Election Oracle

CPAC Delivers Indecisive Verdict

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The web was abuzz last week as conservatives gathered for their annual political action conference, known simply in Washington as CPAC. Every GOP candidate (except Ron Paul) delivered remarks, as did Mike Huckabee, Paul Ryan, and Rand Paul. Yet the conference may have created more questions than it answered. Are conservatives finally ready to rally around Mitt Romney? Does Rick Santorum have a real shot at the nomination? And how long can Newt Gingrich hang on?

The answers were as inconclusive as they were persistent. As the candidates made their best pitches, the web stayed lukewarm. While right-wing blogs focused on the conference, Romney and Gingrich's favorability plummeted into negative territory. It didn't help when Romney, on Friday, claimed he was "severely conservative" as Massachusetts's former governor. Gingrich's plea that conservatives "teach the Republican establishment a lesson" by electing him also fell flat on the web. Santorum actually saw his web favor tick upward as the conference unfolded, especially after launching new attacks on President Obama's decision last week on contraception. And Ron Paul, who skipped the gathering entirely, remained unscathed by the conference's scrutiny—yet also, with a low volume of mentions online, unaided by the high-profile platform.

To determine its favorability ratings, the Election Oracle tracks 40,000 news sites, blogs, message boards, Twitter feeds, and other social-media sources to analyze what millions of people are saying about the candidates—and determines whether the web buzz is positive or negative. That rating is weighted, along with the Real Clear Politics polling average and the latest InTrade market data, to calculate each candidate’s chances of winning the Republican nomination. (See methodology here.)

CPAC's hawkishness has never represented the broader Republican Party, but its aftermath will shape the race for the next week, at least until the next GOP debate on Feb. 22. That gives Romney more time to hone his message, and Santorum another week to raise more money. Struggling to gain attention, Gingrich may find the lull to be an added challenge to break through.

Yet the scattershot graph is all part of the plan, according to Sarah Palin, who also addressed attendees in her keynote speech Saturday evening. “We’ve all heard from these experts, that we've got to name our nominee right now," the former Alaska governor said. "In America, we believe that competition strengthens us. Competition will lead us to victory in 2012."

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