Wednesday, March 7, 2012

2012 primary looks like 2008; Gingrich likely to drop out soon

In the wake of Super Tuesday, this year’s Republican primary is starting to look a lot like 2008. In the primary of that year, initial results were also muddled with a large field of challengers. This made the outcome unpredictable as large voting blocs split for different candidates.

Two of the current candidates were also in the 2008 final four. Mitt Romney and Ron Paul were among the candidates that were not winnowed out after the Iowa caucuses and New Hampshire primary in January. Mike Huckabee and John McCain, the eventual nominee, were the other major players. Alan Keyes stayed in the race until April, but received even less support than Ron Paul. Rudy Guiliani and Fred Thompson, also candidates in early races, helped to further muddy the waters.

As in 2012, a social conservative scored a surprising win in Iowa. Mike Huckabee won the caucuses in 2008 while Rick Santorum got the nod in 2012. In both cases, the candidate went on to have little traction in other states.

In 2008, the candidate that nobody seemed to like was John McCain. McCain was decried by pundits, bloggers and talk show hosts as a RINO (Republican in name only) who derided him for not being a real conservative. Much of the criticism sounds the same and comes from the same people as this year’s attacks on Mitt Romney.

When the voting started, the broad primary field aided McCain. According to data from, McCain scored a decisive win in New Hampshire with 71 percent of the vote. In many other states, however, particularly those that voted on Super Tuesday of 2008, McCain won largely because Huckabee and Romney split the vote of the economic and social conservatives. McCain won less than a plurality in South Carolina, Florida, California, Illinois, Missouri, Oklahoma, Arizona, Delaware, and Washington. In many cases, McCain won by only a few percentage points above either Romney or Huckabee and in almost all cases the combined total of the two candidates was greater than McCain’s percentage of the vote.

It was only after Super Tuesday, Feb. 5, 2008, that McCain started consistently winning. Ironically, after the Super Tuesday losses, the campaigns of Huckabee and Romney floundered. Mitt Romney suspended his campaign almost immediately on Feb. 7. Mike Huckabee continued until March 4, when McCain clinched the nomination. Huckabee was never able to win beyond the socially conservative states of the South. Romney’s wins were primarily in the upper Midwest, along with his home states of Massachusetts and Michigan.

In the results of 2012’s Super Tuesday, Mitt Romney played the role of John McCain while Rick Santorum continued in Mike Huckabee’s place. According to the Associated Press, Mitt Romney won seven of the 11 states holding primaries or caucuses on Super Tuesday (Alaska, Idaho, Massachusetts, Ohio, Virginia, Vermont, and Wyoming). Rick Santorum won three states (North Dakota, Oklahoma, and Tennessee), all with less than 40 percent of the vote. Newt Gingrich won only his home state of Georgia and Ron Paul, who failed to win any states, almost certainly peaked with 40 percent of the votes and three delegates in Virginia, where Santorum and Gingrich were not on the ballot.

As with McCain in 2008, several of Romney’s wins were very close, particularly in the hotly contested swing state of Ohio, and if he had faced only one or two challengers instead of three, the end result might have been different. As it is, Gingrich and Santorum (and in some cases Paul and Santorum) split the not-Romney vote, which had the effect of giving Romney a majority, if not a plurality.

According to the AP’s estimated delegate count, Mitt Romney now leads with 415. Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich are neck-and-neck with 176 and 105 respectively. Ron Paul trails the pack with 47. A total of 1,144 delegates is needed to secure the Republican nomination.

With a firm lead in the delegate count, fundraising, and momentum, Mitt Romney is now almost assured to win the Republican nomination. The question is how long the other candidates can afford to stay in the race. According to the N.Y. Times, Ron Paul, who has not won a single state, has raised the second-highest amount of money after Romney. Gingrich, who has won only Georgia and South Carolina, places third in the money race. Santorum, in spite of his electoral victories, has raised the least of any of the candidates still in the race.

Both Gingrich and Santorum will likely find donations harder to come by as their hopes of winning the nomination fade. Gingrich’s website today had replaced its home page with a solicitation for $2.50 donations to “help bring gasoline prices down to $2.50.” Ron Paul, with his fanatical supporters, will not likely face the fundraising limitations of Gingrich and Santorum.

It is likely that the campaigns of Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum are reaching their ends. In particular, Newt Gingrich, who has had to spend heavily to combat negative ads and who has only won two states, is likely to decide that further campaigning is not cost effective as the race moves further outside the South. Gingrich will probably withdraw from the race before Santorum.

Santorum has had more electoral success than Gingrich, but has also spent much less. According to the N.Y. Times, Santorum is ranked ninth of nine GOP candidates on spending. This means that he has spent less money than five candidates who are no longer in the race. The Santorum campaign is used to making do with little and can conceivably stay in the race for several more weeks or months.

Ron Paul will likely be the last holdout. His fundraising is second only to Romney’s and his supporters are the least willing to support any of the other candidates. During the 2008 campaign, Paul continued his campaign until the bitter end. His campaign continued until June even though John McCain secured the nomination in March. His 2012 campaign will probably be similarly long-legged.

If the primary in 2012 looks like the 2008 primary, the general election probably will not. In 2008, the Democrats benefitted from an unpopular Republican incumbent and a high level of excitement surrounding Barack Obama, the charismatic first black man to win the nomination of a major party. In 2012, Obama is the unpopular incumbent and the excitement is gone.


Originally published on

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