Chris Morris / special to the Sun
Saturday, Feb. 4, 2012 | 2 a.m.
- Caucus Day: How GOP candidates have set expectations for today’s results (2-4-2012)
- On eve of caucus, Mitt Romney makes case to voters across Nevada (2-3-2012)
- Ron Paul ventures into Pahrump, where he’s a rock star (2-4-2012)
- Sharron Angle finds that her endorsement packs little punch (2-4-2012)
- Gingrich tells Las Vegas crowd he will ‘win the nomination’ (2-3-2012)
Sun's complete coverage
In politics, managing expectations can be an important part of competing.
The sports world gets this. Instead of predicting an easy victory, a savvy coach flatters the opposition and talks down his own chances, hoping to lull the other team into a false sense of security.
So how are the presidential candidates attempting to manage expectations for today’s Nevada Republican caucuses?
To read the strategy, you need to know where things stand. Four states — Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina and Florida — have voted. Iowa was essentially a tie between Rick Santorum, the former Pennsylvania senator, and Mitt Romney, the former Massachusetts governor. Romney has won two more states and established himself as the front-runner.
Newt Gingrich, the former House speaker, has won one state, South Carolina, making him the likeliest challenger to Romney’s lead. And Ron Paul has made several respectable showings.
So what we’ve got in Nevada is one candidate trying to protect a safe lead, one in position to challenge it and two hoping for come-from-behind second-place finishes that could breathe life into their campaigns.
Here’s a look at how each of the candidates are managing the expectations for today’s caucus:
As front-runner, Romney has the most to lose and, as a result, the least to say about how he’ll do.
The Romney campaign has been trotting the candidate out for 15 minutes here, seven minutes there — just enough to let people catch a glimpse of the front-runner but not enough time to allow him to get off script.
Romney appears positioned to make Nevada his biggest win two election cycles in a row: He staged double-digit victories in New Hampshire and Florida, but polls here have him as much as doubling the showing of his next-closest competitor. Given that sort of cushion, it may seem a little disingenuous when Romney tells Nevada Republican voters, as he did on Thursday: “I need every vote I can get.”
But you can’t gloat in these situations — and nobody wants to jinx a lead, especially in a caucus state.
“We take nothing for granted. Yes, it’s nice to have a poll that tells you things you want to hear, but until Saturday has come and gone, fully executed and the caucus is secured, we have a lot of work to do,” said Lt. Gov. Brian Krolicki, Romney’s state campaign co-chairman. “These polls perhaps even cause some complacency. ... If there’s a celebration, we’ll have it — we expect it — but we’ll do that Saturday evening.”
In a way, Newt Gingrich already staged one victory here: He took over second place in Nevada polls from Ron Paul, who placed second in the state’s 2008 caucuses.
But like Paul, Gingrich isn’t focused on winning Nevada. He’s focused on winning delegates in Nevada’s caucuses — that, his people say, is a winning strategy.
How’s that for setting expectations?
“Our job is to win the nomination. In Nevada, our job is to turn out the Tea Party in droves, to show that conservatives are not behind Mitt Romney,” Gingrich spokesman R.C. Hammond said Thursday, as polls showed Gingrich 20 to 25 points behind Romney.
Gingrich has the support of some powerful Nevada conservatives — chief among them Sheldon Adelson — but has not been pounding the pavement as hard as some of his competitors, spending more time pressing donors for cash than Nevada Republicans for votes.
While he certainly isn’t saying he can win, he also hasn’t been shy in telling voters he needs all the help he can get.
“I need your help today; I need your help getting people turned out on Saturday,” he told people at a campaign event Thursday. “All across the country we’re seeing a popular movement spring up. ... We need your help.”
Four years ago, Ron Paul supporters established their candidate as a player in Nevada presidential politics: Not only did he come in second to Romney, but by the time the state convention rolled around, his supporters had staged a coup, snagging all of the Silver State delegates.
This time around, binding caucus results won’t let that happen. But it also appears that Paul’s base is slipping.
Before the first polls, pundits predicted Paul might put Gingrich’s national candidacy to shame by relegating him to third place here. But instead, it’s Paul who’s dropping to third, sometimes even fourth, in polls. There have even been empty chairs at some of his public events.
“Right now, my goal is to maximize the delegates,” Paul said Wednesday, echoing Gingrich’s line. “For us, Nevada’s very, very important because of the setup. ... It rewards people who have energy, who have commitment, who have beliefs and can compete. That’s what a caucus state does. We’ve been known to be able to organize and energize, so we expect we’re going to do quite well.”
Santorum was the first to arrive in Nevada. He showed up Tuesday night, leaving behind Florida, where he was in last place, to try to drum up crowds here.
He staged a caucus surprise in Iowa. But he couldn’t pull more than 100 people to an event Tuesday — or more than 10 percent in the polls — and has since spent more time outside Nevada than he has in it, even after receiving Tea Party darling Sharron Angle’s endorsement. While Nevada is caucusing, he’ll be in Colorado.
If his absence isn’t making it clear enough, Santorum’s trying to keep expectations low.
“We’re doing our best in a very constrained environment. ... I think it would be a stretch to say that we could win here, but I think it’s a place hopefully we can improve our position,” Santorum said Tuesday night. “You never know. We’ve overperformed before, and we’re hopeful we’ll do well out here.”