Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Live-blogging the 2012 Illinois primary: A big win for Romney, but is it big enough?

By Michael J.W. Stickings, with Richard K. Barry and tmcbpatriot


7:09 pm - Alright, we turn this evening to the Land of Lincoln, a Republican who undoubtedly would have despised today's Republican Party, and to the next stop for the Republican Crazy Train on its long, drawn-out tour of America.

7:13 pm - Today's primary in Illinois is the next big thing in the race for the GOP presidential nomination. It's one of those genuinely important contests, made all the more important apparently with all the media attention it's been getting.

7:15 pm - And yet, there's really not much to be said, is there? (See tmcbpatriot's post that just went up for some excellent analysis. He knows a thing or two about Illinois, that's for sure.) Romney will win, probably by quite a bit. Unlike Alabama and Mississippi, for example, it's just not a state where Santorum can do all that well, even if he wins most of the southern, South-like part of the state. Romney will trounce him in and around Chicago. A recent PPP poll had Romney up by 15 points. The RCP average is Romney +10, and it looks like Romney's been pulling away. Now, my sense is that Santorum can outperform here just as he did in Alabama and Mississippi, just not to that degree, and elsewhere, but I think we're still looking at a 7-9-point win for Romney. I've been tempted to predict 7, but it'll probably be higher. Perhaps the question is only whether it'll be a double-digit win or not. Even if I'm saying, oh, say, 8, I wouldn't be all that surprised if it turned out to be 11 or 12. (15 is an outlier, I think.)

7:27 pm - But... Okay, sure, Illinois is a state Romney should be able to win fairly easily. And a 10+-point margin of victory would certainly be decisive. But once again we're encountering a contest that isn't taking place on a level playing field. As Politico reports, Romney has outspent Santorum 7 to 1 in Illinois, including an incredible 21 to 1 in Chicago (with a huge media market that extends all through the state). This isn't like the Yankees outspending and beating, say, the Kansas City Royals, this is like the Yankees outspending and crushing a AA team of misfits. It may be fair in that the rules are being followed, but it's not fair in any other sense. And it puts what is expected to be a significant Romney win in perspective. He might have won even with a level playing field, but it certainly would be closer, and it merely serves to remind us, and to reinforce one of this race's key narratives, that Romney can only win, or at least can perhaps only win (appearance being almost as powerful as reality), by outspending his beleaguered rivals by huge margins, that is, that he can only win because he and his campaign are rich.

7:36 pm - Polls close at 8 pm ET. We'll be back shortly.

8:03 pm - And that's it. The Reaction calls the 2012 Illinois Republican primary for... Mitt Romney. Good night, everyone!

8:05 pm - Nah, we'll stick around for the results to come in.

8:06 pm - And here's Richard's first comment, which pretty much sums things up so far:

RKB: I'm here. Not much to say.

8:07 pm - Good times.

8:08 pm - It's not just Romney's money that's sinking Santorum in Illinois and elsewhere, it's Santorum's disorganization. As CNN reports, Santorum doesn't even have delegates running in every Illinois district -- missing four of them. (Even Gingrich and Paul have delegates everywhere in the state.) "Since district delegates are directly chosen by voters, candidates must field a total of 54 delegates in the 18 districts in order to remain eligible for every delegate... [Santorum] failed to qualify in every district and will only be eligible for 44 delegates. He has no delegates running in the 4th, 5th, 7th and 13th congressional districts." Not that it matters all that much for the long run, but it's another reminder that Santorum just wasn't ready to run a truly competitive national campaign as a serious contender. Of course, he wasn't a serious contender until just before Iowa and so may be excused, perhaps, for failing to have the kind of extensive organization Romney has (remember: Santorum wasn't even on the ballot in Virginia), but his disadvantage in this regard is a major obstacle.

8:17 pm - No results yet.

8:25 pm - And. We. Are. Off. With results coming in mostly from Cook (Chicago) and Lake (north of Chicago) counties, but just 1% reporting overall, it's Romney up 54 to 29 over Santorum. Hoo-wah. (You can see the results here.)

8:29 pm - Nate Silver: "In Illinois, Santorum's Chance at Nomination Is Slipping Away." Clearly. This is pretty obvious stuff, though of course Silver brings his characteristically astute analysis to it. And the point, one the major networks, forever manufacturing drama, generally ignore (to the extent they even get it), is that "the nomination isn't all that close." Romney is well ahead, and Illinois will pad his lead significantly.

RKB: The news coverage really has the feel of the "beginning of the end" for Santorum's Cinderella ride. You know, it's been fun, but who are we kidding?

Watching Blitzer. I've never seen anyone get so excited saying absolutely nothing.

8:40 pm - How did Wolf get this gig, anyway? I can't remember.

RKB: I know Gingrich didn't campaign in Illinois, but it's still good to see him do so poorly. What an ass.

Erick Erickson just said on CNN that the Gingrich campaign doesn't really have a pulse at this point and that his people (some of them, anyway) seem to be urging him to get out.

8:42 pm - I'd like to thank Richard for suffering through network coverage so the rest of us don't have to.

RKB: Not that I spend a lot of time trying to figure out Fox News programming, but they're not really bothering to follow the Illinois primary, just doing the regular Bill O'Reilly schtick. I wonder why they're low-keying it?

8:45 pm - And there you go. CNN calls it for Romney. Just 42 minutes after we did.

RKB: Yeah, CNN projects a Romney win!!!!!!! Wooooooooo!!!!

Now it's just a matter of the margin of victory.

Can I go back to playing my Fender Strat now?

8:46 pm - Can't you multitask?

8:49 pm - And here's the patriot joining us (and, again, check out his longer analysis from earlier this evening):

tmcbpatriot: Boy, Romney wins Illinois. What a surprise!

tmcbpatriot: Joining this party late, but these results do not surprise me one bit. Good ol' Illinois. Tried and true. This primary is so dull I can't stand it. Is it over or are we going into summer with this crap?

RKB: Screamin' Ed Schultz has a panel discussing the Illinois primary on MSNBC in his regular 8-9 EST slot. Mostly they're talking about the GOP nomination like it's over as they begin to tee up the inevitable Romney-Obama match.

tmcbpatriot: What a trouncing! I wonder if Santorum will pretend to be surprised by this. Gingrich did well. Looks like the folks in Skokie came out to vote after all.

8:55 pm - It's bizarro election return night! Unlike in other contests (like Ohio, where Romney surged into the lead as votes came in late from Cleveland and other urban areas), results are coming in from Romney Country early in Illinois. Which is to say, Romney won't maintain this 27-point lead (55 to 28), but it could be a wider margin of victory than I thought.

tmcbpatriot: It's not all dull. Newt demands Obama apologize for DeNiro comment. I swear, you can't make this stuff up!

9:01 pm - I agree. This faux outrage from conservatives is ridiculous. Get a fucking sense of humor! All DeNiro said was, obviously joking: "Callista Gingrich. Karen Santorum. Ann Romney. Now do you really think our country is ready for a white first lady?" Newt called the remark "inexcusable" (which means it was apparently worse than anything and everything Newt himself has ever done). Even the White House (or at least the first lady's office) jumped in, calling the joke "inappropriate." Which is also ridiculous. It was a funny quip, relevant precisely because it spoke to America's racist past (however much Republicans may wish to deny that past) and, if to a lesser degree, present (which Republicans also deny).


Make it stop already! Who cares? Just put it out of its misery. Presidential races are too long in this country. Make them two months and be done with it. We are The United States of American Idol.

tmcbpatriot: I am impressed with the turnout here. Romney crossed the 100k threshold.

tmcbpatriot: I want to say something smart about this primary today but nothing comes to mind. Seriously, there is nothing more to say about any of this! At this point it is just a primaries drinking game. Thing is, though, nobody is getting drunk! You take a drink and then are sober by the time your guy gets another win.

9:31 pm - It's true, what else is there to say? Romney's lead is narrowing as results come in from the more rural areas of the state, but it's still 17 (50 to 33).

9:32 pm - Though I suppose we should ask the question we've been asking after every recent contest: Will Newt drop out, or what? He's currently in last with just 7 percent of the vote, behind Paul at 9. The writing has been on the wall, with neon lights flashing, for quite a while now. Can't he just end this madness? What can his reason possibly be for staying in?

9:34 pm - Ah, here's Richard with some comments on Romney's speech:

RKB: Romney is speaking. This man is such a fool and a lousy speaker. He's a small man. His speech is so petty. Even for those who buy his facile understanding of economics, there is nothing inspiring about this idiot. He makes my skin crawl.

Running a business has nothing to do with running the country. Totally different skill set. Someone might want to mention that to Romney.

9:36 pm - And more, getting right down to the essence of it:

RKB: It is inconceivable to me that any intelligent person, regardless of politics, would find Mitt Romney compelling.

What a pathetic fucking speech.

tmcbpatriot: You know, if Gingrich is willing to call out DeNiro for some comment, then that alone is reason why he should never be president. I mean, you are going to pick a fight with Bobby D? Fuggedaboutit!

tmcbpatriot: Damn! How many people voted in this thing? Romney is nearing 200k! Who knew that many people were that engaged? Gingrich is so used to getting so few votes he is telling everyone he is winning in Illinois. 

9:43 pm - Romney's lead is now 15. If you're Santorum, it's time to start talking about moral victories (and he was playing the expectations game in anticipation of this loss, hoping to build a possitive narrative out of defeat). If somehow he can pull to within ten, keeping Romney's victory in single digits... If Romney doesn't make it over 50 percent... yadda... yadda... yadda...

tmcbpatriot: The more I see of these four clowns the more they are staring to look like The Monkees. Rick is Davy, Mitt is Mike, Ron is Peter, and Newt, of course, is Mickey. C'mon, don't tell me you don't see it.

9:47 pm - And... 14! I'm really trying to make this interesting.

tmcbpatriot: Why is Newt still in this thing? Because he has a whole mess of books still to sell. I would not be surprised if he puts out another one before he drops out. He is not in this to win. He is in it to keep his name out there, to raise his speaking fees, to spend whatever money is left in his SuperPac. He is no dummy. He is a loathsome snake oil salesman. He is in it to sell as much snake oil as possible.

9:57 pm - Yes, good point. It's all about Newt Inc. But I wonder, if he stays in too long, won't he damage his brand? Unless he thinks that staying in helps Romney, and hence the party establishment, and so his brand, and his status as party "intellectual" who makes frequent apparances on Meet the Press, is secure.

tmcbpatriot: And yes, Mitt is a pitiful human being. His speeches are like listening to a powerpoint presentation. Just bullet points, by the book. Nothing inspirational. Nothing exciting. But then, that is Republicans. Find me one who made politics exciting and quotable? "I am not a crook" does not count.

9:59 pm - Well, you've got to give Reagan some credit for that. Certainly not the Bushes or Dole, or even McCain. Does Palin count?

10:01 pm - 12 points! It's the comeback of the century! Still a lot of votes from Cook (Chicago) and Sangamon (Springfield), though.

tmcbpatriot: Newt's brand is Newt. He works for no man but himself. He is a dog. A political dog. These are not nice people. They eat friends and family for lunch. Newt is already seen as a scoundrel in Republican circles so what has he got to lose? Besides, if Sarah Palin proved anything it is that Republicans will show up to see a real live moron any day of the week.

10:22 pm - 13 now. Wrong way. Looks like this might settle at 12.

tmcbpatriot: Okay. Raygun was a good talker, but he wasn't exciting. Give me one memorable exciting quote. "Tear down that wall"? I'll take Roger Waters saying it over Raygun any day. And Palin doesn't count for anything except being perhaps the most annoying Republican ever to torture us.

10:25 pm - 12 again. I think we're all fading.

10:32 pm - It's always a pleasure to do this, but, let's face it, this has been one boring night. Maybe because the outcome was obvious and the margin of victory hasn't been much of a surprise one way or the other. And so... now what?

Newt may or may not get out, but his support is so minimal it hardly matters anymore.

Rick will stay in, of course. He can't really spin this one the way he did Michigan and Ohio, but he can focus on Lousiana's primary on Saturday, one he may very well win, as well as the three contests on April 3, when he'll need to counterbalance expected Romney wins in Maryland and D.C. with a strong showing (i.e., a win, preferably by a decisive margin) in Wisconsin. Then there's a three-week gap until five contests on April 24, all of which may go Romney: New York and Pennsylvania, along with Connecticut, Delaware, and Rhode Island. Pennsylvania is the possible exception, as it's Santorum's home state, but he'll have a tough time there as well.

Basically, it's over. We all know that. But with wins in Louisiana and Wisconsin and possibly Pennsylvania Santorum could at least keep his candidacy viable -- viable enough anyway to keep Romney from winning a majority of delegates ahead of the convention. And after April 24, assuming he's still in the race, Santorum could pick up speed with favorable contests in Indiana, North Carolina, and West Virginia (May 8), Arkansas and Kentucky (May 22), and Texas (May 29).

But that's a long way off. It's possible he'll drop out before then. And even if he doesn't, it's getting clearer and clearer that Romney will be the nominee.

In a way, the calendar is both friend and enemy to Romney, though. It's a friend in that he should be able to win the April contests, including Pennsylvania (or at least come very close) and continue to pull away from Santorum, but it's an enemy in that the time between contests means the race dragging on and on into May, with Romney having to spend more and more money to stay on top for good.

tmcbpatriot: I tell ya, the most interesting thing about tonight in the turnout. Half a mil and counting? This has to be Newt's and Ron Paul's biggest tallies of the primary season.

tmcbpatriot: I have been fading since September.

tmcbpatriot: It is really pathetic that the media are going to say how Romney was on top of his game in Illinois, or that he outspent the other candidates, or that he is back on his game. It had nothing to do with it. Romney was going to win Illinois no matter what. All he had to do was show up. That was his accomplishment here, he showed up.

tmcbpatriot: "Newt Fires Back At 'Inexcusable' DeNiro Joke." Wow. These guys are really going to try to make a example of Robert DeNiro. Republicans really don't live on this planet with the rest of us.

10:51 pm - Still 12, now with 84% reporting. And Romney's running away with the delegates. And so I suppose the answer to the question posed in the title of this post is... yes. Romney spent a lot of money and remains a weak candidate who can't finish off even weaker opposition, but this is the sort of win he needed, especially after Alabama and Mississippi. It's a big win that is big enough for him to maintain his frontrunner and inevitable nominee status.

10:55 pm - Alright, I think we're just about done. We were able to make a lot out of not very much tonight, and it's been fun. We'll do this again for Louisiana on Saturday and then for Maryland, D.C., and Wisconsin on April 3.

11:03 pm - We'll be back tomorrow with a lot more election coverage and so much else. See you then.

Good night, everyone.

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