Decision 2012 (March 14 “Super Southern Tuesday” edition, Part 1 of 2)

Presidential –

(1144 delegates to win) Romney 495 (53%), Santorum 252 (27%), Gingrich 131, Ron Paul 48, Huntsman 2 (Source: WSJ)

President Obama Job Approval 47-49% (14 day rolling average)


Presidential Contest 3/14 (Romney = blue, Santorum = pink, Gingrich = red)

Alabama, Mississippi, and Hawaii

The tempo of the Presidential campaign changed last night. We had noted in our previous analysis that  “…Frontrunner Mitt Romney’s coalition includes moderate/liberal Republicans on either coast, affluent urban neighborhoods, Western voters, and Mormons. Rick Santorum now has a national base of religious voters, middle income suburbs, and small towns, with one important exception: portions of the Deep South with a large percentage of native Southerners – that voter bloc is still solidly behind Newt Gingrich….”  This pattern has mostly been set in stone with each contest, and was further reinforced by Santorum’s defeating Romney 51-21% in the Kansas caucuses on Saturday, while in last night’s Hawaii caucus, Romney returned the favor by defeating Santorum 45-25%. However, our original presumption that Newt was unshakable in the Deep South (especially in areas with few “outsiders”) was rebutted last night with twin Santorum victories in Alabama and Mississippi.

With the contests we have seen in the Deep South thus far, we have noticed that the “anti Romney” vote there has consistently been in the 60-65% range, while Mitt Romney has remained in the 25-30% range. Before Rick Santorum was considered a viable candidate, that “anti Romney” vote was dominated by Newt Gingrich, which is how he carried Georgia and South Carolina. What changed in Alabama and Mississippi last night was that enough of the “anti Romney” vote (which was, coincidentally, 64% in both states) migrated into the Santorum camp to enable him to win both states. Assuming this movement of the “anti Romneys” towards Santorum continues/accelerates, Santorum will be in an excellent position to win Louisiana when it holds its primary next Saturday, March 24.

How was Santorum able to win both states ? In each state, the small towns/rural areas outside the major metropolitan areas (Mobile/Birmingham/Montgomery in Alabama and Jackson/Gulf Coast/Memphis suburbs in Mississippi) cast about 60% of the vote, and in those counties, Santorum dominated, garnering 37% in Alabama (Gingrich got 30% and Romney 27%) and 34% in Mississippi (Gingrich got 33% and Romney 29%). The urban areas in both states voted for Romney, but with only 34% of the primary vote (Santorum received 32% and Gingrich 29%). This coalition of rural areas and suburbs is where Santorum assembled his victories, although it’s worth noticing that with local establishment support, Romney was able to garner pluralities in most counties in the Mississippi Delta.

However, it would be a mistake to count Romney out, although it’s clear he is not, from a popular vote perspective, the dominant candidate. Illinois has its primary next Tuesday March 20, and the Republican electorate there (especially in Chicagoland) is more moderate, and this ideological dynamic heavily favors Mitt Romney. Furthermore, the April contests are tilted towards Romney, since 6 of the 7 contests held will be in the Northeast/New England (the remaining contest will be in Wisconsin). For the equilibrium/dynamics of the contest to change, Santorum needs to win, at a minimum, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, as well as at least one of the remaining primary states. With his electoral base in the rural South diluted, Newt Gingrich has largely become a non factor in the Presidential contest now.

Turnout and President Obama – We had noted in our analysis last week that there was a strong correlation between the perceived level of competition in each state and the strength of Republican turnout relative to 2008. This pattern continued in last night’s contests: because the three major candidates (Romney, Santorum, and Gingrich) were perceived to be competitive, and in both states, turnout was up over 2008. In Alabama, turnout was 10% higher than 2008, while in Mississippi, turnout was double what it was in 2008.

We also noticed that a pattern has begun to emerge in states where President Obama is on the ballot: when he runs against “uncommitted”, he typically wins near unanimous percentages.  This again is what happened in Alabama, when “uncommitted” was President Obama’s only opponent – he received 81% of the primary vote (he received less than 60% of the vote in Oklahoma against minor primary challengers).

In the next installment of this article, we will discuss how early voting is proceeding in Louisiana, since we are essentially are at the half way mark.

Congressional/Statewide contests

Generic Congressional vote: 45-42 Republican/Democrat (14 day rolling average)

Alabama and Mississippi also became the second and third states to hold Congressional primaries last night. While there were no surprises, we noticed a continuation of two occurrences that we first saw in Ohio: (1) defeated incumbents were unable to make a comeback, (2) current incumbents (especially on the Republican side) are facing competitive primary races. In Alabama, party switcher Parker Griffith was humiliated with a 33% showing in the 2010 Republican primary. He sought a rematch, but lost additional ground: he could only garner 29% against Republican incumbent Mo Brooks.

Also newsworthy was that three Republican incumbents faced substantial primary challenges, and each of the three won his primary with less than 60% of the vote. While these incumbents represent Republican districts and are probably safe this fall, it does indicate that there is lingering dissatisfaction out there with primary voters that Republican incumbents would be wise to take note of.

Next week, Illinois is holding its Congressional primaries at the same time as the Presidential race. After that, the Congressional primary schedule is quiet in April: only two states (Maryland and Pennsylvania) hold primaries.

Meanwhile, Congressional qualifying has concluded in four more states (California, Idaho, Montana, and Texas). There were no surprises in Idaho and Montana, and we do not yet have the official list in Texas and California. Filing also concludes this week in Maine, Utah, Iowa, and Nevada.

At the present time, the “retirement count” is now 42 House members (25 Democrats and 17 Republicans) and 10 Senators (7 Democrats and 3 Republicans).  The Congressional playing field will become clearer by the end of the month: by then, a total of 26 states will see their candidate qualifying finish.