Tuesday, May 13, 2008

The Footnote Primaries Begin

Days Until Bush Leaves Office = 251

West Virginia votes today in the first of what may reasonably be called the Footnote Primaries of the Democratic nomination process.

Don't get me wrong: I'm not saying that the voters of West Virginia, Kentucky, Oregon, Montana, South Dakota and Puerto Rico don't matter, or that the outcomes in these primaries will not be important; far from it. But the importance of these primaries now lies not in their potential to determine the party's nominee - that question was (finally) settled in Barack Obama's favor last week by North Carolina and Indiana - but rather in shaping the end of the campaign and taking a big role in determining the conditions under which the Democratic Party begins its general election campaign. And the impact of these primaries could be crucial in whether the party and its nominee comes out of the gate against John McCain and the GOP roaring, or whimpering.

West Virginia, for its part, is expected to go overwhelmingly for Hillary Clinton over presumptive nominee Barack Obama today. Not much suspense there, but the question is how the two candidates will spin the result. For example, if Clinton gains a 25 point victory and in her remarks tonight proclaims it as another victory of the little guy against the elitists, and does the same again after Kentucky next Tuesday, where she is also favored to win, and if Obama uses expected victories in Oregon and South Dakota to continue blasting Clinton for representing what he calls the Old Politics of Washington, then the Democratic Party is likely in for a miserable summer.

On the other hand, these final six contests can function as the opening of a strong general election campaign. No matter what the outcomes in the individual primaries, if the candidates opt for civility in their rhetoric and salute a Democratic electorate engaged as rarely before, then the process of unifying the party begins in earnest, and woe betide John McCain's Freeride Express.

It all comes down to whether the candidates are able to keep their eye on the ball over the next three weeks, something they have not always been very good at doing.

So these final six contests, while footnotes in determining the answer to the ultimate question of who will be the Democratic nominee, can still punch above their weight in raising, or lowering, the hurdles the nominee must jump to bring the party together under their banner. Call them footnotes in large print.


desmoinesdem said...

I don't know, iPol--I am not aware of any time in modern history when a presumptive nominee lost a primary by 40 points, with high turnout. Don't you find it odd that so many Democrats would turn out to vote for a doomed candidate?

I am concerned about whether Obama will be able to hold some of the Kerry states, particularly PA and MI. This result doesn't give me any comfort, and I wouldn't call it a footnote.

iPol said...

desmoinesdem -

My thesis in this post is not that the final six primaries don't matter,nor that a 40-point blowout for Clinton in West Virginia doesn't count. But the significance lies in shaping the conditions under which Clinton exits the race, not in determining who will be the nominee.

But for purposes of our discussion, let me stipulate to all points made in your comment: would that change in any way the central calculus of the race at this point in the calendar? The answer, clearly, is no. A win like this for Hillary back in February or March might have snapped enough heads around to seriously dent Obama and swing the tide, perhaps decisively, in Clinton's favor. But the plain fact is that the remaining primaries do not afford Clinton the chance to even match, let alone pass, Barack Obama's lead in delegates. Even worse for Clinton, it now appears as if seating the delegations from Florida and Michigan won't secure the nomination for her. The numbers just aren't there.

As you point out, however, lots of Democratic voters in lots of places love Hillary, win or lose. And that brings me back to my original thesis in this post: that the manner in which Clinton and Obama conduct themselves toward each other and each other's core supporters in these final primaries will cast a long shadow into the summer and the general election campaign. Which means that while the final six contests are footnotes, they are far from unimportant.


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