While there is a great deal of focus on the view that the bickering during the recent CNN G.O.P. debate in Nevada hurt Republicans and helped President Obama,the truth of the matter is that the bickering of today, is the meaningless and forgotten history of tomorrow. Just ask George. H. W. Bush who called Ronald Reagan’s economic policy, voodoo economics and then went on to serve two terms as Reagan’s Vice President.
The only truly relevant factors concerning the success or failure of any of the Republican presidential candidates at this point concern three key elements………, their organization and its effectiveness, their fundraising capabilities, and their individual standings within the first four nominating contests, especially the last two of those four…..South Carolina and Florida.
While national trends have a role, it is important to remember that nominees are chosen through individual state contests and at different times. So while the entire nation participates in the process, it is far from being accurately described as a national election.
For those reasons, I am less concerned with what Rick Perry said about an illegal immigrant cutting Mitt Romney’s lawn, in an attempt to defend his own pitiful position on illegal immigration. More important than any of that is the current snapshot taken by two new NBC News-Marist polls.
To get a real sense of how things are going, one needs to remain focussed on what really matters. And with just a few months to go before voting in the Republican nomination contests begins, that focus needs to be less on any overall national impression of the current field and more on where the individual candidates stand in individual states. Although polls are merely a snapshot of a fleeting moment, the cumulative effect of each of these moments offer an indication of the way things are going and at the moment newly energized Herman Cain narrowly leads Mitt Romney in South Carolina’s Republican primary, and is running neck and neck with Romney in Florida.
More so than Iowa and New Hampshire, South Carolina and Florida will have a profound effect on establishing the future trajectories of all the candidate. The only real way for Iowa and New Hampshire, the first two contests, to have as much as an impact as Florida and South carolina is if Mitt Romney can win both of those states, or if someone is able to defeat Mitt Romney in New Hampshire. If Romney wins both Iowa and New Hampshire, he will establish an almost unstoppable momentum that will lift his chances for victory in all the state contests that immediately follow them. If someone like Jon Huntsman or Herman Cain pulls off an stunning upset victory over Romney in New Hampshire, they will be in the catbird seat as they go in to the Palmetto and Sunshine state contests.
No matter what though, South Carolina and Florida will really set the tone for all the following contests, especially in the delegate rich South which Mitt Romney faces his stiffest competition in as he vies for votes among the region’s uber-conservative, evangelical base, and must also contend with evangelical Christian bigotry towards Romney’s Mormon faith.
The fact that Romney is still maintaining a strong position in both Florida and South Carolina is a testament to both the effectiveness of his campaign organization and the viability of his candidacy. But this does not insure a Romney win in either state. Herman Cain’s current ability to tie and even surpass Romney in early polls in South Carolina and Florida, is a sign that Romney is still quite vulnerable. Herman Cain does not have a campaign that is organized in a way that is comparable to Romney’s. Yet despite that lack of organization, Cain is holding his own. If Herman Cain hopes to insure his own victory in South Carolina and Florida, he must build an organization that can establish a strong ground game. Mitt Romney will have a top notch ground game in both of those states. If Herman Cain’s operation is inferior to Romney’s, the results in Florida and South Carolina could be close, but the winner will ultimately be Mitt Romney.
But if Romney finds himself facing off against a well organized competitor who within striking distance, Romney can definitely go down.
This made quite evident in the current NBC-Marist Poll which shows that in South Carolina, Cain has the support of 30% of likely GOP primary voters, to Romney’s gets 26%, Texas Gov. Rick Perry at 9%, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich at 6% and Reps. Michele Bachmann and Ron Paul at 5%, with 15% of likely primary voters remaining undecided. According to a broader pool of Republicans in South Carolina, Cain is at 28 % and Romney is at 27%.
In Florida, Cain is at 32% among likely voters, Romney at 31%, Perry at 8%and Paul and Gingrich are at 6%, and 11% say they are undecided.
South Carolina and Florida have both played pivotal roles in past Republican presidential nominating contests. Since 1980, the winner of South Carolina’s GOP primary has gone on to win the party’s nomination, and in 2008, John McCain’s win of Florida’s primary essentially handed the nomination to him. Both states are likely to play the same role in 2012.
What is particularly troubling for Romney within those numbers is a breakdown which shows that while Romney may be toward the top of the field with Herman Cain, the enthusiasm for Romney is much lower than it is for Cain. In South Carolina, 45% of Cain’s supporters in South Carolina strongly back him, while only 37% of Romney’s supporters describe themselves as strongly committed to Romney. In Florida, 52% of Cain’s supporters strongly back him, compared to 41% who strongly back Romney.
That means that the Republican electorate is quite unsettled and if there is still time for a third candidate to rise to the top. I believe that that candidate could be Newt Gingrich.
If Gingrich holds his powder in Iowa and New Hampshire, a split decision in those two states could allow Newt to make his move and startle everyone with either a win in South Carolina and Florida, or at least a stronger than expected showing. That is unlikely but it is quite possible. However, much like Herman Cain, Newt Gingrich does not have a campaign that is organized enough compete with Mitt Romney’s. Unless and until someone can match Mitt Romney’s ground games in several early states, Romney is headed towards the Republican National Convention in Orlando, Florida as the inevitable Republican presidential nominee.
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