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the vote blog

Government is serious. Democracy is sacred. And then there is politics the way it is actually played. The Vote blog looks at politics the way the players talk about it among themselves after work.

Republican presidential candidate Rep. Ron Paul, R-Texas, gestures during a Republican Presidential debate Monday Jan. 23, at the University of South Florida in Tampa, Fla. (Paul Sancya/AP)

Why Ron Paul is shivering in Maine instead of cavorting in Florida

By Staff writer / 01.25.12

What’s Ron Paul up to? The other three GOP presidential candidates are focusing their efforts on Florida in advance of the Sunshine State’s Jan. 31 primary. But Mr. Paul is taking two days this week to go in the other direction. He’ll be in Maine, speaking at Colby College on Friday and the University of Maine’s Gorham campus on Saturday, among other possible appearances.

Why Maine? It’s no secret that Paul is giving Florida a pass, because ad time there is expensive and the state’s electorate skews older, which is not Paul’s best demographic. The Texas libertarian is focusing on caucus states such as Maine and Nevada, where his fervent supporters can more easily out-organize the competition.

But here’s something that has been little noticed in the press: Maine’s caucuses actually begin this weekend. So Paul may be pulling something of an end run about his rivals.

Yes, we know, if you look at the Maine Republican Party’s website, it lists Feb. 11 as the date officials will announce the results of a caucus presidential straw poll.

But if you scroll through the details, you’ll see that the party has established a window of Feb. 4-11 for Maine Republicans to caucus and vote for a presidential nominee and delegates to the state convention. And if you really squint and look at the fine print, you’ll note that the party faithful in some towns have ignored this guidance, and are meeting either before or after the February window.

Lincoln, Lowell, Burlington, Chester, Enfield, Winn, and Howland are holding their joint caucus on Saturday, for example. Millinocket’s is on Sunday (it’s at the Snowmobile Club). Castine’s is not until March 3.

We’re not the only commentator to have noticed this. Josh Putnam, a political scientist at Davidson College who specializes in the election process, discussed this development on his Frontloading HQ blog on Wednesday.

Maine’s situation “is unique, but it isn’t unprecedented,” wrote Mr. Putnam. Caucus states sometimes spread out their process down at the precinct or county level.

“Now, which candidate will make a last minute trip up to Penobscot County before Saturday?” Putnam asked, rhetorically.

We can answer that, can’t we? It’s Paul.

Of course, the stakes are higher in Florida, a winner-take-all primary with a prize of 50 delegates, than Maine, where caucusgoers will select 24 delegates statewide and vote in a nonbinding presidential straw poll. That’s why Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich are battling it out down south. We’re sure it has nothing to do with the weather in Miami versus in Penobscot County, where this time last year it was about 14 below. That’s so cold that when you talk outdoors adverbs freeze and fall to the ground before they can find their proper place in a sentence.

ELECTION 101: Ron Paul sets sights on 2012. Ten things to know about him. 

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Republican presidential candidate, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich walks to a stage for a forum at Univision Network Studios, Wednesday, in Doral, Fla. (Matt Rourke/AP)

Was Newt Gingrich really all that close to Ronald Reagan?

By Staff writer / 01.25.12

Does Newt Gingrich have a Ronald Reagan problem? Specifically, by wrapping himself in the Gipper’s mantle, is the ex-speaker risking criticism that’s he’s misrepresenting the past?

There’s no doubt that Mr. Gingrich is the GOP candidate who’s been most aggressive about portraying himself as a “Reagan conservative” (his words). He mentioned the late president just four words into his first answer in Monday night’s debate, as New York Times polling analyst Nate Silver notes.

Over the course of the GOP debating schedule, Gingrich has mentioned Mr. Reagan 55 times, according to Silver. That’s more than the rest of the Republican field, combined.

It’s easy to see why Gingrich would do this. It’s a way of painting his past service in Congress in a rosy glow. Reagan remains a beloved icon to conservatives, who make up the bulk of the pro-Gingrich vote. Why shouldn’t Gingrich point out that they worked together and shared some policy beliefs?

Well, for one thing, it opens the door for Mitt Romney to try and portray Gingrich as a waterboy who’s misunderestimating how well he knew the captain of the football team. In Monday’s debate, Romney noted that the word “Gingrich” appears once in Reagan’s diaries. Even that once is a negative, as it notes that Newt at the time is opposing some Reagan defense policies.

“From debates, you’d think that Newt Gingrich was Ronald Reagan’s vice president. Gingrich exaggerates,” says an ad paid for the pro-Romney super PAC Restore Our Future that’s currently running in Florida.

More stingingly, the noted neo-con and ex-Reagan State Department official Elliott Abrams penned a piece posted Wednesday at National Review Online that calls Gingrich’s claims of fellowship with Reagan “misleading at best,” particularly in regards to foreign policy.

Those were years when Democrats in Congress fought bitterly with the Reagan White House over the latter’s efforts to halt Soviet adventurism in the Third World. Remember the Nicaraguan Contras? Mr. Abrams does, and he does not remember Gingrich helping much as Reagan fought to maintain Contras funding.

“Mr. Gingrich voted with the president regularly, but equally often spewed insulting rhetoric at Reagan, his top aides, and his policies to defeat Communism. Gingrich was voluble and certain in predicting that Reagan ‘s policies would fail, and in all of this he was dead wrong,” Abrams writes.

(Yes, yes, we remember Iran-Contra too – but that’s not what we’re talking about at the moment.)

Abrams resurrects a particularly unfortunate (for Gingrich) quote from 1985, in which the then-congressman called a looming meeting between Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev “the most dangerous summit for the West since Adolf Hitler met with Neville Chamberlain in 1938 in Munich.”

Now, whether GOP primary voters will care about this tiff over the long-ago is something else entirely. It’s certainly not cooling their enthusiasm for Gingrich at the moment: according to Gallup, Gingrich has erased Romney’s 23-point national lead among Republicans in one week.

That’s not a swing in support. It’s a stampede.

“The two candidates are now essentially tied,” writes Gallup editor Frank Newport.

Plus, Gingrich has a pretty big hammer of his own to swing at Romney. Or rather, the pro-Gingrich "super PAC" Winning Our Future does. This organization is spending $6 million to run an ad that depicts Romney as a moderate and progressive. Among other things, the ad asserts “Mitt Romney invented government-run health care.”

Ouch. That’s got to worry the Romney campaign.

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Republican presidential candidates, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, left, stands next to former House Speaker Newt Gingrich before a Republican Presidential debate Monday, at the University of South Florida in Tampa, Fla. (Paul Sancya/AP)

Mitt Romney's disastrous week ends with collapse in national polls

By Staff writer / 01.24.12

It's been a rough week for Mitt Romney.

His debates in South Carolina went poorly. He lost a primary by 12 percentage points that he had thought would be his. A trio of polls over the weekend showed him in a freefall in Florida relative to Newt Gingrich, despite pumping millions of advertising dollars into the state. His income tax returns, finally released, left him open to mockery about his 14 percent tax rate and offshore investments.

And now national polls seem to be going the way of the Florida polls.

The Gallup daily tracking poll – a five-day rolling average – put Mr. Gingrich on top among Republican voters, 31 percent to Mr. Romney's 27 percent, for the first time in well over a month on Tuesday. It's a massive change from the 23-point lead Romney enjoyed just over a week ago.

A Rasmussen poll, meanwhile, also showed Gingrich way up nationally, with 35 percent among likely GOP voters to Romney's 28 percent. "Support for Gingrich has jumped a total of 19 points in two surveys since early January, while Romney's support has held steady in that same period," the report says.

(In both polls, Rick Santorum and Ron Paul are registering in the low double-digits.)

It's clear the polls are changing, rapidly. On Monday, Gallup's national poll showed Romney and Gingrich in a statistical tie – itself a big shift from the previous week. In a campaign that has been notable since the summer for its rapid and large shifts in poll results, the first few contests have done nothing to change that.

In a blog Monday night, Gallup pollster Frank Newport wrote: "Gingrich and Romney continue to exchange the lead in the race for the Republican presidential nomination, not unlike the final quarter of a close championship football game. The most obvious implication of this back and forth is Romney's failure to consolidate and sustain his support among Republicans nationally. The virtual evaporation of Romney's 20-plus-point lead over the last week suggests that Republicans most certainly have not settled on the former Massachusetts governor as their final choice for the nominee. The fact that Gingrich has managed to resurrect his standing in the polls once again suggests that Republicans have most certainly not ruled him out."

In both polls, conservative Republicans have been key to Gingrich's resurgence. Gallup's numbers, for instance, show that in the two weeks of mid-January, Gingrich's support among conservatives grew from 16 percent to 28 percent, while Romney's support among that same group fell from 36 percent to 28 percent.

Similarly, the Rasmussen poll shows Gingrich favored heavily by voters who consider themselves tea party Republicans, very conservative, or evangelical Christians.

Rasmussen also shows that voters' perception of the race is changing.

Last week, 70 percent of all likely GOP voters believed that Romney would eventually be the nominee. That figure has now dropped to just 51 percent, while 32 percent believe Gingrich will be the nominee (up from 13 percent a week ago).

Stand by. There's always next week. 

RECOMMENDED: 'The Real Romney': 10 facts about the presidential hopeful 

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Republican presidential candidate, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, gestures to former House Speaker Newt Gingrich during a Republican presidential debate Monday at the University of South Florida in Tampa, Fla. (Paul Sancya/AP)

Will GOP step in to prevent a Newt Gingrich nomination?

By Staff Writer / 01.24.12

Newt Gingrich is surging – but the GOP establishment still opposes him (and many believe he is unelectable).

Mitt Romney is still the presumed front-runner and has a big lead on money, organization, and endorsement from key Republicans, but he just lost a massive lead in Florida seemingly overnight. State and national polls show a swing against Mr. Romney of more than 20 points.

More than ever, the 2012 nominating process is confounding pundits and proving unpredictable. It's unlikely that any candidate will wrap up the nomination quickly, and now buzz – which has been present for some time – is increasing about the possibility of a brokered convention and even a late-entrant candidate.

In the past week, influential conservatives, including Rush Limbaugh and Joe Scarborough, have discussed the growing rumblings. According to Mr. LImbaugh, many in the Republican party are welcoming Gingrich's resurgence, not because they like him as a candidate but because they have misgivings about Romney. They want the race to continue all the way to the convention in Tampa, Fla., so that the party elite can pick the nominee there.

Republican Majority Leader Dick Armey (R) of Texas predicted a brokered convention on CNBC Monday night, and Michael Steele, the former national chairman of the Republican party, recently put the chances of a brokered convention at 50-50. "The base wants its chance to have their say," he told the The Huffington Post. "They aren't going to want it to end early, before they get their chance, which means that the process could go all the way to Tampa."

And several other notable conservatives, including Jennifer Rubin at the Washington Post and William Kristol at the Weekly Standard have been making pleas - hardly new, but now they seem to have an added urgency – for someone like Mitch Daniels, the Indiana governor who will deliver the GOP rebuttal to the State of the Union address Tuesday night, to enter the race.

Ms. Rubin addressed her "open letter" to 10 Republican governors, senators, and congressmen, none of whom has yet made an endorsement and all of whom she says "would be preferable as a candidate to Newt Gingrich," to either make an endorsement or, better yet, to get in the race themselves.

"Here’s the thing," Rubin writes in her blog, outlining why she finds a surging Gingrich so untenable. "The voters in their infinite wisdom have just given a huge boost to perhaps the only GOP candidate who could shift the spotlight from President Obama to himself, alienate virtually all independent voters, lose more than 40 states and put the House majority in jeopardy."

So, could a brokered, or open, convention really happen? And could a dark-horse candidate still enter the race? It's certainly not inconceivable, although Mr. Steele's 50-50 odds seem a bit high.

A brokered convention is one in which no candidate has a majority of pledged delegates by the time of the convention, and so the nominee gets decided at the convention by a series of votes, re-votes, and political horse trading. Pledged delegates can be freed from their allegiance, and in practice, it would be party elites who decide the nominee.

They weren't uncommon before the current binding primary system was put in place (both Adlai Stevenson, a Democrat, and Thomas Dewey, a Republican, were selected in brokered conventions in 1952 and 1948). Since then, they're often discussed but the only open convention to occur was in 1976, when Republican delegates went to their convention unsure if they'd be nominating Ronald Reagan or Gerald Ford. (Ford managed to win on the first ballot, avoiding a truly brokered convention.)

"A brokered convention might be a lot of fun in theory, but right now it’s just a theory," wrote Aaron Blake in the Washington Post earlier this month, as he explained the many ways Romney could rack up a large majority of delegates even without widespread popular support. (Mr. Blake's piece was written before Gingrich's latest surge.)

Polling expert Nate Silver, meanwhile, discusses the possibility at length in the New York Times' FiveThirtyEight blog, and gives it a real – if somewhat long shot – chance.

"Late-entry candidates and brokered conventions have not occurred in the recent past," writes Mr. Silver. "But there has also not been a case in the recent past in which a candidate like Mr. Gingrich, so vehemently opposed by party elites, was surging ahead in key national and state polls at this stage of the nomination process."

Moreover, he notes, it might have a lot of appeal to some in the GOP elite: "It would not just be a ploy to prevent Mr. Gingrich’s nomination. "It would also open the door to the party’s nominee being someone like Mr. Daniels or [former Florida Gov. Jeb] Bush or [Wisconsin Congressman Paul] Ryan – candidates whom some influential conservatives have preferred to Mr. Romney all along.

So what will happen? If the last few months have taught journalists anything, it's that making predictions is a dangerous business.

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The audience listens to the presidential candidates during the Florida GOP debate in Tampa, Fla., Monday. (Brian Snyder/Reuters)

Why was the Florida GOP debate audience so subdued?

By Staff writer / 01.24.12

What happened? Anyone tuning in to Monday night’s GOP presidential debate hoping for a raucous smackdown with lusty cheers and jeers from the audience would have been sorely disappointed.

Apparently the crowd in Tampa, Fla., just wasn’t that into it. Or so it seemed, judging by the deafening silence, punctuated by occasional polite applause.

Moderator Brian Williams of NBC is only partly to blame. He noted at the outset that the invited guests had been asked to “withhold their applause” and “any verbal reactions to what they hear onstage.” But such guidance hasn’t stopped the audience before, NBC’s Chuck Todd noted Tuesday morning.

The debate audiences, in fact, have provided some of the most memorable moments of the campaign so far. Who, after all, can forget the audience that booed the gay soldier? Or cheered on Newt Gingrich when he went after Juan Williams of Fox News for suggesting that calling Barack Obama the “food stamp president” is racist? Or shouted “yes!” when Ron Paul was asked if people without health insurance should be allowed to die?

Typically, debate audiences are populated by supporters of the candidates, plus invitees of the host institution, in this case the University of South Florida. Among the attendees Monday were the British and French ambassadors to the United States, Sir Peter Westmacott and François Delattre. Perhaps, as well-behaved diplomats, they set the tone. Or maybe after 17 debates, everybody’s getting a little weary of all the arguing.

Monday night, in reports from the postdebate spin room, Mr. Gingrich’s team complained about the muzzled audience, when asked why the former House speaker seemed off his game. Team Romney took the opposite view, applauding the lack of applause as a dignified display worthy of such a lofty enterprise.

Here’s our take: When they’re going to hold a debate that goes way past our bedtime, we need a little something to keep our eyes open – especially when the talk turns to sugar subsidies and Sarbanes-Oxley. Skip the soporific routine, and put a little juice back in the game.

 RECOMMENDED: 'The Real Romney': 10 facts about the presidential hopeful

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Republican presidential candidates, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich shake hands at the end of the Republican presidential candidate debate at the North Charleston Coliseum in Charleston, S.C., Thursday. (David Goldman/AP)

Can Newt Gingrich win Florida without Mitt Romney's bucks?

By Staff Writer / 01.23.12

With a big win in South Carolina and momentum building in Florida, Newt Gingrich suddenly appears poised to be a contender.

At the very least, it seems like it will be tougher than Mitt Romney once envisioned to lock up the GOP nomination quickly, with Florida cementing a series of victories.

But Mr. Gingrich also faces a daunting challenge: fundraising.

IN PICTURES: Newt, now and then

Florida is a notoriously expensive market, and Mr. Romney has already been advertising heavily there – virtually alone – for weeks.

As a late surger, Gingrich isn't nearly as well-positioned as Romney is for either organization or funding.

He hasn't reported how much cash he's raised in the last quarter (his deadline to release those numbers is Jan. 31), but it's almost certainly significantly less than Romney, who had $19 million in his campaign war chest as of Dec. 31.

At the end of the last reporting period, Romney had a $14 million advantage over Gingrich.

And it's a challenge Gingrich is focused on.

Within minutes of winning the South Carolina primary, he tweeted: "Thank you South Carolina! Help me deliver the knockout punch in Florida. Join our Moneybomb and donate now."

And in his victory speech, he told supporters, "I need your help in reaching out to people in Florida ... to sign up, to donate, to get involved." He added, "We don’t have the kind of money that at least one of the candidates does, but we do have ideas."

The pleas helped. The Gingrich campaign announced on Monday that it raised more than $1 million in the 24 hours following the South Carolina win.

And Gingrich has some big donors – most notably Sheldon Adelson, a Las Vegas casino magnate who contributed $5 million to a pro-Gingrich super political-action committee earlier this month that spent heavily to promote him in South Carolina, and may have helped him to victory.

On Monday, Jon Ralston, political reporter at the Las Vegas Sun in a tweet said that Mr. Adelson's wife, Miriam Adelson, has promised another $5 million to the super PAC, Winning Our Future, which plans to spend heavily on advertising in Florida starting Tuesday.

Still, Florida is a formidable state to advertise in. The Wall Street Journal estimates it could cost candidates $10 million to campaign effectively there. And Romney, who has an extensive fundraising network, plans to raise that much before the end of the month.

Romney has tended to attract donors from among the Republican establishment, and he has proved adept at fundraising. According to The Wall Street Journal, one Romney event in January raised $2 million, more than double its goal.

With the deep-pocketed Rick Perry opting to leave the race, new opportunities have opened up  for the remaining candidates. But it's uncertain who will best take advantage of them.

Mr. Perry endorsed Gingrich, but it's not clear that his followers will agree with him. Romney has already recruited many of Perry's top fundraisers, including the two men who co-chaired Perry's fundraising committee.

So far, the momentum seems to be in Gingrich's favor. And there's nothing like success to pull in more money.

But it remains to be seen whether Gingrich can make up such a large financial gap in a short time, and how much the money will matter.

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Sen. Rand Paul (R) of Kentucky, speaks about being detained by the TSA at the airport in Nashville, Tenn., on Monday. (Erik Schelzig/AP)

Rand Paul 'detained' by TSA. Does that happen to other senators?

By Staff writer / 01.23.12

Sen. Rand Paul (R) of Kentucky was detained by the Transportation Security Administration Monday at the Nashville airport, in case you haven’t heard. A millimeter wave scanner detected an “anomaly” in the area of his knee, according to Senator Paul, and TSA agents then said he’d have to undergo a full-body pat-down. Paul said he wouldn’t submit to such a search and offered to show agents his knee, instead. They said that wouldn’t suffice.

This stand-off apparently escalated to the point where Paul was cornered in a cubicle for a bit – that’s where the “detained” allegations come in.

Eventually the TSA allowed Paul to board another flight for Washington. The second time through, the scanner didn’t see anything in the vicinity of the senatorial kneecap, apparently. This has led Paul to believe that the scanner never saw an “anomaly” at all, and that it is set to go off randomly so as to pick out unwitting travelers for extra-close inspection.

“Two people from the TSA told me there are random bells and whistles that go off,” said Paul Monday afternoon during an interview with CNN’s Wolf Blitzer on “The Situation Room.”

TSA officials confirmed such an incident occurred Monday, but declined to identify the passenger involved as Paul, citing privacy concerns. White House spokesman Jay Carney took a similar approach, and then defended TSA actions.

“Passengers, as in this case, who refuse to comply with security procedures are denied access to the secure gate area,” Mr. Carney said. “I think it is absolutely essential that we take necessary actions to ensure that air travel is safe, and I believe that is what TSA is tasked with doing.”

Hmm. Well, we’ve got a few points to make here. The first, and obvious, one is that the TSA could hardly have singled out a worse person for pat-down treatment. Rand Paul is an up-and-coming libertarian stalwart, the son of presidential contender Ron Paul, and he’s not going to go quietly off after this and buy magazines in the gift shop. He’s going to do what he did: go on CNN and accuse TSA of not protecting America.

“I don’t feel more safe [because of TSA protection],” Paul told Mr. Blitzer.

That said, TSA has a problem with lawmakers in general. Senators and Congress members fly a lot, and they see the glitches in the system up close. Look at it this way: If you ran a restaurant, and you had a customer who had three meals a day there, 100 days a year, that customer is eventually going to find a fly in his eggplant gratin, or some other problem. Law of averages, and all that.

The personal experience horror story is kind of a staple of TSA congressional hearings. In that sense, Paul is not alone. Last November, at an oversight hearing conducted by the Senate Commerce Committee, Sen. Claire McCaskill (D) of Missouri complained bitterly to TSA chief John Pistole about her airport treatment. Senator McCaskill has an artificial joint, which sets off alarms and gets her lots of pat-downs.

There’s one female agent in particular at the St. Louis airport that McCaskill dreads.

“If I see her coming, I like just tense up because I know it’s going to be ugly in terms of the way she conducts her pat-downs,” McCaskill told Mr. Pistole.

At the same hearing, Sen. John Boozman (R) of Arkansas complained about an old family friend, an elderly doctor, who was subject to what he perceived to be extremely invasive treatment that threatened to exacerbate an illness. [Editor's note: The original version misstated Senator Boozman's home state.]

“I think it actually did jeopardize him, mentally and physically,” said Senator Boozman.

Full-body imaging and pat-downs have been the drill at US airports since 2010. They are unpopular with the public, as well as with lawmakers. In an effort to defend the need for such procedures, the TSA notes that it catches four to five guns a day at checkpoints in US airports. Occasionally it catches artfully concealed weapons, too. On Jan. 14, TSA agents at the Lynchburg, Va., airport discovered a dagger disguised as a hairbrush, according to a TSA press release. Its blade was ceramic, which wouldn’t have shown up on a metal detector.

“Ceramic blades are more difficult to detect than metallic blades, and just as sharp and dangerous,” said the TSA release.

RECOMMENDED: Michele Bachmann, Rand Paul, and 8 others shaking up the new Congress 

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Republican presidential candidate Rep. Ron Paul of Texas signs autographs during his South Carolina presidential primary election night rally in Columbia, S.C., Saturday. (Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP)

Ron Paul plans to skip Florida. Will his strategy backfire?

By Staff writer / 01.23.12

If you live in Florida, expect to see a lot of advertisements in the coming week for Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich – but not Ron Paul.

The Texas congressman is still in the race, and will be debating his opponents (including Mr. Romney, Mr. Gingrich, and Rick Santorum) Monday night. But Mr. Paul isn't planning to campaign in such a big state. 

Why?

For starters, because it is so big. And expensive.

In his speech after the South Carolina primary Saturday night (in which Paul finished fourth, with 13 percent of the vote), Paul told supporters, "We will certainly be promoting this in the most frugal way.”

He also emphasized what his goal is right now: "In the beginning, I thought it would just be promotion of a cause. Then it dawned on me, when you win elections and you win delegates, that’s the way you promote a cause.”

All of which means, while the other candidates zero in on Florida and the Jan. 31 primary, Paul will be looking to the West and the North and, in particular, to states that award their delegates to this August's Republican National Convention in ways that could help him.

What's wrong with Florida? Not only is it expensive to advertise there, but it's a winner-take-all primary – meaning that only the winner would leave with delegates to show for his time and money. (Florida is also likely to be penalized for moving its primary forward on the election calendar; the Republican Party could strip the state of some of its delegates.)

Moreover, Florida is the first of the early-nominating states to hold a closed primary, meaning that only registered Republicans can participate. For Paul, who draws much of his support from independents, that's not good news. And it has an older electorate, whereas Paul draws much of his support from younger voters.

Paul, who had a solid third-place finish in Iowa (with 21 percent) and a second-place showing in New Hampshire (23 percent), has already concluded that the South is a tougher sell for his noninterventionist message on foreign policy.

Instead, Paul has some good opportunities to amass delegates in the next several weeks, particularly in upcoming caucus states like Nevada, Colorado, Maine, and Minnesota.

Caucus states are those in which the Republican Party holds many local meetings to decide how to award its delegates instead of holding a statewide election. Caucuses tend to have lower turnouts and favor candidates – like Paul – who inspire passionate loyalty among their followers.

Focusing on those states helped Barack Obama to the nomination in 2008. And while no one expects Paul to surge past Romney or Gingrich for the nomination, it's certainly possible that he could win enough delegates to have more of a voice at the Republican convention.

Paul has already purchased airtime in Nevada and Minnesota, and expect to see him more actively campaigning in those states as well. (While he didn't exactly sit out South Carolina – and he spent about $1.5 million on advertising – Paul campaigned far less there than in Iowa or New Hampshire.)

The one message Paul has been clear about: He's in this to the end.

"It's the momentum that we want," Paul told CNN Sunday. "And our goal is to get delegates. And we're going to be doing the states were they allocate by percentages as well as caucus states. So that's been our plan all along."

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Republican presidential candidate and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney listens during a roundtable discussion about housing issues in Tampa, Fla., on Monday. (Brian Snyder/Reuters)

Is Mitt Romney's Florida support collapsing? (+video)

By Staff writer / 01.23.12

Is Mitt Romney suffering a reversal of fortune in the Florida polls? It sure looks that way at the moment. There’s a passel of new poll info out and most of it doesn’t look good for the former Massachusetts governor.

In fact, if the most recent numbers are correct, Mr. Romney has fallen behind the surging Newt Gingrich in the Sunshine State.

Let’s start with Insider Advantage – its just-released survey has Romney eight percentage points behind Mr. Gingrich, 26 to 34 percent. A breakdown by age, race, and gender shows that Mitt trails the former House speaker across the board.

Rasmussen Reports has Romney nine points behind, with 32 percent to Gingrich’s 41. Two weeks ago, Romney had a 22-point lead in Florida, according to Rasmussen. That disappeared quicker than a hundred dollars at Disney World, didn’t it?

Forty-two percent of Florida GOP voters now say Gingrich would be their party’s strongest general election candidate, according to Rasmussen data. Thirty-nine percent say Romney would be the strongest.

“Throughout the GOP race, Romney has always benefited from the perception that he was the strongest general election candidate in the field. However, among Florida voters at the moment, that is no longer the case,” says a Rasmussen analysis of its new figures.

Public Policy Polling has yet to release its latest figures. But PPP is already hinting that it is seeing a big pro-Gingrich swing. The firm tweeted last night that after a night of polling that it's finding Romney and Gingrich “neck and neck.” A PPP poll released back on Jan. 16 had shown Romney with a 15-point lead.

Wow. So is Romney’s support collapsing? Well, we’d say it’s deflating a little bit, while Gingrich voters are exploding in number. Take the Rasmussen poll: Over two weeks, it shows the Romney vote declining by nine percentage points, while the Gingrich vote gained a whopping 22 percentage points. That’s a big swing.

The Romney camp does have at least one bit of good news to cling to. Florida has early voting, and a substantial portion of the GOP electorate has already mailed in ballots. Among these voters, Romney leads by 11 percentage points, according to Rasmussen.

Given the volatility of the race so far, it’s also possible that what goes up can ... well, do we have to finish that? It’s a truism of politics that support quickly gained can be lost just as quickly.

Gingrich has benefited from a run of great debate performances and media reports talking about his great debate performances. Romney, meanwhile, has struggled through a very tough 10 days, with scrutiny of his tenure at Bain Capital, his hesitance about releasing his tax forms, and other negatives dominating his news coverage.

“I would expect that Gingrich won’t be able to ride high for too long. News coverage tends to be cyclical, and it won’t be long before Gingrich comes in for renewed criticism from somewhere,” writes George Washington University political scientist John Sides on the Monkey Cage political blog Jan. 23.

Well, maybe. But how much worse could criticism of Gingrich become, given that his ex-wife has already gone on national television to talk about their ugly divorce?

I see – it could get worse. Just look at this tough ad out Monday from the Romney camp.

One thing is certain: Romney really, really, really wants Rick Santorum to keep up the fight. Santorum gets about 13 percent of Florida GOP voters in recent polls, and much of that 13 percent is composed of just the sort of voters who are most suspicious of Romney: conservative evangelicals.

“Just as Gingrich is eyeing Santorum’s anti-Romney voters in Florida, Romney hopes Santorum will survive through the voting there – and won’t become the next Rick Perry, dropping out before Election Day,” writes University of Virginia political scientist Larry Sabato on his Crystal Ball blog.

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President Obama sings Al Green before speaking at a campaign event, Thursday, at the Apollo Theatre in New York. (Haraz N. Ghanbari/AP)

Obama sings Al Green. How did he do? (+video)

By Staff writer / 01.20.12

President Obama sang an Al Green song at a fundraiser Thursday night, in case you haven’t heard. Well, “sang a song” might be exaggerating – he crooned a few words, really. He was standing on stage at the Apollo Theater in New York thanking folks for coming when he swiveled into the Green classic “Let’s Stay Together.”

“Ahhhhm ... so in love with you,” went the leader of what used to be called the Free World.

Then he grinned and said, “Those guys didn’t think I would do it.”

He did not specify who “those guys” were, at least not on the video made public so far. Perhaps he was referring to Spike Lee and his wife, who earlier in the evening had hosted a dinner for Obama and donors willing to part with upwards of $35,000 per ticket in order to get close to the president.

How did he do? He sounded good, but the sample size was small, only a line or two. We’ll say this: he’s no Herman Cain. Now there’s a (former) presidential aspirant with pipes! Here’s a Cain performance from the National Press Club last fall.

Now comes the fun part: we pretend to overanalyze the political implications of this act in order to suck out its spontaneity and refill it with the sawdust stuffing of punditry.  

Clearly, Obama was trying to send a message to his base with his choice of song. A fundraiser? The song, “Let’s Stay Together?” He’s pleading with his core liberal supporters to remain faithful and energized in the coming election even though he has not delivered all they want.

Yet this approach shows his political weakness. It was cool, analytic, and not passionate enough. Why didn’t he make a more forceful choice, such as Green’s “You Ought to Be With Me?” That would have showed more fire in the belly for the coming campaign. Come to think of it, he could have sung Green’s “Full of Fire.” That would have gotten the message across.

What will the GOP do? By not finishing a lyric, Obama has opened himself to criticism that he is unable to complete important tasks, such as reviving the economy. Whoever the Republican nominee is they may well exploit this weakness in the fall.

Remember, we’re making this up – don’t send us emails about how we’re living up to Newt Gingrich’s vision of the news media. If you’ve got other suggestions for songs the president should have tried, please post them in comments. As for ourselves, we’ve gone about as far with this as Pundit Association guidelines allow. Enjoy the show.

Barack Obama's milestones

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