University of Virginia political guru Larry Sabato tells Newsmax that Mitt Romney will “inevitably” go on the attack against Rick Santorum after the two virtually tied for first in the Iowa caucuses.
He also says he will be shocked if Newt Gingrich doesn’t abandon his “nice Newt” approach and begin more aggressively attacking his GOP rivals.
And Sabato predicts the departure of Michele Bachmann from the race won’t benefit any single candidate because what little support she had will be fractured among several White House hopefuls.
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Sabato is a political science professor, author, and director of the Center for Politics at the University of Virginia. He is also the founder of Sabato’s Crystal Ball, an online newsletter providing free political analysis.
In an exclusive interview with Newsmax.TV on Wednesday, Sabato comments on Rick Santorum’s surprisingly strong showing in Tuesday’s Iowa caucuses.
“Santorum really fit Iowa well. Iowans didn’t recognize it until the end of the campaign because he didn’t have the money to get the message out. It was really the free news media coverage toward the end that enabled Santorum to make this big leap.
“Between 50 and 60 percent of the Iowa Republicans who voted in the caucuses were social conservatives and Christian fundamentalists. They were looking for someone who wasn’t just good on the economy but also represented to them consistency on issues like abortion, gay marriage and the like. And in Rick Santorum they found both.”
Asked if Romney will now go after Santorum, considering the Iowa results, Sabato declares: “Inevitably. He may not personally but that’s what that Super PAC is there for.
“There’s a legal fiction that Romney doesn’t run it. Of course he personally doesn’t and his campaign manager doesn’t, but allies run it, and allies have ways of getting out messages, even through newspaper reports and TV reports, of what would help a candidate, what would hurt a candidate. They work hand in glove even if it isn’t obvious to most people.”
Looking ahead at the New Hampshire primary, the next electoral test, Sabato says “nobody expects Santorum to win. Obviously if he did win that would be a rocket boost to the stratosphere. But Romney is the prohibitive favorite in New Hampshire, for lots of reasons, not the least that the vote against him is still fractured. So it’s going to be very difficult for anybody to accumulate enough votes to challenge Romney.
“Now Santorum would very much like to finish second. He might be able to get away with third. He’s going to have to say at some point this is not my strongest state, I’m really going to focus on South Carolina, which comes right after New Hampshire.”
Newt Gingrich finished fourth in Iowa after being targeted with unrelenting attack ads from his rivals. Asked if he is likely to change his campaign strategy, Sabato responds: “If we see a change I think it’s going to be toward the attack side.
“As we all know there’s a nice Newt, which has been on display in a lot of debates in which he praises everybody and urges unity, and there’s a nasty Newt. He can be very cutting and negative. He’s very angry at Mitt Romney and to a lesser degree toward Ron Paul. I will be shocked if that Newt doesn’t show up at the debates that will be held before the New Hampshire primary and on the campaign trail in New Hampshire.
Michele Bachmann won the Iowa straw poll in August, but finished sixth in Tuesday’s caucuses and has announced that she is ending her campaign.
Sabato tells Newsmax: “What happened is she was unable to broaden her appeal even though she had been born in Iowa.
“She attracted a lot of intense support from tea party members and social conservatives and for a while she did well enough in the debates to attract attention. But I think as Republicans examined her it wasn’t so much that they rejected her as that they recognized that other candidates had a much better chance of defeating President Obama.
“There is a reason why the last president who went directly from the House to the presidency was James A. Garfield back in 1880. It is extremely difficult to make that jump.”
As to which candidate might benefit from her departure, Sabato says: “Truth is, she didn’t have much support left. My guess is it will fracture. Some will go to Gingrich, some will go to Rick Perry, and some will go to Santorum.”
Ron Paul finished third in the caucuses. Sabato observes: “His people will go through very difficult weather to go out and vote, and if there had been a blizzard last night Ron Paul would have won Iowa.
“But he has a very low ceiling, simply because most Republicans don’t agree with him.
“So I see him continuing to get 10, 20 percent depending on the state. But over the long haul there’s virtually no chance that Ron Paul will be the Republican nominee for president.”
And as for Perry, who finished fifth in the caucuses, Sabato says: “He’s going to continue in South Carolina. He sees an opportunity in South Carolina to make maybe his last stand or to turn a page and begin his campaign anew.
“He’ll skip New Hampshire, and in South Carolina he might have a chance to do better than expected. Of course Mitt Romney is delighted with that decision because it further fractures the anti-Romney vote.”
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