2016 Republicans, State of the Race, Uncategorized

State of the Race: Which GOP Gov Has a Chance?

November 3, 2015

We’ve known governors were going to have a rougher than expected road to the nomination for a couple/few months.  They have now almost completely eliminated themselves from contention.

The only remaining governor with a wisp of a trail is Chris Christie.  None have good poll numbers.  The most drastic example is a new WXIA-TV/SurveyUSA poll in Georgia.

Trump + Carson: 63%

Bush + Kasich + Christie: 6%

Yes, it’s one poll.  Yes it’s one state, a fairly red one at that, but still.  What about Florida, home to one of the governors, the place Jeb Bush uses as evidence for his executive capability?  New polling from Bay News 9/News 13 has a closer result.

Trump + Carson: 54%

Bush + Kasich + Christie: 10%

Even if one from this group can consolidate support, they are still running behind Marco Rubio.  Should he fade and the survivor take his people, the combined total is often behind Donald Trump or Ben Carson individually.

It’s still far from clear Ted Cruz can take a significant amount of voters from Trump or Carson, let alone one of the governors pulling this off.  The most recent debate was the latest nail in their collective coffin.

First, the lasting story from the event is mainstream media gone wild and the attempts of candidates and the RNC to keep them in check going forward.  Any time the narrative is about the media and not policy, the governors are worse off.

Second, neither Trump nor Carson had a bad evening.  With CNBC moderators making an issue of themselves, there wasn’t much time to attack the polling front-runners, both of whom appeared more prepared this time anyway.

Their previous results were often in spite of how they did on the stage, not because of it. With less time in between Debate 3 and Debate 4, a face plant might have caused re-evaluation.  Didn’t happen.

Third, both Kasich and Bush have eliminated themselves from contention.  We saw Jeb self-immolate when Rubio turned around a clumsy hit attempt.  It’s the moment everyone will remember, but the fuse was lit weeks ago when Bush couldn’t handle Trump.

He tried attacking from a position of weakness and officially finished himself off.  As more post-debate poll numbers are released and his position in strategic locations (like Florida where he trails Rubio 16% to 7%) worsens, the drip will continue.

As was pointed out on Meet the Press, Jeb’s layoff period from his most recent election (2002) is well in excess of any previous successful nominee since Dwight Eisenhower, who had never run for office.

The next longest gap for someone who at least competed well was his own father in 1980.  Bush the Elder’s previous run was for Senate from Texas back in 1970.  When Bush got rolling in Iowa in late 1978/early 1979 he was under the radar.

Nobody thought the ex-CIA chief, UN Ambassador and party functionary had a chance, so he was able to get months of practice in before anyone was listening or watching on the national level.

In part due to the eventual success of Bush 41, Jeb was not afforded this luxury.  While he had the benefit of a pre-existing fundraising organization, there was no time or shield to get rehearsals in and open off Broadway.  He was in the spotlight on day one.

For a more comfortable, natural politician, this is still hard.  In 1976, Ronald Reagan was only 6 years removed from his last election.  Even that is longer than the average duration, and like Jeb, it was his first run through the presidential primary system (a previous 1968 effort was more limited).

Reagan made several key errors during the invisible primary (the part we’re in now) and in the first few states until he really got his footing.  By then, it was too late, as even after he started racking up wins, he couldn’t quite catch President Ford in delegates.

In retrospect, the mistake was thinking just because his immediate relatives occupied the White House, a very rusty Jeb would be able to go the distance on his first try.

Meanwhile, Kasich decided this was the right time to take the side of the media.  There is never a good time for a Republican to do this.  Trump, Christie, and Carly Fiorina have the routine down really well.

During the debate, they turned on the moderators when the opportunity presented itself.  Afterward, they spent a short period of time making hay while the sun shined on the wronged candidates.

Once the story progressed and the candidate representatives met to discuss a change in procedures, these three pivoted away from making any demands and emphasized their willingness to take any question at any time in any place.

It’s a great middle ground between fixating endlessly as Cruz is seeming to (his sound bites are a perception is reality thing on this) and running in the media primary like Kasich.

As many have pointed out, Kasich campaign strategist John Weaver was the architect of the 2000 John McCain Straight Talk Express campaign.  It was notable for a huge upset victory over George W. Bush in New Hampshire, before order was restored after a brutal South Carolina primary.

While McCain lost the nomination, it did set him up as a front runner for 2008 and the overall effort is usually considered a success.  This does not make it a good template for Kasich in 2016.

To put it mildly, conditions have changed.  While conservatives and outsiders are leading a very crowded field this time, competition was very limited in 2000.  Bush was the lead candidate, running as a compassionate conservative.  Steve Forbes ran on a flat tax as as social moderate.

Bush was focused nationally and Forbes made a big push in Iowa, so McCain had New Hampshire pretty much to himself for much of 1999.  In addition, he benefitted from drawing large amounts of Independent voters into the Republican primary.

While many Independents will participate this time, there are several other candidates, most notably Trump who are grabbing this support.  Beyond cultivating the media, McCain ran on campaign finance reform, something that resonates with many Independents.  Kasich lacks the specific focus to draw them in.

Absent the McCain advantages, Kasich more closely resembles another Weaver client, 2012 Jon Huntsman, who spent much of his time running against the Republican Party.  Though his intentions may have been to attack Carson and Trump, they are currently receiving a solid 50% of GOP support.

By calling their plans, proposals and statements fantasy, Kasich is also implicitly criticizing those who support them.  Defending the media at the same time eliminates the chance of getting any adequate number of Republicans behind him.

The first post-debate New Hampshire poll from Monmouth had Kasich back up to 11%, near his high.  This still doesn’t mean his approach worked.  Even Huntsman finished third in 2012.  Kasich has a chance to place decently in February.  To win the nomination, he needs to win New Hampshire and do so without alienating Republicans elsewhere.  That was not achieved last week.

This leaves Christie.  He sounds the best of the three and is getting progressively higher favorability ratings.  After being a net negative in August, he’s now +32 in New Hampshire according to Monmouth.

Recent polling in other states also shows him moving in the right direction.  Rather than repeating McCain 2000, Christie is closer to McCain 2008, which did wind up in a nomination.

Like his predecessor, Christie thrives in the town hall setting.  He’s comfortable enough with the press and does well on Sunday shows.  He’s also plenty blunt about what he thinks.  However, he faces a lot more competition.  Many of McCain’s competitors focused on Iowa, while Rudy Giuliani blew off Iowa and New Hampshire.

Mitt Romney was his only major competitor in the Granite State.  Christie has to deal with Kasich (picture a brawl between dueling McCains), plus Jeb deciding to focus more on NH (even if he’s dead candidate walking he still takes up oxygen), plus Rubio.

Remember, that’s just on one side of the field, which even in moderate-friendly New Hampshire is still well less than 50% right now, even if you include Carly Fiorina in the mix.

Christie sits at 5% and it is far and away his best state at the moment.  If you could combine Jeb’s money, infrastructure and media attention, with Christie’s tone and Kasich’s record, you’d have a very strong candidate, even in 2016.

Separately, they are all very lacking.  Perhaps the largest barrier is the still limited polling support for Rubio.  After multiple solid debates, plenty of mostly favorable press, and the realization that there isn’t much time to rally around an “electable” candidate, he’s still in low double-digits.

Adding Rubio and the governors together gets you to no more than 25% in most places.  In New Hampshire it’s 35%, but in Iowa less than 20%.  The national Real Clear Politics average is also around 20%.

Even if Christie gets past the other governors to have a chance to replace Rubio, it still may not add up.  He needs an issue.  For McCain, it was the surge.  An early supporter, he spoke out in favor before his opponents, before General Petraeus got results.

Just in time for New Hampshire voters, it became evident it was working.  Even if a governor can distinguish himself on policy (Christie with entitlement reform has the best chance), they won’t have McCain’s opportunity to be proven correct by February.

So Jeb is done due to lack of spring training.  Kasich is done because he’s channeling Huntsman and the wrong McCain.  Christie is hoping 14 things fall in to place to give him a shot.

Stay tuned.


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