The Horserace for September 2, 2011

IA Caucus: Feb. 6, 2012
NH Primary: Feb. 14, 2012
NV Caucus: Feb. 18, 2012
SC Primary: Feb. 28, 2012

It’s time to step back a bit and expand the horserace out. Why? There are five debates coming up in rapid succession. A lot of people think if someone unexpected has a knockout performance the person could be revitalized and get back in the game. I actually think the more likely scenario is to take people out via debates, not put people back in. But Newt Gingrich did get a bump in some places after his last polling. It won’t help, but he got to call himself the come back kid. Michele Bachmann is trending down right now. Rick Perry looks to be the front runner, but I don’t think he is.Let’s go through all the candidates today. All of them. No man out or listed as “former.” Where do I see them all? Here we go.

Michele Bachmann

Interestingly, the first attack ad out against Rick Perry is from Michele Bachmann, not Mitt Romney. It did not come directly from the Bachmann campaign, but from a Super PAC supporting Bachmann. It does suggest some worry there. But there is more for Bachmann to be worried about. She has lost traction in Iowa.I’ve spent a lot of time talking to people on the ground in Iowa and South Carolina in the past week and there is a sense among activists on the ground that Bachmann is starting to fade. It is not that they do not like her. In fact, they love her. But there is a creeping sense that she cannot beat Obama and they want someone who can beat Obama.Right now that is working to Rick Perry’s favor, but there is no guarantee he can keep it up. Bachmann needs to avoid gaffes in the coming debates. That has worked against her with this growing sense, though fostered by the media, setting into people’s minds that Bachmann’s mouth gets her in trouble.Given her past debate performances, she is going to shine. The question is whether she shines enough to overcome the perception that she cannot win. It’s a nebulous feeling and nebulous how to fix something like it. But the sense is there among the grassroots now and it is dragging her down in the polls.

Herman Cain

When the other candidates were in Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina, and Florida this past week, Herman Cain went to Israel. I interviewed him this week about it and two things struck me. First, Herman sold it as a fact finding mission and attending the Glenn Beck rally. But Herman did not speak at the Beck rally. Second, while a fact finding mission and the ability to talk about who he saw and what he learned is really awesome, most candidates do that before actually getting into the race.Spending resources to go to Israel during the middle of a campaign is not a good use of time, talent, or treasure. Compounding that is going to the Beck rally and getting minimal media exposure out of it. There is a general sense in the media, frustrating to the Cain camp, that his time is over.There are five debates and Cain is a great debater. The PPP poll shows him in fourth place in South Carolina. If he hits it out of the park, he’s going to get a bounce. But with the media and public (reflected in Herman’s declining poll numbers) of the opinion he never made it into the top tier, he’s going to be fighting for attention.

Newt Gingrich

Newt is calling himself the come back kid. Ironic considering that’s what the media called Bill Clinton in 1992.Newt calls himself this because after the Iowa debate, Newt bumped up in Louisiana and Missouri, among other places. First of all, those state polls are irrelevant this far out. He has to do well in Iowa, New Hampshire, and South Carolina. He is not.Gingrich is also out of money. My guess is he wants to hang on as long as possible, hope these five debates get him elevated enough in the polls that when the primaries come around he can get some matching funds to pay off campaign debt. That seems to be the only rationale left for the Gingrich campaign, i.e. he cannot afford to get out of the race now.As I’ve said repeatedly, expect Gingrich to shine in the debates. He does well in debates. Debating and speaking are not his problems. Everything else is. And everything outside the debates has kept and will keep Newt Gingrich from being the nominee.

Jon Huntsman

I still can’t figure out Jon Huntsman. His economic plan is deeply conservative and pro-growth. But everything else about him is a nothing burger. He has positioned himself as the guy to go to if you don’t like Romney or Perry, but there are not enough people outside the press and D.C. establishment to go to him. He barely has a pulse in Iowa, South Carolina, or New Hampshire. The slow and steady approach did Tim Pawlenty in, but Pawlenty at least had some incremental increases in the polls. Huntsman is the opposite. The longer he stays in, the further down he goes. He is now polling less than Gary Johnson.His economic plan puts me more at ease with him, but his rhetoric against his own base is appalling and I don’t see him shining in the debates. The first debate he was in he made the “prayer” crack about Perry and did not come across well in exchanges. He may have the pretty image on the trail, but that worked out well for John Edwards too.

Gary Johnson

Johnson is not worth spending time on. He has gone no where and his polling higher than Huntsman by a point is largely a matter of the margin of error. He will not be the nominee.

Thad McCotter

Thad McCotter is a good man, but he is not going to be the nominee. He has done nothing substantive to crack into the race, make a name for himself, or poll high enough to really even get into the debates. Given his musical background, he could perhaps use the Gibson guitar story to make a name for himself, but nothing suggests it would be more than a flash then fade.

Sarah Palin

I absolutely do not think Sarah Palin is running.This past week suggests to me that if she runs her staff relationship will be her own worst enemy. She has some great, great staffers, which is why I cannot fathom how the hullabaloo over the Iowa speech got out of control. First, her staff gave reporters the impression the speech was cancelled. Then it was just on hold. Then it was back on again. Then on hold. Then back on again. It was not a media hit job. It was a major miscommunication. Compounding it was the Palin echo chamber of supposed Palin prophets trying to divine her every move who were reduced to babbling about “unless you hear it from Palin herself, don’t believe it.”Governor Palin is either running for President or she is not. Either way, if we cannot hear things from her staff and take it on face value, there is a serious micro-management problem that is going to trip her up. Governor Palin first needs to decide whether or not she is running and let us all know. Right now, the biggest problems Sarah Palin has on the way to the White House, if she were to go, is a perception that there are internal managerial problems such as what led to this past week’s issues and then, even more so, the most aggressive Palin fans who have become worse than a lot of Ron Paul fans. They have made it about Palin the person, not the policies. At least Ron Paul supporters have the gold standard and, at least a good portion of them, a shared hatred of Israel.Sarah Palin is a great asset to the Republican Party. Running for President would disrupt her position and, while it might emboldened a core group of supporters increasingly detected from reality the more they’ve made it about Palin the person instead of the policies, every poll from the Fox poll to the CNN poll to the Gallup poll and more show the long perceived tease of “will she or won’t she” has hurt her chances and the public — the Republican base — would now prefer she not get in.That adds another hurtle to the already high hurtles she’d face if she did get in.

Ron Paul

Ron Paul will not be the nominee.

Rick Perry

Rick Perry is not the front runner. I know his campaign is cool with you saying he is. And I know the media says he is. There are signs he is becoming the front runner. Typically, the front runner is the guy who beats Obama in the polling and polling is starting to show Perry not at parity with Obama, but ahead of Obama.Here’s why he is not the front runner though — he has not been on the debate stage yet. And when he gets there, a lot of fire will be trained on him. If Perry can withstand the fire and hold his own, he is the front runner. In fact, if Perry makes it through September relatively unscathed, he is the nominee. But he has to survive September. People are starting to pay attention to the field and attacks will start to resonate more than they have.Perry does have one unique advantage in the field — the Goldilocks effect on spending. Huh?Well, the left has given up trying to say Perry had a budget deficit because they can’t. He signed a balanced budget for a two year period and for the first time scaled back the size and scope of government in Texas. So the left’s approach is to attack Perry now for substantial cuts hurting the poor.Contrast that with the Bachmann Super PAC attacking Perry for “doubling spending in ten years.” So which is it? Has he blown up spending or cut it back to hurt the poor? He’s Goldilocks on this issue.

Mitt Romney

Here is Mitt’s problem — people want to support someone else. In head to head matches within the GOP, Romney loses to both Bachmann and Perry. He is perceived as the establishment candidate in a year when the GOP wants nothing to do with the establishment. He is seen as the centrist candidate and voters remember him as the conservative alternative in 2008. So the base is having a collective “WTF” moment on who MItt Romney is. That makes them less willing to support him.Compounding this is that outside of lobbyists and hired guns, Romney has no natural constituency this year. He is left to use the Obama attack on Perry that Perry had nothing to do with job creation in Texas. The problem for Romney and Obama is two fold — first, for Romney, to make this line of attack, he is going to have to ignore his record in Massachusetts and run as “Bain Capital” in a year when folks on the left and right both hate Wall Street. Second, for Obama, if Perry had nothing to do with job creation in Texas then Bill Clinton had nothing to do with job creation in the U.S. back in the 90’s. Notice how the old Clinton hands are not taking up this argument. It puts Romney in an awkward position.The better position for Romney is to go after Perry as the career politician — a line that I think will resonate more. The problem for Romney here too is that he would be a career politician except he kept losing elections. Still, it is a better approach than trying to tell the world Perry, as Governor for a decade, can’t take credit for being Chief Executive of Texas.The other Romney problem is his well known stiffness on the campaign trail. He’s now forced to compete with another tier one candidate — the first real match for Romney in tier one — and the competitor is routinely referred to by Democrats as the “Republican Bill Clinton,” not for his personal life, but because of his ability to connect with people on the campaign trail. Romney is not a retail politician. He is an executive.This just seems less and less to be Romney’s year. If he gets it, it won’t be because people are excited about MItt Romney. It’ll be because the GOP had to settle for Romney, partly through attacks Romney leveled at the voters’ preferred alternatives. Not exactly a way to win friends and influence people.For all the talk about this election being about “beating Obama,” the base still would rather have someone they love, not what would amount to an arranged marriage.

Rick Santorum

Rick Santorum will not be the nominee. He’s great on social issues. He has a terrible fiscal record in the Senate. Fiscal records are key right now. Rick Santorum cannot win.

Listing of Presidential candidates
I consider “former” candidates

(in order of being dropped)

Gary Johnson
Rick Santorum
Thad McCotter
Newt Gingrich
Tim Pawlenty
Herman Cain