1/07/2008

New Hampshire Predictions (R/D)

The New Hampshire primaries are tomorrow and the fact that several wildly divergent results are possible is a tremendous gift for politicos everywhere. So many candidates' fortunes depend how well people who aren't even their direct competitors perform. As everyone knows, the current front-runners are John McCain and Barack Obama. However, one of those candidates' leads is secure while the other one's is considerably more tenuous.

John McCain's problem is obviously Barack Obama, and Obama's strength is what makes this primary so difficult to predict. Because independents can vote in the party primary of their choice in New Hampshire, McCain has to be worried that the very independents he needs to propel him to victory there will be gobbled up by Obama, whose support is surging. McCain still only gets lukewarm reviews from Republicans, so if he has to rely solely on intra-party support, the advantage will shift to Romney. Put another way, the more Obama racks up the score, the more likely it is that Romney will win the Republican primary.

Obama's Iowa victory gave him a tremendous boost and the compressed calendar has made it virtually impossible for his opponents to blunt his momentum and reconnoiter. Barack Obama is going to win New Hampshire. The question is, by how much? Independents make up slightly more than a third of New Hampshire voters. These voters are more likely to vote for him than McCain because of an enthusiasm gap, but if Obama's support is particularly lopsided among independents, that will have several likely effects:

1. Clinton and Edwards could potentially argue that Obama is more popular among independents than Democrats. Should they pursue this tack, however, Obama could easily counter that this is a reflection of his ability to transcend political lines, thus further buttressing his sense of electability and his message of national unity. Partisan Democrats might resent Obama for being more popular among independents than voters of his own political party, but these partisans don't really constitute Obama's base.

2. John Edwards could potentially place second and beat Hillary Clinton again. This would be absolutely devastating for Clinton and her campaign because Edwards was supposed to be the candidate whose entire hopes rested on Iowa and who was supposed to drop out after not winning there. Should this happen, Clinton still would not drop out of the race (and she shouldn't), but Edwards could come to legitimately be seen as the Obama alternative. This scenario is possible because Clinton has less appeal among independents than Edwards does. Independents who want to vote for "change" will split between Obama, Edwards, and possibly Huckabee. It's hard to see how Clinton picks up much of this independent support.

3. Mitt Romney will be more likely to eke out a victory. I noticed in the debates last weekend that Romney used the word "change" a lot and even had a few kind words to say about Obama. Could he have shrewdly been trying to appeal to independents to either throw their support behind Obama? After all, McCain is running as a statesman, not a change agent. And "change" is what voters seem to want in 2008.

What about Ron Paul...again?

New Hampshire is probably the best state to accurately gauge Ron Paul's support because of its demographic characteristics and political leanings. Paul performed respectably in Iowa, but New Hampshire is the state where pundits, the media, and political observers can finally ascertain whether he is a fringe candidate who just happens to be good at fundraising, or if he is a candidate with new ideas who deserves to be treated with more seriousness and more respect than has received so far. Future debate organizers would also have a hard time making the case for him to be excluded from their debates if he manages another double-digit performance. Paul supporters and even non-supporters are irate over Fox News' treatment of Ron Paul, and justifiably so. (Read the comments section here and this general story here.)

Rudy Giuliani was embarrassed by finishing behind Paul in the Iowa caucuses. If that happens again, pundits and voters will notice. For someone who is banking on Florida at the end of the month, finishing behind Ron Paul a second time will have a severe effect on his fundraising. And how ironic would it be for the candidate who is arguing he is the "toughest" to have his campaign go up in smoke at the hands of the candidate he views as the "weakest?"

Ron Paul will likely finish ahead of Fred Thompson as well, but neither Thompson nor his supporters will care. Thompson, who hasn't campaigned much in New Hampshire at all, knows his political Grim Reaper is South Carolina, not Ron Paul.

What about Mike Huckabee?

Huckabee did not get much of a bounce out of Iowa, which was not a surprise given how poorly he fits the state. However, he could still legitimately spin a third place showing in New Hampshire as a sort of victory simply because everyone's expectations for him are so low there. Should he place behind Ron Paul, I would expect him to be gracious and praise Paul's ability to generate enthusiasm among new and young voters. This statesmanship would remind voters of his sense of humility and sincerity, both of which are his strong suits. And should he place ahead of Ron Paul, that would be seen as further evidence of Paul's limited appeal. Huckabee will probably finish no higher than third, but if he somehow managed to beat Romney (because McCain's support among Republicans is higher than the polls suggest), then it's hard to see how Romney could recover.

What will happen if Romney wins?

A Romney victory would be bad news for Giuliani in that it would probably eliminate McCain from the race. That would reduce the number of conservative alternatives to Giuliani from four to three (Thompson, Romney, and Huckabee). A Romney victory in New Hampshire would likely be followed by an easy layup in Michigan. Those are supposed to be McCain's two best states, so if McCain wants to have any chance at the nomination at all, he must stop Romney in New Hampshire first. I am still not sure if Republican voters will coalesce behind Romney though because Huckabee has tapped into disaffected conservatives and the evangelical wing of the party still doesn't trust Romney's religion. And Ron Paul has a near monopoly on Republicans who are absolutely angry with President Bush. Romney would need his rivals to cannibalize each other and emerge as the last man standing.

And if Romney loses?

A second silver medal for Romney would be a second major embarrassment. New Hampshire is supposed to be Romney's backyard, but he would be seen as a two-time loser if he fails to beat McCain. This would lead to another hotly contested primary in Michigan where there are a lot of independents (advantage McCain) and voters who are worried about the lousy state economy (advantage Huckabee). By virtue of his own personal wealth, Romney can stay in the race as long as he wishes. If he keeps finishing second place, he could potentially win the delegate race if all his rivals keep divvying up gold medals. However, will he be seen as legitimate?

And as for John Edwards, finishing third would probably send him to South Carolina for his final hurrah. Edwards' survival depends on Clinton's weakness. Clinton may be weakening, but I think she is still a bit too far ahead of Edwards in New Hampshire for him to catch her there.

I deliberately haven't said much about Clinton in this post because even if she places second, she will have serious problems that have received enough ink already. Nevada and South Carolina will go for Obama and Clinton will have to place all her chips on Super Tuesday. She still has strong national polling numbers and voters in places far removed from the early caucus and primary states might not be as antagonistic towards her simply because she hasn't been campaigning there. Because of her own personal negatives, the less contact she has with voters, the better she probably does. New Hampshire was supposed to be Clinton's firewall, but now that firewall is Super Tuesday. An additional problem for Clinton, however, is money. Because of her national organization and her large staff, she has to burn through a lot of cash just to maintain her daily operations. But she has a higher percentage of donors who are tapped out because of campaign finance rules. Obama relies more heavily on a much larger network of smaller donors who donate $20 or $50 instead of the relatively small number of donors who pony up $2300 for Clinton. How much will this fundraising dry up if Obama runs up the score?

And finally, regardless of what happens, expect there to be a serious discussion about reforming the way we go about picking a president. Barring a total meltdown, Barack Obama will be the Democratic nominee. Fortunately, the Republican nomination is still a jump ball, but there's a good chance this race will be settled by South Carolina or Florida--which is before about 90% of the other states get their chance to have their voices heard. Also, candidates who are extremely wealthy are able to finance their own campaigns while candidates who rely on public financing are at an insurmountable disadvantage. And a very small number of voters in very small states that represent a very small segment of the population have an unfairly large influence over the whole process. Some of the best candidates have already been marginalized or forced to drop out of the race before voters in other states had their chance to weigh in on who's best. "Tradition" and selfishness are creating a lot of resentment, but nobody running wants to make anyone angry because their own political fortunes depend on defending this ridiculous system.

Final predictions (Democrats):

Obama 38%, Clinton 29%, Edwards 23%, Richardson 4%

Final predictions (Republicans):

If Obama finishes with less than 40% of the vote: McCain 31%, Romney 28%, Paul 15%, Huckabee 12%, Giuliani 10%, Thompson 2%

If Obama finishes with more than 40% of the vote: Romney 34%, McCain 29%, Huckabee 16%, Paul 11%, Giuliani 7%, Thompson 1%

6 Comments:

Jessica said...

Hey Anthony,

You mentioned that you were still not sure if Republican voters will coalesce behind Romney due to his religion. I think we are all incredibly anxious to see the results in New Hampshire. I am wondering how much of a factor religion will play in people's decisions.

I am not sure if you have heard about an independent film coming out within the next two weeks titled: “Article VI: Faith. Politics. America.” The film was directed by Bryan Hall and Jack Donaldson. It is an intense discussion of the role of faith in politics. The title is taken from Article Six of the United States Constitution: "no religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States."

If you have not seen the trailer, I suggest you check it out:

http://www.articlevithemovie.com/

The Calvinator said...

You Wrote:

I am still not sure if Republican voters will coalesce behind Romney though because Huckabee has tapped into disaffected conservatives and the evangelical wing of the party still doesn't trust Romney's religion.

You should have left off the possessive. The correct wording would have been "the evangelical wing of the party still doesn't trust Romney."

It has very little or nothing to do with his Mormonism and much more to do with his late-to-the-party conversion to socially conservative positions. Conveniently occurring right after he served in Massachusetts and right before he decided to run from President.

Nikki said...

Hey Anthony, I want to add something about Barack Obama that I think is really driving his campaign. I really feel like his supporters are truly PASSIONATE about their candidate, this to me should scare republicans who in the past have had typically better voter turn-out. He is the guy that will fire up the young voters to actually vote. He is beginning to have a celebritiness to him. His message is resonating and I don't see anyone on the elephant side with this ferver, accept for the Ron Paul voters who are typically anti-establishment fanatics....present company excluded......what do you make of the recent revelations of his possible passed alignment with neo-nazis? I don't think Mitt latching on to the change theme is going to work, been there done that. I have to agree with you that there is no resonating message to fire up conservatives.

Anthony Palmer said...

Jessica,

Looks like Romney wasn't able to pull it out. I thought the odds were against him winning, but I didn't expect him to lose by so much, especially with the supposed drain of independents to Obama's camp.

I think Romney has several problems, which I might address in a future post. I'm not really sure what his true convictions are, and I get the sense that he's just a bit too artificial and a bit too unable to connect with people.

I've never heard of that movie you cited, but I'll do some research on it. Thanks for commenting!

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Calvinator,

Your point is well taken, but I'm not so sure if that's completely true. If anything, it seems that there is a distrust of BOTH Romney AND Romney's religion. Yes, his conversions on social issues have hurt his credibility, but Southern Baptists seem to have a REAL PROBLEM with Mormonism. I live in SC, and I hear A LOT of these so-called "Christians" demeaning the Mormon faith. It's very unfortunate.

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Nikki,

Did you hear McCain's victory speech last night? Oh no. Even in defeat, Obama blew everyone away with his message. I might not be swept up with Obamamania personally, but I can understand how powerful it is. He simply connects with a people that most other politicians can only dream of. So yes, there is a sense of passion about him and what he represents. And he's also refreshingly authentic. People are talking a lot about "change" in this election, but I think "authenticity" is an equally important subplot involved here. Obama's got both.

Jessica said...

Anthony,

I agree. One of your reader's mentioned something about Obama's authenticity, and perhaps this is something people see Romney lacking.

This is an exciting election though isn't it!

Nikki said...

Anthony, I agree with you about Obama his speech was amazing......I even told my husband to sit down and watch it. As a matter of fact I am posting it on my blog today and contrasting the Hillary speech which was a snoozer. I didn't see the McCain speech but a I am sure it wasn't near the caliber as Barack. I disagree with him MOST of the time but he is extremely charismatic and a phenomenal speaker, I will give him that.
Nikki