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Weekly Redistricting Update

In Redistricting on January 31, 2012 at 1:00 pm

Significant redistricting action occurred in the following eight states during the past week:

ARIZONA (current delegation: 5R-3D; gains one seat) – The Speaker of the Arizona House of Representatives is floating legislation to place a new congressional plan on a special election ballot in order to eliminate the Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission’s map, which now officially defines the state’s congressional boundaries. The bill must be passed into law by Feb. 15 to qualify for a pre-election ballot. Political numbers for the Commission map have been released. It is more than likely that Democrats will gain two seats under this plan and the GOP loses one.

FLORIDA (current delegation: 19R-6D; gains two seats) – The state House of Representatives is scheduled to vote on a new 27-District congressional map that passed the body’s redistricting committee. The House map differs from the Senate version and appears to be a bit more Republican-friendly. On its face, the map appears to yield 16 re-numbered Republican seats, eight Democratic and three marginal districts: Reps. Sandy Adams (new District 7), Bill Young (new District 13) and what will likely be an open 18th District). The Republican faring the worst is freshman Rep. Allen West, whose 22nd District becomes 10 percentage points more Democratic. It may be possible, should Rep. Tom Rooney (R-FL-16) run in the new 17th, that West could slide north into the new 18th District, which is much more favorable to a Republican but would still be highly competitive.

KENTUCKY (current delegation: 4R-2D) – The Kentucky candidate filing deadline is today and, with no congressional map passed into law, changes will have to be made. The legislature is quickly trying to adopt a new filing deadline to allow more time to pass a new map. Failure to do so forces the process to court. With filing inevitably delayed, the May 22 Kentucky primary could also be endangered.

MICHIGAN (current delegation: 9R-6D; loses one seat) – The Department of Justice issued pre-clearance to the Michigan congressional map, the last step in finalizing their new plan. The map is projected to produce a 9R-5D delegation split, meaning the Democrats will absorb the seat lost to reapportionment. Michigan is the only state in the country that actually saw a decline in real population during the last decade. All other states that reduced their congressional representation did not keep pace with the national rate of growth. Though the Wolverine State only has several counties under Voting Rights jurisdiction, the entire statewide map had to be granted pre-clearance.

MISSOURI (current delegation: 6R-3D; loses one seat) – The redistricting trial begins this week. At issue is a question of compactness in the Kansas City area. Interestingly, Rep. Russ Carnahan (D-MO-3) filed the lawsuit in an attempt to overturn the St. Louis portion of the map that collapsed his current district. The judges rejected those arguments, but found an area of concern in the western part of the state. The trial will conclude this week and a ruling should be forthcoming shortly.

NEW YORK (current delegation: 21D-8R; loses two seats) – A New York federal judge has issued an order moving the state’s primary from Sept. 11 to June 26 in order to comply with the federal MOVE Act. The legislation requires overseas ballots to be mailed a minimum of 45 days before any election. The change would be permanent, making the NY primary occur on the fourth Tuesday in June. The MOVE Act only applies to federal races. It is legal for the state to hold state and local primaries in September, but such would likely be considered impractical. The ruling means the redistricting clock is ticking much faster, so the congressional plan should be unveiled shortly.

TENNESSEE (current delegation: 7R-2D) – Gov. Bill Haslam (R) signed the recently passed congressional redistricting legislation into law. It is likely that the state’s 7R-2D ratio will hold for several elections.

VIRGINIA (current delegation: 8R-3D) – Gov. Bob McDonnell (R) also signed Virginia’s new congressional map into law. The map protects the 8R-3D delegation split but several of the seats are marginal, suggesting increased political competition in the southern part of the state.

Why Third-Place Matters

In Election Analysis, Polls, Presidential campaign on January 31, 2012 at 11:34 am

Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney appears poised to win a convincing victory tonight in the Florida Republican presidential primary and, barring future delegate certification challenges before the Republican National Convention, will claim all 50 delegates being apportioned in the state in winner-take-all fashion.

Eight different polls, all conducted during a period beginning Jan. 27 or later, give Mr. Romney leads of between 5 and 25 percentage points, and in all but two of those polls he wins by double digits. Each poll has former House Speaker Newt Gingrich in second place and former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum either in third or tied for third with Rep. Ron Paul (R-TX-14).

But it is how Santorum performs that may be the most interesting part of tonight’s result. Since the polls all show him posting between 9 and 12 points, a stronger performance will reveal further conservative dissatisfaction with Romney. Further right-of-center voters fleeing Gingrich – as his roller coaster campaign now begins to slide downward again – and heading toward Santorum looks to be a very real possibility. Should this occur, the Pennsylvanian, who spent little money in Florida, would head to Nevada with some new wind at his back, particularly if Romney again wins with only a plurality of support.

Such a finish would again lend credence to the theory that a uniting of conservatives behind one candidate could still see that candidate overtake Romney. Failure for that scenario to take place likely nominates Romney at least by the time most primaries and caucuses conclude at the end of April, if not sooner.

Republican-Held CDs: A Vulnerability Analysis

In Apportionment, House, Redistricting on January 30, 2012 at 12:18 pm

The House Majority PAC, run by a former Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee political director who served under then-chairman Rahm Emanuel, released the findings of Public Policy Polling vulnerability surveys for eight Republican-held congressional seats (all conducted during the Jan. 18-23 period). It is not known in exactly how many districts the PAC polled, but these eight will undoubtedly be competitive and obviously fare the best for Democrats among those tested.

Though the release was done in the context of making the GOP incumbents look as vulnerable as possible, looking beyond the numbers and overlaying the new district lines tells, perhaps, a different story in many of these targeted CDs.

The eight are:

• CO-3: Rep. Scott Tipton (R), 46% vs. Sal Pace (D), 39% – The 3rd District of Colorado is commonly described as the Western Slope seat. The region encompasses the mountainous western part of the state but comes east along the state’s southern border to capture the Democratic city and county of Pueblo. Because the split-control Colorado legislature was unable to produce a new congressional map, the subsequent de novo court map kept the integrity of the district intact and made the swing seat lean just one more point toward the Democrats. Sal Pace is the state House minority leader and expected to be a strong challenger. Scott Tipton is a freshman who defeated three-term Democratic Rep. John Salazar in the last election 50-46 percent. This is expected to be a close race, but since the Republican presidential nominee usually carries this region, Tipton might get a point or two bump. At this point, a 46-39 percent spread for numbers released by a Democratic Super PAC are not too bad for the incumbent Republican in a district that traditionally features tight congressional contests.

• IL-8: Rep. Joe Walsh, 35% (R) vs. Generic D, 49% – The two Democratic contenders in this new district are former US Department of Veterans Affairs Assistant Secretary Tammy Duckworth and ex-Deputy State Treasurer Raja Krishnamoorthi. The generic ballot question suggests that Democrats have a strong chance of unseating freshman Rep. Joe Walsh here, in a Democratic redraw that was designed to do just that. Walsh’s decision to run in the new 8th instead of facing a GOP incumbent pairing with fellow freshman Randy Hultgren (R-IL-14) is highly questionable. Despite House Republican leadership promising to raise Walsh millions of dollars if he were to run in the 8th District, the demographic and political numbers paint an unpleasant picture regarding the freshman’s chances. Expect the Democratic nominee, likely Duckworth, to romp in the general election. The PPP generic poll has a high probability of being accurate.

• IA-4: Rep. Steve King (R), 49% vs. Christie Vilsack (D), 43% – Rep. Steve King’s 5th District, now labeled #4, is quite different under the new redistricting design, as the state lost a seat in reapportionment. Instead of occupying the entire western side of Iowa from north to south, the new 4th CD keeps only his north-central western base and now travels as far east as Mason City, Charles City, and New Hampton. The seat is generally Republican, but King has drawn a challenge from Christie Vilsack (D), wife of US Agriculture Secretary and former Iowa Governor Tom Vilsack. She will have all the campaign resources she needs to run a competitive race. Since Vilsack likely has higher name ID throughout the entire district than does Rep. King, a 49-43 percent spread in the congressman’s favor is not particularly bad news for he and the GOP.

• MD-6: Rep. Roscoe Bartlett (R), 42% vs. Generic D, 42% – One of the biggest redistricting victims in the United States is 85-year old Rep. Roscoe Bartlett (R). He has seen his district go from a 58 percent McCain performance to a 56 percent Obama number with the addition of more highly Democratic precincts in Montgomery County. Under the new district lines, Rep. Bartlett is a clear underdog in the general election, assuming he survives an eight-person Republican primary. Considering the drastic nature of the redraw, pulling dead even in what is now a decidedly Democratic district is actually a surprisingly good showing for the GOP incumbent.

• MI-1: Rep. Dan Benishek (R), 41% vs. Gary McDowell (D), 46% – Rep. Benishek is trailing by five in a new district that is slightly more Republican than the one in which he defeated then-state Rep. Gary McDowell (D) 52-41 percent in 2010; and that is a sign of trouble. Though the seat was held by Democratic Rep. Bart Stupak for 18 years, the voting history of northern Michigan is hospitable to Republicans. Therefore, a poll showing Benishek already trailing McDowell, who just announced he was going to run again in September, should be a cause for concern among Benishek and the northern Michigan Republican party.

• OH-6: Rep. Bill Johnson (R), 42% vs. Charlie Wilson (D), 41% – Though Ohio loses two congressional districts, the configuration of the 6th District that hugs the Pennsylvania and West Virginia borders all the way from East Liverpool and Steubenville down to and through Scioto County stays virtually intact under the new Buckeye State map. The seat juts west on I-70 at Cambridge in order to pick up some new Republican voters to give Johnson some help. The freshman congressman’s opponent is former two-term Rep. Charlie Wilson, who Johnson defeated 50-45 percent in 2010. A one-point polling margin is what one would expect in this district featuring two well-known candidates at such an early point in the election cycle. The new OH-6 race is likely to remain close all the way to Election Day.

• OH-7: Rep. Bob Gibbs (R), 42% vs. Generic D, 43% – The new 7th District is a radical redraw from the current 18th CD that elected freshman Rep. Bob Gibbs. Instead of stretching south from the central part of the state, the new 7th moves north to grab the city of Canton, sweeps around new District 16 in a horseshoe-shaped fashion to pick up the city of Ashland on the west, and then travels north all the way to Lake Erie. The new district should elect a Republican, but Gibbs is unfamiliar to a large number of voters. The fact that he is virtually dead-even on the generic ballot question is not particularly bad news for the new congressman. Once he becomes better known throughout the entire new district, and is paired with a live Democratic candidate instead of a party label, his ballot test numbers should dramatically improve.

• OH-16: Rep. Jim Renacci (R), 46% vs. Rep. Betty Sutton (D), 46% – The 16th District doesn’t much resemble either GOP Rep. Renacci’s current 16th CD, nor Rep. Sutton’s 13th District. Renacci represents a greater proportion of the new district, but it only slightly leans Republican. Therefore, it is not particularly surprising that the two candidates are starting on even footing. This is another race that will be hard-fought. Because Sutton’s political base was split among several districts, forcing her to begin again from scratch, she faces the more difficult path to re-election. OH-16 is one of just three districts in the nation so far that features an inter-party incumbent pairing. The other two are CA-32, with Reps. Grace Napolitano (D) and David Dreier (R) facing off – though it is highly unlikely that the Republican will run here – and IA-3, with Reps. Leonard Boswell (D) and Tom Latham (R) lining up against each other.

Democrats to Depart in North Carolina

In Election Analysis, Governor, House on January 27, 2012 at 1:44 pm

Two Democratic retirements were announced yesterday in North Carolina.

First, Rep. Brad Miller (D-NC-13), who seemed politically doomed in an intra-party pairing with Rep. David Price (D-NC-4) in the new 4th Congressional District, decided not to make the race after all. Though saying he was encouraged by his supporters’ responses if forced to make a choice between the two, Miller indicated that Democratic Party leaders, activists, and financial donors were virtually unanimous in expressing the opinion that the two should not challenge each other.

The congressman was first elected in the redistricting year of 2002, winning the new seat North Carolina gained in reapportionment. Ten years later, Miller became the victim of redistricting as his 13th District was redrawn as a Republican seat and his Raleigh political base became enjoined with Price’s.

But the bigger Tar Heel State news is embattled Democratic Gov. Bev Purdue’s announcement that she will not seek a second four-year term in this year’s general election.

Lagging in the polls to Republican Pat McCrory, the man she beat in 2008, and being continually upside down in job approval, her political outlook appeared bleak. Perdue’s standing was so bad at one point during the summer of 2009, that even a plurality of Democrats disapproved of her performance in office (38:40 percent). It was believed by many that Democrats would have a better chance to win in November with another candidate. Now, they have that opportunity.

The move has upended the state’s Democratic congressional delegation, however. Already Rep. Heath Shuler (D-NC-11), another redistricting victim, says he is “strongly considering” and “leaning towards running for governor.”

Rep. Mike McIntyre (D-NC-7), one more Tar Heel State Democrat whose district will be more Republican in 2012, also said he is not ruling out running statewide. Should both of these men jump into the now open governor’s race, Republicans will almost certainly fill their vacated congressional districts.

For his part, outgoing Rep. Miller stated that he “hadn’t given [running for governor] the first thought,” but he also didn’t close the door on running. He added, however, that other qualified candidates are already jumping into the race.

In terms of statewide Democratic office holders, with the exception of Lt. Gov. Walter Dalton – who immediately declared his candidacy for governor and never even eliminated the possibility of launching a primary challenge to Purdue – each publicly ruled out embarking upon gubernatorial campaigns. Attorney General Roy Cooper, Secretary of State Elaine Marshall, and State Treasurer Janet Cowell all confirmed they are seeking re-election to their current positions.

It is clear that North Carolina is the Republicans’ best redistricting state. According to many analyses, the GOP has a strong chance to gain as many as four seats in the 13-member delegation, making the 2013-14 delegation split 10R-3D. Should both Shuler and McIntyre enter the governor’s race, such an outcome becomes a virtual lock.

The most likely scenario features Mr. Shuler becoming a gubernatorial candidate, but Mr. McIntyre either seeking re-election or retiring from the House. Yesterday’s decisions rocked North Carolina politics. Many more developments will soon be forthcoming.

Polls Show an Extremely Tight Florida Race

In Polling, Presidential campaign on January 26, 2012 at 11:44 am

A series of eight polls, all of which touch either Jan. 22 or 23 as part of their sampling period, again show an extremely close Florida presidential contest. This time the combatants are Republicans Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich and, as in the 2000 general election that saw the Sunshine State deciding the presidential campaign by just 537 votes, next Tuesday’s GOP primary could potentially be just as tight.

Of the eight surveys, four (American Research Group, CNN/Time, Quinnipiac University and We Ask America) show Mr. Romney holding a slight advantage. The ARG survey gives him a seven point edge, while the other three have him up two points apiece. One poll, a survey from the Florida Chamber of Commerce, has the candidates tied at 33 percent. Gingrich has slightly more substantial leads in three polls (Public Policy Polling, Rasmussen Reports, and Insider Advantage). In these studies, he is ahead of Romney by five, nine, and eight points, respectively.

The closing five days of the Florida race could well determine who places first and second on Tuesday, but with early voting already underway in earnest, the political crunch time may not pack such a decisive final blow.

A razor-thin Florida contest will likely change the race very little. The candidates will then head to Nevada, Michigan, and Arizona before Super Tuesday comes on March 6. Failing to see much separation, it is likely we will have to go all the way through April 24, when 70 percent of the delegates are apportioned to best determine the identity of the next Republican presidential nominee.

Florida is Just the Beginning of the Presidential Campaign

In Election Analysis, Presidential campaign on January 25, 2012 at 12:03 pm

Many commentators and analysts have been publicly alluding to a scenario where next Tuesday’s Florida primary perhaps ends the Republican presidential campaign. They believe that enough momentum could come from the Sunshine State vote, the biggest state to claim the electoral spotlight to date, that virtually all of the other candidates fall by the wayside.

Regardless of who wins Florida, it is very unlikely that such will be the case, and it all comes down to simple math. It takes 1,144 adjusted delegate votes to clinch the nomination. After Florida a mere 115 will be, for all intents and purposes, chosen; just 10 percent of the number required to win and only 5 percent of the total delegate universe.

The delegate number is so small during this first part of the election cycle, because many of the early states were penalized delegate slots for moving their nominating event. Florida started the musical chairs by shifting to Jan. 31, in violation of Republican National Committee rules. The action cost them 50% of their delegation. Florida is awarded 99 delegates, but post-penalty, the candidates are vying for only 50.

Because New Hampshire, South Carolina, Michigan and Arizona all moved up, they too, receive 50 percent penalties. Cumulatively, the penalized states lose an aggregate total of 143 delegate slots. Thus, the universe of Republican National Convention delegates is reduced from 2,429 to 2,286.

Through South Carolina, the projected delegate scorecard gives former House Speaker Newt Gingrich the lead with just 27 votes. Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney is second with 15 delegates, Rep. Ron Paul (R-TX-14) is third at 9, and ex-Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum is next with 6. Technically, Texas Gov. Rick Perry captured three delegates and former Obama Administration official Jon Huntsman won two, so it is likely these five votes will be released.

But even the status of these few votes is no certainty. As Rep. Paul stated in Monday night’s Florida debate, the Iowa Caucuses are not over. The vote on Jan. 3 was merely a straw poll. The main purpose of the precinct caucuses was to elect delegates to the county conventions. At those meetings, delegates are then sent to the June 16 state convention where the 28 Iowa Republican National Convention representatives finally will be chosen.

South Carolina also is not finished. Because the state apportions most of their delegates through the congressional districts, assignment cannot yet move forward because the new seven-seat congressional redistricting plan has not fully cleared all legal hurdles. When the districts are finalized, it appears that Gingrich will win Districts 2 thru 7. Romney carried CD-1. This means the former Speaker is projected to eventually receive 23 of the 25 available Palmetto State delegates.

Even through Super Tuesday (March 6), only 29 percent of the delegates will be chosen, suggesting that the nomination fight could go on for some time. Eighteen states will vote on or before Super Tuesday, holding a total of 664 delegate votes.

Many of the larger states are holding their elections later in the cycle in order to attract more attention and greater political capital. In fact, just seven states (California, Illinois, Missouri, New York, North Carolina, Pennsylvania and Texas) hold more cumulative delegate votes (670) than do all the states voting through the Super Tuesday informal benchmark.

It is not until the April 24 primaries when more than 70 percent of the total delegates are selected that a clear nominee will likely be chosen. Therefore, instead of places like Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina and Florida determining the Republican nominee, the states of New York, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Delaware and Connecticut now become the key venues, some three months after Floridians cast their ballots.

Based on the current results, prepare for a much longer contest than originally projected … and miles to go before we sleep.

Weekly Redistricting Roundup

In Redistricting on January 24, 2012 at 4:46 pm

Significant redistricting action occurred in the following seven states during the past week:

FLORIDA (current delegation: 19R-6D; gains two seats) – The Republican-controlled Florida Senate passed their 27-district congressional map during the past week. The measure would create several competitive districts meaning that Democrats will likely make some gains. The House of Representatives is considering their own congressional plan. At this point it is difficult to predict exactly what the legislature will produce. Because of the conflicts between the 2010 voter-approved initiative that adds new redistricting criteria and the Voting Rights Act, it is clear that the final plan will come before the liberal Florida State Supreme Court immediately after adoption. The Florida redistricting process still has a very long way to go.

KANSAS (current delegation: 4R) – In one of the last states to produce a map, the Kansas state Senate Reapportionment Committee released a new four-district plan that leaves the basic congressional footprint in tact. The biggest changes are in western District 1 (Rep. Tim Huelskamp-R) and Kansas City-based District 3 (Rep. Kevin Yoder-R). The 1st must gain 57,970 people and the 3rd must shed 54,289. The biggest change is putting the city of Manhattan, home to Kansas State University, into the 1st from the 2nd. The Speaker of the House is already expressing discontent with the plan, specifically as it relates to the placement of Manhattan, so this process is nowhere near completion.

KENTUCKY (current delegation: 4R-2D) – Negotiations between the Democratic House of Representatives and the Republican Senate over the six-district congressional plan have broken down. It is unclear if the two sides can reach agreement in time to avoid postponing the Jan. 31 candidate filing deadline. If the plan heads to court, which appears likely today, the filing deadline will certainly be postponed and the May 22 primary could be in jeopardy.

NORTH CAROLINA (current delegation: 7D-6R) – Now in court before a three judge state panel, North Carolina itself has won a significant redistricting-related ruling. The panel rejected a motion to move the May 8 primary to July 10 in order to allow the plaintiffs more time to argue their map rejection case. This suggests that the panel plans a quick ruling on all of the consolidated redistricting lawsuits.

TEXAS (current delegation: 23R-9D; gains four seats) – As part of their hearing of the Texas redistricting case, the US Supreme Court has rejected their own federal three-judge panel’s controversial map. This means the panel will have to redraw the 36 district congressional lines, with greater attention to the Supreme Court directives pertaining to minority districts and giving deference to the map that cleared the legislative process and Gov. Rick Perry signed into law. The ruling means the process will continue on for an extended period, and even the new April 3 primary date will likely be postponed again. Originally, the Texas primary was scheduled for Super Tuesday on March 6.

VIRGINIA (current delegation: 8R-3D) – The status quo 8R-3D congressional map passed the Virginia state Senate last week and now goes to Gov. Bob McDonnell (R) for his signature. Under the new draw, Reps. Gerry Connolly (D-VA-11) and Frank Wolf (R-VA-10) see their districts improve the most from their own personal perspectives. Connolly’s seat becomes eight points more Democratic; Wolf’s increases its Republican vote by seven. Both seats are in northern Virginia.

House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA-7) improves six points, while Rep. Jim Moran (D-VA-8) sees his Democratic number regress six points. Moran still maintains a politically safe district, however. The two marginal freshmen Republicans, Reps. Scott Rigell (R-VA-2) and Bob Hurt (R-VA-5) also improve, but not by much. Rigell’s new seat is three points more Republican, Hurt’s is two. It is likely the new map will protect the current 8R-3D configuration for at least the early part of the decade, but the aforementioned Republican seats (Districts 2, 5, and 10) could become highly competitive at a later point in time.

WEST VIRGINIA (current delegation: 2R-1D) – The US Supreme Court weighed in on the West Virginia lawsuit and will review the three judge federal panel’s action that stayed implementation of the congressional map for population equalization reasons. The Supreme Court hearing schedule, however, virtually ensures that the 2012 elections will occur in the legislatively-passed districts. If the Supreme Court orders changes to the plan, such will occur in 2013 and will be in effect for future elections. Therefore, for 2012, West Virginia returns to the redistricting completed category. The plan favors all three current incumbents: Reps. David McKinley (R-WV-1), Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV-2), and Nick Rahall (D-WV-3) in the sense that it doesn’t change the current footprint. The 1st District, in particular, is expected to remain competitive.

Arizona Rep. Giffords to Resign; The Road Ahead

In Election Analysis, House on January 24, 2012 at 1:38 pm

The senseless shooting of Arizona Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-AZ-8) a little more than one year ago has now led to her leaving Congress, as announced in an emotional video to supporters and her constituents. She will attend tonight’s State of the Union message, but then officially leave the House later this week and return home to Tucson to continue her recovery.

Once the resignation becomes official, Gov. Jan Brewer (R) has only 72 hours to schedule a replacement special election. Based upon Arizona election code requirements in relation to the timing of the vacancy, the nominating contest will be in mid to late April (within 80 to 90 days of the official date of vacancy) with the special general in June (within 50 to 60 days after the special primary). The vote will occur within the current 8th District boundaries, which is slightly more favorable to Republicans than the post-redistricting Tucson-based 2nd District, re-numbered as such by the Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission. In 2010, Rep. Giffords won re-election in a tight 49-47 percent contest over Iraq War veteran Jesse Kelly.

Expect a large number of Democrats and Republicans to run in the marginal open seat race. Five Republicans, including Kelly and state Sen. Frank Antenori, have already indicated their interest in becoming a candidate for the new 2nd District, so it is assumed that they will participate in the special election. Several state legislators are Democratic potential candidates. The winner will serve only to the end of the current Congress. It is assumed the victor will run in the regular new 2nd District election, meaning he or she will endure four elections (two primaries, two generals) over a period of eight months.

With Newt Gingrich’s Win in South Carolina, Now What?

In Election Analysis, Presidential campaign on January 23, 2012 at 12:52 pm

Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich’s strong 40-28 percent victory over former Gov. Mitt Romney in Saturday’s South Carolina primary means the Republican presidential nomination fight is far from being decided. The 40 percent total represented the largest winning percentage thus far in the campaign, topping Romney’s showing in the New Hampshire primary (39 percent).

Turnout was a record high for an individual party. The 2008 Democratic primary, featuring then-senators Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, topped 532,000 ballots cast. That year more than 443,000 also voted on the Republican side. On Saturday, GOP voter participation broke the 600,000 threshold.

The evening proved to be a disappointment for both former Sen. Rick Santorum and Rep. Ron Paul (R-TX-14). Both had hoped to do better. Santorum needed to at least finish a close third to realistically continue performing as a first tier candidate, but tallied only 17 percent of the South Carolina vote. Following Santorum was Rep. Paul with 13 percent. The congressman stated publicly he was hoping for a strong third place finish. Gingrich won 43 of the state’s 46 counties and Romney three, while both Santorum and Paul were shut-out.

Mr. Gingrich again rebounded from what appeared to be a relentless downward spiral based upon his Iowa and New Hampshire finishes. Every other candidate in this race, once they began to fall, never recovered. As we saw in South Carolina over the weekend, Gingrich has now bounced back twice, once from his staffing debacle at the start of his presidential campaign, and now, overcoming the negative ad barrage that damaged him in Iowa and New Hampshire.

Additionally, South Carolina may have given us the first practical test of the theory that a conservative who can isolate Romney in a two-way race beats him, irrespective of who may be that individual. Since the Palmetto State vote is the first instance where the campaign winnowed down into basically a two-candidate race, the theory, at least as exemplified during this past weekend, appears to have legs.

We also have the underpinnings of a nomination fight that could soldier on for a long while, or at least through the end of April when more than two-thirds of the delegates will be apportioned. With Gingrich’s victory in South Carolina, three candidates have now won nominating events: Santorum in the Iowa Caucuses Romney in the New Hampshire primary, and now the former Speaker during this past weekend.

Projecting forward from the progression of events just passed, let’s try to project what comes next in Florida on Jan. 31? As the party leaders had hoped for when they accepted reducing the size of their delegation by half for the right to vote before Super Tuesday (March 6), Florida could determine who wins the nomination. Not only will it be the first big state to host a nominating event, but a victory by either Romney or Gingrich could send the other two candidates, Paul and Santorum, out of the race. Santorum’s departure would have a greater effect because his constituency will almost assuredly go to Gingrich as their second choice.

The Florida vote will answer the following questions: Will Gingrich have generated enough momentum in South Carolina to win a big state primary? Will Romney’s superior financial resources and campaign management team return him to the winner’s circle in what could become the most important of states? Will Paul and Santorum drop out if they again finish poorly? Will an eventual two-way contest between Gingrich and Romney favor the former Speaker despite his carrying substantial personal and political baggage? The answers to these and many other race-defining queries will be uncovered to at least some degree when people from Pensacola to Key West cast their ballots in eight days. Stay tuned.