February 7 Caucuses: Game Change?

Steve McCann
Thus far, the hallmark of the 2012 Republican primary season is voter apathy, with the exception of one state: South Carolina.  It is generally acknowledged, particularly among the Republican base, that this election is the most important in the past century, yet there appears to be little or no enthusiasm for the current slate of candidates in an election many people consider the most crucial in over a century.

Through seven caucuses and primaries (Missouri excluded, as Gingrich was not on the ballot, and no delegates were awarded), the overall number of voters participating is down by 150,000 as compared to this point in the 2008 election cycle, when the nation's circumstances were much better and Barack Obama was a long shot for the Democratic nomination.

Here is a comparison:


          2008 Vote

         2012 Vote

   Percent Difference

Iowa  (Caucus)

           118,696

           121,185

          + 2.1  %

New Hampshire

           239,033

           245,044

          + 2.5

South Carolina

           431,196

           590,530

          +38.0

Florida

        1,949,498

        1,648,034

          -15.5

Nevada  (Caucus)

             44,324

             32,895

          -25.6

Colorado (Caucus)

             56,027

             65,535

         +17.0

Minnesota (Caucus)

             62,837

             47,696

          -24.1


       TOTAL


        2,901,611


         2,750,919


           -5.1%

Mitt Romney has won the New Hampshire and Florida primaries and the Nevada caucus.  Newt Gingrich won the South Carolina primary.  Rick Santorum won in Iowa, Colorado, and Minnesota (all caucus states).  In terms of total votes received:

Romney: 1,117,164; Gingrich: 836,360; Santorum:   429,216

What conclusions can be drawn at this point in the primary process?

  1. Romney won in New Hampshire, which in many ways is the equivalent of his home state.  While he won in Florida, where his scorched-earth campaign succeeded in derailing Gingrich, by a comfortable margin, this tactic turned off many subsequent voters.  Further, with the exception of the Nevada caucus, which included a substantial Mormon vote, Romney seems to do poorly in a caucus states, with their low participation rate so dependent on voter enthusiasm.
  2. Gingrich did extraordinarily well in South Carolina, as he boosted voter turnout by a large margin.  His tenacity and fighting spirit as well as his conservative accomplishments created a tidal wave of enthusiasm in the last days of the contest.  However, in Florida, while being outspent by five to one and the target of over 13,000 negative TV ads, he failed to promote the same persona that won South Carolina and was therefore easily defined by the Romney campaign.
  3. Santorum has benefited from the fallout of the Florida campaign and the personal attacks on Gingrich, as he now presents himself as the last viable conservative standing.  However, he has won only in caucus states, with their traditional very low turnout.  Santorum has been able, by means of one-on-one campaigning, to do well in creating enthusiasm among a core constituency willing to vote in the various caucuses.  On the other hand, he has not done well at all in those states with primaries.

In a word, the Republican nominating process is in limbo.  Romney has the money and the organization but limited acceptance from grassroots Republicans and conservatives.  Gingrich has shown that he can appeal to a wide audience and have a positive message, but he cannot stay on that message and often wanders off into petulance and negativity.  Santorum has not shown any ability to connect with a wide audience and have the charisma to appeal to the broad American electorate.  Ron Paul has and will continue to have a core constituency in hand, but he cannot get beyond those devout followers.

Over the next four weeks, these three challengers -- Romney, Gingrich, and Santorum -- must, with conviction, tell the people why they want to be the president; stop the incessant negative attacks on each other; and begin to tell not only the voters in the Republican primary process, but the nation as a whole how they plan to solve the U.S.'s problems.

Thus far, the hallmark of the 2012 Republican primary season is voter apathy, with the exception of one state: South Carolina.  It is generally acknowledged, particularly among the Republican base, that this election is the most important in the past century, yet there appears to be little or no enthusiasm for the current slate of candidates in an election many people consider the most crucial in over a century.

Through seven caucuses and primaries (Missouri excluded, as Gingrich was not on the ballot, and no delegates were awarded), the overall number of voters participating is down by 150,000 as compared to this point in the 2008 election cycle, when the nation's circumstances were much better and Barack Obama was a long shot for the Democratic nomination.

Here is a comparison:


          2008 Vote

         2012 Vote

   Percent Difference

Iowa  (Caucus)

           118,696

           121,185

          + 2.1  %

New Hampshire

           239,033

           245,044

          + 2.5

South Carolina

           431,196

           590,530

          +38.0

Florida

        1,949,498

        1,648,034

          -15.5

Nevada  (Caucus)

             44,324

             32,895

          -25.6

Colorado (Caucus)

             56,027

             65,535

         +17.0

Minnesota (Caucus)

             62,837

             47,696

          -24.1


       TOTAL


        2,901,611


         2,750,919


           -5.1%

Mitt Romney has won the New Hampshire and Florida primaries and the Nevada caucus.  Newt Gingrich won the South Carolina primary.  Rick Santorum won in Iowa, Colorado, and Minnesota (all caucus states).  In terms of total votes received:

Romney: 1,117,164; Gingrich: 836,360; Santorum:   429,216

What conclusions can be drawn at this point in the primary process?

  1. Romney won in New Hampshire, which in many ways is the equivalent of his home state.  While he won in Florida, where his scorched-earth campaign succeeded in derailing Gingrich, by a comfortable margin, this tactic turned off many subsequent voters.  Further, with the exception of the Nevada caucus, which included a substantial Mormon vote, Romney seems to do poorly in a caucus states, with their low participation rate so dependent on voter enthusiasm.
  2. Gingrich did extraordinarily well in South Carolina, as he boosted voter turnout by a large margin.  His tenacity and fighting spirit as well as his conservative accomplishments created a tidal wave of enthusiasm in the last days of the contest.  However, in Florida, while being outspent by five to one and the target of over 13,000 negative TV ads, he failed to promote the same persona that won South Carolina and was therefore easily defined by the Romney campaign.
  3. Santorum has benefited from the fallout of the Florida campaign and the personal attacks on Gingrich, as he now presents himself as the last viable conservative standing.  However, he has won only in caucus states, with their traditional very low turnout.  Santorum has been able, by means of one-on-one campaigning, to do well in creating enthusiasm among a core constituency willing to vote in the various caucuses.  On the other hand, he has not done well at all in those states with primaries.

In a word, the Republican nominating process is in limbo.  Romney has the money and the organization but limited acceptance from grassroots Republicans and conservatives.  Gingrich has shown that he can appeal to a wide audience and have a positive message, but he cannot stay on that message and often wanders off into petulance and negativity.  Santorum has not shown any ability to connect with a wide audience and have the charisma to appeal to the broad American electorate.  Ron Paul has and will continue to have a core constituency in hand, but he cannot get beyond those devout followers.

Over the next four weeks, these three challengers -- Romney, Gingrich, and Santorum -- must, with conviction, tell the people why they want to be the president; stop the incessant negative attacks on each other; and begin to tell not only the voters in the Republican primary process, but the nation as a whole how they plan to solve the U.S.'s problems.