May 25, 2015
We asked some local experts to make a guess as to how Jan. 10 will shake out.
James Basbas: Romney 36 percent, Paul 19 percent and Gingrich 14 percent (surprise finish: Santorum 7.5 percent, not great but double his recent polling).
Fred Karger: Romney wins and his goal is to beat Rick Santorum and/or Michele Bachmann.
Fergus Cullen: Romney will win, but beyond that, a lot depends on what happens with Iowa. Cullen figured four candidates in New Hampshire would win delegates, which requires 10 percent of the vote. He’s going with Romney as the winner and Huntsman, Gingrich and Paul rounding out the top four, all with at least 10 percent of the vote, though he said he couldn’t guess the order.
Looking to get in on the political circus? Here are a few upcoming events.
• How to Become President and Save the World, a show in which Jim McCue, who has been on Comedy Central and NBC’s Last Man Standing, will jokingly discuss foreign policy, politics and why tall people make better presidents on Friday, Jan. 6, at 9:30 p.m. at the Radisson Hotel, 700 Elm St., Manchester. Tickets cost $25. Visit headlinerscomedyclub.com
• The Economy and the Electorate: A New Hampshire Primary Heartland Briefing, which will include a panel of campaign officials, national pollsters, party strategists and leading economists discussing the economy on Saturday, Jan. 7, from 9:30 a.m. to noon at the New Hampshire Institute of Politics at Saint Anselm College, 100 Saint Anselm Drive, Manchester. The event is free but registration is required. Visit nh2012heartlandmonitor.eventbrite.com.
• Nationally televised debate on ABC. In the last primetime primary debate before the NH primary, ABC News joins Yahoo in sponsoring a debate, which will be moderated by ABC’s Diane Sawyer and George Stephanopoulos. It will be held on Saturday, Jan. 7, from 9 to 11 p.m., at Saint Anselm College, 100 Saint Anselm Drive, Manchester.
• In case you went out Saturday night, an NBC News-Facebook Meet the Press Debate will be nationally televised on Sunday, Jan. 8, at 9 a.m. the Chubb Theatre at the Capitol Center for the Arts, 44 S. Main St., Concord; however, tickets are not available to the general public.
• Jimmy Tingle’s American Dream, a show mixing a screening of comedian Jimmy Tingle’s documentary with live performance of highlights from his one-man show “Jimmy Tingle for President: The Funniest Campaign in History,” on Sunday, Jan. 8, at 4 p.m. at the Concord City Auditorium, 2 Prince St. in Concord, concordcityauditorium.org. Tickets cost $15 in advance at jimmytingle.com, $20 at the door. (See page 65 for more.)
• Patriocracy, a politically charged documentary, will air in a special screening on Sunday, Jan. 8, at 4 p.m. at the New Hampshire Institute of Technology’s Sweeney Auditorium, 31 College Drive in Concord. The presentation will include a panel discussion with National League of Women Voters President Elisabeth MacNamara and former Congressman Paul Hodes. Admission is free. Visit patriocracymovie.com.
• Ernest Thompson’s Political Suicide, four short plays written and directed by the Academy Award-winning author of On Golden Pond, will be performed on Sunday, Jan. 8, at 2 and 8 p.m., Monday, Jan. 9, and Tuesday, Jan. 10, at 8 p.m., at Pitman’s Freight Room, 94 New Salem St., Laconia. Tickets cost $25 ($20 for seniors and students). Visit whitebridgefarmproductions.com or call 744-3652.
• A Primary Watch Party will be held on primary night, Tuesday, Jan. 10, at 6 p.m. at Red River Theatres, 11 S. Main St., Suite L1-1, Concord. Attendees will be able to join international journalists as they watch the voting returns come in. The party is free and open to the public. RSVP to Concord City Councilor Rob Werner at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 674-9810.
Meet the candidates
With the primary on Tuesday, Jan. 10, most of the candidates are in a mad dash around the state, which offers a great chance for you to see a candidate in person.
• On Thursday, Jan. 5, Newt Gingrich is scheduled to host a town hall meeting at the Littleton Opera House at noon and then another one at the Great North Woods Welcome Center in Lancaster. That night Gingrich will also host a town hall in Meredith at 7 p.m. For more details, check out newthampshire.com.
• Mitt Romney is scheduled for a variety of events but none had been finalized by deadline. His website, mittromney.com/states/new-hampshire, is updated regularly.
• Jon Huntsman, who has spent a considerable amount of time in New Hampshire, is scheduled to visit the north country. He’ll be holding a town hall at the Newport Recreation Department on Thursday, Jan. 5, 7-9 p.m. and then visiting the Littleton Area Chamber of Commerce at the Mount Washington Hotel on Friday, Jan. 6, beginning at 6:45 p.m. Huntsman will be in North Haverhill on Saturday, Jan. 7, at 9 a.m. hosting a town hall and then he’ll host a town hall at Keene State College on Sunday, Jan. 8, at 7 p.m. Visit jon2012.com.
• Rick Santorum is scheduled to particapate at the College Convention 2012 on Thursday, Jan. 5, 3:30-5 p.m. at Grappone, 70 Constitution Ave., Concord. That night he’ll host a Windham Town Hall at 3 North Lowell, Road, Windham at 7 p.m. On Friday, Jan. 6, Sen. Santorum beings his day at Lindy’s Diner in Keene before hosting events in Keene, Jaffrey and Dublin. He’ll be in Manchester hosting a town hall at Belmont Hall, 718 Grove St., at 4 p.m. before heading to the Hillsborough County Republican Gala at the Crowne Plaza in Nashua at 6 p.m. Santorum is scheduled to be back at it on Saturday, Jan. 7, beginning at 8 a.m. with a meet and greet at Julien’s Corner in Manchester. At 11 a.m. he’ll be going door to door in Manchester’s Ward 2, he’ll be stopping by Homestead Grocery & Deli Meet and Greet at 12:30 p.m. in Amherst. He’s scheduled to hold a town hall in Hollis at 2 p.m. and then stopping by the Hollis Pharmacy and General Store at 3:45 p.m.
• Ron Paul will attend both the ABC and NBC debates so he’ll be in New Hampshire. Visit ronpaul2012.com for more information.
• Following the Iowa caucus, Rick Perry will head to South Carolina but will be back in New Hampshire for Saturday’s and Sunday’s debate. Visit rickperry.org.
• Michele Bachmann will likewise attend the two debates, according to campaign spokeswoman Alice Stewart. Any additional events will be listed at michelebachmann.com.
• Buddy Roemer will be speaking at the Nashua Republican Committee on Thursday, Jan. 5, at 7:30 p.m. at the Crowne Plaza, 2 Somerset Parkway, Nashua. On Friday, Jan. 6, Roemer will also be in Nashua at the Crowne Plaza at the Hillsborough County Republican Gala at 6:30 p.m. Visit buddyroemer.com/events.
During the days leading up to the primary keep checking our blog, 2012nh.com. With all of the candidates in the state making the final push, there is sure to be some excitement. We’ll be crashing debate parties, interviewing candidates and searching for our long-lost brother, George Hippopotamus, err, Stephanopoulos.
The aroma of maple syrup, bacon and griddle smoke hung thick in the air at Joey’s Diner in Amherst in mid-December, as Texas Congressman Ron Paul sidestepped cameramen, reporters and tables to shake hands with the eatery’s patrons. Paul worked the room quickly for the most part but paused to answer questions and for photographs. After the hand-shaking, Paul spoke to the diners for a few minutes and then took several questions. The diners were there to see him, courtesy of the Amherst Town Republicans.
“Most people in Congress don’t have a strong philosophy,” Paul told the diner crowd. “Their philosophy is to get reelected.”
It was a typical New Hampshire political event ? the candidate shakes hands, looks voters in the eye and makes his case. Following the stop at Joey’s Diner, Paul sprinted to the Homestead Grocery and Deli in Amherst, then to downtown Milford to work patrons and employees of its downtown businesses. He stopped to sign a set of skis at Souhegan Cycleworks in Milford. Paul hosted a meet-and-greet at Langer Place Mill in Manchester later that same day, and then rounded out the day of events with a town hall-style meeting in Derry. In all, a typical presidential campaign day ? at least historically so.
Real exchanges between candidates and voters are part of what makes our first in the nation primary such a prize for voters. But such exchanges, and campaign events that allowed them, seemed less plentiful in New Hampshire this go-round — primary watchers saw fewer days filled with retail politics stops this season than they did in the past. Paul has put in his ground work and certainly Jon Huntsman (former governor of Utah and, most recently, former ambassador to China) and Rick Santorum (former Pennsylvania senator) have, but, at least among the candidates with national name recognition who are still in the race, that’s about it. Mitt Romney, the presumptive frontrunner and former Massachusetts governor, has spent plenty of time in New Hampshire, but he hasn’t spent a great deal of time with traditional retail politicking.
“Fewer and less,” said Fergus Cullen, former New Hampshire GOP chairman, when asked to characterize the primary. “Fewer candidate appearances, less TV ads, fewer signs, fewer opportunities for voters to interact with candidates. Not that there haven’t been any opportunities; New Hampshire remains a place that provides a unique opportunity to see candidates in person. There have just been fewer of those than there were in the past.”
Candidates have discovered they can get to 20 percent in the polls on the cheap, by relying on cable television and social media and by having a viral moment in a debate, Cullen said.
“They can get the same bang for fewer and fewer bucks,” Cullen said.
But the lack of tough questioning from voters, and in some cases the media, might leave GOP candidates vulnerable in the general election.
“In a lot of ways, these candidates aren’t tested in the way that our candidates were before entering the general election,” said Holly Shulman, communications director for the New Hampshire Democratic Party. Shulman wasn’t sure the lack of retail politics in this primary was a sign that campaigns were trending away from traditional hand-shaking. “We saw it in 2008. This time around it seems that the GOP campaigns made a strategic decision to avoid as many questions from voters about their policy positions as possible, since the candidates’ are supporting policies that are far out of touch with most voters.” Shulman said.
And this lack of face-time with voters was only part of what political watchers saw as a lack of a “ground game” — the organization and staff in New Hampshire and Iowa — among several of the candidates this primary. While a viral online video or a good night at a debate could help propel a candidate to the top of a poll, the lack of the old-fashioned campaigning needed to back up those surges left many one-time up-and-comers — think Texas governor Rick Perry, Minnesota U.S. Congresswoman Michele Bachmann or businessman Herman Cain — unable to make the most of their moments in the spotlight, according to analysts.
As Romney learned when he talked same-sex marriage at a New Hampshire diner a few weeks back, part of retail campaigning is disagreeing with the voter right in front of you. Consider this exchange between Paul and a voter:
“I like what you’re saying about bureaucracy and the FDA and their really overstepping their bounds,” said one prospective voter at the Langer Mill meet-and-greet event in December. Paul had just spoken about how he believes the U.S. Food and Drug Administration was causing more problems than it was worth. “How do you reconcile the benefits that an organization like the FDA yields with all of that bad stuff? An example, immunization rates are dropping.... In a free market system, you’d probably say if you want to get vaccinated, go get vaccinated. I am not going to bet my kid’s life that I am expert enough to know. I have to rely on someone else. What do I do? Do I buy that knowledge?”
“Why wouldn’t you rely on your judgment and your doctor to be smarter than a bureaucrat that’s paid for by the drug companies?” Paul responded. “Right now, I wrote an article on this idea that every kid in school needs to be examined for possible mental health disease. They’ve done some trial studies on this and 10 percent or so end up getting put on psychotropic drugs. And that’s because the state makes the decision. It’s not like if the state doesn’t do it, somebody else won’t do it. There are different ways of doing it. We didn’t have them doing that in the beginning of our history. To assume that if the government won’t do it, nobody will do it — when the government does it, the problem there is, if they make a mistake, it’s really rough on all of us. If you make a mistake, or one individual makes a mistake, it doesn’t mean everybody else has to suffer. “
As the conversation continued, the man persisted:
“I guess what I’m wondering is how do you reconcile in the policies, because I like what I’m hearing I just don’t understand, how do you reconcile the benefits that an organization like the FDA or the SEC yield, without also bringing along all the baggage?” the man asked Paul.
“Don’t ever assume the benefits wouldn’t come if we didn’t have the FDA,” Paul said.
The voter might not have liked Paul’s response, but the answers were real. And the questioner, who presumably hadn’t made his mind up about who to vote for, was asking real questions ? classic New Hampshire retail politics.
At a Romney appearance in Bedford on Dec. 20, the environment was far more staged. One of the criticisms leveled at Romney is that he is too perfect — his hair is always perfect, his suits crisp, his face tanned. So this election cycle, the tie is gone. In Bedford, Romney wore jeans. But the casual stance stopped there; he took no questions from the audience. The speech kicked off a bus tour that took him to Keene, Newport, Hanover and Ashland. For the most part, he was protected from reporters’ questions.
The same can be said of former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich. Since gaining the Union Leader endorsement Gingrich has been a virtual no show in New Hampshire. As of the end of the calendar year, Gingrich’s last full day in the Granite State was Dec. 12, when he visited two technology companies (Insight Technology and Dyn), participated in a Lincoln-Douglas debate with Huntsman and attended a town hall meeting in Windham that more than 1,000 people attended. It was a day full of momentum and positive press for Gingrich. Then he disappeared, coming back only for a few hours on Dec. 21 when New Hampshire Speaker of the House William O’Brien endorsed him in Manchester.
During these trips there was little interaction between Gingrich and potential voters. During one of these rare moments, Brian McCall, an employee at Dyn who grew up in Tennessee, South Carolina and Georgia, posed with Gingrich for a photo wearing a University of Georgia baseball cap and a Clemson University cap. McCall told Gingrich it was nice to see a southern boy up north. The moment was both awkward and rare. After being endorsed by O’Brien, Gingrich didn’t take any questions from reporters.
A notable feature of this primary is the substitution of national media exposure — cable news, debates and national polling — for traditional retail politics and grassroots organizations, said political analyst Dean Spiliotes.
“It’s driven by technology and this particular group of candidates,” Spiliotes said, adding the national exposure has been a proxy for doing the typical grassroots stuff. “Some are doing it the traditional way, like Ron Paul or Jon Huntsman.”
Naturally candidates can’t be in every place at the same time. One quick fix is to send a spouse or child to act as a surrogate. On Thursday, Dec. 29, the Romney boys — Josh, Tagg, Craig and Matt — stumped around New Hampshire letting people get to know a different side of their dad.
“Our job is to not make big news,” Tagg Romney said. “We want the headline to be: Romney’s sons campaign for dad.”
“We can gush about him,” Matt Romney said. “It doesn’t look as good to gush about yourself.”
During an interview with the Hippo, the brothers talked about why their father should be president, what it is like to emotionally invest in a campaign and how to grow immune to the negative chatter. They also said that their father had learned from 2008 and waited to do a full court media press until December so he would surge at the right time.
Romney doesn’t seem to be alone with this strategy. Toward the middle of last month, candidates began transitioning from nationalized and centralized approaches to the primary back to a more localized approach, where, at least to an extent, candidates were hitting the pavement. Some of course were more focused on Iowa, but the approach became more local.
“Finally there’s been this transition to a ground game,” Spiliotes said.
Year of the Mitt Romney alternative
In years to come, the 2012 Republican Primary may be remembered as the time Republicans looked for any alternative to Mitt Romney and failed. Over the past year candidates have risen and fallen, all taking their best shots at the former Massachusetts governor. Yet in New Hampshire and perhaps nationally, Romney has weathered the storm.
A poll of New Hampshire’s likely Republican voters, conducted by the University of New Hampshire Survey Center and released on Dec. 25, showed support for Romney at 39 percent while Newt Gingrich and Ron Paul are tied at 17 percent, and Jon Huntsman at 11 percent.
“I think Romney wins fairly easily in New Hampshire,” said James Basbas, vice president of Altos Marketing, who runs the 2012 Presidential Election Facebook page.
Even one of Romney’s opponents, Fred Karger, who is running as the first openly gay Republican, felt the former Massachusetts governor could run away with it. A former political strategist, Karger said he understood why Romney wanted so many primaries front loaded. If Romney wins Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada and Florida, the primary could be over quickly.
While other candidates have surged, Romney has remained steady, particularly in New Hampshire. Romney’s support in New Hampshire polls has remained between 35 and 42 percent, while other candidates have risen and fallen.
“This is still Romney’s to lose, certainly in New Hampshire,” Spiliotes said. “There were a rough couple weeks with the Gingrich surge. I think that unnerved them a little bit. But they seem to have regained their footing. That’s my sense.”
But the path to the nomination is far from clear. It’s entirely possible that the first three contests, Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina, could produce three different winners. That would mean a longer process.
“Ron Paul is a bit of a wild card in Iowa,” Spiliotes said. “I think he has a reasonable chance. He has focused on the ground game.”
Reports and pundits suggested Romney had a real shot in Iowa as well, something that seemed unlikely at times during the campaign. Of course, at the last minute in the days leading up to the caucus, the longtime campaigner but previously low-poll-numbers-having Rick Santorum was starting to see an increase in support, another example of nearly all of the major candidates having their moment at being the not-Romney.
Despite changes in poll positions, Spiliotes said he always viewed Romney as the true frontrunner for the nomination.
Romney’s steady presence in the polls is a credit to his strategy and his campaign organization. He’s spent the last six years working the state, keeping in touch with the organization, retaining nearly all his support from the last go-around and cultivating his support at least some, Cullen said.
“I just think there are a lot of lessons to be learned from Romney’s campaign on what a candidate ought to do,” Cullen said.
Romney is not going to generate a great amount of support among tea party types during the primary. Romney, in Spiliotes’s eyes, was never going to win over hardcore conservatives from more “litmus-tested” conservatives like Rick Santorum or Michele Bachmann. If Romney could keep his support from straying — which he seems to have done so far — he could garner substantial support in a general election among more moderate and independent voters. He’d be better at getting the middle ground of support than more extreme, right-wing candidates would be, Spiliotes said. This might be evident in the Dec. 29 Rasmussen poll, which found Romney leading President Obama 45 percent to 39 percent.
Still first, still important
Basbas said a Romney victory in New Hampshire would validate the importance of the New Hampshire primary and retail politics. He said the national rise of candidates like Herman Cain and Newt Gingrich made it seem as if campaigns and elections had changed, with an emphasis on social media and national exposure.
No candidate did this more successfully for a time than Gingrich, whose campaign looked dead back in June when much of his senior staff fled saying they didn’t think the former speaker’s heart was in the game. Very telling of the times was that these staff members were rumored to hook up with the then-hottest candidate: Rick Perry. And yet Gingrich emerged as Romney’s strongest challenger in November and early December after several spirited debate performances and receiving the endorsement of the Union Leader, which was played up by the national media.
“The conversation became ‘Look how well Gingrich is doing,’ I guess New Hampshire doesn’t matter any more,” Basbas said. “But as we got closer to voting and Gingrich started coming to New Hampshire and people got to know him, you saw his support level off.”
Basbas said Romney’s New Hampshire campaign is well-built and in the end that would pay off for him. In fact, Gingrich’s poll numbers began to dwindle in the weeks leading up to Iowa and New Hampshire. There are great contrasts in comparing the New Hampshire campaign staffs of Gingrich and Romney. Each reflects the candidate and his potential success in the state.
Going back to that UNH-conducted poll, Romney’s numbers have remained remarkably constant during the many rises and falls of his opponents, which shows his campaign has been able to fight off different attacks. Gingrich surged in popularity following the UL endorsement but only gained 2 percentage points over that time.
Campaigns reflect candidates
Romney’s campaign is led by New Hampshire veterans like Jim Merrill, brother of former governor Steve Merrill, and Ryan Williams, who was most recently the communications director for the state GOP. Romney also received the endorsements of major political figures like former governor John Sununu, former senator Judd Gregg and U.S. Sen. Kelly Ayotte. The New Hampshire staff works in close unison with Romney’s headquarters in Boston.
Romney has visited the state 28 times over a total of 44 days, according to WMUR’s candidate tracker.
In 2008, Romney’s strategy was to win big in Iowa and New Hampshire, thereby essentially ending the campaign early. When Mike Huckabee won Iowa and John McCain won New Hampshire, Romney’s campaign was essentially sunk. This time around, the campaign has prepared for every conceivable situation. His campaign has been called efficient and controlling, much like the candidate himself.
Gingrich’s New Hampshire campaign often mirrored the candidate as well. (Full disclosure: reporter Adam Coughlin’s brother James joined Gingrich’s staff after the suspension of the Herman Cain campaign, where he previously worked.) It is led by Andrew Hemingway, who is running his first campaign and has often been a champion of conservative principles as the former chair of the Republican Liberty Caucus of New Hampshire. Unlike the Romney campaign, Hemingway has almost complete autonomy over Gingrich’s message in the Granite State.
The campaign has grown with Gingrich’s success. After the first debate held in June at Saint Anselm College, shortly after the collapse of his campaign, Gingrich was represented in the spin room by his daughter, Jackie Gingrich Cushman. Gingrich didn’t even open a New Hampshire office until Nov. 11. While Gingrich doesn’t have the breadth of endorsements that Romney does, he has been endorsed by the Union Leader and New Hampshire Speaker of the House Bill O’Brien.
Cullen figured pundits and analysts would look back on Gingrich’s decision not to campaign aggressively in New Hampshire in December. He received a gift of an endorsement from the Union Leader, but campaigned in the Granite State only twice during the month, Cullen said.
“When the history of the primary is written, there will be a lot of questions about that decision not to campaign in New Hampshire in December, when he got that golden opportunity handed to him,” Cullen said.
Gingrich had essentially no organization on the ground in New Hampshire until a couple weeks prior to the Union Leader endorsement. Cullen said he suspected Gingrich didn’t have the infrastructure in place to take advantage of the opportunity the newspaper gave him.
The different levels of organizational preparedness came to a head on Dec. 22 when only Romney and Ron Paul qualified to be on the Virginia ballot. Virginia requires a candidate to submit 10,000 signatures from voters registered in the state of Virginia and those signatures must include 400 from each of the state’s 11 Congressional districts. That means Gingrich, who lives in Virginia, will not be on the ballot, nor will Perry, Santorum, Bachmann or Huntsman.
The Paul machine
Unlike Bachmann, Perry, Cain or Gingrich, Paul has never been the flavor of the week. The race has often been referred to as Romney versus the candidate of the moment and oh yes, there is always Ron Paul. Paul is known to have fervent supporters but he is also known to have a cap on support. The suggestion is that his ideology is too far outside the mainstream and so he would only be so popular. But he is organized. This organization is helping him in Iowa, where some polls in the last weeks of December had him winning, and in New Hampshire, where his poll numbers, although far behind Romney’s, are the only ones moving in the right direction. The perfect scenario for Paul is to win Iowa and then have some of that momentum help him to a strong finish in New Hampshire.
“Paul has a ceiling,” Basbas said. “He has energetic voters who will vote regardless of the weather, but Romney isn’t losing any sleep over losing to Paul in Iowa.”
Even with all of that organization in place, Paul is finding out that it is a different game when you are considered a contender. His past has undergone an invasive sweep by the media and some controversial statements and opinions have come to light. Recently there has been a rediscovery of a series of racist and homophobic newsletters that were published under Paul’s name in the 1980s and ’90s. While Paul denies writing these, it almost doesn’t matter, as they were published under his name. One read: “95 percent of the black males in [Washington, D.C.] are semi-criminal or entirely criminal.” The Union Leader ran an editorial last week characterizing Paul as “dangerous.”
Former aide Eric Dondero defended Paul, saying he is categorically not racist. Yet Dondero called Paul’s foreign policy views “complete lunacy” in a column for rightwingnews.com.
Whether he’s a legitimate contender for the nomination following New Hampshire and South Carolina or not, expect to keep hearing from Paul.
“Ron Paul can live off the land for months,” Cullen said. “I don’t expect him ever to drop out formally. He’ll always have a level of support to coordinate the vote in primary after primary.”
With that in mind, Cullen said it was difficult to speculate where Paul’s support might go if he begins to fall in the primaries.
If anybody says they foresaw Gingrich’s surge to the top of national polls, they’re lying, Spiliotes said. That said, looking back, Spiliotes said pundits perhaps should have seen it coming or at least acknowledged its plausibility sooner, given the emphasis in this primary on the debates and cable television.
Republicans wanted somebody who could stand toe-to-toe with Obama in debates, somebody who could throw some good punches. Gingrich seemed in his element in debates, criticizing questioners and the media in general and appearing to have a strong handle on issues.
“I don’t know that it’s typical but it’s not unusual,” Spiliotes said of the rise and fall of various candidates. “You have voters searching around for somebody who they not only think is viable but who best represents their particular Republican angst. To some extent they’re trying different candidates on for size. It’s been a little more unusual because it’s been magnified by the weekly debate horse race.”
This emphasis on debates has made life much more difficult on candidates entering the race with low national name recognition, like former New Mexico Gov. Gary Johnson and California political strategist Fred Karger. Karger said not being included in the debates has been his biggest hurdle. He said he doesn’t think debates were as much watched or as prominent four years ago as they are now. Karger said he participated in a recent paper by political adviser Mark McKinnon that examines the unfairness of media-controlled debates.
Cullen tossed some blame at voters for the rise and fall of so many candidates.
“They’ve seen images and they’ve projected ideals of what candidates stand for, instead of waiting until they’ve earned it,” Cullen said. “It’s like a high school freshman who falls in love with a senior. They seem great in the abstract and they’re projecting good qualities, but once you get to know them, you find out they’re a jerk. In this case, they’re not as good a candidate as you’d hoped they were.”
“Herman Cain, in hindsight, it’s amazing to think we ever treated him as a serious candidate,” Cullen added. “The history record will read that he was knocked out by questions about allegations regarding various women. The truth is, he would have fallen on his own merits. Before long, we would have realized he was simply unqualified to be president of the United States.”
Perry wasn’t prepared to be a viable candidate, nor was Bachmann, Cullen said, but people were willing to tell a pollster they supported a candidate without even knowing anything about him.
Paul and Gingrich were certainly not the first long shots to get a longer look from the media and the public. It was obvious from the beginning of the primary that Republicans around the country were looking to beef up the field. Thus the courtships with Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie began. When both of these men declined to enter the race, Republicans hoped to turn to Congressman Paul Ryan or even Jeb Bush. Perhaps some would have reconsidered their decisions.
“I think Tim Pawlenty, if he could do it over, he would have done a lot differently,” Cullen said. “He probably would not have participated in the Iowa straw poll, and he may feel he left prematurely after that disaster.”
Karger said he believes Sarah Palin is probably ruing the fact that she didn’t enter the race. But he believes the other candidates are happy with their decisions. Citing those Ron Paul newsletters from the ’80s, Karger said the scrutiny of a presidential campaign is more than most people would want.
“We’ve all done things we regret,” Karger said. “Who wants things they did in 1980 coming out now?”
Looking at how Gingrich and Cain rose in polls with limited funding, other candidates might give a run a deeper look in the future, Cullen said, noting Sen. John Thune, whom many talked about as a candidate but who ultimately decided against running.
“[Thune] may have doubted he could raise the money to be competitive, but he may look back at what [Gingrich] did with $5 million and Herman Cain with $3 million and think, ‘I could have at least done that.’”
Future candidates might look at a run and think they don’t have to raise $25 million to $50 million to get at least some initial recognition. They could go low-budget, relying on social media and cable-television to build name recognition.
2012 has also been different because of the frequency of debates. While Basbas did say the debates seemed like they were on overkill (there will be two more debates before the primary — Saturday, Jan. 7, and Sunday morning, Jan. 8), he felt the more focused debates were helpful. He enjoyed getting depth in the debates that targeted a specific topic like economics or foreign affairs. Perry’s repeatedly bad performances and his now famous “oops” moment may have killed his campaign.
“Rick Perry was the biggest loser [at the debates],” Basbas said. “It sunk him.”
Still time for another surge?
“I think if it were to happen, it would be right around the time of the voting, where...something changes right around the time of the caucus that catapults somebody,” Spiliotes said. “Is there time for another rise and fall? Probably not. Could there be some kind of sleeper? Maybe Huntsman does really well in New Hampshire or Santorum in Iowa. If it’s going to happen, it’ll happen right around the caucus. We’re running out of time in that respect.”
As this piece is being finalized, the reports out in Iowa suggest it’s Rick Santorum who could be the dark horse candidate rising up the charts. Such a surge shouldn’t be surprising. Santorum has not relied on debates, polls or pundits — all of which are based on no actual votes — and instead has worked hard on the ground in both New Hampshire and Iowa, visiting all of Iowa’s 99 counties and earning endorsements from conservative leaders.
Whoever wins Iowa or comes in a close second will certainly be helped in New Hampshire. Romney is probably hoping that if he doesn’t take Iowa Ron Paul does. Most pundits don’t see Paul as a likely nominee down the road even if he were to take Iowa. If Gingrich rebounds and takes Iowa, that could springboard him to a good showing in New Hampshire and potentially a win in South Carolina.
Spiliotes has an eye on the developing ground game in New Hampshire to see who garners some momentum or lack thereof. He’ll be watching closely how the victor in Iowa uses that victory in New Hampshire.
A nationalized approach
The country has seen sequential surges from different candidates who were focused on televised debates, national polling and cable news. It’s made the actual primary somewhat invisible, and it’s been less about grassroots organizations and raising money, Spiliotes said.
“It doesn’t surprise me at all,” Spiliotes said, adding that people increasingly use debates or appearances on Sunday morning network news programs as substitutes for actual fundraising and retail politicking. It’s allowed a handful of candidates to operate on a shoestring budget and become front runners, but then scramble to set up a ground organization. “This is a logical continuation of the role of technology, the Internet and cable media.”
Karger agrees. He said previously campaigns relied more on traditional advertising. He credited President Obama with changing the game through his use of social media. He said these outlets have allowed him to stay in the race on a shoestring budget. He remembers in his earlier strategist days being so excited when the fax was invented. But even then he’d still have to pay long distance fees. Karger, who described himself as an independent Republican who supports gay marriage, the legalization of marijuana and abortion rights, joked he was jealous of Cain, who upstaged him as a political outsider. Karger said he could have been the one who rose and then fell.
Cain’s rise from obscurity to the top of the polls showed just how powerful social media have become.
“It is a powerful tool in getting your message out,” Basbas said. “It can help you build a brand. But it only gets you in the game. You’ve got to have the personal touch to get you over the line.”
Basbas said in politics as in the rest of life, Facebook friends are not the same as real friends. A candidate may be able to generate news headlines and Twitter followers, but once in the booth the voter is often thinking of personal connections.
Jon Huntsman is banking on that. Huntsman often says he is not one to light his hair on fire. As a result he has never captured the headlines of the national media. But he has been on the ground in New Hampshire pounding the pavement. Huntsman has spent 64 days in New Hampshire, according to WMUR’s candidate tracker. This is much more than Perry (13), Bachmann (14), Gingrich (21), Paul (33) and Santorum (44). He does trail Gary Johnson (66) and Karger (86 days).
Yet can an essentially one-state campaign win? Basbas said he will be fascinated to see the results and whether such a strategy has any future in presidential politics.
“For a positive, Huntsman has shown ability on foreign affairs,” Basbas said. “I wonder sometimes if he is running for Secretary of State.”
A view from the White House
Speaking of the Secretary of State, there is still some speculation out there (most recently by Robert Reich in Business Insider) that Hillary Clinton might swap places with Joe Biden and join Obama on a super ticket. While this is unlikely, it might inspire some Democrats to become reenergized about 2012. These Democrats (and probably President Barack Obama and his staff) would rather see Newt Gingrich’s name on the ballot instead of Romney’s.
“For all the angst among conservatives about running Romney as the nominee...Romney would be able to pick up votes where Gingrich would not be competitive. Independents are increasingly disaffected with [Gingrich], which is a good thing for Romney,” Spiliotes said.
Democrats are hitting the entire field hard right now.
“The contrast voters will have in November will be very clear,” Shulman said, noting Republican stances on the payroll tax cut, Jon Huntsman referencing the EPA’s “reign of terror,” and Republican candidates opposing Obama’s American Jobs Act. “The contrast is already drawn,” Shulman said. “There is a very clear choice.”
But never underestimate the power of the incumbency. Recently, there have been some improvements with the economy that will benefit the president in his reelection bid.
“Nothing to make them relax,” Spiliotes said. “Certainly congressional Republicans have not helped themselves recently. There have been small improvements in consumer spending this holiday season, improvements with unemployment, but certainly not where [the Obama campaign] can be confident. It maybe looking a little bit better.”
The Obama campaign in New Hampshire has held hundreds of events, including house parties, phone banks and door-to-door canvases — drawing the contrast on issues like American Jobs Act and Wall Street Reform. are three offices up and running in New Hampshire, with four more expected to open in the next couple weeks.
Obama’s approval ratings are sitting now in the 43- to 45-percent range. If he can get that up to 48 or 49 percent approval, he can probably eke it out, Spiliotes said.
The attention has gone to Republicans with the primary in full swing, but the Obama reelection campaign is putting together its ground game as well.
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