HH: Joined now by Larry Sabato of the University of Virginia, where he runs his Crystal Ball. Hello, Larry.
LS: Hey, how are you, Hugh?
HH: That crystal ball is cracked. Everyone’s…every single one in the country’s broken.
LS: There’s glass all over the place (laughing). There are a lot of cracks in that crystal ball. I’ve got to get a new one.
HH: Well, you and I, both. Okay, actually, I’ll bet you if we looked back at your predictions, you would have said someone will win Iowa, someone will win New Hampshire, and maybe someone different will win South Carolina, which is where we are. The question is where do we go from here, Larry?
LS: Look, as you know, all the polls today have Newt, and one coming out tomorrow, haven’t been released, yet, have Newt way up in Florida, just pure momentum from South Carolina. But you know, Hugh, we’ve learned one thing if nothing else in this cycle. A week’s a long time, and those polls are going to change. Why do people think the roller coaster is going to stop now?
LS: I think it’s going to continue.
HH: How big’s the lead in tomorrow’s poll?
LS: It’s going to be high single digits.
HH: Same as the first two that came out today.
LS: Yeah, ostensibly the same. It’s a pretty big lead.
HH: Yeah, it is, but it is a sampling on the weekend, and it is a sampling in the aftermath of a big win, and then people sit back.
LS: That’s right.
HH: And we have a debate tonight, and I’m curious whether or not you think Romney and Santorum have learned anything from Gingrich regarding how to approach these debates?
LS: Well, yes, I think they have. First of all, both of them will be going after Gingrich tonight. They can’t afford not to. I don’t care what their previous plans were. They need to rip those plans up, and I think they’ve figured that out. Now whether it goes over is another thing entirely, and of course, Newt isn’t going to sit there and take it. That’s his forum. We’ve learned that. Two debates this week exactly like last week. If Newt scores as big in those two debates, we all know what will happen. But I do think that the other candidates are going to approach it differently.
HH: Now let me ask you about the biggest single piece of data that came in today. Not the polling data, but hard facts, is that public employee unions, the American Federation of State and Municipal employees, AFSCME, I believe it was, purchased $800,000 dollars of television ads to run against Mitt Romney. What’s that tell you, Larry?
LS: Well, they don’t want to run against Mitt Romney, and that comes right from the White House. You know that.
HH: So they want Newt Gingrich to be the nominee.
LS: That is correct. There’s no doubt about it.
HH: Why do unions and President Obama want Newt Gingrich to be the nominee?
LS: Because they believe every national and key swing state poll they’ve seen, and those polls are virtually unanimous in saying that Romney ties or beats Obama, and Newt Gingrich is well under Obama.
HH: And do you think that will get through to Republican voters in any significant way?
LS: I have to believe over time, Hugh, that it will, because you know, people are sane. They pick up information. They’re not stupid. We’ve all dealt with enough voters to know that. But here’s the thing. Here’s what I keep hearing, and what I keep getting by email. People say to me we are angry, we want a fighter, we want somebody to bloody Obama. They think Mitt is too nice, and Newt is mean enough or tough enough to do it. And they’re probably right, except here’s what they’re missing. Winning debates is not winning the election. They’re two different things. Sometimes, you can win the debates and lose the election. I’ve seen it many times. So have you.
HH: Larry, I’ve got to ask you, I do not believe Barack Obama will debate the Republican nominee any more than once, and may not debate them at all. There is no law that compels it, and Richard Nixon in ’72 said no. What do you think?
LS: Yes, and remember when Bill Clinton was doing better against Bob Dole, he arbitrarily canceled one of the three debates. There were only two in ’96. There’s nothing, no law as you say that says there’ll be two debates or one debate. I think he’ll have to have a debate. If he doesn’t have a debate, he’ll really get in trouble.
HH: Well, you can do it in September, though, and then…
LS: And you do it earlier. Well, they’ve already announced three dates, and I think the last one is three full weeks ahead of the election, which means that it will be completely dissipated. The effects will be dissipated by the time people go to vote.
HH: All right, now there is a great young journalist over at The Atlantic, Conor Friedersdorf, I don’t agree with him very often, but he’s very good. He has a piece up today, What Gingrich ’12 and Obama ’08 Have In Common. The subhead is A Professorial Style Egotism, Lack Of Executive Experience, A Vision Of Themselves As Men Of Destiny, And A Vow To Fundamentally Change The Establishment. What do you say to that?
LS: Well, there’s a lot of truth to that. They are two professors, that’s for sure. I think as a professor, I can say that. They come across that way, they can be aloof in that fashion. But look, here’s the difference. Obama didn’t run against an incumbent. And all the powers of incumbency, and the billion dollars an incumbent can raise, and Newt Gingrich or any Republican will be running against an incumbent.
HH: And so now in terms of advice that you think Mitt Romney is getting, what do you think he’s got to do? And who do you think is he listening to?
LS: Well, he has to aggressively explain his candidacy versus Newt Gingrich’s. I think he’s got to get into the electoral math. He’s got to be blunt about it. He can’t become another person. He’s not going to develop into a Newt Gingrich with those kind of debating skills. But what he can do is tell the truth – lay out the electoral math. And again, people aren’t stupid.
HH: Now that would require, though, opportunities to hold forth not on contraception, and not on other inane things, but on commander-in-chief sorts of questions. If they are not offered up, Larry Sabato, ought Santorum and Romney simply to seize them tonight?
LS: That’s absolutely correct. And what happened to the old rule where you ignore the question and just give your answer? That’s the first thing you’re taught in high school debate. You know, I don’t know why they haven’t been doing it, and some of the questions have been awfully dumb.
HH: All right, in terms of the map, and I’ve done this exercise with you before, is there any state in the general election that Newt has an easier time winning than Romney?
LS: I can’t find…well, easier? If you’re talking about a larger percentage, sure, I think he’d do better in the South. But the South is going to be overwhelmingly Republican anyway. What difference does it make if you get 60% versus 58%?
HH: Is there one state that you think Gingrich would win that Romney wouldn’t win?
LS: No, I can’t think of one, and I’ve been over the maps, and we’re going to have something about that out on Thursday.
HH: And to the level, well, Gingrich’s people will say we’ve only just begun to fight, give us time to engage, give us time to raise money and go right at the President, and that’ll change Ohio’s mind. What do you make of that?
LS: I think Ohio would be very unlikely to go for Newt Gingrich. They might go for somebody with some Midwestern ties, a guy who maybe grew up in Michigan. I don’t see them going for a Georgian like Newt Gingrich.
HH: Larry, let me keep you over for one more segment. I want to go through the rest of the map, because Newt’s got a softer immigration policy than Romney. Maybe that’s where he gets an edge in Arizona, Nevada and Colorado. We’ll come back and talk with Larry Sabato of the University of Virginia, where he blogs there. And of course, his Crystal Ball is less cloudy than most, a little cracked, as they all are, right now.
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HH: So Larry, Newt’s got the soft immigration policy. Mitt’s got the harder immigration policy. Is it possible that Newt would do better in places like Colorado, New Mexico and Arizona?
LS: I doubt it, because that assumes the only vote that matters is, say, Hispanics or liberal whites who care about immigration policy. No, I think in fact, you would have a lot of swing voters, a lot of independents in those key states that would be more inclined to another candidate other than Newt.
HH: And then what about the capacity for killer error? And we know what a killer error…a killer error is Poland being free in the 1976 debate between Carter and Ford, or the DUI, though it didn’t end the Bush campaign, it extended it until December. Is there a killer error out there?
LS: Well, you know, I don’t think that Gingrich would be inclined to make that kind of factual error, but I could see him going too far in a debate. I could easily see him going too far. Now Romney, of course, has also turned in some very bad answers, like on tax returns. So he’s also capable of goofing up. But then, you know, so is Obama. He hasn’t been perfect in debates or in speeches, either. So you never know about those wild gaffes. Anybody could utter one, and then get stubborn.
HH: Now do you think people…Jim DeMint sat out this race. Steve King in Iowa sat out this race. Jeb Bush has not yet been heard from. A) Do you think Jeb’s going to sit out this race? And B) What’s it do to people not to take a horse in this most important effort to beat Obama?
LS: It has surprised me particularly that Jeb Bush has now ruled out, if we’re to believe him, he’s absolutely ruled out an endorsement before the Florida primary. That’s his opportunity. His father’s already taken a stand. It’s obvious that he’s for Mitt Romney. He didn’t issue a formal endorsement, but he laid on the hands. Most of the Bush people seem to be for Romney. I’m very surprised that Jeb Bush has ruled that out.
HH: And what about Rick Scott and Marco Rubio? What do you expect from them, last question, Larry Sabato?
LS: I’ll bet Rubio doesn’t do anything. You can tell he just wants to stay out of this. Rick Scott? You tell me. He’s unpredictable.
HH: Oh, I think Bob McDonnell endorsing, and Marco Rubio not endorsing will matter a lot when it comes time to the vice presidential selection…
LS: Yes, indeed.
HH: …if Romney is, if Romney’s the nominee. Do you agree with that?
LS: I agree with it 100%. I noted that last week.
HH: These are human beings. They remember stuff.
LS: They sure do remember. They remember who was there when they needed them.
HH: Well, that’s very interesting. Larry, always a pleasure. It’s always good to talk…Larry, does anyone think you’re actually not unbiased? You’re like the most unbiased guy in the game.
LS: Well, I thank you very much. I try. God knows I try.
HH: You got it. Larry Sabato, thanks, friend.
End of interview.