Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Thoughts on the Florida Primary

Days Until Bush Leaves Office = 355

McCain goes up big, Giuliani goes down hard, Romney goes on life support, and Clinton goes to Fantasy Land. Here are some morning after thoughts on the Florida primary.

John McCain

John McCain has got to be feeling good this morning. After wins in New Hampshire and South Carolina showcased strength with independent voters, last night's win in the "closed" Republican-only Florida primary showed that John McCain is at least viable with the GOP base. That combination, plus the thus-far unique phenomenon of consecutive primary wins on the Republican side, puts McCain at the front of the field.

The fact persists, however, that the Republican base remains fundamentally uneasy at various points with every GOP candidate this time out. And for conservative true believers, the expected endorsement as early as today of John McCain by Rudy Giuliani, viewed by many of the GOP faithful as ideologically suspect for his record of supporting abortion rights, gun control and gay rights, certainly won't make McCain any easier to picture as the ever longed-for heir to Ronald Reagan. For that reason, McCain's win in Florida, while significant for him and for the entire GOP field, nevertheless comes off feeling a little light, more in the nature of a coin-toss than a groundswell.

Which may sound like quibbling and sour grapes to some. And that may be true, but it is pretty much all that keeps Mitt Romney going at this point.

Mitt Romney

The question for Mitt Romney now is whether he's got any cards left to play in this race. So far, he's flipped ideological stances on major issues like abortion rights, continued to grapple with how best to explain his faith to a fundamentalist Christian GOP base that views Mormonism with deep suspicion, and has poured tens of millions of dollars of his own money to keep his presidential campaign afloat. Nothing has worked to this point, and only a win in Michigan, where his father was a hugely popular governor, has kept Romney's candidacy alive.

So it's hard to see what will turn things around for Romney at this point. The obvious thing to try is going hugely negative on McCain in the Super Tuesday states, but doing so becomes a question of glass houses, since McCain has shown himself to be no pushover on that front, often giving as good as he gets when it comes to slinging mud.

Rudy Giuliani

"New York - if I can make it there, I can make it anywhere..."
~ John Kander & Fred Ebb, "New York, New York"

These lyrics from the old Frank Sinatra chestnut can be said to articulate Rudy Giuliani's rationale for seeking the Republican nomination for president more clearly than "America's Mayor" ever managed to do himself.

Most politicians are in continual danger of crossing the line from hyping their own image to actually believing in it themselves. In Giuliani's case, that dose of kool-aide took hold long before he threw his hat in the ring for the 2008 nomination contest, and it showed from the very beginning. Iowa? Too small, too unfamiliar and too retail to matter. New Hampshire? We hope we'll get some votes there, but we don't expect to win (see Iowa). South Carolina? The same. But Florida? Ah, Florida...that's where it's going to be different. Closed primary, big media market, lots of retirees from New York, high name other words, all the makings of a Giuliani electoral triumph, setting the stage for a national turnaround on February 5.

That didn't happen, obviously. Notwithstanding the presence in Florida of all the factors just listed, Rudy Giuliani never troubled himself to do what candidates should have lasered into their foreheads as Job One: focus on voters, organize supporters, and go local. As a result, Rudy found himself talking past voters, his eye always on the ever-forthcoming National Campaign, and ultimately, his longed-for political cage match in the Fall with arch-enemy Hillary Clinton.

As an aside, it is worth noting that the same fate that befell Rudy Giuliani on the Republican side might as easily have befallen Barack Obama on the Democratic side. The difference is that Obama managed to take the hype around his candidacy and convert it from a personal talisman to a launching pad for a broad-based movement, and, crucially, built the political organization required to capitalize on that.

Ultimately, Rudy Giuliani always put more faith in the media than he ever did in the electorate, and it was his undoing.

Hillary Clinton

"Victory in Florida," proclaimed the title of an email the Clinton campaign sent to supporters this morning. This in spite of the fact that there was virtually no campaign waged in Florida by Barack Obama, out of adherence to the early state pledge all Democratic candidates (Clinton included) signed last year. But that isn't mentioned in the email, nor was the other minor detail that not a single delegate was awarded last night, due to DNC sanctions imposed on the Florida Democratic party for moving its primary earlier in the calendar than allowed by party rules. All mere quibbling, the Clinton campaign insists: people voted for Hillary in Florida yesterday, and a win is a win is a win.

Except when it isn't, of course.

Congressman Dennis Kucinich, before he abandoned his longshot presidential bid to focus on his longshot reelection bid, would often send out emails claiming victory in this or that self-selecting on-line "primary." Hillary Clinton, claiming "wins" in Michigan and now Florida, skirts awfully close to that same line this morning. Such claims reek of desperation, and reinforce one of the major criticisms of her to be found across a broad spectrum of media and public opinion: that winning is the only thing that matters to Hillary Clinton.

No comments:

Politics Blogs - Blog Top Sites