Politics Counts: January's GOP Primaries Look Like A Split Decsion

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Since this summer, it has become clear that there are really two serious candidates in the race for the Republican nomination: former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney and whoever is up in the polls at any particular moment. Texas Gov. Rick Perry had his moment at the top, then came businessman Herman Cain and now former House Speaker Newt Gingrich.

The question is what will happen to that someone-versus-Romney dynamic once the voting begins. The Iowa Caucuses are now a month away and January will be critical for the field. The contests that month – Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina and Florida – won’t give us a nominee, but we’ll likely know whether we are in for a long, drawn-out fight or a quick knock out.

Looking at the cultural and political lay of the land in the first four contests through Patchwork Nation, our geo-demographic breakdown of America’s counties, don’t expect a sudden victory. The states involved not only represent different parts of the country, but also the states are composed of different types of communities.

And when you compare the cultural and demographic terrain of those first four races with the Republican contenders’ fund-raising footprint, the most likely outcome would seem to be a split verdict on the GOP field, particularly if one alternative to Mr. Romney emerges. (Click the graphic to expand it.)

Admittedly, predicting primary contests is a tricky business since enthusiasm and turnout are difficult to forecast. But the community breakdowns and profiles of Patchwork Nation offer a more subtle way to understand the early contests. Already, one thing has emerged about the two chief rivals for the nomination: Mr. Romney and the Anti-Romney have dissimilar bases of support.

Look at where Mr. Romney raised money in the third quarter and you see a candidate that has a base in the cities and suburbs – in Patchwork Nation those are the Industrial Metro and Monied Burb counties. He has raised money everywhere, but more than 60% of his itemized contributions came from those places, which tend to be more moderate politically.

READ THE REST OF THIS WEEK'S POLITICS COUNTS COLUMN IN THE WALL STREET JOURNAL which includes a state-by-state analysis of the January voter demographics.