Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Understanding the Real Meaning of Rick Santorum’s Three Victories in Missouri, Colorado and Minnesota – As Usual the Media Gets It Wrong

None of the Above Was the Actual Winner

The national media is making a big deal over the fact that former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum won contests in Missouri, Colorado and Minnesota, handily defeating the apparent front runner Mitt Romney and slowing his momentum going into the Super Tuesday elections in early March. 

The big news, according to news reports is the election results, which showed Mr. Romney not just losing but losing big time.  The real news, only somewhat reported by the news media is that the real winner was “none of the above”.  This is demonstrated by the total and near complete lack of participation in the three contests by Republican voters.  A look at Missouri for example, shows that in 2008 John McCain won with 33% and almost 200,000 votes.  In 2012 Mr. Santorum won 55% of the vote, but it was less than 140,000 votes. 

Colorado »

The lack of turnout was similar in Colorado and Minnesota.  In the Gopher State (why that animal??) Mr. Santorum got a total of about 21,000 votes.  In Colorado he won with 26,000 votes.  No those numbers are not the spread, they are the total votes the winner received.  So what are the lessons here, well they are this.

  1. Mr. Santorum won because nobody cared.  Nobody cared enough, except for a few fanatical devotees to get out and vote or participate in the caucuses. 

  1. Mr. Romney has a lot of money and a lot or organization, but he cannot be everywhere all the time.  His losses look more like a strategic retreat than a significant defeat.

  1. Perception rules reality.  The tie in Iowa was first reported as a win for Mr. Romney, then a win for Mr. Santorum.  It was a tie, plain and simple.  The wins for Mr. Santorum in Colorado, Missouri and Minnesota are the result of lack of voter interest, not overwhelming desire in those states for a radical Conservative.

  1. The press, which has a interest in keeping the story alive will promote the wins by Mr. Santorum as being very important, being huge, being a game change, that is, until the next round where if Mr. Romney wins some major contests the race will be re-characterized (again) as having always been an inevitable Romney win.  (Being in the national press means never ever having to admit you were wrong).

Mr. Romney has made a major strategic error.  His campaign strategy had been to mirror somewhat the strategy of Mr. Obama in 2008, to put together string of meaningless victories in relatively unimportant contests, counting on the victory itself rather than its significance to be the big story.  But he failed to follow up on this strategy in the three states that just voted, and now his candidacy will pay the price of having generated sufficient doubts that the public and the press will focus on his vulnerabilities rather than his inevitabilities.  As Nate Silver reports

The most generous interpretation of Tuesday night’s results is that Mr. Romney’s campaign failed to make much of an effort in the contests. He did not make many personal appearances in the states, nor did he run a significant amount of advertising. And his campaign worked to diminish expectations in the day or two before the voting — a practice that can annoy voters who are undecided in the race if they feel like they are being told their vote doesn’t matter.

Why Mr. Romney’s campaign made these decisions is hard to say. One of the advantages of having a resource-rich campaign, as Mr. Romney does, is precisely that you are able to leave less to chance. Mr. Romney would have had the luxury of running commercials in Colorado or Minnesota, or of establishing a set of field offices in those states. Instead, his strategy was complacent. He gambled and paid the price, as Hillary Rodham Clinton did in the caucus states in 2008.

But Mr. Silver also reminds everyone that Mr. Romney is not Ms. Clinton, and more importantly, the rabidly Conservative Mr. Santorum, who lost re-election for the Senate  by 17 points in Pennsylvania is not Barack Obama.

Fortunately for Mr. Romney, none of his rivals are in the same ballpark as Mrs. Clinton’s opponent, Barack Obama, as measured by metrics like fundraising, organizational strength, or oratorical skill. But Mr. Romney is not a strong enough candidate that he can afford more nights as bad as Tuesday.

And so the Republican race continues, with Mr. Romney wounded not so much by Mr. Santorum and his total of 26,000 votes in Colorado and his 21,000 votes in Minnesota as he is by the national press.  As for Mr. Santorum, whose positions and persona have largely been below the radar, the wins will bring new scrutiny to his candidacy. 

Note to Mr. Santorum: that is not a good thing.

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