Friday, February 03, 2012

US Election: Romney Rolls Over Gingrich

By Ernest Corea*
Courtesy IDN-InDepthNewsAnalysis

WASHINGTON DC (IDN) - The first month of election year 2012 ended with Governor Mitt Romney reaching the top of the Republican Party's list of hopefuls, from where he is expected to emerge, perhaps as early as in April, as the party's candidate for the US presidency. This expectation could be dashed, of course, if Speaker Newt Gingrich is able to pull off yet another revival in the next few weeks. Final voting figures in Florida were: Romney – 46.4 percent, Gingrich – 31.9, Rick Santorum – 13.4, and Ron Paul – seven. Gingrich’s second place showing, 14.5 percentage points behind Romney, was less than impressive.

Romney was allocated all the state's 50 delegates. It would have been 100, but the Florida Republican Party was penalized by its parent body for changing the date of its primary without prior approval. The delegate count is now: Romney – 87, Gingrich – 26, Santorum – 14, Paul – four.

Primaries are the first step in the process of a political party selecting a candidate to seek the presidency. Candidates pursuing a party's nomination are allocated delegates, based on a candidate’s standing in each primary. In some states, as in Florida, the winner of a primary is allocated all the state’s delegates. In other states, delegates are proportionately allocated.

Delegates are expected to vote for “their” candidate at the party convention where the final selection is made. In the Republican Party, a total of 2421delegates are selected through this process, and to receive nomination a contender needs to "harvest" 1211 delegates. Often, this number is reached ahead of the party convention where the candidature of the “anointed one” is confirmed. The 2012 Republican convention will be held in August – in Florida.

Turbulent Campaign

At the Republican Party's Florida primary on January 31, an avalanche of advertising unleashed by the Romney campaign, combined with gale force political winds generated by the Republican Party's Establishment, dislodged Gingrich from the top spot he earned in South Carolina.

The party establishment intervened because they feared that Gingrich as the Republican candidate against Obama would be a disaster. They assumed that his history, including questions of character, would turn him into easy meat for the Obama campaign to barbecue into oblivion.

Even the sedate Senator Bob Dole was brought out of political hibernation to growl at Gingrich. Lesser figures, including bureaucrats from days gone by, were also sent on the attack.

The result was that campaigning in Florida was something of a maelstrom. Wild charges were leveled, errors of fact flourished, and false statements were common coin.

The campaign was expensive as well. Romney and his backers spent $15. 3 million The Gingrich camp spent $3.4 million. The Romney campaign and a pro-Romney political action committee aired 13,000 campaign ads. The pro-Gingrich figure was 200. Of this massive total, 91percent were negative.

A stinging outsider's comment on the million dollar extravaganza came from Fidel Castro. From his perch in Havana, he declared that the Republican primary was "the greatest competition of idiocy and ignorance that has ever been."

Nine Contenders

When the primary – really, pre-primary – season began, nine candidates who were all considered credible lined up for possible selection by the Republican party to joust with the sole Democrat going forward, President Barack Obama.

In alphabetical order, the nine were Michele Bachmann (Congresswoman from Minnesota), Herman Cain (a businessman with a record of success in the pizza trade), Newt Gingrich (former Speaker of the US House of Representatives), Jon Huntsman (former Governor of Utah, with foreign policy experience), Ron Paul (Congressman from Texas), Rick Perry (Governor of Texas), Tim Pawlenty (former Governor of Minnesota), Mitt Romney (former Governor of Massachusetts and a successful businessman), and Rick Santorum (former US Senator from Pennsylvania).

This was a diverse group, both geographically and ideologically. Each of them was expected to run a strong race, with a series of debates (19 so far) and a series of caucuses and primaries, testing their abilities, their records and their programs until only the strongest from among them would be left standing as the potential Republican presidential candidate.

From the beginning, however, Romney was considered the "front runner." He had, in effect, been running for president from the time he dropped out of contention in 2008, had established local organizations in many states, had hired experienced staff, and had raised funds ahead of his competitors.

Nevertheless, the primaries process was complicated by the fact that neither the Republican Establishment nor its grassroots base, dominated by followers of the amorphous Tea Party, found any single contender overwhelmingly attractive as their presumed standard bearer. Several attempts were made to persuade other potential contestants to join the fray. None did.

Dropping Out

As the weeks went by and the winnowing process progressed, with the usual twists and turns that are part of the democratic process, contenders began to drop off.

Pawlenty was the first to withdraw, sensing defeat and not having the big bucks or, his critics felt, the "fire in the belly" that presidential elections require. His supporters were disappointed because they were convinced that he had the fewest vulnerabilities among the contenders and would make a strong opponent if pitted against Obama.

For a while, support for Cain appeared to be bubbling up like a good pizza. Republican voters warmed to his affable manner, his direct speaking style, and his simple solutions to complex problems. He was caught on the back foot, however, by allegations of sexual harassment by three women, and by the claim of another that she was his mistress for many years. After appropriate consultation with his wife, Cain was gone.

Bachmann had perhaps the strongest record of gaffes, and displayed a fierce determination to stand unflinchingly by her mistakes. She was counting on Tea Party support and expected to win the opening primary in Iowa, the state where she was born, and gain momentum from that victory. Rebuffed by Iowans, who chose Santorum as their first choice and Romney as their second, she was soon out.

Perry, who stirred up the contest, had strong initial support, but made a number of bumbling miss-steps. At a debate, he said that as president he would dismantle three existing federal departments, but could name only two. Instead of naming a third, he contented himself with the exclamation of an embarrassed child: oops. And “oops” it was, as Republican voters realised that he was fully qualified to remain….deep in the heart of Texas. So there he went.

Huntsman was said to possess gravitas. He was also considered a “pro” in the foreign affairs field, having served as ambassador in China and Singapore. He has a cutting wit and when asked why, unlike other candidates, he had not called on Donald Trump and sought his blessings, Huntsman replied: “I have no desire to kiss his ring or to kiss any other part of his anatomy.” Having failed to gain traction, he pulled out.

Down To Two

So now there are four – in theory: Gingrich, Paul, Romney, and Santorum. In real life, however, it is difficult to see Paul or Santorum being of little more than irritants. Even the urging of a bunch of evangelical pastors that all voters of the same persuasion should back Santorum was disregarded.

So it comes down to a two-way run for the nomination.

Gingrich might find that for him February will be the cruelest month. Five contests are scheduled for February in Colorado, Maine, Minnesota, Missouri, and Nevada. Gingrich is not even on the ballot in Missouri. In the remaining four states, he has hardly any ground organization.

He can nevertheless take some comfort from the following assessment from NBC's political staff: "Gingrich still held the core base of the party (in Florida), and that remains a potential warning sign for Romney. Among "very conservative voters" – 33 percent of the electorate (compared with 36 in South Carolina) – Gingrich won there, 41-30.

"Among evangelical voters Gingrich won, 38-36. And finally, 41percent said that Romney isn't conservative enough, and Gingrich beats him among those folks, 58-12. What's more, while Romney did very well in Florida's urban counties, Gingrich over performed in the rural ones, particularly in the Panhandle. And those Panhandle counties look a lot more like the Southern states Gingrich will hope to win on Super Tuesday on March 6 and the following week on March 13."

Romney has nurtured the February primary states during his four-year campaign. Besides, he and his supporters are loaded. Restore Our Future, the political action committee that supports Romney, had $23.6 million as of the end of 2011. Romney, meanwhile, has about $20 million on hand for his campaign. By way of contrast, Gingrich has peanuts.

Still, on the quicksands of politics, anything can happen and often does.

*The writer has served as Sri Lanka's ambassador to Canada, Cuba, Mexico, and the USA. He was Chairman of the Commonwealth Select Committee on the media and development, Editor of the Ceylon 'Daily News' and the Ceylon 'Observer', and was for a time Features Editor and Foreign Affairs columnist of the Singapore 'Straits Times'. He is Global Editor of IDN-InDepthNews and a member of its editorial board as well as President of the Media Task Force of Global Cooperation Council. [IDN-InDepthNews – February 02, 2012]