As we wend our way through the Republican primary season, at times predicting the outcome of a single state's race is very hard to do. At other times, it is actually pretty easy. Florida looks to be one of the latter.
One short week ago, the Florida political landscape was decidedly different. Newt Gingrich was riding a big wave of momentum from his overwhelming victory in South Carolina, and Mitt Romney appeared to be on the ropes. Two debates were scheduled, which was seen as helpful to Newt, since debating is supposedly his strong point.
What a difference a single week can make, though! Mitt turned in two debate performances that were feistier than anything we've seen yet, and Newt was the one getting pummeled on the ropes. The best description I've heard yet of what happened is: "When you punch a bully, he doesn't know what to do -- it confounds him." That was Newt -- getting verbally punched, and looked stunned and confused about what was happening to him. His story is now that he finds it hard to debate someone who keeps throwing factual inaccuracies at him -- well, welcome to the Democrats' world, Newt, ever since your reign in the House.
I find it hard to be sympathetic to Gingrich (obviously) because he did more than perhaps any other single individual to push Washington politics into the dark and ugly place it now lives in. Newt, in his glory days, was the one instructing other up-and-coming Republicans how to use the nastiest possible language to describe the opposition, and using blunt-instrument tactics in Congress to try and force his will on the country. Newt was (and still is) a master of making something outrageously wrong and nasty sound reasonable and possible.
And now he's got the gall to complain about the current state of politics? Cry me a river, Newtie.
Newt has always enjoyed "playing the victim" to some degree or another, but playing the victim of Republican attack politics is just flat-out laughable. I mean, I thought Newt actually patented this playbook back in the 1990s.
Linguistic interlude: a "petard" is a small bomb. Being "hoist" by your own petard means the bomb you were carrying blew up unexpectedly, throwing you (and not your intended enemy) up into the air. The word petard is actually French. It translates as "fart" (for the sound of the bomb, assumably). Feel free to use the phrase liberally in the next few days, when discussing Gingrich. Ahem.
Of course, Newt's dive in the Florida polls didn't exactly happen in a vacuum. Mitt Romney has been showing everyone that conventional political wisdom still has a place in today's Tea Party Republican ranks. Being angry and running "against Washington" is all fine and good (to put it another way), but boatloads of cash spent on television advertising still goes a long way in the primary season. Mitt dumped over ten million dollars into Florida's huge media markets, and his investment is paying off big. Of course, not all the money went towards ads -- Mitt also reinforced another bit of political wisdom: the ground game counts. Organizational strength translates into votes, and organizational weakness can be deadly for a campaign.
Which brings us to predicting Florida's outcome. As always, I feel duty-bound to report my record of prognostication so far this election cycle. Since Iowa's Republicans announced they are unable to count ballots correctly, I have to revise my score for the state to 0-for-3 (I called it: Ron Paul, Rick Santorum, Mitt Romney, in that order). The good news is I picked two out of three right in South Carolina (I predicted: Newt Gingrich, Mitt Romney, Ron Paul). This leaves me with an overall score of:
Total correct 2012 primary picks so far: 5 for 9 -- 56%.
Florida, as I said, doesn't seem to be too hard to call. Since around the middle of last week, Mitt Romney has risen in the polls to eclipse Newt's standing. So I'm going with: Romney wins with a double-digit lead over Newt. Gingrich comfortably places second, but this won't matter at all because Florida is breaking not just one but two Republican Party rules in tomorrow's primary -- it wasn't supposed to vote this early, and it was supposed to award its delegates proportionally. Florida ignored both rules, and will be a winner-take-all state, meaning Mitt will walk away with all its delegates.
The real tough race to call in Florida is third place, however. Neither Rick Santorum nor Ron Paul put any effort into Florida at all (their campaigns just don't have the money, to be blunt), and both have been polling very closely to each other. I'm going to guess Santorum edges Paul out for third place, though, mostly on a hunch. Conventional wisdom would suggest that Santorum would drop out of the race after this disappointing finish, but he really has nothing much to lose by staying in -- hoping Newt gets hoisted so far on his own petard that the voters start looking around for another "not Romney" candidate. So all four candidates will continue on to the next four contests (Nevada, Colorado, Minnesota, Missouri).
Florida's results will surprise no one who has been keeping up with the polling: Mitt Romney scores a big win, Newt Gingrich scores a disappointing (to him) second, and far back Rick Santorum snatches third place from Ron Paul.
Those are my picks, what are yours?
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