New Hampshire's Tea Party and tea leaves
About 400 New Hampshire Republicans got together yesterday to elect a new chairman and to register their early presidential preferences. It is, as I have emphasized before, silly to translate straw poll results (or any poll results) into a prediction of the outcome of a primary to be held more than a year from now. But there are still things to be learned from the New Hampshire gathering.
First, the new chairman was a Tea Party favorite who beat the insiders' pick. The New York Times reports:
Jack Kimball, a relative newcomer to party politics who ran for governor last year as a fiscal and social conservative, beat Juliana Bergeron, who leads the Cheshire County Republicans and was backed by former Gov. John Sununu, the outgoing state party chairman.
The race was closely watched as a sign of how much influence Tea Party groups will exert here in the lead-up to New Hampshire's first-in-the-nation presidential primary, tentatively scheduled for Feb. 14, 2012.
In short, the former governor and outgoing chairman told about 400 activists to back "a proven leader and fundraiser"; the activists ignored him. The lessons here are that endorsements by insiders are largely meaningless and "experience" is no advantage these days among conservatives. A clever ploy for a lesser-known candidate would be to declare that he isn't going to seek or accept endorsements by pols -- only the voters matter. That would not only be true, but would convert a perceived weakness into a bit of an asset. (And it would spare reporters the chore of reporting items like "Former mayor of Rapid City endorses....")
As for the straw poll, it is utterly unsurprising that the most familiar name to New Hampshire Republicans, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, won with 35 percent of the vote. He also led big in 2007, and wound up losing to Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.). I'm not saying Romney isn't going to win this time, but I am certain his experienced team has learned that early polls are fools' gold.
As for Sarah Palin -- who enjoys universal name recognition and is the godmother, to a large degree, of the Tea Party movement -- a 7 percent result should be a flag to those convinced she can win the nomination based on her conservative celebrity status. (I wonder how she would do in a nationwide poll of self-identified Tea Partyers. Would she get a majority of her most loyal fans?) Understandably, she wouldn't want to diminish the buzz of a potential presidential run, but poor showings like this, if repeated over the next few months, are going to smudge up her aura.
Moreover, Tim Pawlenty's 8 percent result is not proof that he is "in third place" in New Hampshire. But it does show how quickly a candidate can raise his profile with a well-designed, but limited, campaign to garner free media.
In sum, snippets of 2012 news may be interesting and provide insights at times, but it is best to keep these things in perspective. It will be months and months before we know who has the "inside track" in New Hampshire or who is "running strong in Iowa."
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