Early Voting Key To Romney's Delegate Victories

This is a significant item that most non-campaign experts miss. From Slate's Sasha Issenberg:

Once-meaningful distinctions between early voting, voting-by-mail, and absentee ballots are being erased as 32 states now offer voters the chance to cast their ballot before Election Day without a justifying excuse (as traditional absentee balloting required).

Romney’s canny and competent handling of these varied early-voting processes this year has helped him accumulate a seemingly insurmountable lead in delegates. He is running the only modern, professional campaign against a field of amateurs gasping to keep up, and nowhere is that advantage more evident than in his mastery of early voting. Capitalizing on early-voting procedures demands formidable investment up front in the service of later savings.

Yet Romney has likely already reaped enough gains from mastering the system in earlier states to ensure he is the only Republican who could enter the Tampa convention in August with enough delegates to become the nominee. “If you look at Gingrich and Santorum, who spent their political careers in the Nineties, they’re dinosaurs to the new way of campaigning,” says Mann. “Romney was much better prepared going into 2012 for how people vote today.”

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Gas Prices Take Toll On Obama's Approval Rating

President Obama touts an "all-of-the-above" approach to America's energy needs. That said, many of us know that the Obama administration could do more to ease prices at the pump. And now the president's approval numbers are taking a hit - thanks in large part to his stuborness on the issue, according to the latest Washington Post/ABC News poll. USA Today's David Jackson has more:

Obama's ... approval rating is down to 46% in the survey, in large part because of one issue: Rising gas prices.

"Nearly two-thirds of Americans say they disapprove of the way the president is handling the situation at the pump, where rising prices have already hit hard," the Post reports. "Just 26% approve of his work on the issue, his lowest rating in the poll."

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Southern Discomfort: Gingrich Faces A Critical Test Down South.

More than a dozen years after leaving the House, where he represented the Atlanta suburbs for two decades, Newt Gingrich returns to the Deep South this week for a critical Dixie test.

Ninety delegates are at stake; more than that, Gingrich needs a pair of victories to remain a viable contender. But winning Alabama and Mississippi will be difficult.

Polls in both states show Gingrich in a strong position, but he is not necessarily the front-runner. According to Rasmussen, Mitt Romney leads in Mississippi, and in Alabama Gingrich barely leads Rick Santorum. Gingrich and his allies, however, are confident that they can survive.

Now, the two leading anti-Romney conservative favorites will clash near Gingrich’s home turf. Gingrich’s challenge is not only to beat Romney but also to halt Santorum’s rise.

“If Gingrich can’t win in the South, it’s unclear where he’ll find momentum,” says Ford O’Connell, a GOP consultant who worked on former Mississippi governor Haley Barbour’s 2007 reelection campaign. “It’s his base. Santorum has appeal, but he and Romney do not speak  southern.” The pressure on Gingrich to impress is intense.

“Given the fact that Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich are vying for the same voting bloc in the Deep South, Mitt Romney could win one of these two states,” says Ford O’Connell. “And if that occurs, the GOP primary could wind down, with Romney showing strength across all regions.”

Read more from Robert Costa at National Review Online

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Ford O'Connell At AJE: Is The Protracted Primary Backfiring?

As the Republicans turn their attention to the southern states, will a long primary battle weaken the eventual nominee? Guests: Michelle Goldberg, an author; Ford O'Connell, a Republican strategist; Peter Fenn, a Democratic strategist.

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Is Romney's "Southern Problem" Overstated?

In a recent interview with an Alabama radio station, Mitt Romney alluded to the challenges he faces in the Deep South by comparing campaigning there to playing "an away game."

Indeed, connecting with voters in the heart of Dixie is a particularly difficult test for a Boston business titan who takes the skin off of his fried chicken before eating it and who governed a state that is synonymous with Yankee liberalism.

After Romney increased his delegate lead on Super Tuesday, expectations for him were downgraded to the lowest in recent memory as the GOP primary fight headed to Mississippi and Alabama on Tuesday.

Despite his victories in Florida and Virginia, the lingering question over Romney’s ability to win in the South is one of the main reasons he hasn't seized the mantle as the inevitable Republican nominee.

But a closer look at the numbers reveals that Romney’s “Southern problem” may be overstated.

“In the general election, the South is going to be a strength for Mitt Romney,” said Republican strategist Ford O’Connell. “His weakness in the South means this primary drags on, but once November rolls around, Romney’s Southern problem will be over. Southerners may not like Mitt Romney, but they certainly don’t like Barack Obama.”

Read more from Scott Conroy at RealClearPolitics

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GOP Field Tries To Eat Its Veggies In The Heart Of Red Meat Country

Most Republicans want to drop talk of social issues and instead settle into a nice discussion of how horrible Obama is at everything independent voters like (read: gas prices, job creation, taxes.) But if the candidates are putting themselves on a strict economics-only diet, the race’s turn into the Deep South is akin to dropping them into a cupcake factory. Or at least a red meat factory.

The race now moves to approaching primaries in Alabama and Mississippi, where the conservatism is of the uncut variety. What’s worse for Republicans eager to abandon the topics polls show are turning off women, independents and Latinos, those states favor Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich. Romney hasn’t done well in the South so far (see: South Carolina, Tennessee and the surprising Ron Paul vote in Virginia) and though he’s spending money in the Deep South primaries and won the endorsement of Mississippi’s governor, no one really thinks the contests are about him.

So that means a brighter spotlight on two candidates who love a good social issues fight, and two states with Republican voters who might have an appetite for one. The candidates themselves are trying mightily to stay focused. Romney is knocking the debt. Newt Gingrich is pumping gas and Rick Santorum is promising to be on his best behavior.

Republican strategist Ford O’Connell, who’s helped Republicans win in both states, told TPM that the national candidates need to tread lightly.

“You can’t really avoid talking about social issues in those states,” he said. “There are certain code words you can use down there that don’t come back to haunt you in the rest of the country.”

“If they go out there and shoot from the hip, they could obviously damage themselves in other regions,” O’Connell said.

Read more from Evan McMorris-Santoro and Kyle Leighton at TPM 

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Making Your Web Campaign Real

When we look at a political website, we see reflections of the candidates and their campaigns. It’s nice to see campaigns that put some effort into dressing up for the occasion. But when we look deeper at how many campaigns use their websites and other online tools, the picture is often a lot less impressive.

Let’s take a look at whether you’ve built in the horsepower to rev up your campaign or you’re “all show and no go” online.

Our first checkpoint is to ask if you understand your audience and what you’re trying to accomplish online.  In the most simplistic terms, you’re looking at presenting information and encouraging action. On the information side, the rookie mistake is to confuse the ability to publish an unlimited amount of information on your website or Facebook info tab with the desire of the audience to wade through your magnum opus. Likewise, crowding your home page with an excessive number of action buttons and links makes them easy to find, but less likely that the important actions will stand out.

There is no hard and fast rule on the maximum number of words or links on a page, but if it takes a typical visitor minutes rather than seconds to figure out what it is you want to tell them or have them do, you deserve a “delay of campaign” penalty. If you don’t have a good sense of this yourself, we suggest you enlist the help of some friends with short attention spans. See if they read the entire page or if they click on the action items that are most important to you.

Read more from Steve Pearson and Ford O'Connell at Campaigns & Elections 

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How Many Delegates Would Santorum Have Without Gingrich In The Race?

The New York Times' Nate Silver tries to take an admirable stab at this difficult question.

 

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Blue-Collar Voters Elude Presidential Hopeful Romney

Republican presidential hopeful Mitt Romney is finding it tough to connect with lower-income voters in his own party, a record that bodes poorly for success in a potential general election contest with President Barack Obama.

A stream of memorable gaffes on the topic of wealth - Romney is one of the richest men ever to seek the presidency - has cast the former venture capital executive as out of touch with the concerns of working Americans.

Lower-income Republicans are more likely to vote on social issues like opposition to abortion and same-sex marriage, where Santorum scores highly.

Ultimately, most Republican primary voters who opted for Santorum or former U.S. House Speaker Newt Gingrich are likely to unite behind Romney in the spirit of partisanship, if he becomes the candidate.

But independents, whose support tilts the balance, arguably do not have the same type of "anyone but Obama" mentality of many Republicans.

"Romney is going to need some working-class votes in Ohio, Florida, Virginia, North Carolina, Iowa and other states to win a general election," said Republican strategist Ford O'Connell.

"As long as the economy is where it's at, he has a chance to win. But he needs to keep his message on the economy simple. Mitt has literally got to roll up his perfectly tailored sleeves and say, ‘I'll work hard for you."

Read more from Ros Krasny at Reuters  

 

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South Will Be A Strength, Not Weakness, For Romney Against Obama

It's time for Mitt Romney to roll up those perfectly tailored sleeves and get his hands greasy. Not dirty. Greasy. As in, "I need a napkin because I just ate a lot of this not-so-nutritious-but-oh-so-delicious southern food."

It won't be easy otherwise for him to connect with southern voters. He's Mormon; they're not. He's extremely wealthy; they've been slow to recover from the jolts of 2008 and 2009. They love NASCAR and college football. He doesn't do sports. And his record so far—losses in South Carolina, Tennessee, Oklahoma, and Georgia—suggest the romance has, to say the least, not reached full bloom.

But the truth is Romney's southern woes will extend only through the primary season. Once November rolls around, it will be a contest between a big-government Democrat and a Republican who, at least, talks of fiscal responsibility. And, in that contest, Romney will view the South as a strength, not a weakness.

Read more from Ford O'Connell at U.S. News & World Report

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