Sunday, January 27, 2008

Nomination Countdown- 1/27/08

The upcoming week may cause political junkies to have to check themselves into a rehab facility. Between the State of the Union Address, the crucial Florida GOP primary, and debates with Presidential candidates in both parties (not to mention the Maine GOP Caucuses), there will be lots to talk about.

In the next installment of Nomination Countdown, I will go into more detail previewing the Mother of All Super Tuesdays, but first, it makes sense to look back briefly at what happened with the Democrats in South Carolina yesterday and to look forward to the Republican contest this coming Tuesday in Florida.

In the Palmetto State, Barack Obama won a smashing victory over Hillary Clinton, by a more than 2-1 margin. While Obama was expected to win comfortably by most, on the strength of a strong showing among the state's African-Americans, the margin that he won by is pretty spectatuclar. There is widespread belief that a campaign of sometimes subtle race-baiting, on behalf of Senator Clinton, especially by her former President husband, as well as last week's extremely contentious debate harmed the New York Senator in a significant way. The South Carolina results show a very polarized electorate on the basis of race, with Obama coming in third among white voters, while also receiving over 85 percent of the black vote.

Many liberals and media pundits have taken the Clintons to task for the way they injected race into the South Carolina campaign, in an attempt to marginalize Obama as "the black candidate" along the lines of Jesse Jackson. While that long-term nefarious strategy on behalf of the Clintons may turn out to ultimately be successful, they received a serious rebuke from black voters in South Carolina yesterday, and if Hillary Clinton goes on to capture her party's nomination, as she is still leading in almost all of the Super Tuesday states, the damage to the reputation of the Clintons may make things much more difficult for her in a general election.

We will look forward to all the states, large and otherwise, who will vote on February 5, but for now, I still think that Obama is going to need more than luck to not have had yesterday be his campaign's high point. Democrats will vote on Tuesday in Florida, but the National Committee has stripped the states of its delegates. Due to the fact that Democrats have stayed out of the state, Clinton is expected to win the state, as she did Michigan, but there will be a lot of interest in the margin. Nonetheless, the Clinton campaign will attempt to spin a symbolic victory in Florida as a sign of momentum.

Moving on to the Republicans, a two way race has managed to develop in the Sunshine State between John McCain and Mitt Romney. The winner of that contest will have a leg up for Super Tuesday and the nomination, while the second place finisher will also forge ahead.

At one point, Mike Huckabee was focusing on Florida, but due to dissapointing results in other states and a serious money crunch, Huckabee is not really believed to be much of a factor in Florida and is instead believed to be looking ahead to states like Alabama and Georgia, where he may be able to pick up delegates. It is not out of the question though that Huckabee could manage to narrowly surpass Rudy Giuliani for third place in Florida, although that would be a modest upset.

After forgoing all of the states that have already voted, Giuliani has spent several weeks putting all his oranges in the Florida basket and the gamble does not appear likely to pay off, as much of his former support has gravitated to John McCain. Some time back, the Giuliani campaign believes they won a promise from Florida's popular Governor Charlie Crist for to endorse his candidacy, but they were bitterly dissapointed when Crist endorsed McCain last night.

In spite of these lowered expectations for the former national frontrunner, Giuliani should still do far better in Florida than he has in any other state thus far, and that might eat into McCain's base enough to deliver a big win to the campaign of Mitt Romney.

It was expected that McCain would leave South Carolina after his victory there with a head of steam, but in the past week, momentum in both national and Florida polls have seemed to shift to Romney, as much as anything else, perhaps due in some part to the former "Fred-heads" who have decided to support Romney as their second choice.

All in all, things are very tight in Florida between McCain and Romney, and either can win. Conservatives clearly favor Romney over the more maverick McCain, who has earned the emnity of many nationally prominent conservatives on talk radio and elsewhere. The endorsement of McCain by Crist is not expected to help as much with conservatives as the potential it might have with waivering Giuliani supporters who would tend to be more moderate.

As readers of this blog know, I am a staunch Romney supporter. I had predicted that he would win narrowly in Iowa and New Hampshire, only to be dissapointed both times. Perhaps being superstitious, I predicted a narrow McCain win in Michigan, only to be quite happy when Romney won the state by a hefty margin.

Looking ahead to Florida, I think Romney probably has the momentum, especially on the heels of a very strong debate performance in the state, and the increasing importance of the economy on the minds of voters. McCain has taken on an air of desperation in recent days, as he first tried to claim that he had more experience than Romney on the economy, and then abruptly manufactured a controversy regarding Romney's position on the troop surge in Iraq, in an attempt to change the subject to a matter that is believed to be more favorable to the war hero and veteran Senator. Many have said that McCain's take on what Romney said about timetables in the spring are misleading and dishonest.

So, while I think Romney should win a close contest in Florida, thanks to the fact that the election is a closed primary, I am leery as to what a formal prediction on my part might do.

Instead, I will just close by saying: Go Mitt!