Mitt Romney: Not-So-Secret Frontrunner
By GOPaisano Posted in 2008 — Comments (7) / Email this page » / Leave a comment »
This is part two in my series of statistics-based analyses of the chances of the Republican Candidates for President. Part One was Mike Huckabee, and can be found here: Putting Huckabee’s Rise in Perspective.
I was rereading an article in the American Spectator the other day called “Romney Rocks” from way back in early 2006. (PDF available here) I read it with a knowing smile, thinking that his campaign could no longer live up to the lofty predictions made by the Spectator way back when.
That thought was wrong. Very wrong. Whether or not the media will acknowledge it—the “Huckaboom” is the story of the day, and they’ve built up Giuliani as the frontrunner for months and months—Mitt Romney is quite possibly the frontrunner for the Republican nomination.
With the help of polling averages from Real Clear Politics, I have gone through multiple scenarios for the nomination chase, and they lead me to the conclusion that the primary season favors Governor Romney more than any other candidate.
Much has been made of Huckabee’s climb in the polls as of late. That’s understandable, because the climb is quite impressive, as seen in this graph. However, look closer. Over the period of time that Mike has gone up 11.3%, Mitt has also gone consistently up, by 4.7%—good enough to pass both John McCain and Fred Thompson for third place at 15.3%. Also, Romney’s rise corresponds to a massive drop in support for Rudy Giuliani and Fred Thompson. Should current trend lines continue, Romney could potentially pass Giuliani by the time Jan. 3rd rolls around.
What was once Mitt Romney’s slingshot has been transformed into an eleven-point Huckabee lead. That’s not necessarily a bad thing. Because Huckabee has gone up so early, expectations have decreased dramatically for Romney. In short, second place will not hurt him. It could even help him. Notably, the Iowa trend lines have finally switched, and Huckabee is going down as Romney goes up. Now, that’s likely a “correction” on a recent crazy spike, but it could also be a sign of a slow change back to Romney.
Romney would only be damaged by a third-place finish in Iowa. How likely is this? Not very. I understand the temptation to predict a come-from-behind Thompson victory, what with his recent move to Iowa and his strong (if anyone could be strong there) debate performance. But look at the numbers. Since the new Iowa strategy, Thompson—once second place—has fallen to a very close fourth behind Mayor Giuliani (who is on an up-trend that may or may not be statistically significant). All the same, the gap between second and third is huge, and so it looks like Romney will leave Iowa in some strong position.
It has been said that there are ”three tickets out of Iowa and two tickets out of New Hampshire” In current polls, only Governor Romney gets two tickets. (If Giuliani gets a small New Hampshire bump, he could qualify as well.)
The Governor’s New Hampshire lead is daunting. He has led since May, and has a solid 13-point lead over John McCain. Can he lose it? Well, certainly not if he wins Iowa. A bump and a double-digit lead do not add up to a loss. But let’s say the InTrade money is right, and he loses Iowa. I claim he still wins handily.
Why? Well, who benefits from the Iowa aftermath? Huckabee gets a nice bump, yes. But Huckabee is at a weak fourth-place in New Hampshire. Maybe he goes to third, but he won’t win New Hampshire off of it. John McCain is the one best positioned to beat Romney in New Hampshire, but he’s heading toward a humiliating fifth place in Iowa—perhaps even sixth behind Ron Paul (who just got another money bomb: $6,000,000 in one day, $18,000,000 for the quarter).
Here’s the only place Romney could get caught: Huckabee has to win Iowa by a significant margin and Rudy Giuliani has to get a respectable (key word—9% is not respectable) third-place finish. Rudy goes up in Iowa on his defeat of Thompson, and Romney goes down after losing to Huckabee. If and only if this happens, Giuliani could beat Romney in New Hampshire. Romney would still have his two tickets, but he wouldn’t be in a very strong position—especially if Huckabee pulls third in New Hampshire.
Michigan and Nevada
Polling in these two states is pretty slim. In Michigan we have only two polls in the past two months. The November one (Detroit News) has Giuliani 28 and Romney 25, with everyone else significantly behind. The December one (Rasmussen) has Huckabee 21, Romney 20, and Giuliani 19. It’s hard to say anything certain from that, but it seems fair to say that Mitt, as the son of Gov. George Romney, has a solid base there, and Huckabee and Giuliani have pretty fluid support. (To put Romney’s slight drop in perspective, every candidate went down in the December poll except for Huckabee and Paul. More options create undecided voters.) If Romney wins New Hampshire decisively, I can’t imagine he loses here.
Nevada has two December polls taken around the same time, and they both show a top three of Giuliani, Romney, and Huckabee. In the first poll, Giuliani was leading with 25, but in the second he falls back to third with 17. Huckabee moves from 17 to 23, but Romney has the biggest jump with 20 to 29. This is good news for Romney, who these polls show has a base of 20-30% in a six-man field. If he has two victories going into Nevada, he’ll definitely win. Otherwise, a bit of a toss-up, and I’d expect second.
(By the way, I’ve occasionally heard comments about the LDS population in Nevada being helpful to Romney. Maybe they are a large presence in the GOP Primary, but their overall numbers in the state aren’t huge. Romney is doing well because of his political beliefs, not his spiritual ones.)
Graph here. Despite Huckabee’s recent rise in the state and Thompson’s slow lumbering past Romney in the average, Team Mitt should be proud of the work they did here. Pundits said for a long time that an LDS candidate couldn’t play in SC, and in fact, he had 10% of the vote as late as October. By November, he was leading the pack, and only now has he fallen from that top spot in favor of Huckabee. Like Iowa, however, Romney is helped by lowered expectations. Huckabee and Thompson are more natural South Carolina candidates, but both have their weaknesses in the primary field. It is highly unlikely that Thompson will have won a single state by now, and a 1-5% finish in New Hampshire could be more damaging than we think. Huckabee is still a threat if he wins Iowa, and especially if he wins either Michigan or Nevada on the way. Looking directly below Romney, Giuliani could be a threat as the former leader, but he’s been going down for a while—although in much the same pattern as Romney. It’s hard to predict this race right now, but if Romney has won a state or two and Thompson and Giuliani are stateless—extremely likely—he has a very good chance at winning and is guaranteed second place.
It’s not Giuliani’s firewall anymore. The most recent poll has Huckabee 27, Romney 23, and Giuliani in third at 19. That’s the good news. The bad news is that Romney ceded his second-place spot to Huckabee after coming in behind Mike in three of the last five polls. Interestingly, if you look at the chart, Huckabee’s rise is a MIRROR of Fred Thompson’s drop. However, that has another side to it—Romney has not actually gone down as Huckabee passed him. His support in Florida is still strong. To surpass Giuliani, Romney is going to need the “Big Mo’”—i.e. at least three primary victories. However, it probably won’t take that for him to pass Huckabee, which is what he needs to stay strong going into Feb. 5th.
Essentially, there is not a single primary state (save, perhaps, South Carolina) where Romney is in danger of landing anywhere other than second place, and he is almost certain to win at least two of the six. There is no other candidate that fits that description, and as such, Governor Romney is the nomination frontrunner.
I did this for Huckabee, so I’ll do it for Romney. However, I am concerned that I will sell Romney short, because he seems to poll so poorly against his Democratic opponents. Clinton leads him by 10 points in the average, Obama by 11.5, and Edwards by 18. Compare to Giuliani, who trails Clinton by 4.4, Obama by 3, and Edwards by 4. (I won’t even get into John McCain, who just rocks these polls.) However, Romney’s head-to-heads are only slightly behind Fred Thompson’s, and no one knows where Huckabee is at this point. (One had him essentially tied with Clinton, and then another has him behind by 10.) So it’s fair to say that Governor Mitt Romney has room to grow in terms of how he is viewed by the voting public at large. However, it seems he’ll have plenty of time to do that.
If the primaries began tomorrow, Governor Romney would have a good chance of winning the nomination. Even better for the Governor, the trend lines indicate that if the primaries began a week from tomorrow, he’d be even better off. I do not want to suggest that Romney is in a comfortable position, or that the other candidates can be written off—he’ll have to work very hard as he has all along, and even then he’ll be in for some tough battles on Feb. 5th—especially if Huckabee and/or Thompson are still in the race. However, Romney has played this primary game better than anyone else has, and it looks right now to be paying dividends.