The setting and situation.
In 2012, the Republican Party
set out to choose a Presidential nominee
, as they do every four years
. The Democratic Party
also had such a contest, but since they had an incumbent
holding the office, it was mostly a technicality. Although there were also some minor parties
holding nomination contests, the Republican Party's nomination fight was the only real primary story.
The primary process, in the United States, is an odd patch work of traditions and processes. Political parties are technically private organizations, and could therefore choose their own nominees, by a game of tiddlywinks if they so chose. However, because of the vital nature of nomination to the general election, half out of legal necessity, half out of tradition, primary elections are regulated by the government. Each state has a different time, and a different way, of doing it. Some states hold caucuses, and some hold primaries, with a further distinction between that those who only let members of that political party vote in the primary ("closed") and those that let anyone participate ("open"). Also, territories and commonwealths of the United States participate in the primaries, even though they can not vote in the general election.
This introduction to the nature of primaries overall is important to understand this year's contests, because there would be many a time when the overall strategy of the race would be altered by a state's particular practices.
That being said, I will go on to describe the primary race as it developed. But even that is a complicated subject, because it is hard to say exactly when the primary race begin. The first contest was in the first week of January of this year, but in some ways the primary race begin back in early 2009, when Barack Obama became president.
Barack Obama won in a near-landslide, which led to a crisis of identity for the Republican Party. This was quickly solved when a movement called the Tea Party movement started, whose ideology and mannerisms could be described as basically populist. The clash between the energetic populist Tea Party movement and the "establishment" Republican Party would be the central conflict of the 2012 Republican nomination contest.
The summer and fall before the contests begin is sometimes called The Invisible Primary, as candidates formally and informally debate each other. The focus of the invisible primary this year was about the struggle of a candidate to become a credible alternative to Mitt Romney. Mitt Romney was culturally and politically about as far removed from the conservative, populist base of the Tea Party as it was possible to be. Romney is very wealthy, the son of a former governor and cabinet member, and was formerly the governor of Massachusetts, where he espoused relatively liberal views on a number of subjects. However, Romney was the "next in line", being the second place finisher in the 2008 contests, and having a large pool of resources to draw from.
A number of candidates would decline to run, or dropped out before the actual elections. Two of the most notable being Sarah Palin, former vice-presidential nominee, and a popular figure amongst the conservative base, and corporate executive and Federal Reserve Governor Herman Cain, who was outed due to sex scandals. At the time that the race begin, it seemed to be a contest between Mitt Romney, and former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich, with libertarian-leaning Ron Paul having a strong presence as well.
A narrative of the elections.
And this brings us to our first contest, on January 3, 2012
2012 Iowa Republican Caucus
Which was a three way tie between Mitt Romney
, unexpected challenger Rick Santorum
, and Ron Paul
. The results of the straw poll
were actually changed three times, with Santorum and Romney both getting the thin margin between them counted in their favor over the coming weeks. Very little was settled after Iowa, other than Michelle Bachmann
leaving the race.
January 10, 2012
2012 New Hampshire Republican Primary
New Hampshire was a strong showing for Mitt Romney, although that wasn't surprising considering that it was full of the type of establishment Republicans that were Romney's strength. After New Hampshire, very little changed in the race, other than Jon Huntsman
and Rick Perry
January 21, 2012
2012 South Carolina Republican Primary
South Carolina was the first primary contest in a state that was won by John McCain
in 2008. It was full of conservative base voters, and also in the South, a region that Newt Gingrich
came from. Newt Gingrich won South Carolina handily, and the race again became an active contest.
January 31, 2012
2012 Florida Republican Primary
After the South Carolina primary, a week would pass until the Florida primary, one of the most important and most fiercely fought contests of the season. Attempting to break Gingrich's momentum, Romney spent what might have been over 10 million dollars in Florida in a week. Although I don't have precise figures, it has been quoted that the one week of advertising in Florida cost more than the entire 2008 primary campaign. Romney won, and was once again seen as the consensus candidate, despite Gingrich's strong showing in the rural parts of Florida.
February 5, 2012
2012 Nevada Republican Caucus
A week later, this was strengthened when Romney won the Nevada caucus. At this point, it seemed like the race was winding down.
February 8, 2012
2012 Missouri Republican Primary
2012 Minnesota Republican Caucus
2012 Colorado Republican Caucus
This night, the first with multiple contests, was perhaps the one true surprise of the primary. Mitt Romney's campaign machinery believed that Gingrich was defeated, and was gearing up, if anything, for Super Tuesday
. He didn't advertise or organize in these three states, and in a surprise blow, Rick Santorum
, who was at this point considered an "also-ran", won all three of them. His victory was strong, winning every county in Missouri and Minnesota, and even beating Romney in Colorado, considered to be one of Romney's strongholds. The race was opened up again, and became a contest between Romney and Santorum, with Gingrich mostly providing a spoiler
effect for Santorum.
February 12, 2012
2012 Maine Republican Caucus
Maine was mostly important because it was one of the best chances for Ron Paul
to win a state. However, in a predictable move, he finished slightly behind Mitt Romney.
February 28, 2012
2012 Arizona Republican Primary
2012 Michigan Republican Primary
In the three weeks between Santorum's victory and these contests (by far the largest gap so far this year), the Romney machine went into high gear, targeting Santorum. Of the night's two contests, Michigan was considered to be the most important. Many thought that the race hinged on whether Santorum could harness the populist sentiments of workers in the rust belt
. Although he polled strongly at first, the weight of Romney's advertising wore against him, and he narrowly lost Michigan. Although Romney's margin was very thin, it reinforced the perception that he was a consensus candidate that could win in big swing states.
March 3, 2012
2012 Washington Republican Caucus
In the shadow of Super Tuesday, the Washington contest was overlooked. It ended up as another victory for Mitt Romney, and another lost opportunity by Ron Paul.
March 6, 2012
2012 Super Tuesday
Super Tuesday is a moveable feast
, a day that changes the number and importance of contests from cycle to cycle. This year's Super Tuesday had fewer contests, and after it was over, little was settled. One of the most important contests was Ohio, where Romney showed, much like he had in Michigan, that he could win in a rust belt
state. However, there was no break-throughts on Super Tuesday. Probably the most important news was that Santorum did well in the South, and that Gingrich was now mostly a spoiler candidate. However, neither Romney nor Santorum had a convincing win, leading to a further battle of attrition
2012 Vermont Republican Primary
2012 Massachusetts Republican Primary
2012 Virginia Republican Primary
2012 Tennessee Republican Primary
2012 Georgia Republican Primary
2012 Ohio Republican Primary
2012 Oklahoma Republican Primary
2012 North Dakota Republican Caucus
2012 Idaho Republican Caucus
2012 Alaska Republican Caucus
March 10, 2012
2012 Kansas Republican Caucus
2012 Northern Mariana Islands Republican Caucus
2012 Virgin Islands Republican Caucus
2012 Guam Republican Caucus
Santorum won this caucus handily, but as the news was still trying to digest Super Tuesday, it failed to make much of a splash. Romney did well in the territorial contests.
March 13, 2012
Three states and a territory voted. Most of the focus was on the two southern states, with Hawaii and American Samoa being afterthoughts. Santorum won both southern states, further reinforcing the fact that Gingrich had denigrated to being a spoiler in the race. However, Santorum's victory did little for Romney's widening lead in delegates
March 18, 2012
Puerto Rico voted strongly for Romney.
March 20, 2012
2012 Illinois Republican Primary
March 20th is arguably the date when Romney sealed the election. Much like Michigan and Ohio, Illinois is a big midwestern state divided between urban and rural areas. Only in those states, Romney's victory was nominal, whereas in Illinois it was much clearer. After Illinois, ways that Santorum could gather a demographic coalition and a plurality of delegates became practically impossible.
March 24, 2012
2012 Louisiana Republican Primary
A victory for Santorum, but at this point, not a meaningful one.
April 3, 2012
2012 Washington, D.C. Republican Primary
2012 Maryland Republican Primary
2012 Wisconsin Republican Primary
Wisconsin was another state that Santorum would have had to win to reverse the trend of the election. He didn't, and between this night and the next round of elections, three weeks in the future, he dropped out.
April 24, 2012
2012 Pennsylvania Republican Primary
2012 New York Republican Primary
2012 Delaware Republican Primary
2012 Connecticut Republican Primary
2012 Rhode Island Republican Primary
These five states are all in the Northeast, an area that Romney would be strong in. Other than his home state of Pennsylvania, it was probably an appraisal of the night's expected results that led him to drop out of the race. In the absence of Santorum, Gingrich did not step into the position of conservative challenger. Ron Paul also was unable to take up the banner, even in a state like Rhode Island that he could expected to do well in.
May 8, 2012
2012 Indiana Republican Primary
2012 West Virginia Republican Primary
2012 North Carolina Republican Primary
In the week previous to this trio of contests, Gingrich dropped out. The race's anti-climax would continue to hold on for a few more weeks.
May 15, 2012
2012 Nebraska Republican Primary
2012 Oregon Republican Primary
Both of these races were not seriously contested.
May 22, 2012
2012 Arkansas Republican Primary
2012 Kentucky Republican Primary
Another pair of races in conservative states that could have changed the race if held at a different time, but that were uncontested.
May 29, 2012
2012 Texas Republican Primary
Texas' election day was pushed back from April to May due to a lawsuit
dealing with congressional redistricting. Another way that chance and happenstance influences the race, because Texas could have been a very decisive state earlier in the year, but it was turned into a formality.
June 5, 2012
2012 California Republican Primary
2012 Montana Republican Primary
2012 New Jersey Republican Primary
2012 New Mexico Republican Primary
2012 South Dakota Republican Primary
Nothing to see here, move along.
June 26, 2012
2012 Utah Republican Primary
One of the year's most predictable contests was saved for last, where heavily-Mormon Utah turned out for Mormon Mitt Romney by an overwhelming margin.
There are many facts, opinions, theories and speculations to be pulled out of this long list of dates. Everyone has their pet theory or issue, and I would like to present some of mine. To me, there was three things that were important about this year's contest.
The biggest issue for me is the strange intersection between the big picture, of issues, values, dialectic, and the seemingly random way the primary process is stitched together. As I said at the beginning, the big issue this year was the split between the Tea Party and Establishment Republicans. While the Establishment candidate won, it doesn't mean the debate has been settled. The primary calendar, for example, was front-loaded with relatively favorable states for Romney. If, for example, Tennessee and Pennsylvania had voted in January, and Santorum had won in them, it could have created a narrative that Romney was unacceptable, and that Santorum was the front runner, and the dominoes would have perhaps fallen completed differently. Even something as small as Ohio or Michigan changing from a Tuesday to a Saturday election day could have changed the results. For want of a nail, an election can be lost.
Second, primary contests have often been formalities, with the nominee actually picked by party insiders, media approval, and a gentleman's agreement of sorts amongst the candidates themselves. This year, that consensus process was thrown away, and the election turned into...an election, of all things. Although this year might have been atypical, I think that in the future, both major parties will have their primary contests be more a matter of voter choice than polite agreement.
Third, going into the general election, it is interesting to see how Mitt Romney performed. I don't want to make too strong of a prediction, but Romney so far does not seem to be the type for surprises. In these elections, he won contests by the better organization and financial strength of his campaign, and won through a process of attrition. He was unable to transcend his basic demographic and political appeal. While Romney can win the general election, he will probably do it by grinding away, not by any sudden moves that transform the public perception of him.
Thank you for reading this far. While I was somewhat disappointed that this campaign turned out anti-climatically, I still found it to be an occasionally fascinating look into the state of American politics and society.