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Press Clips: What Does Mittens Have to Hide?

Friday, January 13th, 2012

For the moment at least, Mitt Romney’s counter-attack seems to be prevailing in the sudden set-to over his record at Bain Capital.

The Republican establishment is circling the wagons around Mittens, while Newt Gingrich has half-way, kinda, sorta, maybe-but-not-really walked back his rip job on the man he never tires of calling a “Massachusetts moderate.”

Portraying Eye of Newt as a second cousin of Che Guevara for having the bad manners, not to mention the major balls, to drag up some, you know, real-life people hurt by several of Bain’s sleazier deals, the capital gains and trust-fund set is sputtering in outrage, bashing Leroy’s newtron bomb as an anti-American assault on free markets, motherhood and the constitutional right of 1% grubstakers to exploit whomever they damn well please.

Just below the surface, however, lies a trio of issues related to the main stage Bain story that has erupted as a bitter GOP intraparty feud over economic ethics and values, and is now playing out in the South Carolina primary. These matters are deeply intertwined with Romney’s primary campaign narrative — that his private sector experience is a defining credential that makes him eminently qualified and suited to lead the U.S. out of economic stagnation – and, in the long run, seems likely to keep the Bain controversy alive and well deep into the general election:

Transparency in the Temple: Exhibit A, and this week’s winner of the Little Pulitzer for Investigative Punditry, is a splendid essay by investments writer Elizabeth McDonald, of Fox Business.com.

McDonald knocks the MSM’s reporting on Bain to date as “lame” – “restructuring organizations is as old as Jesus tossing the money changers out of the Temple,” she says – by way of arguing that Romney’s stubborn, not-now, not-ever refusal to release his tax returns is far more telling and important to voters as a signifier of who he is.

But the broader controversy is likely the reason why Romney has yet to release his personal income tax returns, which every candidate since the Nixon era has done.

Three parts of the U.S. tax code legally enhance private equity executive payouts: Paying income taxes at the lower 15% capital gains tax rate versus the higher 35% income tax rate; borrowing heavily to do deals and then deducting on corporate tax returns the interest costs on those loans, thus juicing profits and executive payouts further; and getting lots of stock options from the companies they restructure.

In a nicely understated, just-the-facts tone, she next details clearly why these sweetheart features of the tax code offer many, many millions of reasons why Mittens dearly doesn’t want to release his returns, choosing instead to brazen it out by wrapping himself in the red, white and blue of good ole American gumption and entrepreneurship.

Close readers of this space will recall that a similar what-does-eMeg-have-to-hide controversy over Romney BFF Meg Whitman’s attempt to conceal her taxes was a crucial plot twist in the California press corps’ months-long unmasking of what Newt might call the “pious baloney” of the “I’m just here to help California” image she portrayed on the campaign trail.

Significantly, the Washpost editorial board fired a shot across the bow of Mitt’s yacht on the tax issue this week. Take it to the bank that the MSM piling on won’t be far behind.

Jobs in a box: A fundamental underpinning of Mitten’s rationale for his candidacy is his self-described spectacular success in “creating jobs” while at Bain, an alleged accomplishment he has trumpeted since day one of the campaign.

Sadly for him, there’s not a shred of hard evidence to support the claim.

And to tell from Keach Hagey’s excellent explainer over at Politico – “Mitt Romney’s Bain Capital Days – a Black Box” – there won’t be any anytime soon, unless His Mitness Himself decrees it must happen.

Did he, as he claims, help create 100,000 jobs and thereby prove he knows how to do what the country needs most? Or were he and his fellow Harvard MBAs just “rich people figuring out clever legal ways to loot a company,” as Newt Gingrich claimed last week, or “vultures,” as Rick Perry claimed this week?

So far, the definitive and comprehensive answers to these questions have proven elusive to even the country’s best journalists because of the very private nature of private equity. The greatest privacy-destroying force known to man — an American presidential campaign — is going head-to-head with one of the most secretive redoubts of the American economy and for now, the door of Bain’s vault is holding.

“Bain, even for a private equity firm, is particularly private,” said Josh Kosman, author of “The Buyout of America: How Private Equity Is Destroying Jobs and Killing the American Economy.” “Most private equity firms are, because once you look behind the numbers, there is much they don’t want you to see.”

Hagey recounts the conscientious but failed efforts to mine some actual hard data by some of the best fact-testers in the business, including the Washpost’s Glenn Kessler, and also recalls that the late Ted Kennedy’s campaign demolished similar Romney claims on the way to skunking Mittens in the 1994 Senate campaign, by highlighting the human face of several of the deals now being attacked by Gingrich.

When Romney tried before — in his 1994 Senate race — to use the supposed job-creating power of private equity for political gain, the result was a PR disaster for the industry. His Democratic opponent, Sen. Ted Kennedy, fired back with damaging ads highlighting the strike at an Indiana factory of Bain-owned Ampad, which laid off workers and hired them back at lower wages with fewer benefits.

The pro-Gingrich super PAC attack videos — and whatever Democrats cook up for the general election if Romney wins the nomination — just pick up where Kennedy left off, highlighting the personal stories of laid-off workers.

Far from a partisan issue or media obsession, Romney’s questionable claims about job creation don’t seem to be passing the smell test among even such Tea Party favorites as the oh-how-we-miss-her Sarah Palin, who addressed the question thusly to no less a capitalist triumphalist than Sean Hannity:

Gov. Romney has claimed to have created a 100,00 jobs at Bain, and people are wanting to know, is there proof of that claim and was it U.S. jobs created for United States citizens? … And that’s fair. That’s not negative campaigning — that’s fair to get a candidate to be held accountable to what’s being claimed.

(P.S. Lest you think that Palin had a secret Clarity Bypass in the months since she dropped out of sight, she quickly provided an addendum to her comments that proved she’s still taking stupid pills: “Nobody should be surprised that things about Bain Capital and maybe tax returns not being released yet and maybe some record not being as transparently provided to the public as voters deserve to see right now — don’t be surprised that that’s’ all coming out today.” But we digress).

The heartbreak of brain farts: Mitt’s latest brain fart on the Bain controversy, expressed in an interview with Matt Lauer, is to charge that concerns about wealth inequality are simply “about envy.”

You know, I think it’s about envy. I think it’s about class warfare. When you have a President encouraging the idea of dividing America based on the 99 percent versus 1 percent—and those people who have been most successful will be in the 1 percent—you have opened up a whole new wave of approach in this country, which is entirely inconsistent with the concept of one nation under God. The American people, I believe in the final analysis, will reject it.

Envy? Really? As Rick Perry might say, “Oops.”

A just-released, don’t miss study from the Pew Research Center suggests that while Mitt’s “they’re all jealous of us” argument might be just the ticket for a Republican primary, down the road it may sound a bit insensitive to a huge majority of the country, including such important general election groups as independents, younger voters and, um, white people (not to mention anyone on the upside of the IQ bell curve).

The Occupy Wall Street movement no longer occupies Wall Street, but the issue of class conflict has captured a growing share of the national consciousness. A new Pew Research Center survey of 2,048 adults finds that about two-thirds of the public (66%) believes there are “very strong” or “strong” conflicts between the rich and the poor—an increase of 19 percentage points since 2009….

As a result, in the public’s evaluations of divisions within American society, conflicts between rich and poor now rank ahead of three other potential sources of group tension—between immigrants and the native born; between blacks and whites; and between young and old. Back in 2009, more survey respondents said there were strong conflicts between immigrants and the native born than said the same about the rich and the poor.1

 These changes in attitudes over a relatively short period of time may reflect the income and wealth inequality message conveyed by Occupy Wall Street protesters across the country in late 2011 that led to a spike in media attention to the topic. But the changes also may also reflect a growing public awareness of underlying shifts in the distribution of wealth in American society. According to the most recent U.S. Census Bureau data, the proportion of overall wealth—a measure that includes home equity, stocks and bonds and the value of jewelry, furniture and other possessions—held by the top 10% of the population increased from 49% in 2005 to 56% in 2009.

Next up: Mitt announces his plan to send truckloads of cake to Occupy protesters around the nation.

ICYMI:  Once you’ve watched “When Mitt Romney Came to Town,” now airing in South Carolina, check out Newt’s web ad of Mitt’s greatest dumb moments.

ICYMI II: Why we always keep C-Span on in the background. Talk about a national treasure.

Why Newt’s Lefty Wealth Attack on Mitt Matters

Wednesday, January 11th, 2012

To the surprise of no one, Mitt Romney won the home field New Hampshire primary Tuesday night, leaving him securely and luxuriously ensconced in what you like to call your catbird’s seat, well on his way to the Republican nomination for president.

Despite all the gum flapping and heavy breathing by cable babblers about the second-and-third place finishes of Ron (“we’re nibbling at his heels”) Paul and Jon Huntsman  however, the only truly unexpected feature of the Granite State GOP grope was that Romney spent the last few days getting bashed from the left in a Republican primary.

“The president wants to put free enterprise on trial,” Romney (New slogan: Just because I speak French doesn’t mean I can’t attack the European-style welfare state) said Tuesday night, repeating his knowingly-false attack line against Barack Obama. To which he added: “In the last few days, we’ve seen some desperate Republicans try to do the same thing.”

Romney referred, of course, to the recent assault on him by Newt Gingrich and, to a lesser extent, Rick Perry, for being a greedy, heartless, blood-sucking Mr. Potter-like corporate raider in his years running Bain Capital. By the time the polls closed last night, the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man and the eternally befuddled (truly 1-percenter) Perry were still waging class warfare on Mittens, while Huntsman and Paul had begun wagging fingers at the pair for incorrect capitalist thinking and Rick Santorum, who portrays himself as a tribune of blue collar types, was distancing himself from the line of attack as well.

Still, Newt’s Super PAC now is reportedly planning to blanket the airwaves of South Carolina with footage from a mini-documentary qua slasher film about Mitt’s years at Bain, in advance of the Palmetto State’s January 21 primary.

So the controversy isn’t going away anytime soon — to the certain delight of President Obama and his Democratic re-election drones, who will be spared trouble and expense in developing and focus grouping their own attack ads hitting Romney as a vicious plutocratic predator drone intent on sowing misery among the 99%; Barry’s Kids also now don’t have to bang so heavy on the keys on the issue of wealth disparity, which Obama has been doing since he decided to become a populist and forgo his can’t-we-all-just-get-along kissy-poo overtures to congressional Republicans (goodbye Bill Daley).

Here come the bullets: In other words, as right-wingers from Rush Limbaugh to the National Review are already fretting, Newt, wounded and enraged from Team Romney spoiling his presidential dreams with a Super PAC barrage in Iowa, is now generously previewing the fundamental argument that will underpin the president’s re-election effort. And that damages Mittens in three key ways:

– All the “Mitt Romney: Corporate Barbarian” charges undercut the central rationale for his candidacy. He portrays himself as a superman business executive consultant, whose experience, competence and understanding of how the economy works will rescue the nation; but, just as eMeg Whitman was undone by her connections to Goldman Sachs sleaze while running a similarly themed campaign for governor of California, Romney now risks being defined by the sordid image of high-flying investment types held by many voters, who are just as angry at Wall Street as at Washington.

– The Occupy Wall Street movement has succeeded in pushing the issue of the nation’s vast wage and wealth disparity onto the agenda of the 2012 campaign. While Republicans in the past have been successful in dismissing discussion and debate about the Third World levels of wealth concentration in the U.S. as unpatriotic “class warfare,” the inarguable facts about the massive gap between the wealthiest Americans and everyone else are now well-known by many mainstream voters, at a time when Romney stands as a central casting character representing the 1%.

– Romney suffers from a form of hoof in mouth disease that compels him to keep saying things that call attention to his privileged perch in life. Even before he blurted out that he “like(s) being able to fire people” on Monday (a quote that hurts him even though almost everyone agrees it was taken out of context, for reasons explained by Jim Fallows ), Romney essentially asserted in Sunday’s debate that only rich people should run for office. He also later claimed he personally  had faced the threat of getting a “pink slip” (his campaign still hasn’t been able to explain when exactly that was — a cross-dressing party at Harvard Business School maybe?).

To what advantage?  Earlier on Tuesday, Limbaugh complained* that Gingrich is attacking Romney “using the language of the left” – an assault so counter-intuitive, so left-wing, so, well, Democratic, it caused heads to explode from Wall Street to K Street. Meanwhile, the conservative Club for Growth PAC accused Gingrich of employing “economically ignorant class warfare rhetoric.”

From a partisan perspective, it’s not hard to see why they’re upset. Still, you have to give Gingrich style points for defending himself: “There’s a big difference between people who go out and create a company — even if they fail — if they try to go in the right direction, if they share in the hardships, if they’re out there with the workers doing it together,” he  said. “That’s one thing. But if someone who is very wealthy comes in and takes over your company and takes out all the cash and leaves behind the unemployment?”

Said Perry, with more folksy bluntness:  “They’re vultures that are sitting out there on the tree limb, waiting for the company to get sick, and then they sweep in, they eat the carcass, they leave with that, and they leave the skeleton.”

As our friend, Republican strategist Steve Schmidt, summed up on MSNBC: “Newt Gingrich and Rick Perry have become the chief surrogates for President Obama.”

All of which raises an interesting question of political analysis: What strategic purpose do Gingrich and/or Perry have in attacking Romney as a rip-your-lungs-out Gordon Gekko knockoff in his years at Bain? How do they think they will benefit from laying down precisely the line of fire that Obama and the Democrats have and will use against the man who is likely to be the GOP nominee?

Why? How? Because Gingrich and Perry were just using the New Hampshire primary as a stage to fight for South Carolina, which is far more economically distressed and loaded with angry, lower-income, poorly-educated, anti-Wall Street right-wing populists who have become an important sector of the New South Republican Party.

As Democratic strategist Bill Carrick, a native of South Carolina, told Calbuzz, it’s all about Bubba. “Willard Mitt Romney is not Joe the Plumber,” Carrick said. Whether the pro-Gingrich PAC that is attacking Romney has an actual strategy, he said, it surely has a “strategic rationalization” — that by appealing to voters’ anti-elite sentiments, they can slow Mitt down.

The future lies ahead: Whatever it is that Newt’s thinking at the moment, we’re sticking with the Calbuzz Advisory Board of Leading Authorities on Practically Everything in viewing the Republican race as essentially over. That doesn’t mean, however, that Romney will stop campaigning for it until he gets the delegates he needs to be nominated. And at the very least for one more primary – depending on exactly how crazy and well-funded Gingrich and his allies turn out to be – that means he’ll keep facing gnarly questions about the rosy picture he paints about his record in the private sector.

Which will lead to more scenes like this one in New Hampshire, splendidly described by the Washpost’s Dana Milbank, who covered the “I like firing people” event:

 If this weren’t enough evidence that Romney represented the Plutocrat Progress Party, the first questioner confirmed it.

“In this historic election, we need to convince the masses that our vision as conservatives benefits them,” she said. “So my question is: How will you as the nominee get the minds of America behind you?”

 At least she didn’t say “unwashed masses.”

 Romney didn’t show any concern that the woman had spoken aloud from the plutocrats’ playbook. “That is the question of my campaign, of course,” he said.

 Of course.

Only 301 days until the election.

* One reason Limbaugh may be so extravagantly distressed about this matter: Bain owns Clear Channel, which pays his salary. H/t Buzzfeed.

 

Calbuzz Panel: Stick a Fork in the Republican Race

Monday, January 9th, 2012

When the dust settles in New Hampshire, the 2012 Republican nomination for president will be written in granite and the name will be Willard Mitt Romney, according to the Calbuzz Advisory Board of Leading Authorities on Practically Everything, the greatest assemblage of political minds since Thorstein Veblen dined alone.

Despite New Hampshire’s reputation for sticking conventional wisdom (and the results of the Iowa caucuses) in the eye, pols from the Northeast have a habit of doing well in New Hampshire, from Henry Cabot Lodge and John F. Kennedy, to Ed Muskie, George H.W. Bush, Michael Dukakis, Paul Tsongas and John Kerry.

Of course, as you can see, they don’t always pick the nominee or the next president. And while Romney took some flack over the weekend in back-to-back debates and while he continues to argue that Barack Obama wants to turn America into a “European-style social welfare state” [insert groan here], he smartly avoided the biggest trap set for him in Manchester:

Despite repeated goading from Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum, he did not lunge further to the right than he’s already gone, thereby leaving open the possibility of further waffling back toward the middle in the general election.

We agree with the Republican member of the Calbuzz Consultanate who said:

Holding steady, Mitt will graciously bounce them all.  Santorum won’t break 20, but even if he does, who cares (besides a hyperventilating media)?  He won’t be the nominee, unless the party decides to hang itself in the garage. Newt is reaffirming that he’s the uncle who turns nasty after a couple drinks at the family BBQ.  Time to call a cab and send him home.

As for the hyperventilating media – we kept wondering where they were when we watched the ABC debate with George Stephanopoulos and Dianne Sawyer, whose feckless, dishpan questions and attention to Crankypants Ron Paul were infuriating. At least NBC’s David Gregory got the candidates to mix it up and challenge one another.

What was clear, as it has been in almost every other debate, is that Romney is the only candidate in the GOP field with the bearing and chops to be a major party candidate. Which is exactly why every member of the Calbuzz Consultanate who we called on this week, picked Romney to 1) win New Hampshire and 2) capture the GOP nomination.

Whether their precise percentages will prove on the mark, we won’t know until Tuesday night, but here’s their collective pick: Romney 40%; Paul 19%; Santorum 16%; Huntsman 14%; Gingrich 9%, Perry 2%.

In fairness, some of them commented before the debates and Jon Hunstman’s effective take-down of Romney, when he said the front-runner’s critique of Huntsman’s service as President Obama’s ambassador to China is the kind of divisiveness that’s wrong with America.

But we really don’t see what’s going to stop Romney from wrapping up the nomination sooner rather than later (although we’d love to see it drag on until California Republicans could have a crack at the field). Even the anti-Romney “documentary” about to air in South Carolina is unlikely to take him out (see below).

One of our Republican panelists offered a sliver of hope to the Anyone But Mitt (ABM) crowd:

New Hampshire could change that dynamic only if Santorum blows away Gingrich and runs a strong second, creating a national conservative leadership consensus to pressure Gingrich and Perry to drop out.  But the erosion of the blue collar manufacturing base since the days of Pat Buchanan [the NH ’96 GOP winner]and some Santorum stumbles make that improbable.

Here are the comments of our Calbuzz panel:

Republicans

– The Romney campaign has been virtually flawless so far (along with its related Super PAC, which disemboweled Gingrich in Iowa).  The dynamics favor a Romney sweep of the early primaries, unless there is some incredible rallying behind Santorum before South Carolina. Gingrich is too proud to quit and his Super PAC is doing a big anti-Bain Capital buy in South Carolina. Perry has $4 million and is taking one last shot in South Carolina, just as Fred Thompson did in 2008, enabling John McCain to carry that state over Mitt Romney. So there will be a three-way split of the non-Romney, non-Paul vote in South Carolina.

– Santorum’s Big Mo from Iowa looks like it’s met the New Hampshire political meat grinder. Those flinty New Englanders are once again flipping the bird to the Midwestern Bible thumpers. Huntsman may come in third and Santorum in fourth. California Reeps should be relieved because God help us if Santorum is the nominee.

– Romney will win NH but it will be hard to meet the astronomical expectations.  The bright lights now shining on Santorum will cause him to wilt. Remember, this is a guy that lost his own re-election campaign by 20 points. South Carolina will see the largest food fight since Belushi started one at Faber College. What does this mean?  While it might not be pretty, Romney will emerge as the adult, the leader and will move strongly toward the nomination.

– The GOP nomination contest is OVER . . . Momentum carries the day in SC for Romney and then Florida and by Feb 1 “It’s a wrap.” So much for the easy part. Romney has a major challenge on his hands on how he fills from February until the convention — when the president has all the arrows in his quiver.

– Romney is on his way to crushing win in NH.  No sign of weakness or erosion. Huntsman might get second. Caveat — debates in next several hours could matter. Onto South Carolina where Mitt wins and effectively secures the nomination. For all the hand-wringing about how weak a frontrunner he is, he’s about to wrap up the nomination with ease.  The press narrative will be that the rest of the field was weak, which is very true. But no one else manned up. Chicago will be very bummed this ended so quickly.

– [Will Mitt come away with a crushing victory? ] No the spin will be that he should have won by more. [Will Santorum break into the 20s?] Yes [Does it matter?] Yes. [Is there anything positive in Newt's new role as "truth teller" about Romney?]   Yes — positive for everyone other than Romney.

 Democrats

– Despite the Suffolk tracking polls showing Ron Paul hanging in second place, Huntsman’s debate performance today and his organization in the state should squeeze him into second place, but he won’t break 20%. Romney will break 40%. Everyone else in high single or low double digits.  Santorum has lost his mo since Friday and Newt, per usual, continues his murder suicide mission.

– Willard Mitt Romney will have a victory but not a crushing one. The polling shows Romney losing support and he looks headed to mid-30s or maybe less. Paul has his 20% and everyone else is scrambling with Gingrich, Santorum, and Huntsman trying to place third with double digits. Will the debate doubleheader shake things up? Romney took some incoming in the MTP debate and it could shave some more points off his lead . . . NH is always volatile.  With high undecideds, a flawed bunch of candidates, and a large independent vote, Tuesday could produce some surprises. Then into the darkness known as the South Carolina Republican Primary.

– Romney has an expectations problem in New Hampshire. He has led there from the beginning, regularly in the 40s with no one else out of the teens, has a home there and was governor of neighboring Massachusetts. Winning gets him little other than a good election night party, but if he comes in with less of the vote than all the polls have reflected, it will be viewed as another sign that he is the weakest GOP front-runner in recent times.

– New Hampshire means absolutely nothing.  We are weeks if not days away from Republicans falling in line with Romney. A few candidates will hang on to improve the amount that they can charge for speaking fees and book sales, but the dye is cast. I say this mostly because Obama isn’t lucky enough to draw Santorum as his Goldwater.  Gingrich is an unlikeable, phony blow bag who talks down to people; Perry is becoming more desperate and scary with each passing day; Paul would only carry Orange County with his Libertarian views; Huntsman (who?) just got endorsed by the liberal Boston Globe (will Rachel Maddow be next?) and Santorum is the kind of guy who got beat up in school for being a high and mighty dork — when it was still OK to do that in public school. I mean Kerry (forgot him already?) got 250 electoral votes. Don’t you think Obama, as a sitting president, can find 21 additional votes somewhere?  Obama wins comfortably.

– We used to joke about the similarities between Romney and Meg Whitman, but it is less funny now that he appears to have learned nothing at all from his good friend’s disaster in California. A wealthy takeover specialist who has trouble connecting with voters on a personal level, doesn’t move up or down much no matter what his or other campaigns do, seems to shift positions at the drop of a hat and is supported by the establishment not for any ideological reason, but mostly for perceived electability, and he’s relying on technological wizardry (see here) and overwhelming financial advantage to get him through despite a message that doesn’t resonate. Even the dishonesty of his attacks on primary opponents seems familiar. The national electorate is more conservative than California, but there should be a flood of panicked emails from California Republicans to the Romney campaign. . . Romney will win the New Hampshire primary [followed by] Paul and Santorum. Jon Huntsman will do better than expected but will still be out the race the next day, and Rick Perry will finish in the single digits. 

– [Picks Romney, Santorum, Paul] I keep thinking Huntsman is going to show some movement but I’ve been wrong so far. He’s the only one who hasn’t had a surge so he’s the only possible surprise.

– [Picks Romney, Paul, Santorum, Huntsman, Gingrich, Perry] Newt melts like the wicked witch of the west – problem is he splashed the bile on himself. 

– The GOP speed dating is over. The parents have foisted their candidate on the party. Since Pawlenty pulled out after the IA straw poll in the summer and Perry’s debate performances made him the punch drunk Joe Palooka of the field, there has not been a viable alternative to Romney, so this has always been a question of when, not if in terms of when he wraps this up. . . Iowa identifies the losers; NH the winners, and the Palmetto State crowns the winner. . . Mitt is going to run the table. . . The vote that will have movement in NH is with the independent voters, and some because they are contrarian, NH voters will go to Huntsman, but Romney will get his share.

– As much as I’d like to see this thing drag on, stick a fork in it — it’s over. Romney will win big in NH. He may even win SC (a recent poll found him up by double digits). Sigh. Obama’s best hope now is that the economy continues to improve and the unemployment rate continues to drop.

– I’d like to say the Granite State will live up its past of stunning the pundits and/or award victory to an unconventional candidate. But it won’t. It will be a big fat win for Mitt Romney. What’s worse, the anti-Mitt candidate won’t emerge from there either. Romney will score [more than half] the vote and it will be an Iowa-like finish for the also-rans in terms of the closeness of the finish. Huntsman might lead the pack of also-rans but won’t matter; he’s still dead man walking. Newt should outpace Santorum by a few thousand votes with Paul in that mix as well, with a similar vote haul.

– I’m a Democrat!  I haven’t been to Iowa or NH this season, so following the Republican primary is just a spectator sport on TV and online. From afar, it looks like Romney, Santorum, Huntsman in NH and everyone goes on to South Carolina.  Romney played the front-runner’s role beautifully, with a priority on not making mistakes (thus limited press avails) and finishing strong (solid in debates [and deploying Gov. Chris] Christie.)

HT to Josh Marshall at Talking Points Memo for calling attention to the anti-Romney “documentary,” apparently funded by billionaire casino mogul Sheldon Adelson, that will make the case for South Carolina voters that Romney is a predatory capitalist job killer. You can watch the trailer from the pro-Newt Super Pac by clicking on this screen grab: