrich win in South Carolina on Saturday was stunning. In the best case scenario, I could interpret the pro-Gingrich sentiment as a rebuke to the national media which Republicans and conservatives believe are out to build up a weak GOP candidate (Mitt Romney, like a moderate John McCain and Bob Dole before him) and then plan to demolish him in the fall in favor of Obama. Given the raucous verve with which the audiences in the Fox News and CNN debates applauded when Gingrich aggressively went after the news media – calling CNN’s John King “despicable” for asking him about allegations that he asked his second wife for an open marriage – that could be plausible.
If, however, that’s not the case, and the vote has nothing to do with Republican voters’ views on the mainstream media's leaning toward Democrats, that means that Gingrich is actually the preferred candidate. That's stunning given how wildly unpopular he is with Republican voters across the nation, according to a Talking Points Memo chart. As the Wall Street Journal's Peggy Noonan pointed out earlier this month, even those who've worked with Gingrich think he's a loose cannon.
A brand new national poll has found that Gingrich has 41 percent support of likely GOP voters, compared to Mitt Romney’s 32 percent in Florida, which has its primary on January 31, according to Rasmussen Reports. “Less than two weeks ago, Mitt Romney had a 22-point lead in Florida.”
As it stands right now, here’s how the delegate count for the Republican nomination breaks down (each primary/caucus has different rules and some are winner-take-all, others proportional):
-- Gingrich: 23
-- Romney: 18
-- Rick Santorum: 11
-- Ron Paul: 6
The winner needs to reach 1,143 delegates to lock up the GOP nomination.
Will tonight’s NBC debate, moderated by my favorite network anchor, Brian Williams, make any change in the trend of Gingrich over Romney? It’s unclear right now if Florida’s primary – open to registered Republicans only – will be winner-take-all or whether the delegates will be apportioned according to Congressional districts, according to ABC News.
As for the incumbent president who’s on the eve of his State of the Union address, things are looking pretty dismal (unless, of course, the Republicans select Gingrich as their nominee).
“President Obama opens his re-election bid facing significant obstacles among independent voters, according to the latest New York Times/CBS News poll, with the critical piece of the electorate that cemented his victory four years ago open to denying him a second term,” the Times reported.
“. . . [A] majority of independent voters have soured on his presidency, disapprove of how he has dealt with the economy and do not have a clear idea of what he hopes to accomplish if re-elected,” the paper said, adding that only 31 percent of independent voters have a “favorable opinion” of Obama.
See, it’s the moderates -- of whom those on the either end of the political spectrum aren't particularly fond -- who are the key, hence my incredulity at the state of the current GOP race.