Gingrich’s implosion: This is the one

Newt Gingrich’s campaign has risen from the grave. Twice. Gingrich’s campaign has been a roller-coaster ride of successes and failures.  Through it all however Gingrich has been unable to be a solid alternative to Mitt Romney.  Just any of Romney’s other rivals.

Gingrich’s entrance into the GOP presidential field last year was a disaster.  First there was the “right-wing social engineering” comments on Paul Ryan’s budget plan to reform Medicare and balance the budget.  Than there were the allegations of being on a yacht with his wife instead of campaigning.  This led to an internal dispute in camp that led to his entire campaign staff leaving for then Rick Perry’s emerging campaign. 

Yet Gingrich somehow stayed in and waged a mostly underfunded and weak campaign.  When Herman Cain’s support fell apart and he dropped out of the race Gingrich surged.  This surge is largely attributed to several extremely strong debate performances.  Gingrich took a brief lead in national polls and led the field in Iowa.  That lead was short-lived.  Romney, who had decided about four weeks before IA’s Caucus to fight for the state, launched a massive ad barrage aimed at Gingrich.  The result was Gingrich bleeding support badly.  Unable to fight back Gingrich was pounded.  In the end Rick Santorum surged in Iowa and Gingrich finished a  weak 4th in Iowa.

New Hampshire was no better for the former Speaker.  He finished a weak 4th and looked finished.  Yet Gingrich’s campaign, living on a wing and a prayer, went into South Carolina eyeing only a victory.  Gingrich started out almost 20 points behind Romney but soon began to surge.  His class attacks against Romney as well as his strong debate performances yet again brought life to his campaign. 

Romney was battered with bad news for the entire week leading up to South Carolina’s primary and on the Friday before voting occurred seemed to concede SC.  The next day Gingrich soundly won South Carolina 40%-28% over Romney with Santorum a distant third at 17%.  Romney lost among virtually every major voting bloc and lost any momentum he had left from New Hampshire.

Even before voting started in Iowa on January 3rd Romney’s campaign was hard at work in Florida.  By the time South Carolina had its primary on the 21st a reported 150,000 absentee ballots had been mailed in for the GOP primary.  The belief is these votes strongly favor Romney because these absentee voters were heavily pursued by his campaign.  Also, up until South Carolina Romney held large polling leads in Florida.  Romney has a similar campaign infrastructure set up around the nation.

The lead Romney held in Florida right before South Carolina quickly evaporated.  Yet again, Gingrich’s campaign had risen from the dead.  But this rise was as short-lived as his rise in Iowa.  Gingrich’s surge in national and Florida polls seemed to simply reflect white noise from his victory in South Carolina.  Furthermore, after South Carolina Romney’s campaign continued to seem off-track and struggling to regain its footing. 

In Florida the Romney campaign got back on track. The debate on Monday seemed to epitomize what made Gingrich’s rise so possible.  His working of a debate crowd, and thus his success at the debates.  But on Monday that success was extremely limited. Gingrich and Romney jabbed but did little lasting damage to each other.  Gingrich did not have any zingers like he did in South Carolina.  Soon after Gingrich’s campaign fell into free-fall.

The day before the second Florida debate on the 26th, Gingrich announced at a campaign event that by the end of his second term as president we would have a colony on the moon.  Known for making grandiose statements this was not smart.  The next day, at the debate, Romney hit him on it for its foolishness and budgetary waste.  At the debate Romney was sharp and finally found his voice against Gingrich’s attacks on his wealth, investments and work at Bain Capitol.  Santorum had success hitting him on Romneycare but his campaign is all but dead.

Gingrich also struggled to explain several heated questions.  The first was from moderator Wolf Blitzer, who questioned him on his investments. Gingrich tried to him and haw it away but Bitzer persisted, arguing it was relevant because of his similar attacks on Romney.  Gingrich seemed shocked the media would finally fight back against him.  Gingrich also had no defense when Romney hit him for his attacks on his investments.  Like explaining something to a child Romney explained what a mutual fund is and that you cannot control every stock you own in one.  Even Santorum backed up Romney on this point.

Gingrich’s campaign imploded on that night.  There is likely to be no recovery from this.  Romney is now firmly holding 5-10 point leads in Florida polls and his lead among absentee ballot voters only makes his true lead bigger.  Romney’s ground game is also now in full sprint mode while Gingrich’s campaign does not have one.

To be fair, part of Gingrich’s implosion is not of his own making.  Sure, he made stupid comments and he let himself finally be bested in a debate, but Romney’s slow and stead strategy is paying off.  Romney’s campaign and affiliated PAC’s spent an incredible amount of money on new TV and radio ads blasting Gingrich on immigration (Cuban-American population in Southern Florida), his history of ethics problems in the House and his attacks on Romney’s investments.  Combine this with a strong Romney debate performance and probably the worst debate performance for Gingrich and a multi-million dollar campaign being utililized in FL and it seems Gingrich’s implosion was inevitable.

Afterall, let us keep in mind this is the guy who rose to prominence in Georgia with backstabbing and gold old boy politics.  Than he rode the GOP Revolution of 94 to power only to in four short years wound his party and likely cost them the 96 presidential election.

Now there are still four days before the primary.  I could be dead wrong on this.  But I don’t think so.  Gingrich’s last major chance to impress a different demographic of voters in FL compared to SC was Thursday and he thoroughly bombed it.  Worse, his campaign has no new lines of attack against Romney.  In the last few days both Gingrich and Santorum have hit Romney on MA healthcare law but it appears to be to little to late.  Romney’s campaign is making sure his underfunded opponents cannot change the polls in Florida.

Gingrich’s implosion is not surprising, nor our his rises.  The man has always flown by the seat of his pants and had an idea a minute.  It has been his greatest asset as well as weakness.  That double-edged sword finally led to Gingrich’s impl0sion.

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What about the other election on January 31st?

Amid all the reporting on Florida’s January 31st primary something has been lost.  Another race is being held that day for a vacant Congressional seat in Oregon.  Specifically the 1st Congressional District.  The district was vacated when long-time Congressman David Wu left open the seat after a scandal forced him out.

 The seat has recently been a Democratic stronghold, not voting for Republican representation since 1973.  The district is anchored in the Northeastern part of Oregon and consists of Clatsop, Columbia, Washington and Yamhill counties.  The district also stretches into southwest Portland and Multnomah County.  Looking at these counties it is easy to see why the district is so Democratic.

Yet both the GOP and Democrats have high hopes for the race.  In 2008 Wu was uncontested and the district gave then candidate Obama over 60% of the vote.  But in 2010 Wu garnered a meager 55% of the vote and the president’s approval rating in the district is currently upside down.

Republicans nominated 2010 candidate Rob Cornilles to run again for the seat.  Democrats had a more crowded primary field but easily settled on former state senator Suzanne Bonamici.  Cornilles has name ID after his run in 2010 but also is dragged down by the fact he is, well, a Republican.  Bonamici has been introducing herself to the district and proudly portraying herself as a progressive champion.

The dynamics of the race are different from a presidential election or the midterms.  The election falls on a day when GOP voters are going to the polls in Florida and less than a year before the presidential election.  Dueling polls indicate the race could be close or a blowout.  Last week Cornilles campaign released a poll showing them only down 46%-42%, within the margin of error.  In return, late that week Bonamici’s campaign released a poll showing her with a double-digit lead.  Furthermore, due to Oregon handling its elections through mail-in ballot turnout could be high or low.

Republicans do not argue the district is deeply blue. In fact, Republicans are ready to argue that if the district gives Bonamici anything less than a double-digit victory it shows how weak the Democratic brand and the president are even in deeply blue districts.  This means they would likely have no shot of flipping the 25 seat advantage the GOP has in the House.  But if Bonamici crushes her challenger than Democrats will be quick to turn around and point out how unpopular the Tea Party driven GOP is.

Talking points aside the DCCC has taken great paints to make sure a repeat of NY-9 does not occur in the district.  NY-9 was a heavily blue-collar Democratic district, that like OR-1, had just had a scandal-plagued Democratic Congressman resign.  Republicans initially paid little attention to the race but a combination of factors (Israel, weak Democratic candidate, and demographics of district) led to a 54%-46% win for the GOP in September.

The DCCC has dropped an eye-popping $1.3 million in TV ads into the district since the last two weeks of December.  In some circles in DC this raised alarms that Democrats are worried about the seat.  Maybe, or more likely they just to not want to see this seat get away from them like they let NY-9.  The Democratic aligned PAC, Majority PAC also has dropped $300,ooo in ads for Bonamici.

Both Cornilles and Bonamici have been on the airwaves in Portland.  Cornilles has portrayed himself as a pragmatic, middle of the road business who will help create jobs for Oregon and the nation.  Bonamici has been more supportive of an activist government and has tried to tie Cornilles to the Tea Party.  Bonamici obviously has the easier road to appealing to the district’s voters but don’t count Cornilles out.  He has recently gained traction with his attack on Bonamici for her lack of job creation and contrasting this with his record as a business owner.

The latest filings show that Cornilles had raised a total of $1.1 million and had slightly more than half left  while Bonamici had raised a total of $1.5 million and had about $800,000 left.  Cornilles has received little GOP help, certainly nothing to compete with the $1.3 million dropped by the DCCC for Bonamici.  But outside groups and a few members of Congress have been giving Cornilles the money to compete in the district.

Regardless of the results both sides will spin it.  This spin will of course run smack into the fact that most of the media and public’s attention will be focused on the GOP primary in Florida.  For both parties however, much as NY-9 did back in September, the results could yield key information for each party in the run-up to the presidential election.

Florida: Romney’s Firewall

The results of South Carolina’s primary show that the GOP race is anything but over.  Where once Romney had a commanding lead in the state he lost it by a whopping 12 points.

But Romney’s campaign has always assumed that a “semi-conservative” or “Massachusetts moderate” (pick your description of Romney) would not wrap up the nomination quickly.  This assumption being especially true due to the RNC changing the delegate allocation rules to keep the race competitive until at least Super Tuesday in early 2011.

This assumption has made the Romney campaign think of the campaign as a long-term race.  The campaign has dozens of field offices open across the country.  No other remaining candidate can say the same.  Ditto for having any paid staffers outside of the first three nominating states.

Nowhere is this more apparent than in the state of Florida.  The Romney campaign has always viewed the huge, diverse and expensive state as a firewall against any surviving challengers.  Romney consistently visited the state last year, attending tele-townhalls with thousands and attending dozens of fundraisers.  He toured the state with then Senate candidate Marco Rubio in October 2011 and has endorsements from many of the state’s Congressional delegation and state legislators.

Romney’s campaign in the state is easy to see.  His campaign has had manned phone banks running in the state since September, has five paid staffers and has been aggressively pursuing a list of over 400,000 voters who have signed up to receive absentee ballots.  These voters have been targeted with mail, phone calls, and likely personal visits to get them to vote early and vote Romney.

This targeting appears to have paid off.  By late last week, right before the South Carolina primary, over 150,000 of these ballots had been cast.  This certainly has to be a major advantage for Romney who has been the only candidate targeting these voters.  Romney has held close to a 20 point lead in most polls as these votes have trickled in meaning Romney has a built-in lead even before the primary begins.

Romney has  also had the airwaves uncontested for weeks.  His campaign has been on the airwaves in all 10 of Florida’s major media markets using three english and even one spanish language ad.  Several SuperPAC’s have also been hitting the airwaves for Romney in recent weeks.

Newt Gingrich’s victory in South Carolina sets the stage for a battle royal to occur between momentum and campaign infrastructure.  Gingrich’s win in South Carolina upended the race and showed the fractured conservative vote seems to have found a figure in Newt Gingrich to rally behind.  Moreover, while exit polls from 2008 indicate the state is less conservative and evangelical than South Carolina it is not by much.  In 2008 61% of Florida GOP primary voters identified as conservative while in the 2012 SC primary 69% identified as the same.

Florida is not like IA, NH, and SC where retail politics is so important to a candidate’s success.  The state has over four million registered Republicans, one-third of which are expected to vote by the end of January 31st.  With the GOP race becoming ever more competitive after South Carolina easily more than one-third of registered GOP voters could vote.  Organization and structure may matter more than good debate performances and momentum.

Florida has always been Romney’s first major firewall and he has built a campaign any candidate could be proud of.  Beyond Florida lie the states that hold caucuses and primaries in February.  Almost all of them are favorable to Romney geographically and demographically.  Further benefitting Romney is that they are all over the US.  Once again Romney’s organization will come into play, not just in Florida but beyond.

Yet Florida is where 50 delegates are up for grabs and where Romney has banked all his chips on a long-term strategy that stresses a traditional campaign.  In 10 days that strategy could be praised or lambasted for being a thing of the past.  On January 31st we will see.

What the South Carolina Primary results tell us

For those who might have been doing something else Saturday night other than pouring over the results of the South Carolina GOP Primary last night I will let you in on a little secret.  Newt Gingrich won.  And he won big.  South Carolina, instead of confirming the party’s choice for President, repudiated it. 

Newt Gingrich walked away with a staggering 12 point victory over Mitt Romney.  For Romney who had double-digit leads a week before the primary this has to hurt.  There really is no good news for Romney out of South Carolina.  According to Fox News exit polls Gingrich won men and women by 16 and 9 points respectively.  He won every age group except 18-24 year olds (went to Paul).  Gingrich won almost every education group except for post-graduates and only lost among the 5% who make $200,000 or more in the income category.

Gingrich cleaned up among somewhat and very conservative voters, winning clear pluralities.  Meanwhile Romney barely edged Gingrich among moderate/liberal voters.  Not surprisingly those who claimed a candidate’s religion does not affect their vote went for Romney.  But the solid majority who wanted a candidate’s religion to reflect their own backed Gingrich.  This is ironic because Gingrich is a Catholic and a solid majority of the state’s GOP voters are Protestant. 

Most concerning for the Romney campaign has to be that they were soundly defeated among voters who voted on experience and ability to defeat Obama.  Gingrich defeated Romney among these voters by double-digits.  Now to be fair, essentially all the bad news leading up to the primary came from Romney, much as in Iowa it was for Gingrich, so voters might have believed that Romney has yet more baggage to come.  However, Romney won in IA and NH among these voters and to lose them in South Carolina is quite a reversal.

The bad news for the Romney camp in South Carolina also comes geographically.  Historically in South Carolina races there has been a divide between the North and South of the state.  The North has consistently voted the opposite of the South (where Charleston is based).  This held true as the state transitioned from blue to red.  In recent GOP presidential primaries a new regional schism has developed.  The more rural areas/counties of the state have voted for the more conservative candidate while the fast growing and coastal counties have tended to go with the more pro-growth, social moderate candidate. That dynamic was shattered last night.

As of this writing Romney is winning only three counties in SC, Richland, Charleston and Beaufort and none by big margins.  Gingrich carried every other county in the state.  Where Romney was expected to perform strongly Gingrich overtook him.  Romney only performed well in urban areas and Gingrich performed well everywhere else.

I would be remiss if I did not mention that Santorum and Paul were in the mix.  Santorum finished third with 17% and Paul with 13%.  Santorum and Paul were non-factors in many of the coastal counties and not surprisingly ran well in the sparsely populated, rural counties of the state.  Behind Gingrich of course.

Santorum and Paul have vowed to stay in the race.  For Gingrich, Santorum staying in the race has to be a blow.  Santorum will likely split the anti-Romney vote (to what degree is unknown) and hurt Gingrich. 

So what can this tell us?  First-off, the South Carolina electorate firmly rejected Mitt Romney.  Issues of appeal and regionalism aside, Romney was told a firm “No” by the state’s GOP electorate. Second, Romney’s key strengthens were deflected aside.  Romney lost voters he had won in IA and NH.  Worse off, he lost them on issues he had once staked his claim to the nomination on (experience and ability to defeat Obama).  Third, Romney’s vaunted organization was ineffective.  Gingrich had effectively no campaign in South Carolina other than his debate performances and a few offices and he won 40% of the vote.  Moreover turnout increased from 2008 levels by a significant 26%.  The surge Gingrich had towards the end of the race has to be attributed to this increase in turnout.  Fourth, Gingrich now has the momentum in the race.  This is evidenced by the fact that a day after the primary (Sunday) Romney released his tax returns.

Looking ahead it is unclear how this victory could affect the Florida race.  Romney currently leads in the RCP average of polls in Florida by 18.5%.  But none of those polls are more recent than the 17th.  Romney has invested heavily in Florida knowing it is a big winner-take-all state that gives out 50 delegates.  In the days before the South Carolina occurred Romney and his allies were already on the airwaves in Florida attacking Gingrich.  Furthermore, Romney’s campaign has been working on early voting and absentee voting for weeks. 

Florida will offer a far different dynamic than IA, NH, or SC.  Florida is far more urban than any prior states giving Romney an edge.  The state also has several pricey media markets, again playing to Romney’s strengths. Florida also has a more educated and moderate GOP electorate than South Carolina or IA.  In fact the GOP electorate of Florida more resembles New Hampshire.  According to 2008 Florida primary polls 50% of voters had a college education (18% were post-grad) and 39% of the electorate identified as moderate/liberal. In every state prior to South Carolina Romney won college educated voters and even in South Carolina he won post-grad voters and moderates/liberals. 

Since 2008 the GOP closed their presidential primary.  What impact this could have is unclear considering in the open primary in 2008 80% of participants identified as Republican.

The last factor to consider is the turnaround for the Gingrich campaign.  Romney has been there for months while Gingrich, not unlike Santorum after IA, will have to quickly pivot to Florida in a mere 10 days.  Gingrich also has to accumulate cash after his SC win and then spend it quickly.  But 10 days to set up an infrastructure in Florida is likely asking the impossible.  Gingrich’s best shot to capitalize on the momentum from South Carolina will likely come in the debates Monday and Thursday.  If he is as impressive in those debates as he was in South Carolina his momentum could overcome even the advantages Romney has built-up in Florida. 

The one thing the South Carolina results tell us is the GOP race is still up for grabs and Republicans (especially conservatives) still have issues with Romney.  Romney may be able to notch a win in Florida and accumulate 50 delegates, even stall Gingrich’s momentum.  But for Romney his issues run far deeper then losing South Carolina.

Caveat: I largely left out what impact Santorum and Paul could have in FL because I assume it will essentially be a two-man race in the state.  I have doubts Santorum will dig that deeply into Gingrich’s support even if he stays in until the primary.

Romney still in drivers seat regardless of South Carolina results

As of Friday afternoon polls show Newt Gingrich surging in South Carolina (leading in some).  Meanwhile the Romney camp has been battered by a plethora of bad news in the last week.

First, Romney’s defenses to not releasing his tax returns has not resonated with voters.  Second, Newt Gingrich has been buoyed by two strong debate performances.  Third, Rick Perry suspended his campaign and endorsed Newt Gingrich.  Perry’s narrow band of support seems to have moved to Gingrich, minus his big donors that now favor Romney.  Lastly, Gingrich played the sympathy card with GOP voters.  When the media did an interview with his second ex-wife where she unloaded on him Gingrich blasted the media.  In the debate Thursday, to a standing ovation, Gingrich lambasted CNN moderator John King for opening the debate on a question about his marriage.

But despite Gingrich now having the strong possibility of winning South Carolina the race is still under Romney’s control.  The national Gallup tracking poll shows tightening but Romney still leads Gingrich 30%-20%.  Romney still attracts strong support in the Northeast, Midwest and West while Gingrich is running stronger in the Southwest and South.

Then the calendar after South Carolina must be considered.  After South Carolina comes Florida the next Saturday.  Keep in mind that up until now there have been no winner take all states.  Combined IA and NH have barely given any delegates.  South Carolina is giving 28 delegates but again it distributes them on a proportional basis.  But when Florida rolls around the state will give out 50 delegates and on a winner-take-all basis.  And here for Gingrich is his biggest hurdle.

Gingrich is running up against the facts the calendar is favorable to Romney and that he has no national infrastructure.  In the week after the SC primary two more debates will be held in Florida.  But after the Florida primary there is a lull in the debates.  Gingrich’s campaign has been built on the fact he can dominate debates but consider this.  After Florida come caucuses in Nevada, Colorado and Minnesota.  Meanwhile the two states that have primaries that month, AZ and Michigan, favor Romney.

In Florida alone Romney’s campaign has a dozen offices open.  A pro-Romney PAC is already blasting Gingrich on the airwaves.  Worse for the Gingrich camp, the states that vote in February are all over the country.  This means organization and money is a necessity. 

It is conceivable that Gingrich could not win a single Caucus or Primary after SC and head into Super Tuesday limping along.  If that is the case Romney could end the race on that day.  Due to the calendar even Ron Paul could end up being ahead of Gingrich in delegates by the end of February.  If that is the case then Romney most likely locks it up the nomination Super Tuesday.

Then there is what I like to call the “Santorum Factor.”  Santorum has fallen off in South Carolina and nationally as Gingrich as surged.  Ron Paul’s numbers have essentially stayed stagnant.  In the debate on Thursday Santorum was rearing for a fight.  He attacked both Gingrich and Romney on ideological lines and made plain his appeal that he is the only true conservative in the race.

If Santorum finishes third in South Carolina, ahead of Paul, he may decide to stay in the race.  If he does and stays in until Florida the conservative vote could continue to be divided.  Though Santorum may only by then pull 5-10% of the vote away from Gingrich in Florida combined with Paul voters and the more moderate make-up of the state electorate Romney could pull through in a squeaker.

Add all these factors up and by the time of Super Tuesday Romney could have all but locked up the nomination despite losing South Carolina.  And even if Romney hasn’t his organization and infrastructure ensures he will have a very good night on Super Tuesday.  Then it all comes down to the race to reach 1,144 delegates.

Wisconsin prepares for yet another series of heated recall elections

On Tuesday Democrats and liberal activists turned in over one-million signatures to recall Scott Walker.  They also turned in 845,000 signatures to recall Lt. Governor Rebecca Kleefisch and enough signatures to trigger recall elections against 4 GOP state senators.  Senate control hangs precariously as the GOP currently has a 17-16 edge. 

This recall election will mark the second recall election in a year for Wisconsin and the third  heated election in less than two years for the state’s voters.

Last year, in April, the state had a regularly scheduled Supreme Court election.  Usually the election would be a sleepy affair but the election came right on the heels of passage of the GOP legislature’s and Walker’s controversial CBA reform bill.  Unions and Democrats were infuriated and hoped to overturn the law.  At the time the court was widely perceived to be divided 5-4 with conservatives holding the edge.  Thus, instead of a sleepy Supreme Court race for  Justice David Prosser the race became a referendum (one of many) on Walker’s CBA reform bill.  Liberal activist JoAnne Kloppenburg was nominated in the primary to challenge Prosser and she became the figurehead for stopping Walker. 

The election came down to the wire with Prosser narrowly winning.  Democrats and the left screamed foul when the Waukesha County Chair, who had ties to Scott Walker, reported she had not counted a number of ballots.  Until then Kloppenburg had a narrow 240 vote lead but when the new votes were counted Prosser jumped out into a 7,000 vote lead.  Kloppenburg decided not to challenge the results.  Shortly after the state Supreme Court upheld the CBA reform bill.

But unions and the left were not done.  Still infuriated at what Walker had done, and doubly so due to what they saw as being cheated out of an election, the left started collecting signatures to recall six GOP state senators.  At that time the state senate was 19-14 in favor of the GOP.  The recall effort resulted in six GOP state senators were put on the ballot while conservative activists put three Democratic state senators on the ballot.

The elections were held over the summer of the 2011 on different dates.  The bulk of the recall elections were held on August 9th with all six of the targeted GOP senators being up for recall.  Due to the way Wisconsin recall elections work they actually faced an opponent on the ballot.  In some states the ballot simply asks a yes or no question to retain the recalled official. 

The result was the GOP narrowly held onto their majority, winning four of the six races.  State senators Dan Kapanke and Luther Olsen were defeated.  Kapanke represented a heavily unionized district and Olsen had martial issues.  But none of the other four GOP incumbents lost, though some won very narrowly.  None of the three Democratic state senators up for recall were successfully recalled.

Both sides claimed victory in the fight.  Yet for the left apparently their victory was incomplete.  Soon after the state Democratic Party and the AFL-CIO announced they would try to recall Walker, the Lt. Governor and more state senators.  On January 17th an overwhelming number of signatures were turned in to force yet another recall election.

The sheer number of signatures turned in suggests there is still anger and worry among many voters in Wisconsin about CBA reform.  Unions and Democrats continue to be fired up and fully funded.  Furthermore the left has an axe to grind against Walker for his actions on a host of other issues, including strengthening gun ownership laws and cutting social programs. 

Because Wisconsin recall elections require the opposing party to have a candidate, Walker, his Lt. Governor and the four targeted state senators have had time to raise money.  As Democrats pick candidates to face their recall targets Walker and his allies will have even more time to gather resources. 

Of the four targeted GOP state senators only three are in any real danger.  All three of the endangered incumbents are freshman state senators and narrowly won their elections in 2010 with a GOP wave at their back.  But Democrats also need to field candidates to challenge these lawmakers, lawmakers who have made inroads with their districts constituents. 

Walker could face any number of possible opponents.  His 2010 opponent, Mayor Tom Barrett could try for a rematch.  He could also face a number of state legislators or even Dane County Executive Kathleen Falk, who in April 2011 while the state Supreme Court election was occurring won her seat.  Falk has a history of losing elections.  She lost her 2002 bid for the governorship and then was defeated in 2006 for secretary of state.  Walker could also face former US Rep. David Obey.

Recent polling by PPP on the Democratic primary suggests that Barrett would start out as the favorite if he ran.  His comments on the topic sure make it sound like he will. 

When the recall elections will be held is up in the air.  Both the state GOP and Democratic parties, as well as individual lawmakers, have multiple lawsuits pending.  Democrats want all the recall elections held on the same day.  This could conceivably make it easier for state senate candidates to capitalize on anti-Walker anger and drive more voters to the polls.  The state GOP wants the elections to be held separately and as late as possible to mitigate anti-Walker anger in the state senate elections and raise unlimited funds until the Democratic primary is complete.  Under state law this is permissible.

For Wisconsin this will be the third heated election in less than two years.  The left will claim they are justified and mobilize even union and Democratic support.  Meanwhile, Walker and his GOP allies will rely heavily on outside conservative support as well as sophisticated get out the vote efforts. Either way, the results of this election are unlikely to truly solve the vast partisan and ideological chasm that exists in Wisconsin.

Update: On 1/18/12 Falk said she would run against Walker.  She, along with four other candidates were interviewed by the state’s largest public employee union.  The union is hoping to clear the primary field after they have endorsed a nominee to not give Walker and the GOP any lines of attack that come out of a divisive primary.

What happened to Jon Huntsman?

On Monday Jon Huntsman announced he was leaving the GOP race.  To many moderates and fiscal conservatives Huntsman’s candidacy initially showed great promise.  After all, the ex-Utah Governor had resoundingly won two elections, instituted a flat tax in his state, helped reform higher education, allowed for private insurance to cover a majority of pre-college students, lured thousands of new jobs to the state and served as Ambassador to China for a year and a half.

But Huntsman also held views that made him an outsider in GOP political circles.  For a Mormon Republican to get elected in Utah is not hard.  Likewise it is not hard to institute sweeping reform with the reddest legislature in the country by percentage of seats held.  But Huntsman did have to fight hard to get legalize same-sex unions in Utah.  Ditto for his immigration plan which passed a year after he left office to become Ambassador to China (and is currently being sued by the Obama administration).  Those two actions put him outside where the GOP stood ideologically.

Perhaps Huntsman’s worst stance was initially advocating support for Obamacare (before really knowing what was in it) before supporting repeal.  But even as he supported repeal of the law he was wishy-washy on how it should be done.  Huntsman also advocated and worked for a regional cap-and-trade system which never made it out of the preliminary stages in the West.  When Democrats pushed Cap and Trade in 2009-10 Huntsman came out in support of the law after he had resigned his ambassadorial position.

Despite Huntsman’s successes as Governor his stances on national issues put him on an outside track to win a national race.  Republicans extremely fed up with the president’s policies were not willing to vote for a candidate who initially liked them before being against them (thank you John Kerry).

Two other factors led to Huntsman never catching fire in the race.  Huntsman’s tone and demeanor were those of a safe, moderate Utah governor.  He rarely got excited, never spoke with passion and on the GOP stump spoke more as an independent then Republican candidate.  Huntsman also was never afraid to call out the GOP on a number of issues.  Wishing for a “sane” Republican party to run in is not how you endear yourself to Tea Partiers or conservative Republicans.   Huntsman’s tone and demeanor (sometimes derogatory to the GOP) contrasted with a GOP electorate angry with a liberal president and Congress.  The emergence of the Tea Party and its success with the GOP in 2010 also urged many GOP presidential candidates to move to the right.  Huntsman did not budge.

Huntsman’s electoral strategy was flawed.  Huntsman’s strategists made the fatal assumption that his moderate brand of conservatism would not play well in socially conservative Iowa.  Keep in mind he had pushed civil unions in Utah.  Huntsman did not compete in Iowa and instead staked his entire campaign on New Hampshire hoping that young, socially liberal voters and older fiscal conservatives would back him.  Instead, Romney’s deep well of support in the state kept Huntsman from gaining much traction.  Thus instead of competing in Iowa even to win a few moderate voters (it is conceivable that if Huntsman had he could have taken enough votes away from Romney to give Santorum a win in IA) he doubled down in New Hampshire.  The result was minimal.

Huntsman finished third in New Hampshire behind Paul and Romney.  Though surging late Huntsman did not come close to either of the top two finishers.  Without a big win in a moderate state to stand on and little cash left Huntsman campaign was basically dead.  Apparently they realized this.

Huntsman’s hope to win the GOP nomination rested on several flawed processes.  He thought he could stand on his record as Governor of Utah and like Romney brush over his flirtation with leftist ideas nationally.  Nevermind Romney has been appealing to the right for two years now.  Huntsman’s tone and demeanor spoke of a man running for the nomination of the “Party of Eisenhower,” in other words a party of largely suburban and upper middle class voters more moderate and independent then conservative).  Instead, Huntsman seemed to ignore the rise of the Tea Party and the GOP continuing becoming ever more the “Party of Reagan,” in its demographic composition.  Lastly, Huntsman’s electoral strategy was fatally flawed.  Yes, his support of civil unions would not have played well in Iowa but to some voters in the state that would have not mattered.  If he had even tried to compete in the state he might have garnered more media attention and donors.  Instead, all his chips were laid in New Hampshire and he fell flat. 

Jon Huntsman banked his campaign on a variety of assumptions, all flawed, and all failed.  This is what happened to John Huntsman.