Mitt Romney's landslide win in Saturday's Nevada caucuses — which followed his big victory the previous Tuesday in Florida — has reestablished him as the odds-on favorite for the Republican presidential nomination.
Romney took 50 percent of the Nevada vote, a shade under what he got when he won the caucuses four years ago. Now, like then, he was buttressed by the solid support of Mormons, who count for more than a quarter of the GOP electorate in Nevada. Newt Gingrich was well behind with 21 percent, followed by Ron Paul with 19 percent — up from his 14 percent from 2008 — and Rick Santorum with 10 percent.
Romney still has a long way to go in trying to convince Tea Party folks and evangelical conservatives he is the right choice to take on President Obama in the general election. But by the looks of things, February is going to give him a gigantic boost towards that goal.
The campaign now moves to three other caucus states: Colorado and Minnesota, which hold their contests on Tuesday (Feb. 7), and Maine, where the caucuses started on Saturday and lasts a full week. Paul is making a serious effort in Maine, and some think he could finish on top. But Romney carried all three states in 2008, and he has to be the betting favorite to repeat. There's also a non-binding primary Tuesday in Missouri. This will have no bearing on the Show Me State's GOP delegates, which will be decided in a caucus next month. But with Gingrich not on the ballot there — he failed to meet the requirements — Santorum is campaigning there as if it's important, arguing he, and only he, is the conservative alternative to Romney. (Gingrich also failed to make the ballot in Virginia, which votes on March 6.)
But why not tout successes in these states, small as they are? The next couple of weeks is less about real delegates and more about headlines and perceived momentum. Since the botched reporting of the Iowa results robbed him of claiming victory and the news coverage that comes with it, Santorum has not been much of a factor anywhere else. Even with the endorsement of Sharron Angle, a Tea Party favorite and the 2010 GOP challenger to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Santorum finished a poor fourth in Nevada. A strong showing even in beauty contest Missouri might give his campaign some temporary bragging rights.
The bad news for Gingrich, Paul and Santorum is that, if they are shut out from victory in this week's caucuses, there will not be a lot of opportunities to make news this month. Everything at stake on Tuesday, at least as of now, look to be heading Romney's way.
The calendar only gets worse. February may be the shortest month but, for Romney's opponents, it might feel the longest. After this week, there will no primaries for another 21 days, and they too may be Romney states. On Feb. 28, both Arizona, which has a significant number of Mormons, and Michigan, where Romney was born and where his father served as governor in the 1960s, are holding primaries. Romney is the clear favorite to repeat his 2008 victory in the Michigan primary, and he leads in Arizona. And there is no debate until Feb. 22.
And speaking of endorsements, did the Romney camp really boast the backing he got from Donald Trump, or was that just something the DNC made up? I know the purpose of announcing endorsements is to show momentum and expanding support, but I've always felt they are overrated; I always point to Al Gore and Iowa Sen. Tom Harkin endorsing Howard Dean right before the 2004 Democratic caucuses in Iowa, and Dean, once the frontrunner there, finished a weak third. This year, Romney had Gov. Nikki Haley in his corner in South Carolina and he got creamed. Gingrich had the New Hampshire Union Leader and he finished a weak fourth.
But the recent slew of announced endorsements struck me as odd, if not surreal. And it's not just Trump and Romney (and the egg on the face of the Gingrich campaign, which expected the backing of The Donald). There's more, and I'm not sure I understand it. Herman Cain, forced out of the presidential race for his alleged harassment of women, backing Gingrich, he of the two divorces and "open marriage" fame? What was that about? Or the endorsement Gingrich got from ex-Rep. Duke Cunningham (R-Calif.), who is still in prison for accepting bribes? Can't make this stuff up.
Evacuation in North Carolina. Four years ago, Democrats had great success in North Carolina. Buoyed by a huge African-American turnout, Barack Obama became the first Democratic presidential candidate since Jimmy Carter in 1976 — and only the second since LBJ — to carry the state. Kay Hagan ousted GOP Sen. Elizabeth Dole. Lt. Gov. Bev Perdue took the governorship, the first woman of her state to do so. Democrats maintained their hold on the state legislature.
As it turned out, 2008 was a lifetime ago.
Perdue proved to be quite unpopular, and Republicans took advantage; two years ago, they won both houses of the state legislature for the first time since 1870. With fundraising as weak as her poll numbers, and ethics questions being asked regarding her campaign finances — some of her staffers from the 2008 campaign have been indicted — Perdue announced on Jan. 26 she wouldn't seek re-election. She cited the lack of bipartisanship and the state's "divisive environment."
Her decision was followed by a few days later with the news that Rep. Heath Shuler (D), a Blue Dog favorite from the western part of the state who challenged Nancy Pelosi for Democratic leader last year, announced that unfavorable redistricting — the liberal bastion of Asheville was carved out of his seat — forced him to retire as well. He said he would not enter the race for governor either, a sentiment shared by Erskine Bowles. Bowles, who was President Clinton's chief of staff and co-chair of President Obama's Commission on Fiscal Responsibility, seemed to be every Democrat's favorite to succeed Perdue. The truth is, Bowles is not the world's greatest campaigner, and would have come into the race as having lost two Senate contests (2002 vs. Dole and 2004 vs. Richard Burr). But he announced on Thursday he won't run.
That leaves, for now, Lt. Gov. Walter Dalton and state Rep. Bill Faison in the Democratic contest to take on Pat McCrory, the former mayor of Charlotte and the GOP nominee against Perdue four years ago. But that list may not be complete. Rep. Brad Miller, another Democratic victim of redistricting who decided not to run again rather than face fellow Dem David Price in the primary, is a potential gubernatorial candidate, and Bob Etheridge, who lost his House seat in 2010, has entered the race. Miller could prove to be a strong contender should he run.
Democrats insist they are better off without Perdue in the race. That may be true or it may be spin; the political terrain there looks much less favorable for the party than it did four years ago. But it's probably accurate to say that Perdue on the ballot would not have been welcome news for the Obama team in their (currently uphill) quest to carry the state a second time. The Democrats will meet in Charlotte late this summer to renominate the president.
Democrats Retain Oregon 01. In the Jan. 31 special election, former state Sen. Suzanne Bonamici (D) won the vacant House seat in Oregon's 1st Congressional District with a convincing win over Republican Rob Cornilles. This was for the seat formerly held by David Wu, a Democrat who was always on the watch list because of his various eccentricities but whose situation became untenable when he was accused of sexual assault; he resigned in August.
The seat has long been held by the Democrats; the last GOP victory came in 1972, and Obama carried the district four years ago by 25 points. But mindful of what happened to the seat of another Democrat (Anthony Weiner) in a solidly Democratic area who resigned because of a sex scandal — Republicans shockingly won the special election in that one — Democrats poured in a ton of money on behalf of Bonamici, effectively labeling Cornilles as a Tea Party extremist. Bonamici won, 54-39%.
That leaves just one unfilled House seat, the one vacated last month by Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz.). The special primary to succeed Giffords will be held April 17 and the general is June 12.
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Super Bowl results. Just in case you missed last night's game, I thought I would offer up this button. Oh my, what a wonderful game, and what a tense ending. And that Manningham catch. Wow.
Political Junkie segment on Talk of the Nation. Each Wednesday at 2 p.m. ET, the Political Junkie segment appears on Talk of the Nation (NPR's call-in program), hosted by Neal Conan with me adding color commentary, where you can, sometimes, hear interesting conversation, useless trivia questions, and sparkling jokes. Last week's show focused on the caucuses in Maine and Nevada, with respective special guests Jay Field of Maine Public Broadcasting and Steve Sebelius from the Las Vegas Review-Journal. There was also an interview with Washington Gov. Christine Gregoire about same sex marriage in the state. The surprise highlight was Roger McGuinn, formerly the lead singer of The Byrds, singing "I Wanna Grow Up To Be A Politician" especially for the fans of the Junkie segment. You can listen to all of that right here:
Also: a belated thank you to the folks at member station WMFE in Orlando, Fla., where we broadcast the Jan. 25 Junkie edition in advance of the Florida primary. And you can hear that show here:
(Later that evening, Neal and I performed the Political Junkie "roadshow" at the Plaza Theatre in Orlando before a live audience.)
And Don't Forget ScuttleButton. ScuttleButton, America's favorite waste-of-time button puzzle, can be found in this spot every Monday. A randomly-selected winner will be announced each week during the Political Junkie segment on NPR's Talk of the Nation. It's not too late to enter last week's contest, which you can see here. Not only is there incredible joy in deciphering the answer, but the winner gets a TOTN t-shirt!
Previous winner: Gary McAtee of Chickasha, Okla.
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ON THE CALENDAR:
Feb. 4-11 — Maine caucus.
Feb. 7 — Caucuses in Colorado and Minnesota. Also: Missouri primary (beauty contest only).
Feb. 22 — GOP debate, Mesa, Ariz. (CNN, 8 pm ET).
Feb. 28 — Primaries in Arizona and Michigan.
March 1 — GOP debate, Atlanta, Ga. (CNN, 8 pm ET).
March 3 — Washington caucus.
March 5 — GOP debate, Reagan Library in Simi Valley, Calif. (NBC).
March 6 — SUPER TUESDAY. Primaries in Georgia, Massachusetts, Ohio, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Vermont and Virginia. Caucuses in Alaska, Idaho, North Dakota and Wyoming.
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This day in campaign history: Washington Sen. Henry "Scoop" Jackson declares his candidacy for the 1976 Democratic presidential nomination. A defense hawk and a social liberal popular with organized labor, Jackson also sought the nomination in 1972. But he enters the '76 contest in a much better position, with more money on hand than any other prospective Democrat other than George Wallace. Jackson is the fourth Democrat to officially announce, following Rep. Mo Udall (Ariz.), former Georgia Gov. Jimmy Carter and ex-Sen. Fred Harris (Okla.) (Feb. 6, 1975).
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