It's that time once again, kiddies, when we gather 'round the virtual fireplace and throw a few darts at the wall to predict the outcome of today's Republican primary races. Feel free to join us here tonight as we sit back and watch the results come in!
First, let's review where we are in the "calling the winners" sweepstakes. Last to vote was Maine, which I am proud to say I called 3-for-3 correct. Woo hoo! I'd also like to publicly thank the ChrisWeigant.com Maine "man on the ground" (our "Maine man," in other words...) [...pause for audience to groan...] for assisting me with this pick, as (all kidding aside) his advice was spot-on.
The vote was close, and I would have gone 1-for-3 if Ron Paul and Mitt Romney had swapped places, but once the Mainers figured out how to count the votes, Romney held a razor-thin edge in the end.
Overall, this improves my record a bit.
Total correct 2012 primary picks so far: 17 for 27 -- 63%.
One technical note, here: the vote this Saturday in Washington state will be the last contest for which I will be calling all three top winners. Because after that it is Super Tuesday, and so I'll only be picking the top finisher in every race from that point on. I'm following the (completely arbitrary, I admit) rules I laid down back in 2008 for playing this game, so I just wanted to warn everyone that it'll be "winners only" from that point onwards.
With that out of the way, let's examine the states voting today. I would say I put Arizona first due to alphabetic order, but to be honest, Michigan is the more fun race to call, so I'm leaving that for the end.
First Place -- Mitt Romney
Second Place -- Rick Santorum
Third Place -- Newt Gingrich
The polling in Arizona is pretty clear -- Romney's going to walk away with this one. Santorum has never really gotten close to Romney here, and will come in at least five (if not 10 or 15) points behind Mitt. Newt Gingrich will be far behind both, but will edge out Ron Paul.
This seems like a state Paul could have done better in, being the Mountain West where Libertarianism rides free over the open range (and all of that), but perhaps the fact that a lot of Arizona Republicans are retirees from elsewhere shifts the state's demographics a bit. Or perhaps Paul just didn't put up a good effort here, it's hard to say.
The really interesting question in Arizona is going to be the general election, though. Arizona is one of those states that is really purple these days, not blue or red. While it's been a Republican stronghold in the past, the state has slowly been getting bluer. Last time around, of course, they had a "favorite son" on the top of the Republican ticket, but this time John McCain won't be on the ballot. This could wind up being a swing state for Obama in November, which may shock some folks. This underscores how the Latino vote is getting more and more influential in certain states.
First Place -- Rick Santorum
Second Place -- Mitt Romney
Third Place -- Newt Gingrich
The polling in Michigan is about as close as it can get. The lead has see-sawed back and forth several times, but towards the end neither candidate got outside the "margin of error" in any of these leads -- which means the whole thing is a true tossup.
I am going with my gut, here, rather than my head. I say Santorum wins, which will be announced late in the evening because the race is so close. The word "recount" may even get bandied about, who knows?
Newt Gingrich will take third, once again ahead of Ron Paul, who will be the night's biggest loser (technically... although all the media attention will be on Romney's loss here).
I'm calling it for Santorum for a couple of reasons, all of which can influence things on election day. The first is the fact that the last-minute movement in the polls seemed to go in his direction. This often means the public is shifting, and the polls haven't quite caught up yet. The second reason I'm giving it to Rick is the "tactical" voting (or "let's pee in the other side's sandbox" voting... heh) by Michigan Democrats. Union workers annoyed at Mitt for his "let Detroit die" stance on the auto bailouts may decide that their vote is more important on the Republican side this year, and thus vote Republican (this is legal, in Michigan, as it is in many states). This is the sort of voter movement that polling usually fails to pick up, and if all they need is a few percentage points to throw the race, it could work. The irony, of course, is that Mitt Romney himself admitted to doing exactly the same thing in Massachusetts a while back. The third reason I'm going with Rick is that his voters certainly do seem a lot more enthusiastic and energetic about voting for him than Mitt's voters do. Now, this is admittedly sort of an anecdotal-driven observation, but again, if it's going to be close, this could be a decider.
So that's it. Santorum, Romney, Gingrich, Paul. I do have to admit a wee bit of bias here, because a part of me (like a part of the entire political media -- which will be on display tonight) really wants Santorum to win, just to keep the contest interesting. If Romney cleans up tonight, then the storyline is going to shift back to his "inevitability," whereas if Santorum pulls it out, there will be an absolute frenzy right up to (and right beyond) Super Tuesday, next week.
Here's a market tip: if Santorum wins Michigan, buy popcorn futures. The demand across America will explode. Heh. Heh heh.
Those are my picks, what are yours?
-- Chris Weigant
Follow Chris on Twitter: @ChrisWeigant