Monday, January 14, 2008

Nomination Countdown- 1/14/08

To those of us who hang on every development of this 2008 Presidential election, the events of last Tuesday in New Hampshire seem like weeks ago already as the focus of the political world is now turned to the states of Michigan, Nevada, and South Carolina.

Let's briefly take a look back at what happened on Tuesday.

The comeback victory of Hillary Clinton over Barack Obama, after having been trailing by hefty margins in nearly all polls is simply one of the greatest upsets in political history. Nobody saw it coming, not even the Clinton campaign. Over the past several days there has been discussion of if Obama supporters were overconfident or the theory that white voters will lie to pollsters about their intention to vote for a black candidate, and the fact that while Obama did very well among upscale "Starbucks" Democrats, Clinton did much better than expected among more downscale working class "lunchbucket" Democrats.

While some of the above theories may have some truth to them, I believe that Hillary owes her late surge in New Hampshire to the fact that she cried on the day before the primary and that galvanized women behind her. Whether it was an intentional ploy or not (and I think it was), it is the most logical explanation for her sudden and suprising victory.

Had Obama defeated Clinton by a large margin last week, as most expected, there would be almost universal belief that the nomination was going to be Obama's to lose. Now, Clinton will be seen as someone who can never be counted out and should be considered a pretty solid frontrunner once again.

On the GOP side, while Mitt Romney once again finished a strong second place in New Hampshire, as he did in Iowa, it was a dissapointment to his campaign and his supporters (such as myself) that he was not able to surpass John McCain and win outright. While the race between the two men was a virtual dead heat among registered Republicans in the Granite State and while Romney had a healthy lead among self-described "conservatives", McCain owes his second career New Hamphsire primary victory to a strong showing with independent voters.

While that factor may possibly speak highly towards McCain's general election potential, I also wonder how many of those McCain voters were truly Obama supporters who were so overconfident that their man had it in the bag on the Democrat side, that they decided to take a Republican ballot in order to exert influence on that race.

Moving on to Michigan now, which will vote tomorrow, Hillary Clinton, by virtue of a split between state politicos and the national party, will be the only major candidate on the ballot and thus should win by a large margin. Supporters of Barack Obama and John Edwards though are being encouraged to vote "uncommitted."

It will be very interesting to see just how many of those Democrats may take a Republican ballot in order to participate in the big GOP primary, which is considered mostly a three person race between New Hampshire winner McCain, Iowa winner Mike Huckabee, and the double silver medalist Romney.

Back in 2000, McCain carried Michigan with the help of many Democrats, who deliberately crossed over for a variety of reasons, but primarily to cause mischief among the GOP ranks. The left-wing blogger Markos Moulitisas is now encouraging Democrats to do the same thing this year in Michigan and vote for Romney, in order to bring about what they think would be "chaos" in the GOP process. It remains to be seen just how influential Kos might be with such a venture, and I believe it is far more likely that Democrats who cross over, would support McCain.

If Romney is to win Michigan tomorrow, the state in which he was born and raised, and where his father served as Governor, he will need a strong showing among rank and file Republicans. I think he will probably have that, but as a Romney supporter, I am concerned that Democrats and independents voting for McCain in such an open primary, might make it tough to win. Nevertheless, some recent polls out of Michigan have shown momentum for Romney, as he has basically bet it all on winning the state. If he does not, the pundits will declare his campaign to be all but dead. That may or may not be the case, but obviously the Romney folks have a lot riding in Michigan, where discussion of the economy and the viability of the American auto industry have dominated most of the discussion over the past week.

Another factor to consider is the candidacy of Mike Huckabee, whom last week was seen as a potential winner in Michigan by virtue of his Evangelical base and taking a populist economic message. The polls seem to indicate that Huckabee might not be as strong as previously thought but I sort of think that his showing tomorrow might be higher than expected, because of the Evangelical vote in Western Michigan. I do not think Huckabee can win outright though, but he certainly can spoil the fun for either Romney or McCain.

I could go on and on here, but I need to try to wrap this up, so let's move ahead to Saturday, where caucuses for both parties will be held in Nevada and Republicans will hold a primary in South Carolina.

The action is much more intense in Nevada among Democrats, where Hillary Clinton has some important allies and might do well with Hispanic voters, but Obama was able to score a major coup, the day after his surprising loss in New Hampshire, with the endorsement of the powerful Culinary Union. A poll out today shows a virtual three way tie with Edwards also in the mix, which should come as a surprise to many people. The fact though that these caucuses will take place on a Saturday morning should make all polling pretty suspect for both sides though. We just have no idea as to what the electorate will look like. The Clinton folks are probably concerned though, beacuse after Obama won the Culinary endorsement, her allies are now suing to prevent caucuses from being held in Las Vegas casinos, where many of those workers will be performing their jobs on Saturday morning.

Polling on the Republican side is probably equally unreliable. Most would have assumed that Nevada would be a strong state for Mitt Romney, based on factors including a large Mormon population in the state. That same poll out today though shows that Romney may have to still get past McCain, Huckabee, and Rudy Giuliani. On the Republican side though, it should be all about organization, and while Romney probably has the best one in the state, if he loses Michigan tomorrow, a domino effect might already be in place. In fact, Romney, despite what he has said over the last two days, could even decide to exit the race.

More attention will be paid to the GOP South Carolina primary, typically a bellweather for predicting the eventual nominee, on Saturday. Even if Romney manages to win Michigan and revive his campaign, he would not be expected to carry South Carolina, especially after pulling all his advertising over the past week to focus exclusively on Michigan. Instead, it should be a very interesting race between McCain and Huckabee, with Fred Thompson also perhaps playing the part of spoiler.

McCain has a lot of establishment support in South Carolina, both among those who backed him in the brutal primary there in 2000, and those who have now come around to him as the candidate "whose turn" it might be. The former war hero might also be bolstered in the Palmetto State by the extremely large community of veterans. Huckabee, is from the South and will do well among Evangelicals, and South Carolina also represents the only real opportunity for another son of the South, Thompson, to break through.

For Republicans though, Michigan might still influence South Carolina. If Romney wins tomorrow, it might make it difficult for McCain to retain the momentum he would need to stop Huckabee. If McCain wins Michigan though, he should probably be expected to roll up another win in South Carolina, and start to look like a very likely GOP nominee.

What do I think will happen? Who the heck knows for both of these parties in all of these states. This has been the political season of the unexpected so far.

But if I have to guess, I say that Hillary easily takes Michigan of course for the Democrats, and McCain narrowly wins on the GOP side on the backs of Democrats. Of course, I really hope I am wrong on that as a Romney supporter, and I certainly do think that Romney can pull out a big win in the Wolverine State.

Then on Saturday, even if he loses Michigan and is pronounced DOA, I think Romney might be able to pull out a win in Nevada, although the focus of the media will primarily be with the Democrats where I think that Clinton will very narrowly surpass Obama, with help from Hispanics and women.

Finally, in the South Carolina GOP primary, I really think it is going to depend on Michigan as I mentioned above. If McCain wins Michigan tomorrow, I think he will win South Carolina over Huckabee and Mitt Romney could finish a distant fourth place.

If Romney beats McCain in Michigan though, I think Huckabee may narrowly capture South Carolina and Romney could then finish a strong third in the state and the race will remain very wide open as the GOP heads to Florida.


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