Tuesday, November 06, 2012

The United States votes

For a political junkie, there is no more exciting event than that which falls on the first Tuesday after the first Monday of November in a leap year. Happy U.S. election day!  

Things to Watch

As any reader of Nate Silver's blog FiveThirtyEight knows, this election all comes down to Ohio. Remarkably, according to his analysis, Ohio has a better chance of deciding the winner than all other states combined.

This is somewhat unprecedented in modern U.S. electoral history. While Ohio was the deciding factor in 2004 as well, there was a clear alternative path (through Iowa, New Mexico and Nevada) for John Kerry to beat George W. Bush without Ohio. In 2000, while the focus is now on the incredibly close race in Florida, Al Gore would have been president while losing Florida had he carried New Hampshire (which he lost by just 7,000 votes) or his home state of Tennessee (which he and Clinton had won together twice and which he largely ignored and took for granted before losing it by only 80,000 votes out of 2,000,000 cast).

Were Obama to lose Ohio, Silver says he has just an 8% chance of winning the election. The most likely way for him to do this would be to win all of the Democratic-leaning swing states (Nevada, Iowa, Wisconsin and New Hampshire) and then win one of the Republican-leaning ones (Colorado, Virginia, North Carolina or Florida).

Were Romney to lose Ohio, Silver says he has just a 3% chance of winning the election and the path is more complex. He would have to largely run the table in the swing states, or win a state such as Pennsylvania, Minnesota or Michigan that his campaign has been making late plays for but which the polls and state dynamics say should be out of his reach unless he's winning in places like Ohio anyway.

(You can game out your own electoral scenarios at 270towin.com - other outfits have similar maps but this is the most simple to use.)

So, if Ohio is so critical, isn't that the only thing to watch? In a way, yes. But the polls in Ohio don't close until 8:30 p.m. Atlantic time and even if Obama or Romney exceed expectations that means the result won't be called until at least 10:30 - and if it is as close as expected, maybe not until the wee hours or several days down the road.

So I've looked at when various states close their polling stations to find early clues (canaries in coal mines if you will) as to what the result may be.

(Check out POLITICO's handy state poll closing map here.)

1. Indiana and Kentucky

At 7 p.m. Atlantic time the first polls close in eastern parts of Indiana and Kentucky. A good measure might be whether Romney wins Indiana in a by a big enough margin for the networks to call it immediately on the basis of exit polls alone (which would mean 15+ points, indicating a better than expected night for him). Unfortunately, they won't call the state until the western most polls close at 8 p.m., so we'll have to look for something more obscure.

Kentucky behaves in an abnormal fashion as part of Appalachia, and is not a good proxy for results outside of its region.

Certain counties in Indiana, however, may be able to tell us something. In particular, I would point you to Delaware and Madison counties whose polls close at 6 p.m. (EDIT: that's 6 local, 7 Atlantic) In 2008, Barack Obama became the first Democrat to carry these counties since Bill Clinton did in 1996. Typically, a Democrat does about 2 to 4 points worse than their national vote in these counties. (In 2008, Obama actually met and exceeded his national margin in these areas, but that was because he had invested resources in Indiana, unlike previous Democrats and unlike himself in this cycle). If Obama is winning these counties, it means he is probably winning the national popular vote by 3+ points and has the election in the bag. If he is losing them by a narrow margin, the national popular vote is probably a toss up. If he is losing them by more than 5 points, Mitt Romney is likely the next president of the United States.

2. Florida and Virginia

These two swing states close at 8 p.m. Atlantic, along with a number of other non-competitive states (Indiana, Kentucky, Georgia, South Carolina and Vermont).

Romney needs Florida to win. If he loses Florida, an unlikely complete sweep of the remaining swing states would give him a narrow 270-268 victory, however his campaign has already condeded Nevada, meaning that a sweep of the balance would mean a loss of 266-272.

So watch Florida, if Obama wins, it's all over but the crying. If Romney wins, he's still in the hunt.

Virginia falls into a different category. It is a critical piece of the electoral calculus for both candidates. Without Virginia, there is no realistic chance for a path to victory unless they win Ohio. It means absolutely no margin for error.

Obama's non-Ohio path runs through Virginia with wins in Nevada, Iowa and Wisconsin. Obama also has a narrow path without either Ohio or Virginia, involving winning Colorado which seems unlikely as it is more Republican-leaning than these states. Romney's non-Ohio path requires winning Virginia, the smaller swing states, and Wisconsin, which most see as a tall order.

3. North Carolina and Ohio

At 8:30 p.m. these states close. As we've discussed before, the winner of Ohio is the very likely winner of the election. As for North Carolina, Romney is favoured here. If Obama wins, then I suspect he has also won Florida and is headed to a large blow out similar to that which he scored over McCain in 2008.

4. A Romney landslide?

By 9 p.m. Atlantic, Ohio's polls will have been closed for a half hour but there is almost no way we will know the winner yet. At this hour, three states close that should favour Obama. If Romney wins any of them, he has won the election - most likely with over 300 electoral votes. These are Pennsylvania, Michigan and the second congressional district of Maine, which borders New Brunswick.


I made a prediction back on Oct. 25 as follows:

I stand by that prediction. However, were I to hedge, it would be in the direction of Obama winning by a larger margin. The polls seem to all be moving toward Obama to the tune of about one percentage point since Hurricane Sandy. If that movement continues, the last bit of it won't be captured by the polls and Obama may win by a large-ish margin. In fact, I would now wager that my above prediction of Obama is a low water mark for him. I see Obama's very high water mark at about 379 electoral votes. While I find it possible but unlikely that Obama would break 340 electoral votes, were this to occur, I suspect Hurricane Sandy would get the credit and go down in history as one of the great "October surprises".

The Senate and the House

The Democrats have gotten very, very lucky in the Senate races in Indiana and Missouri which they should have lost. My prediction is 53 Democrats + Angus King. If King aligns with the Democrats, the would mean a net gain of one seat for them. This is a bit more bullish than most prognosticators who have them at 49-52 seats + King.

I've not followed the House race as closely but it seems certain the Republicans will hold their majority with a gain or loss of up to 5 seats.

Monday, September 24, 2012

How might Romney win?

I have been very bearish on Mitt Romney's prospects to win the U.S. presidential election for quite some time.

Back in January, I suggested Barack Obama might even beat Romney in the deep south. This no longer seems plausible. I assumed that the Obama campaign and/or an aligned Super PAC would run ads throughout the south touting Romney's record as a liberal on gay rights and abortion, prompting much of the Republican coalition in the south to stay home or vote for a third party - likely Virgil Goode. By not doing this, the Democrats have assured that the deep south will remain an easy win for Republicans, thus giving Mitt Romney a shot at the presidency.

In the past few days, two of my favourite U.S. political blogs - The Fix and Five Thirty Eight - have both noted that there are few winning paths for Romney. This got me tinkering with electoral scenarios myself.

The Fix made an excellent point in pointing to George W. Bush's winning path in 2000. Bush won narrowly by 271-267 electoral votes, and that map more so than Bush's 2004 map seems a good template for Romney. However, due to population shifts that same map would yield a more comfortable 285-253 victory today.

The biggest holes in the 2000 Bush map for Romney are Ohio - which now seems all but certain to go for Obama - and Virginia which is very competitive. These are big ticket items with 18 and 13 electoral votes respectively. I had assumed that without them, Romney would be largely hopeless. However, I was surprised to see how many realistic paths to victory remain for Romney even if these two states come off of the table.

As above, if Romney matches the 2000 map he wins by 22 electoral votes.

Were he to lose Virginia, he would still win a narrow 272-266 victory. Were he to lose Ohio but win Virginia, he would need only add one of Iowa or Wisconsin (both plausible wins) to get over the top. Were he to lose both Virginia and Ohio while picking up both Wisconsin and Iowa, he would win 270-268. That implies quite a bit more flexibility than I imagined.

Mitt Romney remains a heavy underdog, but there are more realistic paths to victory for him than I thought. However, it seems that New Hampshire - down as a win for Romney in all of the above scenarios - despite its paltry 4 electoral votes is critical to his path to victory. If he cannot win Ohio or Virginia, those four votes become critical to almost all victory paths for Romney. It is no wonder that despite its small size, New Hampshire is listed as the 8th most likely tipping point state by Nate Silver at Five Thirty Eight.

Tuesday, March 06, 2012

Super Tuesday liveblog

11:08 - CNN calls North Dakota for Santorum with Romney running third. This was thought to be a Romney vs. Paul contest. If Santorum also wins Ohio (where he's been leading for sometime now) this may be a very, very good night for him. However, if Newt stays in and does well enough to win or split the vote next week in Alabama and Mississippi, then it could quickly mute Sanoturm's momentum.

10:24 - Santorum giving the economic populist, anti-debt message he gave the night he won the Iowa caucuses. If he had been giving this speech in between he probably would have won Michigan and cleaned up tonight.

10:01 - Twenty minutes after other networks, CNN calls Oklahoma for Santorum as an excuse to break away from rambling Newt speech.

9:12 - Don't think I've seen this before. Santorum wins independents by larger margin than Republicans in Tennessee. Over Romney 35-30 among GOP, 35-24 among independents.

9:01 - Mitt swamps competition with 70% in home state Mass according to exit polls. Santorum leads fairly decisively in Oklahoma and Tennessee exit polls. Battle for second between Newt and Mitt in Tenn, while Mitt looks safe for second in Oklahoma.

8:38 - To me, this stat explains the whole Republican primary race. In Ohio Mitt Romney won the 19% of the electorate who are working women by a convincing 45-33; Santorum won all other demographics combined 39-38.

8:32 - Ohio exit polls show Mitt ahead of Rick 40-36, Newt waaaay back tied with Paul at 12-11. If this holds bad night for both Rick and Newt.

8:16 - Early real results from Virginia: Romney 59, Paul 41.

8 p.m. - CNN calls Georgia due to Newt leading by 21 points in exit poll. Not yet ready to call Virginia for Romney. Romney and Paul are the only people on the ballot in Virginia. Does this mean Paul is in the 40s / has held Mitt to less than 20? That was one of my nine things to watch and could/should create a lot of chatter about dissatisfaction with Mitt.

7:31 p.m. Atlantic - Higher evangelical turnout in OH, TN, etc good sign for Santorum who late polls showed was in a lot of trouble?

Before we get started, here are my predictions that I posted on Saturday after the Washington caucus results came in:

Saturday, March 03, 2012

Super Tuesday preview

With Mitt Romney's easy win in Washington state, the narrative of the race is framing quite well for him heading into Super Tuesday. Just a couple of weeks ago, I was in the camp of many others in suggesting that Romney was in real trouble.

Here are 9 things to watch on Tuesday:

Mitt's margin in Virginia

Romney will almost certainly win Virginia in his two-man race against Ron Paul. The question is the margin and how it is perceived. The optics of Ron Paul holding Romney to 59-41 are much worse than 61-39. A "close" race here would play into the narrative that Romney can't seal the deal, even when the race is winnowed to he and a "fringe" candidate.

Can Newt win outside Georgia?

Recent polls show Newt Gingrich winning by a large margin in his home state of Georgia. But he won't likely get much momentum or credit for doing it because of his own framing of home state wins being a given. He's also focused on Tennessee where a win could change the narrative around his campaign and set him up for a come back in Kansas, Mississippi and Alabama that vote the following week. If he can only win in his home state, then it is hard to see how his campaign continues.

Can Mitt win in the south?

Romney is favoured in Massachusetts, Vermont, Virginia and Idaho. Though he won in Florida, he hasn't won in the more traditional conservative south in either 2008 or 2012. Despite momentum coming out of Iowa and New Hampshire, he was crushed in South Carolina. Georgia, Tennessee and Oklahoma all vote on Super Tuesday. Wins in any of these states would end the narrative that Mitt can't win the base and put him well on the path to sealing the deal.

Who places second in Oklahoma?

Rick Santorum is heavily favoured according to polls in this state. If Newt places second here, it is a sign of life for his campaign. If Romney does, it is a sign of strength outside of his comfort zone.

Who places second in Georgia?

Newt is heavily favoured to win Georgia. Romney is making a last minute campaign stop here in the hopes that he can place second and therefore show strength in the south.

Will Paul win a state?

Paul has a chance at winning North Dakota and/or Alaska and an outside chance in Idaho (where Romney is favoured). We've heard this before in Maine and Washington, but Ron Paul could rack up his first statewide win on Tuesday.

Who wins the night?

There are 10 contests. Romney is favoured in 4, Newt and Santorum in 1 each. Four others are toss ups. It is highly unlikely that any candidate could sweep those four remaining states (Alaska, North Dakota, Ohio and Tennessee) which means Romney will win or tie in number of states won - the question is can he take one of North Dakota and Alaska, and Ohio and win a majority?

Do either Gingrich or Santorum drop out?

If Gingrich wins Georgia just narrowly and doesn't come close anywhere else, it is hard to see how he can continue. If Santorum doesn't win Ohio, I'd say he is also in trouble, unless he takes both Oklahoma and Tennessee, and places a strong second in Ohio and Georgia which seems unlikely. However, would either of them drop out and endorse the other in a last ditch effort to stop Romney? This also seems unlikely.

Who wins Ohio?

Though Georgia has the most delegates at stake, Ohio is the focus because it is more competitive. (Though I'm surprised there isn't more attention for Tennessee which has almost as many delegates as well - these states have 76, 66 and 58 respectively.) The media focus will be almost exclusively on this race. If Santorum wins, he'll again be portrayed as the man who might beat Romney, if he loses it is hard to see how he regains momentum. If Romney wins and Gingrich finishes respectfully in addition to winning Georgia and Tennessee, it could set the stage for a major rebound.

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Unelectable Mitt redux

On the morn of the Florida primary, if the polls are to be believed, Mitt Romney will win convincingly and therefore likely wrap up the nomination. In and of itself, Florida might not be enought to seal the deal but it is followed by a February which has only a handful of contests all of which Romney is well positioned to win. By the time Super Tuesday rolls around, there won't be enough air left for others to be in fighting form.

But just in case Floridians focused on electability are reading this blog before they vote (hahaha), I want to restress my view that Mitt Romney is the least electable Republican in the field.

While it is true that polls now show Romney in a dead head with Obama nationally and these same polls Newt Gingrich far, far behind him. It misses an important point.

Newt has already had all of his dirty laundry aired repeatedly by Mitt Romney and his super PAC. All of the damage that will be done to Gingirch has been done.

If Romney is the nominee, the Obama campaign will destroy him with his own words. He has taken the opposite position on virtually every issue. A smart Obama campaign would target the deep south with ads showing Romney in his own words saying he favours abortion rights and opposes the record of Ronald Reagan. This would so depress grassroots conservative turnout that the south would be competitive for the first time in a generation. Add to that that Obama's operation massively increase Black turnout in the south in 2008 and that the enthusiasm of those voters has not diminished, unlike other demographics that fueled Obama's 2008.

Newt Gingrich, on the other hand, may or may not be competitive nationally, but his win in the South Carolina proved that he has the ability to excite the Republican base and get them to come out to vote.

Rick Santorum, as hard as it is for me to say, is probably the most electable of the bunch. While his awkwardness in New Hampshire that caused him to blow his post-Iowa momentum gives me pause, the fact is that he did manage to win a Democratic-leaning swing state in 2 of 3 attempts. A state that resembles demographically a number of other swing states in the so-called rust belt. And he would obviously be very well positioned to sweep the south.

So let's take a look at the electoral map. First, these would be the states which I would argue are locked-in for the respective parties regardless of the Republican nominee.

Here Obama carries 196 electoral votes on the west coast and the northeast, while the Republican wins in Appalachia (+ Arkansas and Louisiana which behaved like the Appalachian states in 2008 by giving Obama less votes than they'd given John Kerry), as well as the strong Republican states in the plains.

If the Obama campaign is smart, and they destroy Romney's credibility among social conservatives, these voters will stay home or vote for a third party candidate. That would cripple the Republicans in the south. Even if we give Mitt the benefit of the doubt and say he could carry Arizona, Colorado and Nevada (due to higher Mormon turnout), Iowa (due to his strong organization and enthusiasm built there during the caucus), Michigan (due to his roots there) and New Hampshire. It would still be a blow out:

While it is conceivable that Mitt might be able to salvage things in Alabama and Texas (and maybe Mississippi but I doubt it), those wins would be offset but just-as-likely loses in Arizona, Colorado, Nevada, Iowa, Michigan and New Hampshire.

Now Newt could ensure enthusiasm in the conservative heartland but would likely lose all swing states. Nonetheless, this leaves him far better positioned than Mitt. Under this scenario Newt would lose the presidency by just 30 electoral votes, compared to 111 for Mitt.

The last map I'll show you is definitely a best case scenario for Rick Santorum. I am not saying this is the likely outcome were he to win the nomination. It does show however, that he has a much clearer path to victory than these other knuckleheads.

This shows Santorum crushing Obama 338 to 200, which would be the worst Democratic defeat since 1988. That probably wouldn't happen. But even if Santorum lost Virginia, Michigan and Wisconsin from the above map, he'd still win by a margin of 299 to 239. He could then also lose either Ohio or his home state of Pennsylvania and pull out a win. Or lose them both and hold Virginia.

If Republicans in Florida want to continue to buy into the completely insane groupthink that Mitt Romney's middle name is Electability, then we'll be hearing a lot of this over at Obama HQ in Chicago.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

First in the South liveblog

8:11 p.m. Atlantic - NBC has called South Carolina for Gingrich; other networks holding off. Gingrich leads Romney by 9 points in exit polls.

8:12 - CNN is talking about how Romney may be better off in Florida because it is a more diverse state. They seem to forget that independents can vote in South Carolina, while the Florida primary is closed - only Republicans can vote there. Therefore, while Florida may be more "diverse", is Republican primary electorate may not be.

8:29 - In my mind, Santorum's campaign is dead. I predicted that this would happen if he wasted time in New Hampshire as he did. CNN's John King is reporting though that Santorum's campaign has a crazy plan to run through Florida, hope for Newt Gingrich to win there and force Romney out of the race. In this universe they think that the establishment might turn to Santorum to try to stop Newt. While the establishment may be desperate to stop Newt, I suspect they would be more likely to try to get a Christie/Daniels/Bush to get in rather than back unelectable Santorum.

8:51 - Did anyone else think that Santorum's exclusive interview on CNN about how he would stay in even after finishing third in South Carolina sounded a lot like Huntsman's exclusive interview on CNN about how he would stay in even after finishing third in New Hampshire? I guess Santorum will drop out in 6 days. Who will he endorse?

9:38 - Interesting that Newt's win is so decisive that Mitt is as close to Paul in 4th as he is to Newt in first.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

First In The Nation liveblog

8:33 p.m. Atlantic - Sorry for the delay in getting started. My sincere apology to my one reader (Hi Mom!). Very early returns show Romney heading toward high-30s, which would be a big win. Exit polls show a near three-way tie between Romney-Paul-Huntsman with Huntsman in the back, he needed to win indies to place second in my opinion, so it could be disappointing for him as the expectations game in the past 48-hours seemed to be that he'd place second or a very strong third.

8:40 - Nate Silver says that the early results are from areas Romney won in 2008, so he isn't likely to stay in the mid-high 30s.

9:00 - The instant all of the polls close, CNN calls it for Romney. Not a surprise. Tonight was about who places second between Paul-Huntsman, who places fourth between Gingrich-Santorum and how big Romney's margin is.

9:11 - Interesting tidbits from exit polls: Huntsman wins big among Democrats cross-voting in the primary but they make up only 4% of the electorate. Romney wins Republicans by a huge margin as well. Independents are split between the three major candidates, but Paul wins. Romney wins among tea party supporters which to me seems like kind of a big deal.

9:21 - Huntsman personally comes out to talk to CNN to say he's staying in the race even if he finishes third. Worried that the chatter was going to quickly turn to him having to drop out?

9:29 - Mitt giving victory speech. Paul second, Huntsman third. Tight race between Gingrich and Santorum for fourth but not worth staying up for. Good night!

Thursday, January 05, 2012

My Perry-Huntsman conspiracy theory

Rick Perry surprised a lot of people with his decision to stay in the presidential race after the Iowa caucus, including his own staff. Nate Silver says that this is because he either a) is doing it for deeply personal reasons; or b) has been shown a strategic path to come back and win.

Let me expand upon a third theory that I hinted at on Twitter yesterday:

Mary Kaye Huntsman and Anita Perry have been friends for years, having met when their husbands were both Republican governors. Since their husbands have both become presidential candidates, their friendship has grown and they talk almost daily.

If Jon Huntsman does well in New Hampshire, he may be well positioned to do well in South Carolina. If Jon Huntsman does poorly in New Hampshire, he will have to drop out of the race. Should the former happen, Rick Perry could drop out of the race after New Hampshire but before South Carolina to endorse the surging Huntsman, arguing he too is a solidly conservative guy focused on jobs with a conservative record as governor. If Huntsman drops out, he could endorse Perry lending credibility to his campaign as well as Huntsman's suprisingly credible South Carolina organization.

Sound crazy? Both women have shown that they are among their husbands' most trusted and influential political advisors. If Perry's campaign in South Carolina is largely focused on tearing down Romney, Santorum and Gingrich and making the argument that you need a governor who has a conservative record, he could be doing it not only for himself but as a proxy for Huntsman.

Wednesday, January 04, 2012

Gaming out New Hampshire

Last night, as the Iowa caucus results were trickling in, I posted my predictions for the New Hampshire primary. I posted two because of one important variable: Buddy Roemer. The former Louisiana governor has been excluded from all debates so far but recently scored 3% in a poll of New Hampshire and will be in the upcoming debates if he can grow that to 5% in one of the slew of polls that are likely to come. If he were to get into the debate, I suspect he would pick up a handful of votes in the primary, likely at the expense of Jon Huntsman.

So here is my prediction explained:

Romney: 32%

This is the exact share of the vote he got in New Hampshire in 2008. He also scored a repeat of his 2008 result in Iowa (25% both yesterday and four years ago). I think that the net effect of yesterday's Iowa result (Romney winning just barely over a surging Santorum) will have little effect on Romney's standing in New Hampshire, no bump but no anti-bump either. I do think though that the Newt Gingrich/New Hampshire Union Leader tag team against Mitt will have an effect and likely will see him dragged down from the mid-40s he's been seeing in polls there recently.

Huntsman: 20%*

The respected political observer Nate Silver opined that the best Iowa result for Huntsman was what we saw last night. Huntsman currently averages 10% in New Hampshire polls and can likely expect to enjoy a mini-Santorum effect for having worked the hardest in New Hampshire, especially with votes being shaken lose from Romney by the Newt/UL assault.

Gingrich: 17%

Newt is going to tear down Mitt Romney and be re-endorsed "every damn day" by the Union Leader. He should be able to parlay this, along with a fourth place double-digit showing in Iowa after having been written off, into a strong position in New Hampshire.

Paul: 17%

Paul currently averages 19% in polls of New Hampshire. A win in Iowa may have allowed room for growth but I suspect he keeps to his core support of 15-20%.

Santorum: 13%

Santorum has barely registered in most New Hampshire polls, but I suspect he will get a surge here similar to what Mike Huckabee got in 2008 under similar circumstances.

Perry and Bachmann: less than 1% between them

While I expected Perry to drop out and Bachmann to continue, the opposite happened today. Regardless, both of their names remain on the New Hampshire primary ballot and both of them will get less than 1%

Roemer: ~0% or 6%*

Buddy isn't likely to play here very much unless he gets the exposure of a debate. If he does, I forecast he gets 6% mostly at the expense of Huntsman.

Tuesday, January 03, 2012

Iowa live blog

9 p.m. Atlantic - CNN says entrance poll shows Paul/Romney/Santorum in top 3, other 4 clearly back. Drudge often posts the actual numbers which I'll be watching for. Since 2000 Florida mishap, media is much more careful in showing and using the raw data from entrance/exit polls.

9:06 - best site for results tonight? The Des Moines Register of course.

9:09 - The Fix says more moderates and independents caucusing this year. Likely a good sign for Ron Paul, who I predicted on Dec. 6 would win with 25% of the vote.

9:14 - CNN has the exit poll up. No top line #s but you can figure them out using math. Will do that and post them.

9:17 - CNN beat me to it - here are the top lines: Paul 24, Romney 24, Santorum 18, Gingrich 15, Perry 11, Bachmann 7, Huntsman 1. This is the first wave of early arrivers, an updated entrance poll will follow. NOTE early arrivals entrance poll in 2008 had Romney ahead, he lost by 9 points. This could be a very bad sign for him if that trend carries through to this year. Entrance poll this year shows Romney winning big (2 to 1) among seniors who are likely to show up early.

9:23 - Ben Smith makes a great point: in 2012 caucusers locked into their voting sites will be able to get these entrance poll results on their smartphones. How will that influence the results? Ben theorizes that it helps Santorum as it proves he's the leader among social conservatives. It may also help Romney if traditional Republicans want to stop Paul and see Romney is the only one in a position to do so. Also Gingrich in a clear 4th and within striking distance of Santorum - some of his former supporters might come back. So, in a nutshell, I have no idea.

9:36 - First results starting to trickle in. In other news, entrance polls say Paul is leading Santorum among evangelicals (!) Paul went hard on his anti-abortion views in Iowa (his Ames straw poll speech was almost exclusively on this topic). If these numbers prove true, that REALLY paid off for Paul.

9:47 - Final entrance poll shows Santorum stronger, Newt weaker, everyone else about the same. Final results will be very important for Newt. If he is 4th (as seems likely) and closer to third than fifth, I think he can credibly portray himself as the comeback kid. If he is closer to 5th, it is harder. If Mitt is only a point or two back of third, he goes to NH where Union Leader has endorsed him. The Union Leader doesn't endorse once, they turn their frontpage into a daily endorsement. They would play up the Newt "comeback" big. Perry in fifth would be dead and a strong candidate for dropping out. Lots of bad blood between Perry and Romney, Perry and Paul and lately Perry and Santorum. Might he endorse Newt, giving him a second boost?

10:08 - Entrance polls show Paul with narrow lead, but Twitter chatter from journos suggest actual results suggest he will not place as well. Could be his super keen voters were more likely to agree to talk to entrance poll canvassers?

10:17 - can't understate enough how Newt's percentage matters. If he is above 15% he is a contender in NH. If he gets above 15% and gets endorsement from Perry and/or Bachmann, I'd call him co-favourite.

11:01 - Gingrich stuck at 13%, 10 points back of third and only 3 ahead of Perry. Even with Union Leader help, that's hard to spin into "comeback."

11:08 - It would help Newt if Perry slipped into single digits before reporters start filing their stories for the night. Leads like "A three-way tie for first, with only Newt Gingrich also breaking double digits..." would be helpful to his "comeback" argument.

11:42 - Newts high hopes slipping fast, Perry vote growing - could end up a 2-way tie for fourth.

12:07 - Even though college town Ames hasn't reported, Paul is 4 points back and unlikely to win. He's speaking to his crowd, says only he and Romney can run a national campaign. Now giving an impassioned libertarian spiel.

12:33 - Newt has said he will wage war against Newt for months to come. David Gergen says on CNN it sounds like Newt's mission is to destroy Mitt and let whoever else win the nomination. Sounded that was to me too. CNN also has Newt's full page ad for tomorrow's N.H. Union Leader calling Mitt a "timid Massachusetts liberal" and listing his sins. Should be interesting. But the question is if Mitt fights back, do they both lose? The old expression is that you throw mud by taking the ground from under you. Who benefits of Mitt and Newt destroy each other? A surging Santorum? A strong-based Paul? Or a his-time-to-surge Huntsman who has campaigned in N.H. like Santorum did in Iowa? Perhaps Huntsman's message is Rick Santorum proved working hard still matters in Iowa, will N.H. prove it still matters here?

12:37 - Bachmann speaking, sounds like she'll drop out.

12:41 - I guess I misread, she says she is going on.

12:59 - Perry returning to Texas, to "reassess" campaign. He'll have dropped out by supper time tomorrow.

1:06 - Ari Fleischer thinks Newt's attack/concession speech wasn't classy. I've got to take up for Newt. Mitt Romney is the least consistent, biggest flip-flopping guy to ever run for president and he destroyed Newt's campaign with ads calling Newt a flip-flopper. C'mon, Newt's earned the right to spit a few nails.

1:24 - Santorum is giving a very powerful speech. If he can get the right clips out through earned media he'll be in good shape.

1:25 - I'm going to sign off, but in case you missed them, here are my N.H. predictions. I'll post tomorrow an explanation of my thinking. Scenario 1 with Buddy Roemer, and scenario 2 without him.