Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Three Things You Can Say After Super Tuesday (and Three Things You Can't)

Days Until Bush Leaves Office = 349

The Day of Days is over. Did it settle anything? Yes. No. Maybe. Some Super Tuesday thoughts below!

Three Things You Can Say

1. Not-So-Super Tuesday: Numerically and geographically, last night was unquestionably the biggest night of party nominating contests this country has ever seen. But what has been billed for months as a political barn-burner for the ages, sure to determine the parties' nominees in one fell swoop, has in actual fact turned out to be more than a bit of a muddle.

This is particularly true on the Democratic side, so much so that neither Hillary Clinton nor Barack Obama even suggested they had carried the day. "I look forward to continuing our campaign and our debate about how to leave this country better off for the next generation," is as far as Clinton would go. Barack Obama was equally circumspect, saying only, "Our time has come. Our movement is real. And change is coming to America."

A survey of the Democratic results shows that such restraint from the candidates is entirely justified. Hillary Clinton won the most votes in the delegate-rich states of California, New York and New Jersey, along with Arkansas, Arizona, Oklahoma, Tennessee, and, Kennedy and Kerry endorsements of Obama notwithstanding, Massachusetts; and lest we forget, Clinton also won the electoral bellwether of American Samoa. Obama, however, won Alabama, Alaska, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Georgia, Idaho, Kansas, Minnesota, Missouri, North Dakota, New Mexico, Utah and his native Illinois, for a total of 14 states, scoring six more victories than Clinton. But delegate projections based on these results show the candidates coming to a near draw: Clinton is expected to add 584 delegates to her total, and Obama is expected to pick up 563. Further, both Clinton and Obama can claim advantages based on last night's results. As noted above, Clinton can claim bragging rights in the biggest states, while Obama can claim that he not only won more states, but that his average margin of victory in states that he won was decisively greater than Clinton's; Obama won his 14 states by an average of 26%, while Clinton's 8 victories were by an average of 17%.

So no slam dunks anywhere to be found in the Democratic race. What, then, of the Republicans?

At first glance, the Republican picture doesn't look much clearer than it does for the Democrats. John McCain won 9 states yesterday (Arizona, California, Connecticut, Delaware, Illinois, Missouri, New Jersey, New York and Oklahoma), Mitt Romney won 7 states (Alaska, Colorado, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Montana, North Dakota and Utah), and Mike Huckabee won 5 states (Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Tennessee and West Virginia). Nor does the average margin of victory for each candidate clarify things much: McCain's wins were by an average of 14%, Romney's were by an average of 29% (although his 84% margin in Mormon-dominated Utah significantly skews that number), and Huckabee's were by 10%.

But, unlike the Democratic contests that allocated delegates proportionally according to results in the popular vote, many of yesterday's GOP contests awarded all of a state's pledged delegates to whomever got the most votes statewide. And that was decisive for John McCain, who not only won more states that his rivals, but also won the states with the largest delegate prizes, including California and New York. Consequently, John McCain comes out of yesterday's voting having won 511 delegates, crushing Mitt Romney, who won 176, and Mike Huckabee, who scored 147 delegates.

So Tuesday was definitely big. But "Super?" Maybe not so much.

2. Clinton & McCain are the Frontrunners: As just noted, no candidate on either side landed a knock-out punch on their rivals yesterday, but on balance it is fair to say that Hillary Clinton and John McCain can now be considered the frontrunners in their respective races. McCain's winner-take-all victory in the states with the most delegates on offer definitely elevates him into the role of the Man to Beat on the Republican side. For Democrats, Hillary Clinton assumes the role of frontrunner largely because her firewalls - Hispanic voters in the Southwest, enduring loyalty to the Clinton brand in California, and party establishment support everywhere - held against Obama's surging momentum.

3. Yeah, But...:
See item 1 below. Anything in the "You Can Say" column today can easily slide into the "You Can't Say" column tomorrow.

Three Things You Can't Say

1. It's Over!: Er, it ain't. Hillary Clinton's victories last night are significant, and she can legitimately claim status as the frontrunner for the first time in this campaign. But next week holds Democratic contests in Virginia, Maryland and the District of Columbia, the latter two lopsided with African Americans and affluent white suburbanites that have been very good to Barack Obama so far this cycle. Big Obama victories next week can flip today's prevailing order on its head once again, which could then extend the Democratic race out to the March 4 contests and beyond.

For Republicans, McCain is now the Man to Beat, but that doesn't mean he can't be beaten. See item 2 below.

2. Conservative Voters Have Made Their Peace With McCain: Five states in the conservative homeland of the Deep South were up for grabs last night, and John McCain didn't win one of them. Given his delegate totals at this point, and the lack of a clear path to the nomination for either Romney or Huckabee, McCain could conceivably go on to win the Republican nomination without wrangling conservatives into his corner. Should that happen, and should McCain remain unable to remedy his weakness with the GOP base, his only hope would be that the Democrats do his conservative mobilization for him by nominating Hillary Clinton. Otherwise, he could find himself confronting the GOP nightmare scenario of a general election where Deep South Republicans stay home.

3. Victory in (whatever state) proves (whatever candidate) is more electable: Anyone making this claim on behalf of their chosen candidate, please take a deep breath and remember that these are party nomination contests. As such, the respective outcomes are either all red or all blue. A Democratic candidate will always win a Democratic primary, even in a state that hasn't gone blue in the last 15 elections, and a Republican candidate will likewise always win a Republican primary, even in a state that is so solidly Democratic that red crayons are no longer to be found in shops due to lack of demand.

1 comment:

desmoinesdem said...

It was a weird set of results.

Obama put together a lot of impressive wins, especially in the caucus states, but I find it hard to imagine him winning the nomination unless he pulls off an upset in TX, OH or PA.

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