What Happened to the Endless Debates?

The GOP candidates gathered in Iowa for an August debate (Flickr/IowaPolitics.com)
After the flurry of debates during the invisible primary, the cable airwaves have recently been bereft of candidates bickering with each other face to face. A final debate had been scheduled to take place this coming Monday, March 19, in Portland, Oregon—a state that doesn't hold it's primary until the middle of May. The local party and media were moving ahead with preparations, announcing moderators last week, but it looks like that debate won't come to fruition. Mitt Romney's press secretary e-mailed Politico last night and confirmed that the leading candidate won't be attending the debate, skipping out to campaign in Illinois before that state's primary next Tuesday. Without the front-runner there's little incentive for the other candidate's to depart from the trail, and it looks like Ron Paul and Rick Santorum won't attend either. There hasn't been a debate since a CNN-hosted event in Arizona on February 22. A pre-Super Tuesday confrontation had been slotted for Georgia on March 1...

2012 Is a Real Big Deal

(Barack Obama/Flickr)
Ruth Marcus is bored by the 2012 presidential election and wants us to turn our attention to 2016 which, she argues, will be a lot more interesting: Enough about the 2012 election already. Let’s talk 2016, which promises to be far more interesting — and consequential. The precise contours of that election, of course, will be shaped by what happens this November. Yet either way, the 2016 campaign will be, much more than 2012, a battle for the ideological soul of one or both parties. Two things. First, for as much as political observers have a sports-like obsession with the back-and-forth of politics, it’s important to remember that there are stakes involved in the outcome of a presidential election. From the future of health-care reform and the welfare state, to the environment and foreign policy, presidential elections have a profound effect on the lives and livelihoods of countless people. That Marcus is bored with 2012 is a sign that she doesn’t take that seriously enough. That...

Turnout Won't Be a Problem This Fall

(Barack Obama/Flickr)
At The Washington Post , Chris Cillizza suggests that, like the Republican Party, President Obama might have a turnout problem in the fall: A review of the states that have also held Democratic contests this year shows turnout is down sharply from the last time a Democratic president was running largely unopposed for renomination — 1996. Democratic turnout is down significantly in five of eight states that held similar contests in 1996 and 2012 (and where data are available), and six of eight overall, compared to Bill Clinton’s 1996 reelection campaign. In general, I’m skeptical that either party will have a turnout problem in the fall. As is almost always the case, partisans on both sides will close ranks when the general election rolls around, and the stakes become more clear. Indeed, the mere fact of having someone to run against will energize turnout, especially when it comes to Republicans, who are eager to drive President Obama from the White House. For now, I can’t blame...

What Does the ACA Do for You?

(Flickr/Barack Obama)
The Affordable Care Act (ACA) is the landmark piece of policy for Obama's first term. Save perhaps his response to the Great Recession, the ACA is likely to be the primary measure by which his presidency will be judged in the history books. As long as it is fully implemented, it should help millions of uninsured Americans by shifting more people onto Medicaid, providing subsidies for low-income workers, and forbidding insurance companies from excluding customers based on past illness. The Obama campaign released an interactive flow chart yesterday. One inputs their demographic data—age, sex, and income, for example—and the program spits out various ways the ACA has improved your health-care coverage. As someone who has private insurance, it showed me a list of services my insurance will now be required to cover at no extra charge and highlighted the fact that 80 percent of my monthly payments must be used on funding health service. It also informed me that, thanks to my salary level,...

Is Obama Unpopular, or Have the Polls Gone Crazy?

(White House/Flickr)
Polling on the president has been a little weird lately. According to yesterday’s The Washington Post /CBS News poll, 46 percent of Americans approve of President Obama’s performance, while 50 percent disapprove. This is on the lower bound of polling for the president, but well within the range we’ve seen over the last several months. Likewise, over the weekend, Gallup found that Obama’s approval rating rose to 49 percent—mostly on the strength of last week’s job report, which saw the economy grow by 227,000 jobs. The New York Times and CBS News registered the most dramatic change in Obama’s standing with the public. In its poll, released yesterday, Obama’s approval rating dipped to 41 percent, the lowest since last summer, when the debt ceiling debacle damaged his standing with Democrats, Republicans, and independents. Jonathan Bernstein says that this is all statistical noise, while Jonathan Chait insists that there is something here; namely, that President Obama’s message—“America...

Romney's Issue with Evangelicals

(Flickr/Gage Skidmore)
Much has been made about Mitt Romney's struggles to win over the conservative base. He's polling even or ahead in Mississippi and Alabama before tonight's primaries, but given past performances, he'd need an act of God to win a Southern state. Gingrich and Santorum splitting the conservative vote might be just such a miracle, but it still seems somewhat unfathomable given Public Policy Polling's sample that puts evangelicals as 70 percent of likely Republican voters in Mississippi and 68 percent in Alabama. That same PPP poll found that voters in these states didn't believe in evolution by large margins—60 percent in Alabama and 66 percent in Mississippi. One has to wonder how that same subsection views Romney's Mormon faith. If these voters interpret the Bible so strictly that they doubt evolution, they probably don't look too favorably upon a religion that claims Jesus reappeared in the middle of Missouri once he'd finished up in Jerusalem. Mormonism is a fast-growing religion, but...

Mitt Romney Will Bury You

(Jamelle Bouie/The American Prospect)
That Mitt Romney has a massive war chest is obvious at this point, but on occasion, it still comes as a surprise to see how much he outspends his opponents. This chart from Buzzfeed shows the extent to which Romney has buried his competitors: This is one reason I’ve always been reluctant to predict success for any of Romney’s competitors in the Republican primary. The ability to spend this much money is a huge advantage, and while it doesn’t guarantee victory, the only challenge could come from someone with deep pockets, deep party support, a superior organization, or both. As it stands, Mitt Romney has been the only candidate to fit either bill, which is why it’s always been safe to bet on his eventual victory.

The Future Is Far from Certain

(The White House/Flickr)
For Democrats, the last month has been filled with Schadenfreude and glee. Beginning with their opposition to the administration’s contraception mandate—which bled into a general opposition to contraceptives—Republicans have done everything they could to alienate women voters, from dismissing birth control as an integral part of women’s health care, to standing on the sidelines as key conservative activists unleashed vitriolic rhetoric against contraception advocates—and women who use birth control in general—attacking them as “sluts” who need to keep their legs together. If it sticks in the public consciousness—and if they refuse to back down from their anti-contraception stance—this incident promises to be a disaster for Republicans in the fall. On the gleeful side, Democrats are clearly excited about President Obama’s improved standing with the American public. Job growth has exceeded 200,000 for the last three months, and Obama’s approval rating has been on the upswing , reaching...

Romney's Southern Problem Might Not Matter Tuesday

Mitt Romney at a town hall in Dayton Ohio (Flickr/NewsHour)
Tomorrow night's primaries could end up being anticlimactic after Republicans have spent the past few week fretting about Mitt Romney's inability to win Southern states. So far, the Bible Belt has been his weakest territory to date. While Romney could lose every state in the Deep South and still gain the required number of delegates, conservatives have been worried about the fractured nature of a party where the likely nominee fails to win the most reliably Republican region of the country. Mississippi and Alabama might just buck the anti-Romney trend. Public Policy Polling looked at both states over the weekend and found Romney in a statistical dead heat with his social conservative opponents. Romney had the slight lead in Alabama with 31 percent to 30 for Gingrich and 29 percent for Santorum. That tracks along the same lines as a Rasmussen poll from the end of last week that also had the three candidates separated by one-point margins. It's more of a two-man race in Mississippi—...

Gingrich and Santorum's Pipe Dream

(Photo: Flickr/Gage Skidmore)
The basics of simple math are seeping into the 2012 race as the media challenges Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich to reconcile with the fact that reaching the required 1,144 delegates has become a near statistical impossibility. The candidates themselves might not cop to these facts, but it's clear they've shifted gears, turning the focus from winning a majority themselves to blocking Mitt Romney from gaining enough delegates to win on the first ballot in Tampa. "Romney needs about 50 percent of the delegates," Santorum said on Meet the Press yesterday. "On the current track that we're on right now the fact is Governor Romney doesn't get to that number." Gingrich pushed the same idea on his Sunday stop by Fox News. "He's not a very strong front-runner. Almost all conservatives are opposed, which is the base of the party," the former speaker said. "And I think we are likely to see after the last primary in June, we're likely to see a 60-day conversation about what's going to happen as...

Santorum for President Round 2

(Flickr/Gage Skidmore)
Earlier this week, I postulated that Rick Santorum needs to firmly position himself as Romney's runner-up to put himself in line to be the party's pick in 2016. Salon 's Alex Pareene followed the similar logic but took it a step further, declaring , "Now Rick Santorum is the 2016 GOP nomination front-runner." But political scientist Jonathan Bernstein isn't so convinced by the myth that Republicans turn to the runner-up in the previous presidential cycle to select a new nominee. Bernstein writes : One could argue that the Huck, not Romney, was really the runner-up in 2008, which certainly doesn't say anything promising for Santorum. Overall, I wouldn't entirely rule out Santorum for 2016 (assuming no Romney presidency), but I wouldn't put him among the top three contenders, either. My take: Should the Republican nominee lose this fall, Santorum will initially be viewed as the front-runner for 2016, but he'll quickly fizzle out once the race gets under way. Santorum has had the great...

Rick Santorum Can't Win

Rick Santorum speaking to supporters at a rally in Phoenix, Arizona. (Gage Skidmore/Flickr)
Frontloading HQ’s Josh Putnam crunches the numbers and finds that under the most optimistic scenario, Rick Santorum is limited to a delegate haul of 1,075, which falls somewhat short of the 1,144 needed to win the nomination. Putnam notes that you could goose that even further and assume big wins for Santorum in the remaining primaries. Even still, the most he could win is 1,152 delegates. By contrast, Mitt Romney’s minimum 1,162 delegates while his maximum extends to 1,341 delegates. In other words—at this point—it’s mathematically impossible for Santorum to win the nomination through delegate accumulation. Of course, there’s always the question of a brokered convention. But as Putnam points out, of the people to win the nomination through negotiation, Santorum is at the bottom of the list: The bottom line here is that Romney has enough of a delegate advantage right now and especially coming out of today’s contests that it is very unlikely that anyone will catch him, much less catch...

Gaming Out The Next Two Months

(Flickr/Gage Skidmore)
Rick Santorum's chances to overcome Mitt Romney's delegate dominance disappeared last night. Romney now holds a 415-176 lead according to figures from the AP. Santorum got just enough good news that he won't need to drop out anytime soon, but that outcome seems inescapable now, whether it is tomorrow or at some point later this spring. Luckily for Santorum, the next rounds of voting skew toward his base, allowing the former Pennsylvania senator to build on his momentum and provide justification for fighting on for a bit longer. The next votes will be held this weekend, when the small stakes Virgin Islands and Guam join Kansas in holding caucuses this Saturday. There are 40 delegates up for grabs in Kansas, a state straddling the Midwest and South, the two regions where Santorum's bid has gained the most traction. There have not yet been any polls for this year's race, but Mike Huckabee—Santorum's stand-in for comparisons to 2008—captured nearly 60 percent of the 19,000 votes cast in...

All Mitt Romney Wants is to be Himself

(Jamelle Bouie/The American Prospect)
For all of his gaffes and unforced errors, it’s important to remember that Mitt Romney never promised to be a likeable presidential candidate, or someone for whom personality was a selling point. The point of Romney has always been that he is a generic Republican candidate, with the skills and profile necessary to win a general election. He has conventional experience (a business career with a stint in the public sector), a conventional persona (competent businessman), and a standard-issue message—the economy is off-track, and only I can bring it back to station. The simple fact is that this is more than enough to win the general election. Even the most optimistic predictions have unemployment clocking in at 8 percent by November, and while the rate of change is more important than the overall number, the economy won’t grow fast enough for Barack Obama to cruise to reelection. By definition, a major-party presidential nominee has a good chance of winning the presidency, and the...

Romney's Spine, Or Lack Thereof

(Flickr/Gage Skidmore)
Ahead of the likely celebratory night for Mitt Romney's supporters, I wrote a cautionary note this morning about why neutral observers shouldn't take Romney's success in the Republican primaries as a sign of they accept him as a moderate. Instead, Romney has gained his spot in the party by aligning himself with every conservative whim. Still, conservatives don't fully trust Romney's sincerity. The former Massachusetts governor will have to watch his back at every turn in the general election; any misstep from conservative dogma will incite a round of handwringing among movement Republicans who would view it as confirmation of their worst fears about Romney. Unlike, say, Rick Santorum, who can adopt the occasional heterodox view without fear of being tarnished a RINO (Republican in Name Only), Romney must maintain a perfect track record to keep conservatives satisfied. That predicament could very well cost him in the general election. His favorability among the broad electorate has...