On Tuesday night, Rick Santorum dashed the GOP presidential aspirations of Newt Gingrich and complicated Mitt Romney’s slog toward the Tampa convention.
More than that, Santorum thwarted pollsters who had suggested a happy night for both the former U.S. House speaker and former Massachusetts governor. The culprit was a serious undercount of evangelical clout.
Two firms released polling in the days leading up to the primaries and both were badly off the mark. American Research Group (ARG) had Mitt Romney up in Mississippi at 34 percent, followed by Newt Gingrich at 32 percent and Rick Santorum at 22 percent. Public Policy Polling (PPP) had Gingrich in the lead at 33 percent, followed by Romney at 31 percent and Santorum in third at 27 percent.
…Looking at the PPP crosstabs (kudos to them for being one of the few firms that release those; ARG only releases a few of their data points), they had evangelical voters making up 70 percent of the electorate. In fact, their numbers were at 80 percent, according to the CNN exit polls. That 10-point difference was substantial.
Alabama and Mississippi saw the Santorum surge that was supposed to happen in Georgia, but didn’t. For Mitt Romney, two third-place finishes in the South’s most conservative states were the embarrassment, despite a 4-to-1 assist from his affiliated super PAC. Gingrich was forced to bask in Santorum’s victory.
“The fact is, in both states, the conservative candidates got nearly 70 percent of the vote. If you’re the front-runner and you keep coming in third, you’re not much of a front-runner,” he told his supporters in Birmingham.
Much of this morning will be given to speculation over whether Newt Gingrich will withdraw from the presidential contest (unlikely) or will be pushed. Ralph Reed, in the Wall Street Journal:
“As long as there is money in the bank account and gas in the bus, I expect Newt to keep going,” he said. “It’s clearly a problem for Santorum, but it’s a gift for Mitt because it prevents the kind of mano-a-mano contest between Romney and the non-Romney candidate.”
The biggest question for Mr. Gingrich, though, may be how long his campaign can afford to carry on. It spends most of what it takes in and still carries debt from earlier in the nomination fight, according to a person familiar with the matter. The operation reported carrying more than $1.7 million in debt at the end of January, according to the most recent available records.
The Washington Examiner tucked this paragraph at the tail end of a piece on Gingrich’s fortunes:
[T]he Washington establishment, or more accurately the East Coast establishment, is about to declare Gingrich dead. After Tuesday’s primary, reporters from the Washington Post and New York Times were leaving the Gingrich campaign; it’s not clear how regularly the papers will cover Gingrich from now on. That’s a sign of establishment rejection that Gingrich would relish — he’s scored a lot of political points attacking the media — but the real worry is that the Gingrich campaign might slowly fade from press coverage. And then — far more ominously — those 175,000 donors might begin to lose their enthusiasm, along with their resolve to give again.
And yet Alan Abramowitz, the Emory University political scientist, sends this note, warning against declaring Tuesday a huge loss for Mitt Romney:
Rick Santorum may have won the two major contests yesterday in Mississippi and Alabama. But as a result of the Hawaiian and American Samoan caucuses, Romney actually won more delegates yesterday than Santorum. In fact, Mitt is cleaning up on the island vote. If you add together, so far, the delegates from Guam, the Virgin Islands, American Samoa, the Northern Mariana Islands (maybe Santorum will do better in the Southern Mariana Islands) and Hawaii, according to the NY Times, Romney has won 43 delegates to 4 for Santorum, zero for Gingrich, 2 for Paul and 6 uncommitted. And we still have Puerto Rico with 20 delegates to go.
Given that political radar in Georgia is currently tuned to National Guard frequencies, this from the Washington Post stands out:
A recruitment campaign to boost the Army National Guard and Reserve at a difficult time in Iraq and Afghanistan is the focus of a wide-ranging Pentagon fraud investigation, including allegations of kickback schemes involving military personnel, internal documents show.
The alleged fraud involves programs that paid $2,000 bounties to soldiers or civilians who signed up as “recruiting assistants” and brought in new enlistees. Investigators have found evidence that recruiters for the Guard and Reserve who were not eligible for the bounties worked with some recruiting assistants to secretly secure and split up the money.
In Oklahoma, former Georgia attorney Thurbert Baker has seized upon a fresh cause: Imaginative financing by trial attorneys. From Legal Newsline:
Oklahoma Senate Bill 1780 would make it against the law for a company to make a loan to a plaintiff that would be paid back from settlement funds or a jury award. It would apply to any case pending in an Oklahoma state court or any federal court in the state….
“I think a ban on some of the practices we’re seeing around the country is an appropriate measure to take,” said Thurbert Baker, the former attorney general of Georgia. “It’s very difficult to contain a lot of the problems we’re seeing around the country with lawsuit lending.”
…In lawsuit financing agreements, a plaintiff is given an amount usually between $500 and $5,000 with the promise of paying the company back with funds from a settlement or jury award. If the plaintiff loses, nothing is owed.
The AJC’s Politifact Georgia today takes a look at U.S. Sen. Johnny Isakson’s claim that his Democratic colleagues have failed to submit a budget over the last 1,000 days.
- By Jim Galloway, Political Insider