Monday, January 2, 2012

No, You Can't Skip New Hampshire Either

Rick Perry is apparently telling reporters that he'll skip New Hampshire and make a last stand in South Carolina.

Two things. First, presidential candidates always say that they're going to stay in the race no matter what. Everyone should ignore those claims; they are necessary to make (more or less), but they aren't binding. Unless Perry finishes a strong fourth or better, I expect him to end his campaign. There's a certain amount of individual preference on these types of decisions (that is, about ending campaigns), but not all that wouldn't be shocking if Perry insisted on getting clobbered in South Carolina, but it's not very likely. Assuming, that is, that he doesn't wind up doing better than the polling predicts.

Unless of course he does better than current polling shows in Iowa. Which is still possible, although less and less likely.

The second thing is that skipping New Hampshire is as much of an implausible strategy as skipping Iowa. Neither make any sense. That doesn't mean candidates have to go all-in on these early states, but they really do have to compete there.

The Santorum/Huntsman situation is a good example of that. Santorum may or may not wind up coming close to the nomination, but if he finishes in the top three in Iowa (as currently looks very likely), he's going to get a bump elsewhere. What about Huntsman, however? He's totally off the radar this week. He's been totally off the radar for the last month. He won't get a mention tomorrow night when TV and the rest of the press cover Iowa. He's unlikely to be subject to very much media attention over the next few days, either. And so it wouldn't be at all surprising if someone who has done little in New Hampshire so far overtakes him with a post-Iowa surge.

Consider what would be happening if Huntsman had focused on Iowa and Santorum skipped it and gone to New Hampshire. We'll never know whether Huntsman would have rallied, but certainly Santorum would not have. You just can't skip the key early states if you want to have any hope of being the nominee.


  1. Ah, Jon, how quickly you forget about Presdient Giuliani, who proved that you can skip Iowa AND New Hampshire AND Nevada AND South Carolina!

  2. I think this year is unusual. Perry's and Gingrich's statements sound to me as if they were trying to make sure the conservative trio Perry/Gingrich/Santorum will beat Romney in Iowa and get close to him in New Hampshire, until they finally fight it out in South Carolina, with the winner facing a still-beatable Romney.

    (If every candidate fought in every state, I think Romney would have the nomination in the bag)

  3. Please don't write something as specious as "Santorum may or may not wind up coming close to the nomination." You know that he won't and giving that possibility any credence diminishes your credibility as an analyst.

  4. Bryce,

    I don't know that he won't (and more on that tomorrow). But: why do you think he won't come close to the nomination?

  5. Waiting for South Carolina seems like a particularly bizarre strategy for Perry. New Hampshire's not exactly friendly territory for him, but SC is far more friendly to candidates like Gingrich (from neighboring Georgia originally) and Santorum (more reliably conservative on more hot button issues). If that's his gambit, I get the feeling Santorum will get closer to the nomination than Perry.

  6. If Santorum has no shot, then we're left with the following: 2 candidates in likely irreversible freefall (Gingrich, Perry), 2 candidates that have all but disappeared (Bachmann, Huntsman), 1 candidate who really and truly has no shot (Paul), and an obvious frontrunner that no one wants (Romney). And Santorum.

    Something has to explain the lack of enthusiasm for Romney so late in the game. No other candidate fits the bill, so "plausible Santorum" steps in. The lack of coalescence around Romney makes sense if Santorum is a plausible candidate.

    In defense of Bryce; however, I read the other day that Santorum will be leaving Iowa with a pitiful $200,000 in his coffers. He'll raise some dough after a top 3 tomorrow. But if $200 K is all it takes to be President, a couple of bake sales and you're on your way to 1600 Pennsylvania...

    One last scandalous thought. A little while ago this blog hosted a discussion that it was too late for a "white knight" to come in and save the Republicans. The infrastructure barriers were much too large.

    At that time, the most plausible white knight, Jeb Bush, was at 0.2% on intrade.

    Between then and now, Jeb has done nothing to advance a possible 11th hour candidacy.

    Nevertheless, he's jumped to 0.7% on intrade.

    Just sayin'

  7. (BTW: of course 0.7% is still not a very high probability for Bush. However, if the clock was just about to strike midnight a couple of weeks ago, and Bush was at 0.2%, and then he did nothing in the meantime, by now Bush's probability should be much lower than the 0.2% a few weeks ago.

    The fact that Bush's odds have more than tripled, in spite of his complete inactivity with his window apparently slamming shut, is probably a hint that something exceptionally bizarre might be going on in the Republican primary...)

  8. Santorum has had a presence in New Hampshire. I saw him speak at an event in a living room in Franklin, NH back at the end of November.

  9. CSH,

    You're right about the InTrade numbers. To me, however, it's just another indication that the conventional wisdom is really wrong this time around, not that they're on to something.

  10. One caveat: McCain for all intents and purposes skipped Iowa. Obviously, this is a luxury that politicians who don't already have a national brand can't afford.

  11. Scott, I disagree. McCain didn't maximize resources there, but he didn't skip it.

  12. Barack Obama certainly could skip Iowa and New Hampshire this year, even if he had a primary challenger.

    It isn't an issue of skipping Iowa and New Hampshire. The favorites tend to LIKE Iowa and New Hampshire, because they create narratives that they prefer (such as labeling Bill Clinton the "Comeback Kid" when he was the favorite to win the nomination).

    And often times, candidates who skip the first two contests are also candidates who have ballot access and money and support issues down the line.

    But assuming this all means that the actual favorite in a presidential race "cannot" skip Iowa and New Hampshire is confusing correlation with causation. In the end, media narratives don't determine presidential primary results. If a big favorite (such as an incumbent President or Vice President) said "screw it, Iowa and New Hampshire don't matter", that would be the end of Iowa and New Hampshire, not the end of that presidential candidate.


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