Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Semi-Super Tuesday

A few thoughts on last night's results:

1. Forgive the Republican Party if it woke up this morning with a severe case of heartburn. John McCain may be crowing about his coastal victories and his rising delegate count, but any smiles on the faces of GOP officials are decidedly forced. The weeklong effort by cultural and economic conservatives to demonize the Arizona senator met with astounding success. With the exception of his home turf of Arizona, as well as Oklahoma, and Missouri (which he barely won), every state in which McCain emerged triumphant voted Democratic in the last four presidential elections. According to CNN, only 49% of John McCain's voters in over a dozen Republican primaries and caucuses labeled themselves as conservatives.

Had either Mike Huckabee or Mitt Romney exited the race two weeks ago, it is clear that the GOP nomination picture would be altogether different. But with the two of them splitting the right-wing vote, McCain was able to survive on a diet of moderates, independents, and a few active duty and veteran military conservatives. The winner-take-all nature of many of the Republican primaries exaggerated McCain's delegate count far out of proportion to his actual success at the polls. In what should have been a bad day for him, therefore, John McCain came away from Super Tuesday the prohibitive favorite for his party's nomination.

Think of this, then, as the sort of buyers' remorse that occurs two days after the warranty expires. A clear majority of conservative Republican voters disapprove of the choice that their party is almost certain to make at its Minneapolis convention this summer. But their inability to select a champion effectively thwarted their efforts to deny McCain the GOP bid. As well as Mike Huckabee did yesterday, he might as well have been running for President of the Confederacy. His campaign was irrelevant outside the Deep South and a few neighboring states. Mitt Romney's loss was devastating and total, but he still pulled in most of the Red State conservative vote north and west of Dixie.

The great hope of the McCain campaign was that their overwhelming delegate count after Super Tuesday would permit the senator to begin running against the Democrats and positioning himself for the November election. Instead, he must continue his efforts to earn the votes of hard line conservatives whose opinion leaders have already persuaded them that John McCain is a sellout, free-speech limiting, illegal immigrant pandering, tax-loving liberal. If it is possible to win big and lose big on the same night, the Arizona senator has somehow pulled it off.

2. The popular talk in the cable TV newsrooms involved the possibility that Senator McCain might be forced to select former Governor Huckabee as his vice presidential candidate. Huckabee, after all, has clear credibility with Christian conservatives and other red meat Republicans, as evidenced by his dominance south of the Mason-Dixon Line. A McCain-Huckabee ticket, suggested the blowhards, would bring the fundamentalists back home in November while allowing the presidential nominee to take the contest to the Democrats in blue states like Illinois and California and New York.

Permit me to disagree. Huckabee may earn the post of Minister of Family Values in a McCain Administration (they'll call it Secretary of Education), but there is precisely zero chance that he will share the convention podium with his rival when the GOP ticket is introduced in September. The man has simply talked himself out of the job. It is one thing to question evolution; it is another thing to do so publicly before a debate audience of millions, as Huckabee did last year. Then there's Huckabee's avowed desire to amend the U.S. Constitution to bring it into line with the Holy Bible. That position may win you Alabama and Georgia, but it would be devastating in the more moderate and libertarian swing states of the West and Midwest.

Don't forget, too, that John McCain, if elected, will be the oldest incoming president in American history. Thus, his proposed veep will get a little more attention than usual. And the prospect of a theocratic President Huckabee would almost certainly drag down McCain's vote share in many of the states he needs to win.

Besides, there are plenty of culturally conservative Republicans out there who bring all of Huckabee's positives to the table without the obvious negatives. Pick pretty much any southern GOP governor and you get a safer alternative to the outspoken Arkansan. Barbour of Mississippi, Riley of Alabama, Crist of Florida, and Sanford of South Carolina would balance a McCain ticket without frightening the soccer moms in suburban Cleveland. They would also bring a record of fiscal conservatism that would compare favorably to Huckabee's, at least from the point of view of the supply side dead enders.

3. It is much harder to say who the big Democratic winner was last night, but I think I'll go with Hillary Clinton. She withstood an enormous surge in support for Barack Obama and survived to pull off victories in most of the key states, including California. The Obama wave, which had developed furious momentum ever since the senator's unexpectedly lopsided victory in South Carolina, evidently crested just in time to save Hillary from an embarrassing defeat. Forget the spin doctors who remind us of how far ahead Senator Clinton was back in December. Simply remember this: after nearly three solid weeks of devastatingly negative press coverage, she remains standing.

She's not out of danger yet, of course. Obama has huge cash reserves, an enormously appealing message, and a primary calendar for the remainder of February that provides him with a strong advantage. But increasingly, the "Obama States", those dominated by African Americans and/or highly educated "limousine liberals", have mostly completed their work. Ahead we have places like Texas, Ohio, and Pennsylvania, where demographics would seem to be more favorable to the former First Lady.

Hillary has another huge advantage as well: she can play for a tie. The majority of Democratic superdelegates who have committed so far, have endorsed the New York senator. So long as she arrives at the convention more or less evenly matched with Barack Obama, that should give her the edge she needs to emerge victorious.

4. Nobody talks about potential Democratic vice presidential nominees, but I have a few ideas. Should Senator Obama win the nomination, I would look toward a moderate woman as a running mate, particularly one from a swing state. There are a number from whom to choose, but two strong contenders would be Senator Claire McCaskill of Missouri and Governor Jane Napolitano of Arizona (sure, it's McCain's home state, but you'll notice that he couldn't even crack the 50% barrier there yesterday).

Hillary Clinton would obviously face enormous pressure to select Obama and complete the "dream ticket" that everyone keeps jabbering about. My guess is that she would not, calculating that she would suffer from the resultant charisma gap. Bill Richardson remains a possibility (and incidentally, keep that beard, Bill; it makes you look much more vice presidential), though he did not distinguish himself as a presidential candidate. Otherwise, look for a liberal, white male governor, preferably one who has strong ties to his state's African American community. I don't have a name in mind, but there must be someone out there.

5. The Kennedy magic expired at least one generation ago. Now everyone knows it. (And don't you think the Republicans are salivating at the possibility of using Teddy's endorsement against Barack Obama come October?)

1 comment:

redbarb said...

The battle over how to judge last night is on for the Democrats. You stated what is becoming the Clinton line of "she stopped his momentum" (general Clinton campaign line not yours). Obama's campaign is spinning that he came from way back to tie her and they are claiming a slight lead in the delegate count. Watch for which spin the news media buys. Also, watch the next expectation spin begin. It sounds like Hillary is lowering expectations on what she will do the rest of this month so if she wins anywhere it will be "big." I expect Obama will just keep counting states and delegates and try to switch it from "she's too strong to knock off" to "why hasn't she won in a while" by March 4th.

I think the superdelegates are closer than you indicate here. I've only seen her lead to be up to 80 depending on who is doing the counting and I'm beginning to see "not clear on who leads in superdelegates now" which I hadn't before.

Biggest surprise for me was how easily Obama won in Minnesota. I thought he might win, but I didn't expect it to be so strong. Looks pretty clear lots of non-regulars went to the caucuses went just to vote for Obama. The DFL is reporting over 200,000 voters which is about 3 times as many as 4 years ago.