Mitt Romney tries to make history in Iowa and New Hampshire

at 06:30 AM ET, 12/29/2011

If former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney can pull off back-to-back wins in the Iowa caucuses and New Hampshire primary in the next 12 days, he will not only take a major step toward winning the Republican presidential nomination, but he’ll also write his name into the history books.


Republican presidential candidate and former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney shakes hands as he leaves a campaign event at Homer's Deli and Bakery with a stack of baked goods on Wednesday in Clinton, Iowa. (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

A new CNN/Opinion Research poll out Wednesday showed Romney leading Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas) in Iowa by a slim margin. The poll means Romney is now polling as the frontrunner in both of the two earliest states (he led Paul by 27 points in New Hampshire).

Since 1976 — the birth of the first-in-the-nation status for Iowa and New Hampshire — no non-incumbent GOP candidate has scored the daily double of winning both states back to back. Not one.

A quick history lesson: In 1980, George H.W. Bush won the Iowa caucuses but Ronald Reagan won the New Hampshire primary. In 1988, Bob Dole won Iowa and Bush won New Hampshire. Eight years later, Dole won Iowa again but Pat Buchanan emerged victorious in New Hampshire. In 2000, George W. Bush was the prohibitive favorite for the nomination and won Iowa but watched as Sen. John McCain (Ariz.) cruised to a New Hampshire win. And, in 2008 former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee won Iowa but McCain took New Hampshire and, eventually, the nomination.

Why hasn’t any Republican candidate been able to pull off wins in both of the two earliest voting states?

The most obvious reason is that the states tend to have very different electorates.

A caucus state, Iowa is heavily influenced by evangelical voters looking for a candidate who puts a premium on social conservative touchstones like abortion. Republicans in New Hampshire, on the other hand, are traditionally far more focused on fiscal issues than social ones.

In New Hampshire, registered Republicans and registered independents can vote — making the overall electorate far more centrist. While Iowa does have same-day registration for the caucuses — meaning you can register as a Republican in the morning and participate in the caucuses at night — it tends to be a contest dominated by committed GOPers.

The massive demands, financially and time-wise, of campaigning in the early states is also responsible for the series of split decisions in Iowa and New Hampshire.

Running major campaign in each state is a $5 million proposition (at least), and for campaigns trying to figure out where to spend limited resources, they have often taken to picking and choosing.

While few candidates go the route of McCain, who skipped Iowa altogether in 2000 and 2008, almost every candidate now prioritizes one state over the other when it comes to where to spend the majority of their time and money.

The very fact that Romney sits in the pole position — or, should we say, poll position — five days before Iowa and 12 days before New Hampshire is somewhat remarkable.

It’s all the more remarkable when you consider that one of the dominant storylines in the Republican race so far has been Romney’s relative weakness as a frontrunner.

If he wins both Iowa and New Hampshire, Romney will kill that narrative dead and, in so doing, almost certainly seal the Republican nomination for himself. He’ll also make a little bit of Republican history along the way.

Why Romney leads: Romney’s lead in the CNN poll in Iowa appears to be about pragmatism and personal attributes rather than issues.

When Iowa voters are asked who agrees with them the most on the issues, Paul leads Romney 22 percent to 18 percent.

When they are asked who has the best chance to beat Obama, though, Romney blows everyone out of the water with 41 percent. Gingrich is second at 17 percent, and Paul is third at 14 percent. On the question of who is most presidential, Romney leads Paul 25 percent to 19 percent.

Also worth noting: Plenty were criticizing the poll Wednesday for surveying only registered Republicans, noting that this could dilute Paul’s percentage. As noted above, people who aren’t registered with the GOP can — and often do — wind up participating.

That seems like a fair criticism. But even if Paul is actually a few points higher, it’s still a virtual tie.

Gingrich raised $9 million in the fourth quarter: Gingrich’s campaign is out with an early fundraising disclosure, saying the candidate raised $9 million in the still-yet-to-be-completed fourth quarter.

The total is a huge improvement for Gingrich from his previous quarters — which left him in debt — but it’s still not on-par with the best quarters in the GOP presidential race. Both Romney and Perry raised more than $14 million in the third quarter.

Gingrich is the first to announce his fundraising totals. The quarter ends on Saturday, and reports are due at the end of January.

Latinos dislike Obama on immigration, but stand by him: Despite opposing his administration’s deportation of a record amount of illegal immigrants, Latino voters say they will still support Obama in 2012.

A new Pew Hispanic Center report shows Latino voters disapprove of Obama’s illegal immigrant deportation policy by a 59 percent-to-27 percent margin.

On the other hand, more than two-thirds say they would vote for Obama over either Romney or Rick Perry.

Polling has consistently shown Latinos falling out of love with Obama, but so far, the GOP just hasn’t made itself into a viable alternative. And for now, it appears Obama could match his 2008 advantage among Latinos, which went a long way toward securing his victory among this growing demographic.

Fixbits:

Staying true to his positive campaigning pledge, Gingrich criticized the super PAC supporting his candidacy for sending a mailer that calls Romney the “second most dangerous man in America.” Gingrich previous urged Romney to tell his own super PAC to stop the negative attacks.

The National Organization for Marriage runs an ad in Iowa criticizing Paul.

The pro-Santorum super PAC is spending $250,000 on an ad for the candidate in Iowa. The CNN poll showed Santorum surging to third place, with 16 percent.

Former New Mexico governor Gary Johnson is officially seeking the Libertarian Party’s nomination for president after dropping out of the GOP race.

Former congressman Frank Kratovil (D-Md.), who didn’t get much of an opportunity from that state’s new congressional redistricting map, has accepted a judgeship appointment from Gov. Martin O’Malley (D).

Must-reads:

Economists underwhelmed by Obama’s policies, pick Romney over his Republican rivals” — AP

On Trail, Gingrich Strains to Show Nice-Guy Side” — Mark Leibovich, New York Times

Donations flowed to Gingrich’s nonprofit after he shifted on energy issues in 2008” — Dan Eggen, Washington Post

Rick Perry makes conservative case as caucuses draw near” — James Oliphant, Los Angeles Times

 
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