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Newtonian Physics. Or, What Goes Up Must Come Down.

January 28, 2012

In the wake of Newt Gingrich’s big South Carolina upset, there was lots of speculation in the punditocracy about Gingrich winning the nomination.  I wasn’t convinced.  I had no doubt that Gingrich would get a bounce in the polls, but I saw a number of obstacles for Gingrich between South Carolina and the Republican nomination.

Sure enough, Gingrich got a big bounce in the polls, both nationally and in Florida.  But just a week after his South Carolina win, Gingrich’s bounce is proving to be of the classic type:  a short-term jump, not a long-term rise.  Going into the weekend before the Florida primary, Mitt Romney’s Florida numbers have recovered almost to pre-South Carolina levels, and Gingrich’s Florida polling has slid, although it remains higher than it was before his South Carolina upset.  Rick Santorum and Ron Paul dipped ever so slightly after South Carolina, and have not gained significantly in the week thereafter.

The Florida primary is winner-take-all, with 50 convention delegates at stake, so the Florida winner, whether Gingrich or Romney, will come out of Florida with more than half of all delegates allocated to date.

Assuming he loses Florida, I think Gingrich’s best outcome for February is a tie, with votes coming in Maine, Nevada, Colorado, Minnesota, Arizona and Michigan.  There seems to be remarkably little recent polling in those states, but I would expect Romney to do well in Mormon Nevada, moderate Maine, and home-state Michigan.  Gingrich’s best states should be Arizona, Colorado and Minnesota, and the sum outcome of February’s voting will depend on whether he wins those states or just loses them less badly.

Rick Santorum’s 2012 campaign is over; whatever he does from here on out he does for 2016.  And here’s an interesting factoid:  as the campaign has worn on, the major candidates’ PolitiFact truthfulness ratings have decreased, except for Santorum’s, whose truthfulness rating has risen considerably.  Santorum has gained valuable national experience and exposure in this campaign, and I think he has become a much more skilled candidate.  As a liberal, I say this with no glee:  keep an eye on Santorum over the couple of years.  If President Obama wins reelection, Santorum is positioned well for 2016.  If Romney or Gingrich wins the Republican nomination, they would do well to consider Santorum for vice president, to keep him out of contention in 2016 if the Republicans win in 2012.

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