USA 2012: Puerto Rico and Illinois primary
The race for the Republican nomination moved to Puerto Rico on March 18 and then Illinois on March 20 following last week’s primaries in Alabama, Mississippi and Hawaii. The race is now entering a slower period after the half-way mark, as the rhythm of primaries slows down a bit. Four states vote on April 3, but then the next five primaries are only on April 24. The race is also in a kind of weird situation, where there is a clear frontrunner – Mitt Romney – who is quasi-certain to win the nomination – but who does not yet have the 1144 delegates needed to grasp the nomination (he has over 550 or s0) and faces resilient rivals who will not back out of the race until it is mathematically impossible for them to deny Romney 50%+1 of the delegates. Romney could only be shaken off his pedestal at this point by game-changing loses to Rick Santorum – who is clearly his only serious rival at this point – in big states such as Illinois.
Rick Santorum did not get much of a boost out of Alabama and Mississippi. It seems as if the race has stabilized at a point where the allegiances of GOP primary voters are becoming locked in, with a net plurality of voters solidly behind Romney and a sizable minority backing Santorum with Gingrich and Paul reduced their rump of supporters in the 8-12% range nationally. Illinois would have been one of those game-changers that Santorum needed in order to shake Romney off the top spot, but instead he chose to quixotically chase votes around in Puerto Rico. Of course, it seems as if Santorum’s point of going to PR was more to rest a bit on a beach, but in the process he hurt his chances in Illinois and got nowhere in PR itself after suggesting that Puerto Ricans seeking statehood should learn English (he later backpedaled on that statement a bit). The results in Puerto Rico certainly proves that Santorum wasted his time on the island:
Mitt Romney 82.88%
Rick Santorum 8.02%
Buddy Roemer 2.21%
Newt Gingrich 2.05%
Fred Karger 1.43%
Ron Paul 1.22%
Mitt Romney won a blowout in Puerto Rico, which netted him 20 delegates and cost his rival, who chased around 8% of the vote, precious campaign time in Illinois. It is hard to know much about Puerto Rico’s Republican primaries, given that there is no real Republican party on the island but rather politicians and members from the main pro-statehood party, the PNP – such as Governor Luis Fortuño – who affiliate nationally with the Republican Party. Turnout was only 118k votes, about 5.8% of the island’s electorate and way below the turnout in the 2008 Democratic primary. The main political debate in Puerto Rico is that of statehood, which is up for a vote this November, and the PR Republicans usually tend to be heavily pro-statehood (the Democrats are split, given that some PNP members are Democrats). Rick Santorum of course injected himself into that debate, while Romney aptly avoided getting into it too much and relied heavily on the backing of the island’s Republican/PNP Governor, Luis Fortuño.
Puerto Rican GOP primaries have tended to be biased hugely in favour of the establishment candidates in the past, who have usually taken in 85-90% of the vote. Based on that record, it should have been clear that Romney was headed for a blowout win in Puerto Rico. It has also been said that some Puerto Ricans voted for Romney as a proxy for statehood, believing that their best hope for statehood lies with a President Romney and a re-elected Governor Fortuño in November.
Rick Santorum did not double-down on Illinois has he had on Michigan and Ohio. He kind of conceded defeat to Romney there, realizing that the state was favourable to Romney, that Romney would outspend him by a landslide margin and that he did not really have the time to campaign there in a way to destroy Romney’s natural advantage there. Illinois is a Midwestern state, but it is quite unlike Michigan and Ohio which were both more favourable to Santorum than Illinois. Most importantly, Illinois – especially Chicagoland – has way more affluent suburbs than either of those two states. Chicagoland’s moderate, white-collar and very affluent suburbs lock in a majority of the state’s votes and electoral powerhouses like Cook, Lake or DuPage counties would be Romney strongholds just like Oakland County in Michigan. On the other hand, Illinois does have a pretty sizable conservative, Evangelical voting bloc which is more Southern than Midwestern but despite forming, geographically, a good part of the state those regions of Southern Illinois only account for a much smaller minority of the GOP primary electorate. The results in Illinois were:
Mitt Romney 46.71%
Rick Santorum 35.02%
Ron Paul 9.32%
Newt Gingrich 7.96%
Mitt Romney won a decisive victory in Illinois, probably the first time in a long time where we can clearly say that Romney unambiguously had a good night. He won Illinois by nearly 12 percentage points over Rick Santorum. This nets him a good 40 or so delegates, and the Romney campaign is all about piling up delegates at this point. His delegate edge at this point is pretty unsurmountable and the only way in which Romney could still be stopped was if his rivals accumulated enough wins to hold him below the magic 1144 number. Of course, doing that would require denying Romney a win in his final firewall states – the big states using WTA (or WTA-by-CD) allocation which will grant him big margins near the end of the nominating contest. At the same time, the states which are less favourable to Romney – including the big state of Texas – use proportional allocation rules which would still give Romney a nice catch even if he loses, in a scenario resembling what happened last week in Alabama and Mississippi where Santorum’s popular vote wins only gave him a miniscule boost in total delegate percentage.
Some have said that Illinois might be a game-changer for Romney, the victory which gives him a burst of momentum and which rallies the remainder of the party to his ship as that of the eventual nominee. However, Romney’s core weakness with a vocal and sizable minority of the conservative base has certainly not been erased by Illinois and it is doubtful that they can be convinced to rally around the Mitt flag just because he won Illinois. On top of that, Romney’s rival(s) are resilient. Ron Paul is quietly accumulating his fabled ‘ninja delegates’ through his organization’s unmatchable knowledge and manipulation of the arcane state nominating rules. Newt Gingrich is a dictionary definition of quixotic persistence in face of tremendous odds and at this point it is hard to see him drop out despite his campaign being totally irrelevant. At this point Gingrich will not drop out until the 2016 election. Finally, Rick Santorum – Romney’s only serious opponent at this juncture – is determined to fight this fight until to the last man, the last state. He has shown no exhaustion or eagerness to drop out and hand Romney the nomination on a silver platter. His underdog campaign against Mitt’s money machine still speaks to the conservative base of the GOP which harbours a deep-seated suspicion of the former Massachussetts governor as a moderate who cannot be trusted. He maintains that Romney’s delegate lead is not as big as the media outlets report, which is probably true, but at the same time Santorum’s campaign is not really strong enough to toy around the arcane delegate rules like the Paul team is.
Exit Poll Analysis
The usual patterns showed up clearly in Illinois. Older voters were the most likely to back Romney, though he won all age groups. He took 41% to Santorum’s 36% with those aged 18 to 29 but trounced Santorum 49-32 with those who are aged over 65, a ground which constituted 24% of the electorate against only 8% for the 18-29 group. Income, of course, proved the other top indicator of Romney strength following a graduated scale. While Romney lost the bottom 10% (those who earn less than $30k) 37 against 45 to Santorum, he won the 28% earning between $100 and $200k with 55% to Santorum’s 30% and carried the wealthiest 10% (those earning over $200k) with 57% against only 27% for Santorum.
Evangelicals accounted for 42% of the electorate, and they backed Santorum with 46% to Romney’s 39%. Those who were not Evangelicals backed Romney by a huge 54-26 margin over Santorum. Once again, the Catholic Santorum lost the Catholic vote (35%) to Santorum by a 53-30 margin and did better with Protestants – losing 38 to 45. Interestingly, Santorum also lost weekly church-attending Catholics to Romney by a whole 9 points (48-39) while winning weekly church-attending Protestants 42-39. He lost Catholics who do not attend church weekly 57-21 to Romney. Catholic Republicans, as previously mentioned in our discussion of Ohio on Super Tuesday, nowadays tend to be rather moderate conservatives who live predominantly middle-class lifestyles in urban or suburban areas (this is especially true in Illinois) and usually support the establishment candidate. They don’t attach any particular political significance to their faith and they don’t have anything against Romney and probably don’t care much for a social conservative insurgent candidate like Santorum.
64% of voters were conservatives against 36% who were moderates or liberals. Conservatives overall backed Romney 47-39, while moderates backed him by a much wider 48-27 margin over Santorum. Mitt Romney still lost the 29% who were ‘very conservative’ by 11 points, 48-37 in Santorum’s favour.
Romney trounced 52-31 with the 59% who said the economy was their top preoccupation and won the 25% who said the budget deficit was their top preoccupation 53-29 over Santorum. His lead over his rivals with the 36% who said the ability to beat Obama was the top candidate quality was larger than anything we’ve seen before. He won them 74-17 over Santorum. At the same time, however, he only took 11% with those who said being a true conservative was the top quality and 18% with those who thought a candidate with a strong moral character was the top quality.
As previously noted, Cook County and the Chicagoland suburban ‘Collar Counties’ (Lake, DuPage, Will, McHenry, Kane, Kanakee and Kendall counties) contribute over half of the total statewide vote. According to the CNN exit poll, Chicago (5%), the Cook County suburbs (16%) and the Collar Counties (34%) combined for 55% of the GOP primary vote on March 20. Cook County is less important in GOP primaries than in either Democratic primaries or the general election, because Chicago is so heavily Democratic and contributes so little to the total GOP base in the state. Cook County does include some Republican-voting suburban areas such as Kenilworth or Winnetka, which tend to be much more affluent than the county as a whole. However, Chicagoland’s Collar Counties, historical Republican strongholds but increasingly purple swing areas, are affluent (especially Lake and DuPage counties) and more socially moderate than the rural Illinoian GOP counties. In the 2010 gubernatorial primary, the eventual winner of the extremely fragmented field, the ultra-conservative Bill Brady, did extremely poorly in the Collar Counties (5-8%) while winning statewide with 20.3%. It is a naturally favourable base for Mitt Romney and the main explanation for his built-in advantage in the state.
Romney easily carried Cook County (Chicago) with 56.9% to Santorum’s 26.5%. In inner suburban Lake and DuPage counties, home to some very affluent suburbs (some of which are rather liberal, like Highland Park), Romney won by similarly huge margins. He took Lake County 56-28 and won DuPage 54-28. He carried Will County, taking in the less affluent Chicago Southland white suburbs, with 49.3% against 33% for Santorum. Decisively, Mitt Romney also carried the fairly affluent but more high-growth exurban and socially conservative outer collar counties including Kane County (49-32.5), McHenry County (47-32), Kendall County (44.5-36) and Kanakee County (43-39). He even carried the more further out northern Illinois counties including DeKalb, LaSalle and Livingstone counties which are more rural but rapidly evolving counties. Mitt Romney certainly did exceed expectations in exurban conservative Kane and McHenry counties, and that explains why he won by the margin he did – given that, as we’ll see, his downstate performance wasn’t anything to write home about.
Mitt Romney also pulled off some fairly key wins in some of the more industrial towns in central Illinois which should have voted for Santorum if he had been to win the state. Mitt Romney does well in urban areas, but some of central Illinois’ urban areas are more blue-collar and fairly conservative, thus one would imagine more inclined towards Rick Santorum. Romney carried Peoria County (Peoria) with a decisive 46.6% to 37.5%. He also prevailed in Winnebago County (Rockford, in northern IL) 42-37, Macon County (Decatur) 45-32, McLean County (Bloomington) 42-38 and Sangamon County (Springfield) 48-33. He did, quite interestingly, lose working-class Rock Island County (Moline) 46-38 to Santorum. In 2008, Romney had carried two counties in the whole state against McCain: Rock Island and next-door Henry County – perhaps because they are in the Davenport, IA media market. He lost both this year. Romney carried the college town of Champaign (Champaign County) 43-34 with Ron Paul taking 13%. The university likely contributed little votes if any given the spring break.
If the primary had been fought in 1852, Rick Santorum would have prevailed. Indeed, he won most of rural small-town Illinois and won by huge margins in Southern Illinois. Santorum won the Midwestern-like and less Evangelical rural counties of northern Illinois, areas where we could have expected Romney to win, although Santorum only won them by a fairly narrow-ish margin overall.
His victory, however, in rural Southern Illinois left no doubt. Southern Illinois is in a good number of ways more similar to Kentucky or southern Missouri than it is to Wisconsin, Iowa or Minnesota. It was settled by Southerners, for a long time retained an economy more typical of the South than of the north and to this day remains a working-class, socially conservative area with a sizable Baptist population for a northern state and an even larger proportion of Evangelicals. This is where Romney finds his toughest crowds, the base which is still wary of Romney despite the narrative about him as the frontrunner and eventual nominee. Mitt Romney failed to break 30% and Santorum broke 45 and even 50% in the vast majority of the counties in the south of the state.
There is a fairly clear north-south divide when you map out Mitt Romney’s performance by county. He did as poorly in these rural conservative areas of southern Illinois as he did in parts of Alabama or Ohio. This still does not portend well for his chances in Louisiana’s primary on Saturday March 24. Romney carried a single county in southern Illinois, traditionally Democratic St. Clair County (fairly working-class despite being suburban) with 42.5% against 41% for Santorum. Santorum carried next-door Madison County (43-38) and Jackson County (Carbondale) 43-37. Romney might have exceeded our expectations in exurban Chicagoland, but he didn’t exceed expectations in conservative rural Illinois for sure. Romney by maximizing his natural base (through heavy ad spending and campaigning in the Chicago media market), not by converting hostile voters in the areas where he still struggles. Santorum exceeded our expectations in southern Illinois, where he dominated by an even larger margin than previously assumed. The main reason is Gingrich’s collapse in Illinois, taking just 8% compared to 15% in Ohio on March 6 (performing best in Santorum-favourable counties). Gingrich’s electorate of sorts in southern Illinois clearly decamped towards Santorum.
The bad news for Santorum in all this is that southern Illinois’ conservative counties carry nowhere close to the weight of the Collar Counties. Illinois is way different from either Michigan and Ohio, and even if Illinois has that clearly Southern element which Michigan lacks entirely and which Ohio has little has, that Southern element in Illinois is minimal even in a statewide GOP primary unless the field is so divided as in the 2010 gubernatorial primary that it allows the conservative candidate of the rural areas to squeak in.
Mitt Romney, I repeat, will be the nominee. He can’t be stopped at this point bar some unexpected massive game-changer or a dead baby in his closet. His delegate lead is quite impressive even if it is probably true that it is not quite as big as the media projections make it out to be. Yet, the delegate allocation rules in the remaining states (all primaries, so no caucus shenanigans) favour Romney in a way or another and it would be impossible for him to be overtaken outright in the delegate count and unlikely for him to ultimately fall short of the 1144 threshold even if it may still take some work on his part to get there. The question will be whether or not a rather protracted nomination fight will have hurt Romney and still left him without the full support of the party’s right.
At any rate, the next contest is on March 24 (Saturday) in Louisiana. The conventional wisdom is that Louisiana being a very conservative state in the South, Santorum should win easily especially given that Gingrich’s campaign has turned into an irrelevant footnote. However, Louisiana brings one additional factor into the equation which few observers have considered. Louisiana is not quite a pure Southern state because southern Louisiana (Acadiana) was settled by and retains a large French (Cajun) Catholic presence which is not Evangelical though still conservative in a way which blends it in increasingly with traditional Baptist northern Louisiana. Yet, even a basic look into Louisiana’s voting patterns will reveal key distinctions between Acadiana’s French Catholics and the more traditionally Southern Baptists found in the rest of state. Santorum has done poorly with Catholics (though not, let us point out, with Catholics in rural areas) and in 2008, McCain easily won French Catholics in Louisiana despite losing the state by 2 points to Mike Huckabee. Romney, however, does not quite match McCain’s 2008 base in the South and Santorum, as a conservative Catholic, could easily exceed the performance of the Baptist Huckabee with conservative French Catholics in Acadiana.