Friday, October 14, 2011

Election 2012 Preview: Handicapping the Primaries, Part III

Well, as I said before, prognostication is probably something I shouldn't do. My record is rather less than perfect. Still, it's fun, so I'm going to have another shot at it. Quite a lot has happened, and a few people have dropped out since the last time we looked at the race. It's still a long way to the conventions, but we've got a pretty good idea of who won't be in the running.

Democratic Party: Again, this entry is for completeness' sake only. Ralph Nader's pot-stirring notwithstanding, incumbent Presidents who still want the job always win re-nomination. Incumbency is a powerful advantage. You'd have to be a fool to throw that aside. Granted, the Democrats almost did in 1980, but it's not 1980. For the same reason, we won't see any movement on the VP side of the ticket, either. The last President who was re-elected after switching running mates was Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1944 ... and let's be honest here, Roosevelt could have had a burlesque dancer for a running mate, and he still would have won. That was a special case. These days, such a shift would be a huge display of weakness. So, no change here, it's Obama/Biden once again for Team Blue, unless one or both of them gets run over by a combine harvester in the meantime.

Republican Party: Oh dear, where do I begin? Let's just do this by the numbers (according to Intrade, current as of Friday afternoon):

Mitt Romney, 67%: He's managing a difficult dance extraordinarily well. As I said earlier, one of the biggest problems that he faces is that Obamacare is Romneycare with the serial numbers filed off, and everyone knows this. He had to find a way to credibly run against something he basically invented ... and so far, he's actually doing exactly that. An amazing feat, really. The basic thing to understand about the Romney campaign at this point is that he's not playing to win so much as he's playing to not lose. His selling points are competence and business acumen. Those are just about his only cards, and so far, he's playing them very well. He doesn't lead many polls, though, because his other problem may well be his Achilles' heel. He's a Mormon, stumping before a heavily evangelical Christian electorate. That's going to cost him. Will it cost him enough to turf him from the campaign again? Maybe, but only maybe. He still out-polls all other potential Republican contenders against President Obama. Electability may win out over religious prejudice.

Rick Perry, 11%: I've listened to Rick Perry several times in GOP Gubernatorial Debates here in Texas, and I have to ask: Who is this man, and what has he done with the real Rick Perry? Oh, I never expected him to be a debating all-star. But I never expected him to crater this horribly. Nevertheless, he'll make a strong run this coming Spring, once the campaign heads down South. This is going to be a two-way race, between Mitt Romney and "not Mitt Romney", whoever the hell that ends up being. Rick Perry still has a fighting chance to be "not Mitt Romney". But he's going to have to fight off several contenders for that slot, including Mitt Romney. (This is going to be a really weird year.)

Herman Cain, 9%: Fitting, since his signature tax plan is called "9-9-9". John Huntsman was right about that, by the way; it does sound like a pizza price. (And a pretty good one, at that.) Herman Cain leads the polls at the moment in the contentious race for "not Mitt Romney", but he's going to peak and stall pretty soon. He's ... how do I say this without sounding crass? Let's just say that his campaign will do a Titanic once the campaign goes down South. You can guess the reason.

And no one else is above 5%. This includes Huntsman and Gingrich (2%), Michelle Bachmann (1%), and Sarah Palin (under 1%). Sarah Palin has bailed out of the running for the Republican nomination, but this may not be the last we've seen of her this year. The interesting thing about the way Intrade works is that her chances will never drop to zero, even though she's dropped out. There are a number of poor slobs who bought Palin shares when they were at 7%, and didn't have to good sense to sell while the selling was good. They're stuck.

I still think Bachmann would be a good, if risky buy. She's liable to do quite well in Iowa, maybe even pulling a win. In that case, I'd expect a spike, and if you bought in at 1%, you could do quite well. But, as I say, it's risky. Bachmann may well have peaked already. She's been on a slump since debate season started. Still, if she were to climb back towards double digits, a buck or two could get you a night at the movies. (I think. I'm still not sure any real money changes hands, here.)

Palin is an interesting case. I see a scenario where she could be back in the running. Let's say that Romney does win the nomination. Let's further say that the Tea Party finds that unacceptable, and revolts. Who would be the standard-bearer for a third-party challenge? I don't see Rick Perry doing that. I don't see John Huntsman doing that. Both of them could reload for the 2016 GOP nomination, unless they burn their bridges with a third-party run. But Palin, who's already burnt her fair share of bridges, would certainly be game.

In any case, the battle for the Republican nomination will be a two-way scrum between Romney and Perry, barring a major breakout by another candidate. And the field is essentially fixed, there will be no new candidacies at this point. Either one could win. Romney's long-term position looks pretty good, and he's frankly the strongest candidate the Republicans could get out of this field. If they're smart, he's the one they'll run.

If they're not smart, or if there's a Tea Party revolt and a third-party run, we might well see the curious sight of a President, holding a bag full of 9% unemployment and lousy economy, winning re-election anyway because the opposition is either divided or too horrifying to contemplate.

I'd say stranger things have happened, except that I'm not sure that's true. As I said, this is going to be a really weird election year.

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