Gingrich Took a Month to Rebound, but Here He Is
By Al Giordano
Now that everyone in this electoral projections business is picking former House Speaker Newt Gringich to win a come-from-behind victory in today's South Carolina primary, let's reflect on why they had so little faith until after the polls began turning his way. Less than a week ago, the New York Times' 538 blog projected former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney with an 82 percent chance to win in the Palmetto State and, citing its method of "regression analysis" gave him a 98 percent chance to win the GOP nomination.
What a difference a week makes. One good debate performance, another great debate triumph (sparked by a flopped sex scandal attack of the sort that inoculated Bill Clinton in his 1992 presidential campaign) and suddenly Gingrich is back in a big way. The Field projects him to win today's third-in-the-nation contest, setting up a months-long back-and-forth two-way contest ahead as Gingrich and Romney battle through upcoming state primaries and caucuses (with an ocassional Ron Paul boomlet in the latter, to keep things weird enough). The also-rans have run out of gas. Former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum just could not get a word in edgewise and probably wishes he had a sex scandal of his own now. Former Utah Governor
Rick Jon Huntsman and Texas Governor Rick Perry are now officially out. And Gingrich will now play Itchy to Romney's Scratchy for the coming weeks and months and then in the end somebody will get blown up and everybody gets to laugh.
But the real lesson here is that polling is not the most reliable indicator for early presidential primaries and caucuses. It wasn't four years ago when the pundits and pollsters tried to feed us the "inevitability" of Hillary Clinton's nomination for president, nor is it this cycle when Politico's Roger Simon wrote, after the Iowa caucuses that "It's over. Let's all head to Tampa" and coronate Romney as the nominee. A lot of people who bet on Romney on Intrade (with a 90 percent supposed chance of winning South Carolina) are likely to be parted with their money tonight because they were foolish enough to believe the mass media hype.
Field Hands who read this column, of course, had good reason not to fall into the trap. You read here on December 22 - a month ago - our opinion that Gingrich Could Still Win Iowa, or Lose It and Still Win the Nomination and the reasons behind that thinking, which are now emerging as the core dynamic of this nomination fight. You also read on January 2 our projection that Santorum would win Iowa (it's now official that he won by 34 votes), where we added: "Gingrich and Perry, both claiming the role of putative 'Southern Candidate,' will likely pull out all the stops to try and reemerge in South Carolina, too. And I may yet come full circle by then to my original instincts that Gingrich had the best chance of becoming the Anti-Romney."
Back on December 22, I wrote:
"Gingrich is not going away, he is going to be a force to be reckoned with in the primaries down the stretch, especially in the South, and I still think, as I wrote in April 2010, that the media - perhaps partly out of the intense personal dislike he provokes - has always underestimated him. I dislike him, too. But that doesn't color the cold and rational projections that y'all rely on me to make. This should have been evident to all the 'professionals' of the pundit class 20 months ago! Of all the GOP hopefuls, he's the only man with a plan. That makes him armed and dangerous and nothing that has happened so far, not even his sudden dip in Iowa polls, causes me to reconsider my general sense that in the sum of all the primaries and caucuses of the coming months, Newt Gingrich is likely to carve his initials with a switchblade through Mitt Romney, Ron Paul, or anyone else he perceives as standing between him and the Republican nomination."
First instincts are often the best instincts. And paying too much heed to "conventional wisdom," the pack reporters that follow it, or mechanical "regression analysis" that leave the human touch out of political forecasting is what has everybody else scrambling today to adjust to what a botched sex scandal attack, an agile candidate, and two strong debate performances can accomplish in the final days of an early primary. I love it. The ghost of John Henry, tonight, may prove alive and well, beating the steam shovel once again. And that will give us weeks or months of enjoyment watching two angry men of dubious character tear each other up, one of which will emerge wounded and limping to face President Barack Obama in November.