Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Minnesota Caucus Preview

Originally published in Red Racing Horses.

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We will have previews for Missouri and Colorado, along with our official moderator predictions, later in the day. As a temporary Minnesotan, my own contribution is a preview of what to watch for in our caucus. All claims come with the caveat that I have done a lot of work with the Paul campaign here.
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2008 caucuses by coutny. H/t to James_Nola for the map. Romney and McCain counties in blue, Huckabee counties in red, Paul counties in purple). Detailed 2008 numbers here.

Paul: Paul took 16% of the vote in 2008. He won four counties: Red Lake, Lincoln, Blue Earth and Meeker (in purple). Of these, Lincoln and Red Lake had less than 100 voters, and there is little geographic consistency to Paul voters. One area to watch for: college campuses. Paul should accumulate a good number of votes at the U of M, UMD, MSU, (hopefully) Macalester and a few other campuses. Paul did not have extremely strong performances in Ramsey and Hennepin County, but my impression is that his showing in these areas will be stronger than other parts of the state.

No matter what happens, Paul is going to accumulate a greater percentage of delegates than straw poll voters tonight. His campaign is prioritizing caucus states for a reason, and Minnesota’s delegates go to the national convention unbound to any particular candidate. Expect the Paul campaign to maintain some kind of presence as the convention process unfolds over the next few months in Minnesota.

Romney: Romney racked up his largest margins in the ‘collar counties’, the counties that surround the Twin Cities (Romney counties in blue). His totals approached 50% in several of these counties, their sheer numbers making it harder for Huckabee to rely upon Greater Minnesota for a path to victory. These counties are the turf of Bachmann, Kline, and Paulsen, and any Republican statewide victory in Minnesota relies on them. Expect Romney to do well in these areas, even if his margins are lower than 2008.

Santorum: Santorum and Huckabee both appeal to very similar Republican constituencies, so it is always useful to look at Huck’s numbers from 2008 when attempting to extrapolate Santorum numbers. Huckabee won about 20% in 2008 (Huckabee counties in red). Huckabee had his strongest performance along the state line with Iowa, particularly in the southwest. He also performed stronger than the rest of the state along the western spine, the territory of conservadem Rep. Colin Peterson. Huck also won a series of sparsely populated counties in the north. In general, Huckabee performed better in empty rural areas.

A useful comparison: Paul came only four points behind Huckabee and won only four counties. Huckabee won 28 counties. Huckabee came in last in Hennepin and Ramsey Counties (the Twin Cities). While they are not very Republican, they are massive population centers in the state, and even in the Republican primary they account for a large portion of voters.

Gingrich: Gingrich essentially splits a base with Santorum. I anticipate him to under-perform the poll numbers slightly; Gingrich has done one event in the state and essentially has no organization here. Coupled with two prominent losses to Romney, he has no real path to victory tonight. In general, Gingrich and Santorum will do well in similar areas, even if Santorum secures significantly more voters than Gingrich.

Ultimately, the big question is turnout. The last four PPP polls tell the story of this race. Polls conducted 2/4, 2/6 (2/4) and [1/21-1/22]
Santorum 34 (29) [17]
Romney   24 (27) [18]
Gingrich   22 (22) [36]
Paul        20 (19) [13]
Santorum has the clear momentum, with high approval ratings and a bump in the polls abetted by the rapid decline of Gingrich’s numbers. If people are excited enough to show up in Minnesota’s typically under-attended caucuses, Santorum has a solid path to victory. However, Paul and Romney are assisted in a low-turnout race. Both have organizations on the ground, even if Romney got a late start here, and have targeted their get out the vote efforts to hit certain expectations. Paul in particular is assisted by low turnout. In 2008, 63,000 voters turned out. If turnout falls to 50 or 55,000, Paul’s aggressive voter id over the last few months will become the big factor and could generate an upset. Romney, too, has a certain path to victory, if he maintains his full strength from 2008 in the collar counties. However, if we assume 2008-level turnout Santorum is in a healthy position to win.

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