Congratulations, America: you survived January of 2012, along with its four super-hyped primaries and its eleventy-billion debates. Your reward? A snoozy February, with some primaries and caucuses that will not draw the same level of media attention and only one debate scheduled between now and March. That's good news for everyone -- especially if you are named "Mitt Romney."
Yes, this week, as expected, Mitt won the Florida Primary in a rout, and successfully "altered" the "narrative" and "changed" the "complexion" of the race. Again. And he did it the new-fashioned way: he had his super PAC minions carpetbomb the Sunshine State into oblivion, with wave after wave of toxic attack ads on his closest rival, Newt Gingrich. The end result? Romney is once again looking like the inevitable nominee, and Gingrich is once again looking for a venue in which he can win between now and Super Tuesday.
Numbers from CMAG show a total of 11,586 television spots aired in Florida between Jan. 23 and Jan. 29. Of those spots, 10,633 were negative and 953 were positive.
Of the 1,012 spots Newt Gingrich's campaign ran, 95 percent were negative. Mitt Romney's campaign ran 3,276 ads and 99 percent were negative.
The two super PACs supporting the top candidates were more divergent in their ad strategies. Restore our Future, supporting Romney, ran 4,969 spots, all of which were negative. The Gingrich-backing Winning our Future ran 1,893 spots, and only 53 percent were negative.
Correspondingly, the bulk of ads in Florida -- 68 percent -- were negative toward Gingrich. Twenty-three percent were anti-Romney spots. Gingrich got support from 9 percent of ads while pro-Romney spots accounted for less than 0.1 percent.
Check out that last data point. Romney and his super PAC ran over 8,000 ads in Florida, and hardly any of them even attempted to make a pro-Romney case! This is pretty remarkable considering that, four years ago, the eventual nominee, John McCain, was heavy on hagiography and inspiration. The new era of super PACs has changed everything. Romney didn't even need to make an affirmative case for himself in Florida. He just dropped thousands of negative ads and obliterated his competition, as easy as pressing the "smart bomb" button on the old Defender arcade game.
This underscores something we've already said about the Romney campaign: the more they are able to keep the most annoying thing about the Mitt Romney campaign -- Mitt Romney himself -- out of sight, the better they do. They're great at pummeling the competition, defending Romney's record and pivoting to the general election matchup with President Barack Obama as if it's pre-ordained. Things only start to go wrong when Romney does things like "meet people" or "speak in public." That's when he starts doing stupid things like making five-figure bets with Rick Perry, or describing the pleasure he takes from firing people, or...you know, saying things like, "I’m not concerned with the very poor."
It says a lot about how confident the Romney team is about their chances that they were willing to let Mitt do something as transcendentally stupid as accept an endorsement from Donald Trump. After all, standing on a stage with Trump is only going to point out every vulture-clown capitalist image you can call to mind. What's more, Trump's endorsement isn't worth anything -- as Ana Marie Cox points out today:
Polling shows Trump a net drag on any chosen candidate. In September, Fox found that it would make people 31 percent less likely to vote for someone, with 62 percent saying it would make no difference at all. Before the New Hampshire primary, an NBC poll found that a Trump endorsement would have a negative impact on 42 percent of that state's voters. A Pew poll found a Trump endorsement to have the most negative impact of any given by leading GOP figures.
The only explanation is that Romney's campaign team is so sure of themselves that they needed to do something a little self-destructive, just to make things exciting.
Maybe they'll pay for their hubris. Gingrich and Rick Santorum have both vowed to continue their campaigns, and if you're Ron Paul, you're really only getting started on the campaign strategy you've mapped out for yourself. Newt will tell you that he -- like Reagan -- has been counted out before, only to somehow re-emerge. For Santorum, the road ahead takes him to states where he might end up being Mitt's closest competition. Romney's technique of dumping gallons of acid on the airwaves may work in the short term, but it constantly courts a backlash from voters who are sick of the filth.
Most importantly, February offers all of these candidates a chance to take a breath, rethink and regroup. Unfortunately, February also offers the opportunity to be forgotten. For everything you'll want to remember from this week on the campaign trail, please enter the Speculatron for Feb. 3, 2012.
Mitt Romney managed to go from his biggest primary season setback in South Carolina to his biggest primary season win in Florida, in a manner of days. And the win was as complete as it could be. Exit polls showed Romney up in many significant demographic segments, taking Gingrich's natural constituents away from him and re-asserting himself as the most "electable" candidate. And all it took was drowning the state of Florida in a relentless wave of toxic attack ads, funded by super PAC dollars, including one ad that simply regurgitated an NBC News report -- somewhat dishonestly! -- that had NBC crying foul. Hey, and everything might have just gone perfectly for the returning front-runner, had he not gone on teevee and said: "I'm not concerned with the very poor. We have a safety net there. If it needs repair, I'll fix it. I'm not concerned about the very rich, they're doing just fine." (Of course, the very rich are doing quite well. Romney would know -- they're all donating to his campaign and funding his attack ads.) Of course: Duh. No kidding, Mitt Romney doesn't care about the very poor, because they are doing fine, in their safety net. But you're not supposed to say this out loud. Just like you're not supposed to say, "I like firing people" and "I'll bet you $10,000" out loud when you are trying to be a "champion" of the "middle class," who are all out of work. Saying these things out loud also invites this sort of analysis, from Jonathan Chait: The poor have a safety net, so they're less deserving of help than the middle class (which, of course, has a safety net as well, but never mind that.) Why does Romney say this? He wants to inoculate himself from the charge that his program would disproportionately help the rich. (A charge that happens to be true, but never mind that, either.) But disclaiming any intention of helping the rich is dangerous stuff in a Republican primary. So he has to balance it off by disclaiming any intention of helping the poor, either. The rich and poor -- both doing great! Romney's remarks didn't play well with anyone, including with the GOP allies he'd like to finally win over -- like Senator and Tea Party don Jim DeMint, who said Romney needed to "backtrack" immediately. (Of course, DeMint's "backtrack" demands are coupled with a demand that Romney shred that safety net, as well.) Of course, as Matt Yglesias points out, Romney and DeMint are already fairly aligned on that score: if you read Romney's policy agenda what he appears to think about the social safety net for the poor is that it should be drastically curtailed. He proposes the following five points: --Immediately cut nonsecurity discretionary spending by 5 percent. --Reform and restructure Medicaid as block grant to states. --Align wages and benefits of government workers with market rates. --Reduce federal workforce by 10 percent via attrition. --Undertake fundamental restructuring of government programs and services. In other words he wants to cut the safety net, cut the health care part of the safety net, muck around with the federal workforce, and then cut the non-health care part of the safety net. To further clarify, he states that he "will immediately move to cut spending and cap it at 20 percent of GDP" while increasing defense spending. Which is to say he wants to cut social safety net spending. What's more "as spending comes under control, he will pursue further cuts that would allow caps to be set even lower so as to guarantee future fiscal stability," thus cutting social safety net spending even further. There's nothing remarkable about this, really, since I don't think most Americans assume that cutting spending on poor people is what Republicans are all about. But it's extremely strange for Romney to be running on agenda of sharp cuts to the social safety net while citing the safety net's existence as a key reason to be indifferent to the plight of the poor. If Romney took a look around Nevada, he'd see plenty of evidence that the safety net is not as strong as he thinks it is. Moreover, most of the "middle class" of whom Romney casts himself as the champion is one bad "financial shock" away from needing that safety net as well. (It's somewhat problematic that Romney's policies would exacerbate this condition, rather than alleviating it.) Of course, Romney has done what he can to walk back the damage these remarks did to him over the week. Still, it's going to be fun to see all of those attack ads that run his "I'm not concerned about the very poor" line without any of the surrounding context. But then, Romney has already said such ads are completely above board -- Romney does adore lying -- so he'll just have to learn to live with it. Of course, that's a general election concern. For the time being, his path to the nomination looks bright. He's way up in Nevada, Arizona and Michigan. All it took to win the endorsement of Puerto Rico Governor Luis Fortuno was to back statehood, so he'll win that primary handily as well. And in the swing states, he's the only 2012er left in the GOP race who competes with Obama in the swing states. But there are troubling signs ahead, the most significant being an "enthusiasm gap." As the AP reported: Voter turnout numbers are pointing to a potential enthusiasm deficit for Republican presidential front-runner Mitt Romney. In the four states to vote so far in the GOP nominating race, turnout has been strongest where people were energized to vote for somebody else. In Florida, where Romney grabbed a commanding 46 percent of the vote this week, overall turnout was down significantly from four years ago. A county-by-county look at the Florida numbers shows that turnout was up from four years ago in counties where rival Newt Gingrich did well and down in counties where Romney dominated, according to Michael McDonald, a professor at George Mason University who runs the United States Elections Project to track election data. And Brian Beutler noted that winning Florida required Romney to "inch away from conservative movement dogma for the first time since he began his candidacy." And while he was inching away from conservatism, he was bizarrely inching toward Donald Trump, who staged a public endorsement of Romney this week, after rumors that Trump was going to endorse Newt Gingrich subsided. That Romney opted to kiss Trump's ring defies all explanation -- his immediate road ahead is smooth sailing, he already has a slew of more serious and significant endorsements, and Trump's support doesn't actually get you anything but a big spotlight on your earlier comment that you're "not concerned about the very poor." Moreover, Trump's endorsement is, for voters, something of a kiss of death. In addition, Trump had also previously derided Romney to anyone who was willing to listen, so it seems crazy that the people who run Romney's campaign couldn't figure out what a bad idea this was. More than anything else, it shows that Romney is just as susceptible to falling into the vortex of cray-cray as anyone else in the field.
Newt Gingrich said, on the eve of the Florida Primary, that the result was going to prove to be very close. LOL, it was not. At all. Though it was perhaps closer than, say, the distance between the Earth and Newt's imaginary moonbase state of child janitors, the Romney victory was wide enough to halt the Newtmentum and send the former speaker crying to the authorities in an attempt to get Florida to award their delegates proportionally. There seem to have been a number of factors in play that caused Gingrich's defeat. In the first place, voters were reminded of the fact that Newt has "baggage." This came about because the GOP establishment went out and dropped a bunch of anvils on Newt's head from the op-ed pages, and Mitt Romney's super PAC spent several gazillion dollars destroying Newt in campaign ads. In addition, Newt was endorsed by Herman Cain, which was unfortunate, and Sarah Palin's strategic endorsement failed to move the needle in Florida like it did in South Carolina. (Her admonition, "Annoy a liberal and vote Newt" probably managed to remind people that the only candidate liberals fear is Mitt Romney. She should really find a new way of framing that.) So now Gingrich is faced with the task of mounting another comeback. He's certainly making all the right proclamations. He's looking forward to Super Tuesday! He's determined to fight! His campaign is urging people to watch the debates ... the debates that are ... no longer happening? John Heileman says that Gingrich has reached the stage where he is "mad and mental" -- and not just because he wants Brad Pitt to play him in the movie of his life: Pledges to continue the fight unabated in the face of harsh and/or humiliating outcomes are staples of presidential campaigns. And they are also patently meaningless. (Please recall Jon Huntsman's feigned brio on the night of the New Hampshire primary -- and his departure from the race a few days later.) But in Gingrich's case, he might be serious, so much has he come to despise Romney and the Republican Establishment that has brought down on him a twenty-ton shithammer in Florida, and so convinced is he of his own Churchillian greatness and world-historical destiny. The same antic, manic, lunatic bloody-mindedness that has made him such a rotten candidate in the Sunshine State may be enough to keep him in the race a good long time. We only wish we could use the phrase "20-Ton Shithammer" in a headline about Gingrich. But the point is well taken. Gingrich told ABC News this week that they should expect the race to go on "six or eight months," unless of course "Romney drops out earlier." Because that's what it looks like might happen! Meanwhile ... eight months? Well, that takes us up to the Republican convention, doesn't it? Indeed it does. And that's why people are now anticipating that Gingrich will attempt to unleash some sort of outer-space Ragnarok on the primary process. It helps that his hate for Romney is bottomless. As Newt tells it, Mittens is a character-deficient serial-lying liberal who hates the poor and the Founding Fathers and who loves being a bagman for Goldman Sachs when he's not declaring war on religion and denying old Jewish ladies their kosher victuals. And he's just getting started. Gingrich has also declared war on reporters and their insistence on always moderating debates. He's vowed to not participate in any general election debates in which the moderator is a reporter, which is typically ... all of them! So look for Gingrich to spend the fall debating in a closet at home, against no one, as the rest of the country pays attention to the actual news. The truth is, Newt Gingrich is going to really miss the media, now that budgetary constraints have all the big organizations dialing back on the campaign trail. As John Ellis pointed out on BuzzFeed: This is how it ends for Newt Gingrich. On the day after the South Carolina primary, he had two busloads of reporters, bloggers and electronic media types following his every word. Tomorrow, he won't need two buses. He'll be lucky if the seats are filled on one. Presidential candidates survive on the oxygen of media coverage. It's what keeps them going, enables them to keep raising money. Once the coverage is withdrawn, it's only a matter of time before their candidacies expire. Out of sight, out of mind, out of money. But could Gingrich mount a comeback? Alex Burns does his best to compile the ways in which it might work: If Gingrich can narrow his message down to a few big proposals -- instead of a garbage truck's worth of medium-sized ones -- he'll have a chance of re-engaging conservative voters, and drawing a sharper contrast with the cautious policy platform Romney has put forward, which has failed to inspire the right. Okay ... but Newt really does love his garbage truck! Another thing that would make for good television: Gingrich stalking Romney around the country and calling him a wimp for ducking more debates. Sure, so long as no one notices the irony of there not being enough money or will to actually televise these debates! The more Gingrich tars Romney as one of "them" instead of one of "us," the uglier the primary campaign will be -- and the better a chance Gingrich will have of prevailing against an opponent whose discomfort in talking about both his wealth and his faith make him a remote figure for many Republicans. That sounds more likely. Here comes the shithammer, America!
Rick Santorum's efforts to win the Florida Primary came to an unexpected halt when his daughter, Bella -- who suffers from a genetic disorder -- had to be hospitalized Saturday night after developing pneumonia. By the end of the weekend, Bella was in the clear, and Santorum -- buoyed by an outpouring of good will that he says came from all ends of the political spectrum -- was back in the race. But not back in Florida. Instead, Santorum took his campaign westward, hoping to get a jump ahead of the competition in Nevada. As the Santorum campaign heads into the next month, they've managed to amass something of a war chest. And he's picked up some endorsements -- from Sharron Angle and Tom Tancredo. Of course, the utility of this support is limited. What Angle and Tancredo have in common is that their last electoral misadventures are best known for boosting the hopes of Democrats: Angle's extreme positions wrecked the best chance the GOP's had in years for knocking off Harry Reid, and Tancredo's scorched-earth campaign against the Colorado GOP ensured that John Hickenlooper would assume the Colorado statehouse in an effort-free election. Nevertheless, both are better endorsers than Donald Trump, so ... you know -- upside. Santorum is getting more cheesed off than ever at Gingrich's continual suggestion that he get out of the race. And it's not for nothing -- the primary contests ahead may be more favorable to Santorum than they will be for Newt Gingrich. It's got Bill Kristol hoping that Santorum might become the Romney alternative he's been desperately seeking: What if Santorum does as well or better than Gingrich in the Nevada caucuses Saturday, or in the Minnesota and Colorado caucuses next Tuesday? What if Santorum is competitive with Romney in the Missouri beauty contest primary next Tuesday, where Gingrich isn't on the ballot? Couldn't non-Romney voters begin to move nationally from Gingrich to Santorum? Couldn't populist and Tea Party leaders like Sarah Palin do so as well? In the Gallup tracking poll today, Gingrich is at 28 percent, Romney at 27, and Santorum at 17. Romney will surely move up several points over the next few days -- but couldn't Gingrich fall enough and Santorum rise enough that Santorum's number approaches or passes Gingrich? Couldn't Santorum move into second place? In sum: Could we be heading towards a Romney-Santorum contest on February 28 in Michigan and Arizona, and then in March and beyond? Romney would certainly be a strong favorite in such a contest, given his lead in votes, delegates, money and organization. But wouldn't Santorum ultimately have a better chance than Gingrich to upset Romney, even if it's still a slim one? It sounds pretty compelling until you remember that this is Bill Kristol saying this and he is comically and epically wrong about almost everything. So, actually, Rick Santorum is probably doomed.
Now that the South Carolina and Florida primaries are in the books, Ron Paul's campaign is entering a transition period and the proving ground in Nevada. The contests between now and Super Tuesday are precisely the sorts of challenges that Paul's outfit has been preparing for. If his organization is going to demonstrate the sort of strength it's been hinting at, February could be a fruitful month. Of course, who knows? Florida could end up being rewarding as well. Newt Gingrich, who finished second in Florida, is mulling a challenge to the rules Florida set ahead of its primary that mandate a winner-take-all finish. If Gingrich succeeds in his suit and Florida is forced to dole out its delegates proportionally, Paul will snag from five to six for himself. Given the minimal amount of effort that Paul expended in the Sunshine State, those would be some of the easiest delegates he ever obtained. It's hard to beat a benefit arising from the work someone else is doing. And it's not just Gingrich who's doing Paul a solid. The Romney campaign has apparently formed a quiet alliance with Paul's operation as well. As Amy Gardner reports in the Washington Post: Despite deep differences on a range of issues, Romney and Paul became friends in 2008, the last time both ran for president. So did their wives, Ann Romney and Carol Paul. The former Massachusetts governor compliments the Texas congressman during debates, praising Paul's religious faith during the last one, in Jacksonville, Fla. Immediately afterward, as is often the case, the Pauls and the Romneys gravitated toward one another to say hello. The Romney-Paul alliance is more than a curious connection. It is a strategic partnership: for Paul, an opportunity to gain a seat at the table if his long-shot bid for the presidency fails; for Romney, a chance to gain support from one of the most vibrant subgroups within the Republican Party. Of course, the media continue to be a fair-weather friend to Paul. Now that the excitement of the primary season is ebbing and the torrent of debates has slowed to a trickle, Paul is going to have to operate out of the spotlight. In many ways, that's bad -- a new slew of articles detailing Paul's caucus strategy came out this week, indicating that nobody had really bothered to pay attention to what he's been doing until now. But in other ways, the lack of campaign embeds is benefitting Paul. Last Friday, the Washington Post landed the Ron Paul newsletters scoop that everyone's been trying to obtain for the past four years: The Republican presidential candidate has denied writing inflammatory passages in the pamphlets from the 1990s and said recently that he did not read them at the time or for years afterward. Numerous colleagues said he does not hold racist views. But people close to Paul's operations said he was deeply involved in the company that produced the newsletters, Ron Paul & Associates, and closely monitored its operations, signing off on articles and speaking to staff members virtually every day. "It was his newsletter, and it was under his name, so he always got to see the final product. ... He would proof it,'' said Renae Hathway, a former secretary in Paul's company and a supporter of the Texas congressman's. Yep, that's a current Paul supporter, by name, attesting to the fact that Paul knew what was up with his inflammatory newsletters when they were being produced. But with the spotlight gone, this was the tree falling in the woods with no one around to hear it. Not that it matters at this point. If you search the world over, you're more likely to encounter a Pinta Island tortoise than an ex-Ron Paul supporter, and there's no newsletter revelation that's going to change that at this point. And hey, all of that is mitigated significantly by Snoop Dogg's Ron Paul endorsement, right? Oh well, no matter: Paul said very declaratively this week that there is "zero chance" that he's quitting the race.
For Buddy Roemer, just about any attention is good right now. And it helps that when he gets a spotlight, he maintains the sort of positive disposition he demonstrates in a recent profile in GQ: He declares pretty much everything -- his support base, the Occupy movement, a speech he gave in front of the Chinese Embassy -- to be awesome. ("It's awesome!" or "It was awesome!" or "Just awesome!") He is sitting on the edge of his seat, blue eyes flashing, his greying eyebrows arched high above his wire-framed glasses, so emphatic that every quote ends in exclamation. His breadth is both exhaustive and exhausting, and we continue on like this, unspooling bits of information as we go. On Romney: "The one percent!" And Gingrich: "The lobbyist for the one percent!" On his first legislative priorities as president: "HB 1 campaign reform, HB 2 fair trade, HB 3 energy independence, HB 4 tax reform!" On his cabinet: "It'd be white and black, man and woman. It'd look like America -- it's young and old, people who know how to tweet, people who don't know how to spell it!" On the Occupy Wall Street movement: "I love young people, I learn so much, I went to Occupy Wall Street, Occupy DC, Occupy New Hampshire, Occupy Boston -- just to listen! I didn't call them up and say here I come, I just went to listen, and they gathered around. It was awesome!" Another fun fact we learned from GQ -- though it should not be a surprise to regular Speculatron readers -- is that while Roemer typically picks up some of those $100-maximum donations whenever he appears on teevee, the "best shows for fundraising ... are 'The Daily Show' and 'The Colbert Report,' where the candidate has appeared to critique the campaign finance system." But the best avenue to getting Roemer on the ballot remains the Americans Elect organization and all of its attendant sketchiness. If there's anything that's causing Roemer to agonize during a campaign that's basically been -- well, screw it, we'll take his word for it and just assume it's been "awesome!" -- it's the knowledge that getting in bed with Americans Elect could force him to make a serious compromise in principles. In his meeting with Americans Elect Chairman Peter Ackerman, CEO Khalil Byrd and strategic adviser Darry Sragow, Roemer, who was in LA for an appearance on "Real Time with Bill Maher," reiterated his belief that the group should disclose the source of its funding, but said the leaders didn't budge on that issue. Roemer said that Ackerman made the point that the money is only being used to gain ballot access and create the voting infrastructure and not to fund the campaign of the eventual nominee. Roemer said Ackerman told him: "This is not a third party, this is a unity platform, this is a one- or two- or three-times thing to set this country back level. I like it. I like the hell out of it. It kind of fits my reform personality." The question, said Roemer, who is not accepting contributions of greater than $100 and touting transparency, is whether he can "harness the platform, without full disclosure, with a campaign that demands full disclosure." We sort of see Roemer breaking faith to potentially get ballot access as a secondary problem. The real troubling thing with the Americans Elect crowd is that the organization retains the right to overrule the will of the people who sign up to select a candidate. This not only makes their entire purported mission bogus, but it impacts Roemer specifically in a significant way: who actually believes that an organization that can opt-out of their organizations' selected candidate won't do so if Roemer manages to "win" the Americans Elect online primary? Roemer's campaign is all about getting shady money out of politics. Americans Elect is all about injecting more shady money into politics. This is a match that's just never going to work, and if anyone at Americans Elect was honest, they'd just tell Roemer right now that their points of view are inalterably incompatible.
Former New Mexico Gov. Gary Johnson (R) got some rough treatment as a candidate for the GOP nomination. Being denied access to debate opportunities was a constant source of frustration, and Johnson, whose typical demeanor is wide-eyed, good-humored and affable, wore down under the continual angst of trying to make it out onto the same stage as super-serious political figures like Herman Cain. Now that he's gone over to the Libertarian party, it seems that Johnson's good spirits have returned. Per Mike Colapietro: "For me this is like coming out of the closet, it's really refreshing," Johnson said, adding, "I don't have to defend Republican dogma anymore." Which means he's free to do things like make his case to the American Civil Liberties Union, which he did this week, in an all-around success. Naturally, Johnson fits in well with the ACLU rank-and-file: he opposes the PATRIOT ACT and the war on drugs with a similar fervor. But on this occasion, Johnson used charm and honesty to win over the crowd. As Mike Riggs reported (go read the whole thing, no one has a better feel for Johnson than Riggs does), Johnson charmed the attendees, and did an especially nice job drawing distinctions between himself and the more-celebrated libertarian, Ron Paul: "I don't think that Ron Paul is going to win the Republican nomination. For the most part, we are talking about the same message, but we do have differences. And when he drops out, or finds an end to the Republican primary, I don't see this agenda moving forward," Johnson said. "And I think it's important to point out differences between myself and Ron Paul. I don't support building a fence across the border, I do support gay marriage equality, I do believe in a strong national defense. I do believe in our alliance with Israel, for example. And I think military alliances are key to reducing military spending by 43 percent and still provide for a strong national defense. And I believe in a woman's right to choose." The crowd went nuts over that last one. Johnson's reward? He's got more people taking his campaign very seriously. Nate Nelson at United Liberty said that Johnson "could be a problem" for the rest of the field: On the one hand, Johnson built a very solid fiscal and economic record as Governor of New Mexico -- which could appeal to Paul supporters and other Republicans as well as right-leaning independents who may feel disaffected if Romney, Gingrich, or Santorum wins the GOP nomination. On the other hand, there are some remarkable differences between Johnson and Paul that could help him succeed in appealing to the more left-leaning so-called "liberaltarians" and even some non-libertarian progressive Democrats and independents whom Paul has so far failed to win over. It's unlikely in the extreme that Johnson will win the presidential election. The electoral game is too rigged against third parties and, besides, the Libertarian Party's dysfunctional nomination process will officially put him into the general election campaign far too late for him to assemble the kind of grassroots movement he'd need to win. But Johnson could well be a problem for both major parties. He could be competitive in his home state and throughout the Southwest, which could make the race for some pivotal swing states even more interesting than usual. In other words, he could play the role of spoiler in the upcoming general election even better than Ralph Nader did in 2000, and it should scare the pants off both Republicans and Democrats that it's still unclear whose campaign he could spoil. Matthew Reece of the Charlotte Libertarian Examiner agreed, saying Johnson "is likely to be a far larger and stronger player in the 2012 election than anyone in the establishment media currently believes." It seems that Johnson is well on his way to getting libertarians to stop dreaming of the Ron Paul third party run that's never going to materialize -- which is in itself a significant accomplishment.
This week, Fred Karger stepped up his battle with the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC), which has denied him the opportunity to set up a booth at the annual confab of conservative figures and activists. In an interview with BuzzFeed, Karger made his complaints plain: "CPAC hopes to once again deny my right to free speech by not allowing me to meet thousands of political activists who would come by my booth. I am sure it is because I am gay," Karger told BuzzFeed, reciting a resume that includes 30 years working in Republican politics for a slew of candidates. "Now I do not meet CPAC's moral criteria because I came out of the closet," he said. "If I am not allowed to rent a booth at CPAC's Trade Show this year, I plan on filing a formal complaint under Washington DC's Human Rights Act," he said. "The Act was established in 1977 to protect all individuals from discrimination under its Public Accommodations' section. The Act clearly states that it is unlawful to deny any person the full and equal enjoyment of facilities." Speaking on behalf of CPAC, spokeswoman Kristy Campbell said that the organizing entity, the American Conservative Union, was simply out of exhibition space. But CPAC has, in recent years, had trouble integrating conservative-minded members of the gay community into its midst. Last summer, CPAC severed its ties with GOProud, a national organization of gay conservatives, ending a co-sponsorship. (It also cut ties to the John Birch Society.) As for the notion that CPAC had just unfortunately run out of space, Karger was quick to dismiss this in an interview with the American Independent: In 2011, he said, the group denied him a booth on the basis that the conference display floor was full. But Karger charges he knew of others who got booths after he had been denied. He said he ended up sharing a booth with former Republican Presidential nominee Gary Johnson, who has since agreed to be the Libertarian Party candidate for President. "So I thought, 'Well, I'm going to get a leg up next year,'" Karger said. "I'm going to apply way early." Karger said he applied for his booth in November, when the conference first began accepting booth reservations. "Low and behold, they were happy to take my credit card," he said. "Well then they found out who I was and pulled the plug. Never responded to me." Despite the setback of not being welcomed into the fold at an important conservative conference, Karger says that he's not going to follow Gary Johnson and Buddy Roemer down the road of potential third party bids. He'll be sticking with the GOP, saying, "I'm not going anywhere." Read Karger's full complaint with the ACU here.
If there was one bit of news from this week that likely roiled the spirits of Team Obama Re-Elect, it was the recent state-by-state approval numbers that Gallup produced on Tuesday. At the moment, President Barack Obama is only above 50 percent in ten states and the District of Columbia. And those states where he does enjoy favor are generally considered to be mortal locks for the Democratic Party. In virtually every swing state, Obama's approvals are upside down. As an early at-a-glance look at the electoral map, it demonstrates once again that the incumbent has a lot of work to do. Of course, it shouldn't be read as a prelude to doom, either. Approval ratings in a vacuum don't correlate, necessarily, to the choices voters will make once Obama draws a specific opponent and the two rivals begin a months-long campaign to define themselves and one another. Nevertheless, there are some telling pieces of data. A grassroots surge in Wisconsin against Gov. Scott Walker (R) hasn't burnished the president's reputation -- a year after the election that swept Walker into power, Obama's approval has declined slightly. The slide has been steeper in crucial swing states like Ohio and Nevada, where in both cases approval hovers just above 41 percent. Of course, February approval ratings aren't nearly as important as a determining factor in elections as macroeconomic indicators. And as Bloomberg reported this week, the news out of the Midwest has probably buoyed the incumbent's hopes: From northern Michigan's iron mines to Pennsylvania's natural-gas fields, the industrial heartland of America is humming with jobs again as a region once left for dead recovers faster than the rest of the U.S. The turnaround may shape this year's race for the White House as President Barack Obama seeks to reverse Republican gains in the Midwest. The title of his State of the Union address, "An America Built to Last," evoked a theme of manufacturing's revival meant to resonate on the campaign trail. The economies of Michigan, Indiana, Ohio and Pennsylvania -- all states Obama won in 2008 -- have improved faster than that of the U.S. since the recession's depth in April 2009, according to the Philadelphia Federal Reserve. Michigan is expected to lead all 50 states during the next six months, the Fed data show. This week, the president continued to ramp up his campaign and broaden the thematic contrasts he's hoping to cast between himself and his opposition. He called out Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) for his commitment to pointless obstruction, and took his populist message to both the pulpit and to a Google hangout. Paul Begala noted that, as the GOP flails on the trail, the economy is slowly back in a groove, and the president is hitting the "populist center" at the right time and in step with public opinion. And as the toxic street fight between Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich spills into February, Democrats are drawing hope that the longer the race goes on, the more battered the eventual nominee will turn out to be. Of course, that's the sort of thinking that often proves to be more seductive than smart. As Romney himself promised on the trail, the fight he's in right now was only going to "prepare" him to face Obama in the general election. Know who'd likely agree with that assessment? President Obama.
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