Commentary Magazine


Topic: Super Tuesday

The Stakes of Super Tuesday

As people watch the election returns this evening, here’s a quick overview. Ten states will be awarding 437 delegates, which is approximately one-third of the total number of delegates needed to win the nomination (1,144). Mitt Romney leads Rick Santorum in the delegate count by roughly two-to-one (181 v. 91) and Newt Gingrich by six-to-one (181 v. 30). Of the 10 states, seven are primaries (Georgia, Ohio, Tennessee, Virginia, Oklahoma, Massachusetts, and Vermont) and three are caucuses (Idaho, North Dakota, and Alaska).

Mitt Romney will win Massachusetts, Vermont, and Virginia. Newt Gingrich will carry his home state of Georgia by a wide margin. And Rick Santorum has a double digit lead in Oklahoma. Of the remaining five state, Idaho, North Dakota, and Alaska haven’t conducted any recent polls, so it’s hard to know who will prevail in those three states. Mitt Romney won Alaska and North Dakota in 2008, while Idaho is part of the so-called Mormon Corridor, with more than a quarter of the population members of the Mormon church.

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As people watch the election returns this evening, here’s a quick overview. Ten states will be awarding 437 delegates, which is approximately one-third of the total number of delegates needed to win the nomination (1,144). Mitt Romney leads Rick Santorum in the delegate count by roughly two-to-one (181 v. 91) and Newt Gingrich by six-to-one (181 v. 30). Of the 10 states, seven are primaries (Georgia, Ohio, Tennessee, Virginia, Oklahoma, Massachusetts, and Vermont) and three are caucuses (Idaho, North Dakota, and Alaska).

Mitt Romney will win Massachusetts, Vermont, and Virginia. Newt Gingrich will carry his home state of Georgia by a wide margin. And Rick Santorum has a double digit lead in Oklahoma. Of the remaining five state, Idaho, North Dakota, and Alaska haven’t conducted any recent polls, so it’s hard to know who will prevail in those three states. Mitt Romney won Alaska and North Dakota in 2008, while Idaho is part of the so-called Mormon Corridor, with more than a quarter of the population members of the Mormon church.

Which leaves Tennessee and Ohio. Both are “must” states for Santorum to carry. The former Pennsylvania senator leads Romney by around two points in Tennessee, while Romney leads Santorum by less than two points in Ohio, based on the RealClearPolitics average of recent polls. If Santorum wins in both Tennessee and Ohio, he lives to fight another day. He will have shown the ability to win in two different regions of the country – the South and the Midwest; claim he’s now the only viable alternative to Romney (with Gingrich having been dispatched); and argue that he’s a stronger general election candidate than Romney. In addition, large doubts about Romney will once again envelop him.

If Governor Romney carries both Tennessee and Ohio, on the other hand, the evening will be judged to have been a Romney Rout. It will be game, set, and match. But Romney can still lose Tennessee and do very well today. He is, after all, the frontrunner in every meaningful respect, so the burden is on others to dramatically alter the course of event. The state the former Massachusetts governor really wants is Ohio, which is why he’s focused so much of his time and money there.

No Republican has ever won the presidency without carrying Ohio. It’s one of the handful of most important swing states in America. The Buckeye State is large (the 7th most populous state in America), relatively diverse, fairly blue-collar, with a strong evangelical base of support. Compared to Michigan, which Romney carried by only three percentage points, Ohio is more evangelical, more rural, and has fewer college graduates – all of which should work in Santorum’s favor. Which is why a win in Ohio by Romney will make him nearly unstoppable.

The encouraging news for Romney is that he’s erased a substantial double digit lead by Santorum in Ohio during the last two weeks. Governor Romney can lose Ohio and still win the GOP nomination. But if he hopes to allay some of the concerns that have risen up around him, Ohio is the place to do it. Rick Santorum is the last man standing between Mitt Romney and the GOP nomination. If Romney wins Ohio tonight, nothing short of a historic collapse will stop him. And that isn’t about to happen.

 

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Democrats Could Tip the Scales in Ohio

Mitt Romney seems to have gotten a small post-Michigan bounce in the next key primary state of Ohio, but he’s still trailing Rick Santorum by a few points in the state, according to a Quinnipiac poll out today. By all indications, the momentum of the race seems to be shifting to Romney nationally, so that gap in Ohio could close even more between now and Super Tuesday:

The Republican presidential face-off in Ohio is too close to call as former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum has 35 percent of likely Republican primary voters to former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney’s 31 percent, according to a Quinnipiac University poll.

This compares to a 36 – 29 percent Santorum lead in a February 27 survey by the independent Quinnipiac (KWIN-uh-pe-ack) University poll, the day before the hotly-contested Michigan primary.

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Mitt Romney seems to have gotten a small post-Michigan bounce in the next key primary state of Ohio, but he’s still trailing Rick Santorum by a few points in the state, according to a Quinnipiac poll out today. By all indications, the momentum of the race seems to be shifting to Romney nationally, so that gap in Ohio could close even more between now and Super Tuesday:

The Republican presidential face-off in Ohio is too close to call as former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum has 35 percent of likely Republican primary voters to former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney’s 31 percent, according to a Quinnipiac University poll.

This compares to a 36 – 29 percent Santorum lead in a February 27 survey by the independent Quinnipiac (KWIN-uh-pe-ack) University poll, the day before the hotly-contested Michigan primary.

While attempts by Democrats to tilt the race by voting for Rick Santorum in Michigan weren’t successful, left-wing activists were still encouraged by reports that they accounted for three percent of Santorum votes.

These activists are now focusing on the Super Tuesday phase of what they’ve dubbed “Operation Hilarity,” and it’s possible this could have an impact on Ohio. Like Michigan, Ohio’s a semi-open primary state, which means you don’t have to be a registered Republican to vote. The Washington Post reports:

The blog Daily Kos, which launched Operation Hilarity to encourage Democratic crossovers in Michigan, said in a post Wednesday that it was shifting focus for Super Tuesday to North Dakota, Tennessee and Vermont.

It didn’t include the Buckeye state — maybe because the Republican National Committee put out a list that says the Ohio primary is “closed.” And we haven’t heard of any crossover effort there so far.

But we called the Ohio Republican Party and were told it was “semi-open,” which sounds a lot like the Michigan rules. “You can ask for a Republican ballot or a Democratic ballot,” a worker at the party headquarters in Columbus said. The Democrats called it “semi-closed,” which sounds to us like pretty much the same thing.

On the other hand, if the point of Operation Hilarity was to boost Santorum’s chances of getting the nomination (because many Democrats believe he’s a weaker general election candidate than Romney), it may have backfired. That Santorum seems to be the left’s favorite Republican candidate is actually starting to raise questions about his electability. And while it’s still unclear how much of the Michigan Democratic crossover vote can be chalked up to Operation Hilarity – as opposed to legitimate interest in voting Republican – Santorum will be criticized if a sizeable percentage of his support comes from outside the GOP on Tuesday. Even if the majority of Democrats who vote for Santorum do it earnestly, it will still hurt his image and make him appear like a weaker candidate.

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Romney for Veep?

A month removed from his presidential campaign, Mitt Romney is back on the airwaves. Last night, Romney told Fox News that he would be “honored” to serve as John McCain’s vice-presidential nominee-a suggestion that has to leave just about anyone who followed the Republican nomination battle utterly perplexed.

After all, by all appearances, Romney and McCain detest each other, with the vitriol increasing as the two emerged as leading candidates in the run-up to Super Tuesday. Romney expended much of his personal wealth on attack ads, seeking to paint McCain as liberal. Meanwhile, McCain accused Romney of flip-flopping on key political positions, referring to him as the “candidate of change” during the New Hampshire debate. For those who have wondered how Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton could possibly coexist on the same ticket given their own heated nomination contest, a McCain-Romney ticket should be no less of a head-scratcher.

Of course, the obvious choice for McCain’s running mate is Mike Huckabee. During the nomination contest, Huckabee emerged as the consensus conservative candidate, assuming the place that was to be filled by Fred Thompson (remember him?) and directly challenging the original argument for Romney’s candidacy. Then, as the campaigns approached Super Tuesday, Huckabee teamed with McCain against Romney: Huckabee defended McCain against Romney’s barbs, while McCain urged his supporters in West Virginia to back Huckabee–critically thwarting an early Super Tuesday victory for Romney. Most importantly, Huckabee extended his campaign despite nearly impossible odds of victory, affording McCain the opportunity to appeal to voters in key states, including Virginia and Ohio.

Or, if McCain desires to maintain the moderate flavor of his campaign, Florida Governor Charlie Crist is another strong option. Crist is viewed as a truly moderate Republican and as an environmentalist, and his endorsement of McCain was viewed as critical to McCain’s defeat of Romney in the January 29th primary. Moreover, his nomination would boost the Republicans’ odds of maintaining Florida’s red-state status, given Crist’s incredible 71% approval rating.

Ultimately, the Democrats’ decision regarding whether they will re-run primary elections in Florida and Michigan should determine whether McCain chooses Crist or Huckabee. Indeed, if the DNC fails to seat Floridian delegates at the convention, McCain would hardly need Crist to win Florida, and his attention might therefore turn to solidifying the conservative base via Huckabee. Meanwhile, previous bad blood would require McCain and Romney to defend their partnership, which would become a total distraction.

A month removed from his presidential campaign, Mitt Romney is back on the airwaves. Last night, Romney told Fox News that he would be “honored” to serve as John McCain’s vice-presidential nominee-a suggestion that has to leave just about anyone who followed the Republican nomination battle utterly perplexed.

After all, by all appearances, Romney and McCain detest each other, with the vitriol increasing as the two emerged as leading candidates in the run-up to Super Tuesday. Romney expended much of his personal wealth on attack ads, seeking to paint McCain as liberal. Meanwhile, McCain accused Romney of flip-flopping on key political positions, referring to him as the “candidate of change” during the New Hampshire debate. For those who have wondered how Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton could possibly coexist on the same ticket given their own heated nomination contest, a McCain-Romney ticket should be no less of a head-scratcher.

Of course, the obvious choice for McCain’s running mate is Mike Huckabee. During the nomination contest, Huckabee emerged as the consensus conservative candidate, assuming the place that was to be filled by Fred Thompson (remember him?) and directly challenging the original argument for Romney’s candidacy. Then, as the campaigns approached Super Tuesday, Huckabee teamed with McCain against Romney: Huckabee defended McCain against Romney’s barbs, while McCain urged his supporters in West Virginia to back Huckabee–critically thwarting an early Super Tuesday victory for Romney. Most importantly, Huckabee extended his campaign despite nearly impossible odds of victory, affording McCain the opportunity to appeal to voters in key states, including Virginia and Ohio.

Or, if McCain desires to maintain the moderate flavor of his campaign, Florida Governor Charlie Crist is another strong option. Crist is viewed as a truly moderate Republican and as an environmentalist, and his endorsement of McCain was viewed as critical to McCain’s defeat of Romney in the January 29th primary. Moreover, his nomination would boost the Republicans’ odds of maintaining Florida’s red-state status, given Crist’s incredible 71% approval rating.

Ultimately, the Democrats’ decision regarding whether they will re-run primary elections in Florida and Michigan should determine whether McCain chooses Crist or Huckabee. Indeed, if the DNC fails to seat Floridian delegates at the convention, McCain would hardly need Crist to win Florida, and his attention might therefore turn to solidifying the conservative base via Huckabee. Meanwhile, previous bad blood would require McCain and Romney to defend their partnership, which would become a total distraction.

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The Weak, Silent Type

With the Texas and Ohio primaries now upon us, the painfully uninteresting Bill Richardson Endorsement Watch can officially come to close. Indeed, despite doing nothing newsworthy since ending his presidential bid–other than growing a beard that evokes a chad-hung Al Gore–Richardson has regularly appeared in the news media, announcing that he is not ready to support either Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama. His most recent declaration of non-endorsement came Sunday, when he told the Associated Press that he was “on the fence,” adding, “I may wake up tomorrow and do it. Then I may not.”

For Richardson, this sudden neutrality stands in stark contrast with his not-so-subtle backing for Clinton during a number of the debates. For example, when the other Democratic candidates accused Clinton of lacking foreign policy experience during an October debate in Philadelphia, Richardson rose to her defense, saying, “I’m hearing this holier-than-thou attitude toward Senator Clinton. That is bothering me because it’s pretty close to personal attacks that we don’t need.” Meanwhile, during a January debate in New Hampshire, Richardson reproached Obama for berating Clinton, firmly saying, “this is the kind of Washington bickering that the public turns off to.” Indeed, as satirized by Saturday Night Live, it appeared as though Richardson was aiming to be Clinton’s running mate.

Yet despite Richardson’s very public waffling after months of positioning himself as Clinton’s partner, the media has continued promoting Richardson as a strong vice-presidential candidate. Nicholas Kristof has noted that Richardson would secure the Hispanic vote, while The Detroit Free Press has written that Richardson would “help fill Obama’s lack-of-experience vacuum.” Meanwhile, Richardson’s name has appeared prominently in virtually every article listing possible vice-presidential candidates-a blitz aided by Richardson’s own acknowledgement that he is “open” to the idea.

Still, Clinton and Obama would be foolish to invite him on their campaign trails. For starters-particularly given his support for Hillary during his final months as a weak presidential candidate-Richardson’s wavering smacks of disingenuity.

But even if we can forgive Richardson for rethinking his support for Clinton in light of Obama’s eleven consecutive primary victories since Super Tuesday, his failure to endorse either Clinton or Obama suggests a disturbing inability to make key strategic decisions. This makes him a serious liability to any Democratic ticket. After all, the eventual nominee will face John McCain, who fairly argues that he risked his political career in supporting the surge in Iraq-a testament to his decision-making and leadership qualities that are the best arguments for his candidacy.

With the Texas and Ohio primaries now upon us, the painfully uninteresting Bill Richardson Endorsement Watch can officially come to close. Indeed, despite doing nothing newsworthy since ending his presidential bid–other than growing a beard that evokes a chad-hung Al Gore–Richardson has regularly appeared in the news media, announcing that he is not ready to support either Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama. His most recent declaration of non-endorsement came Sunday, when he told the Associated Press that he was “on the fence,” adding, “I may wake up tomorrow and do it. Then I may not.”

For Richardson, this sudden neutrality stands in stark contrast with his not-so-subtle backing for Clinton during a number of the debates. For example, when the other Democratic candidates accused Clinton of lacking foreign policy experience during an October debate in Philadelphia, Richardson rose to her defense, saying, “I’m hearing this holier-than-thou attitude toward Senator Clinton. That is bothering me because it’s pretty close to personal attacks that we don’t need.” Meanwhile, during a January debate in New Hampshire, Richardson reproached Obama for berating Clinton, firmly saying, “this is the kind of Washington bickering that the public turns off to.” Indeed, as satirized by Saturday Night Live, it appeared as though Richardson was aiming to be Clinton’s running mate.

Yet despite Richardson’s very public waffling after months of positioning himself as Clinton’s partner, the media has continued promoting Richardson as a strong vice-presidential candidate. Nicholas Kristof has noted that Richardson would secure the Hispanic vote, while The Detroit Free Press has written that Richardson would “help fill Obama’s lack-of-experience vacuum.” Meanwhile, Richardson’s name has appeared prominently in virtually every article listing possible vice-presidential candidates-a blitz aided by Richardson’s own acknowledgement that he is “open” to the idea.

Still, Clinton and Obama would be foolish to invite him on their campaign trails. For starters-particularly given his support for Hillary during his final months as a weak presidential candidate-Richardson’s wavering smacks of disingenuity.

But even if we can forgive Richardson for rethinking his support for Clinton in light of Obama’s eleven consecutive primary victories since Super Tuesday, his failure to endorse either Clinton or Obama suggests a disturbing inability to make key strategic decisions. This makes him a serious liability to any Democratic ticket. After all, the eventual nominee will face John McCain, who fairly argues that he risked his political career in supporting the surge in Iraq-a testament to his decision-making and leadership qualities that are the best arguments for his candidacy.

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Clemens Borrows from Obama

The big news on Capitol Hill today is Roger Clemens’ sworn testimony before the House Oversight Committee regarding his alleged steroids use.

Clemens faces an uphill battle if he hopes to restore his credibility in the aftermath of the damning Mitchell Report, in which he was named 82 times. Beyond the testimony of his former trainer, Brian McNamee, former teammate Andy Pettitte has reportedly testified that Clemens admitted to using human growth hormone (HGH) almost ten years ago. To make matters worse for Clemens, Pettitte’s wife has substantiated this claim in a separate affidavit. The Clemens steroids story has thus quickly morphed into Clemens’ word against Pettitte’s, with Pettitte appearing more believable for having admitted to using HGH in 2002 and 2004.

So, what was Clemens’ strategy for presenting himself as compelling? Apparently, stealing a line from Barack Obama! Consider Clemens’ statement:

Andy Pettitte is my friend, he was my friend before this and he will be my friend after this. I think he misheard. … I think he misremembers our conversation.

Now, compare this to Obama’s statement in reference to Hillary Clinton during a recent debate. While trying to convince voters that the vitriol of the Democratic primary would not divide the party indefinitely, Obama remarked:

… I was friends with Hillary Clinton before we started this campaign; I will be friends with Hillary Clinton after this campaign is over.

Shortly after making his conciliatory statement, Obama earned a Super Tuesday split with Hillary, and has since taken off with an impressive eight-state winning streak. In the process, he has claimed an unambiguous lead in delegates and front-runner status.

Unfortunately for Clemens, the future doesn’t appear quite as bright. Whereas Obama comes off like a gentleman, Clemens is known to have a nasty streak. Indeed, if he aims to promote his credibility on the basis of his loyalty, Clemens is likely to come up short.

The big news on Capitol Hill today is Roger Clemens’ sworn testimony before the House Oversight Committee regarding his alleged steroids use.

Clemens faces an uphill battle if he hopes to restore his credibility in the aftermath of the damning Mitchell Report, in which he was named 82 times. Beyond the testimony of his former trainer, Brian McNamee, former teammate Andy Pettitte has reportedly testified that Clemens admitted to using human growth hormone (HGH) almost ten years ago. To make matters worse for Clemens, Pettitte’s wife has substantiated this claim in a separate affidavit. The Clemens steroids story has thus quickly morphed into Clemens’ word against Pettitte’s, with Pettitte appearing more believable for having admitted to using HGH in 2002 and 2004.

So, what was Clemens’ strategy for presenting himself as compelling? Apparently, stealing a line from Barack Obama! Consider Clemens’ statement:

Andy Pettitte is my friend, he was my friend before this and he will be my friend after this. I think he misheard. … I think he misremembers our conversation.

Now, compare this to Obama’s statement in reference to Hillary Clinton during a recent debate. While trying to convince voters that the vitriol of the Democratic primary would not divide the party indefinitely, Obama remarked:

… I was friends with Hillary Clinton before we started this campaign; I will be friends with Hillary Clinton after this campaign is over.

Shortly after making his conciliatory statement, Obama earned a Super Tuesday split with Hillary, and has since taken off with an impressive eight-state winning streak. In the process, he has claimed an unambiguous lead in delegates and front-runner status.

Unfortunately for Clemens, the future doesn’t appear quite as bright. Whereas Obama comes off like a gentleman, Clemens is known to have a nasty streak. Indeed, if he aims to promote his credibility on the basis of his loyalty, Clemens is likely to come up short.

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Hillary’s Woes

Hillary Clinton is not amused. Her opponent, the fellow who she contends is infatuated with Ronald Reagan, handily won the Maine caucus, his fifth win since his 13 Super Tuesday wins. She sacked her campaign manager and is pleading with John Edwards for an endorsement. She has gone ballistic over David Shuster’s inappropriate remark about her daughter. (The remark was uncalled for; the reaction was over the top.) She might try to revive the Michigan and Florida delegates. However, all of her frenetic activity is somewhat beside the point: her delegate lead is slipping away.

She may be banking on Ohio and Texas on March 4 to revive her prospects. Ohio offers plenty of downscale Democrats who care more about healthcare than inspirational rhetoric. Texas offers her Hispanic voters who so far have favored her. But it might be too late by then. If she loses the Potomac primary on Tuesday as expected and Wisconsin on February 19, March 4 may be for her what Florida was for Rudy Giuliani (too little, too late).

So rather than March 4, her real firewall may be Wisconsin. Will the students and progressives of Madison spell her defeat? Or can she count on the working class voters from Milwaukee to save her candidacy? Obama has figured out the pivotal role of Wisconsin and will be there to hear the Potomac returns. If she is smart, she will head there as well and recognize that if she loses on February 19, there may not be enough lawyers (to contest Michigan and Florida) or enough superdelegates to save her.

Hillary Clinton is not amused. Her opponent, the fellow who she contends is infatuated with Ronald Reagan, handily won the Maine caucus, his fifth win since his 13 Super Tuesday wins. She sacked her campaign manager and is pleading with John Edwards for an endorsement. She has gone ballistic over David Shuster’s inappropriate remark about her daughter. (The remark was uncalled for; the reaction was over the top.) She might try to revive the Michigan and Florida delegates. However, all of her frenetic activity is somewhat beside the point: her delegate lead is slipping away.

She may be banking on Ohio and Texas on March 4 to revive her prospects. Ohio offers plenty of downscale Democrats who care more about healthcare than inspirational rhetoric. Texas offers her Hispanic voters who so far have favored her. But it might be too late by then. If she loses the Potomac primary on Tuesday as expected and Wisconsin on February 19, March 4 may be for her what Florida was for Rudy Giuliani (too little, too late).

So rather than March 4, her real firewall may be Wisconsin. Will the students and progressives of Madison spell her defeat? Or can she count on the working class voters from Milwaukee to save her candidacy? Obama has figured out the pivotal role of Wisconsin and will be there to hear the Potomac returns. If she is smart, she will head there as well and recognize that if she loses on February 19, there may not be enough lawyers (to contest Michigan and Florida) or enough superdelegates to save her.

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Re: Setting the Bar Low

The best thing going for Hillary Clinton may be the proportional voting system. Without it the next few days might be rough. Barack Obama does have a batch of friendly states ahead. Next Tuesday offers three opportunities for him. In Virginia scant pollling shows him in the lead. (The combination of African Americans in the Richmond area and upscale professionals in northern Virginia seems ideally suited for him.) He also is expected to do well in Maryland and D.C., with large numbers of large African American voters.

Moreover, he is expected to head into Tuesday with a head of steam. On Saturday he has a caucus in Washington, where he again is polling well and received the endorsement of Governor Christine Gregoire. He also stands to do well in the Louisiana primary(again, with a significant African American electorate) and in the Nebraska caucus (where, if the Red state caucus contests on Super Tuesday are any guide, he will win). The one bright spot for Clinton may be Sunday’s caucus in Maine where Bill has campaigned and she has the governor on her side. (But, yes, Maine did not do too much for Mitt Romney.)

In short, Obama trails Clinton by 70 delegates today, but after this weekend’s 228 delegates and Tuesday’s 238 delegates are tallied, he will likely be in the lead. Once again, the proportional voting system will keep the total delegate count close, but in four days expect to hear that Clinton is now the “underdog.” (And matters will not get easier for her when they head to Wisconsin on February 19 and Obama’s “Yes we can” cheer will resonate well in the land of La Follette.) With that new status she may be the “scrappy fighter” or the “fading star,” depending on the media spin.

The best thing going for Hillary Clinton may be the proportional voting system. Without it the next few days might be rough. Barack Obama does have a batch of friendly states ahead. Next Tuesday offers three opportunities for him. In Virginia scant pollling shows him in the lead. (The combination of African Americans in the Richmond area and upscale professionals in northern Virginia seems ideally suited for him.) He also is expected to do well in Maryland and D.C., with large numbers of large African American voters.

Moreover, he is expected to head into Tuesday with a head of steam. On Saturday he has a caucus in Washington, where he again is polling well and received the endorsement of Governor Christine Gregoire. He also stands to do well in the Louisiana primary(again, with a significant African American electorate) and in the Nebraska caucus (where, if the Red state caucus contests on Super Tuesday are any guide, he will win). The one bright spot for Clinton may be Sunday’s caucus in Maine where Bill has campaigned and she has the governor on her side. (But, yes, Maine did not do too much for Mitt Romney.)

In short, Obama trails Clinton by 70 delegates today, but after this weekend’s 228 delegates and Tuesday’s 238 delegates are tallied, he will likely be in the lead. Once again, the proportional voting system will keep the total delegate count close, but in four days expect to hear that Clinton is now the “underdog.” (And matters will not get easier for her when they head to Wisconsin on February 19 and Obama’s “Yes we can” cheer will resonate well in the land of La Follette.) With that new status she may be the “scrappy fighter” or the “fading star,” depending on the media spin.

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Setting the Bar Low…for Hillary

The conventional wisdom these days is that the media are in the tank for Obama, and it’s mostly correct. But one of the unanticipated effects of the uncritical coverage of Obama and the enthusiasm he provokes is that it has lowered the bar for Hillary. The expectation that she was going to be blown out of the water on Super Tuesday — ballasted by rotten exit polls that suggested she might lose in New Jersey and Massachusetts, two states she carried with comfortable margins — helped shape the coverage that night as an unexpected triumph for her.

Now it’s happening again. It is said, based on the results so far, that she is going to have a tough month because the contests in February are primarily caucuses or in Southern states, and in both these contexts, Obama has had commanding success. In some sense, then, all Mrs. Clinton need do is not be humiliated to eke out a moral victory of a kind in the minds of people who follow all of this far too closely. The thing is that people who follow all of this far too closely help set the tone for everyone else. Next Tuesday night will offer some clues to this, especially in light of the primary in Virginia. If she keeps it close, you can expect Chris Matthews to talk about her indomitable toughness and grace under pressure….

The conventional wisdom these days is that the media are in the tank for Obama, and it’s mostly correct. But one of the unanticipated effects of the uncritical coverage of Obama and the enthusiasm he provokes is that it has lowered the bar for Hillary. The expectation that she was going to be blown out of the water on Super Tuesday — ballasted by rotten exit polls that suggested she might lose in New Jersey and Massachusetts, two states she carried with comfortable margins — helped shape the coverage that night as an unexpected triumph for her.

Now it’s happening again. It is said, based on the results so far, that she is going to have a tough month because the contests in February are primarily caucuses or in Southern states, and in both these contexts, Obama has had commanding success. In some sense, then, all Mrs. Clinton need do is not be humiliated to eke out a moral victory of a kind in the minds of people who follow all of this far too closely. The thing is that people who follow all of this far too closely help set the tone for everyone else. Next Tuesday night will offer some clues to this, especially in light of the primary in Virginia. If she keeps it close, you can expect Chris Matthews to talk about her indomitable toughness and grace under pressure….

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What Romney Got Right

Everyone will be writing about the mistakes the Romney team made (e.g. ducking South Carolina, his wholesale position revisions). However, the Romney campaign got a few things very right. First, the early primaries do matter. His losses in Iowa and New Hampshire and McCain’s revival in the latter really set the course for the race. We were all distracted by McCain’s defeat in Michigan, but that was, after all, a home state win for Romney. With that sole deviation, it was largely McCain’s race after New Hampshire.

Second, there was an opening on the Right when the race started which Romney recognized as an opportunity. George Allen had fallen out of contention with his Senate loss and there was room to run to the right of McCain and Rudy. However, neither Romney nor anyone else saw Mike Huckabee coming. He denied Romney an Iowa win and from then on deprived Romney of social conservative votes. (The contrary argument is that these voters would never have gone for Romney, and, had it not been for Huckabee, would have been in McCain’s camp all along.)

Third, the economy is increasingly becoming the key issue of the campaign (in no small part, due to the success of the surge which McCain helped promote). With his business background Romney was well positioned to talk about the issue voters cared most about. However, voters who considered this the principle issue in New Hampshire, Florida and on Super Tuesday did not think he was the one best able to handle it. It is a mystery, perhaps a sign of lingering class envy and perhaps a sign that sole reliance on tax cuts as the bread and butter Republican message is running its course.

Finally, he left at the right moment, before he was looked upon as a spoiler. In a significant way, he made McCain’s job easier at CPAC and no doubt contributed to the warmer than expected reception McCain received. On one hand, you could say that he mathematically had lost and had no choice, but we all have choices to behave well or poorly. He wisely chose the former.

Everyone will be writing about the mistakes the Romney team made (e.g. ducking South Carolina, his wholesale position revisions). However, the Romney campaign got a few things very right. First, the early primaries do matter. His losses in Iowa and New Hampshire and McCain’s revival in the latter really set the course for the race. We were all distracted by McCain’s defeat in Michigan, but that was, after all, a home state win for Romney. With that sole deviation, it was largely McCain’s race after New Hampshire.

Second, there was an opening on the Right when the race started which Romney recognized as an opportunity. George Allen had fallen out of contention with his Senate loss and there was room to run to the right of McCain and Rudy. However, neither Romney nor anyone else saw Mike Huckabee coming. He denied Romney an Iowa win and from then on deprived Romney of social conservative votes. (The contrary argument is that these voters would never have gone for Romney, and, had it not been for Huckabee, would have been in McCain’s camp all along.)

Third, the economy is increasingly becoming the key issue of the campaign (in no small part, due to the success of the surge which McCain helped promote). With his business background Romney was well positioned to talk about the issue voters cared most about. However, voters who considered this the principle issue in New Hampshire, Florida and on Super Tuesday did not think he was the one best able to handle it. It is a mystery, perhaps a sign of lingering class envy and perhaps a sign that sole reliance on tax cuts as the bread and butter Republican message is running its course.

Finally, he left at the right moment, before he was looked upon as a spoiler. In a significant way, he made McCain’s job easier at CPAC and no doubt contributed to the warmer than expected reception McCain received. On one hand, you could say that he mathematically had lost and had no choice, but we all have choices to behave well or poorly. He wisely chose the former.

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Romney Pulls Out

Mitt Romney is nothing if not a savvy businessman. We and others have calculated the nomination slipped out of grasp as the Super Tuesday votes were counted. He, smartly for himself, the Party and the country, pulled out.

Romney starts by giving a red meat, well received speech celebrating conservative values. He is, in front of the crowd, back to the Iowa Romney, stressing family and American traditional culture. He is energetic and polished, yet the speech strikes one as entirely ordinary. (That perhaps is part of his problem: offering oneself up as the conventional conservative is simply not enough, especially when not combined with a compelling messenger.) He then veers into energy independence and entitlement reform. Next, he addresses the threat of radical jihadism, whacking the Clinton presidency for cutting defense spending and reciting his litany of proposals to increase defense spending.
He warns that either Clinton or Obama would result in higher taxes and defeat in the war on terror. He says the crowd would be willing to fight on to the convention but that unlike 1976, this is a nation at war. This is both a clever and deeply reasonable basis for distinguishing between himself and Reagan and letting his followers down easy. He continues that it is not an easy decision and he “hates to lose,” but says it has “never been just about me.” All in all, a very classy way to go out. If he has ambitions for the future, he helped himself today.

Mitt Romney is nothing if not a savvy businessman. We and others have calculated the nomination slipped out of grasp as the Super Tuesday votes were counted. He, smartly for himself, the Party and the country, pulled out.

Romney starts by giving a red meat, well received speech celebrating conservative values. He is, in front of the crowd, back to the Iowa Romney, stressing family and American traditional culture. He is energetic and polished, yet the speech strikes one as entirely ordinary. (That perhaps is part of his problem: offering oneself up as the conventional conservative is simply not enough, especially when not combined with a compelling messenger.) He then veers into energy independence and entitlement reform. Next, he addresses the threat of radical jihadism, whacking the Clinton presidency for cutting defense spending and reciting his litany of proposals to increase defense spending.
He warns that either Clinton or Obama would result in higher taxes and defeat in the war on terror. He says the crowd would be willing to fight on to the convention but that unlike 1976, this is a nation at war. This is both a clever and deeply reasonable basis for distinguishing between himself and Reagan and letting his followers down easy. He continues that it is not an easy decision and he “hates to lose,” but says it has “never been just about me.” All in all, a very classy way to go out. If he has ambitions for the future, he helped himself today.

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The Big Stories

It’s only the morning after Super Tuesday, but it still’s not too early to think about the really super Tuesday—the one that comes in November. In that regard I was struck by the two major stories of this morning after the election news. One is that the economy is apparently continuing its slide into recession. The other is the testimony of Mike McConnell, the director of national intelligence, that Al Qaeda is improving its ability to attack the United States.

The former story seems to favor Clinton/Obama (or Obama/Clinton), the latter McCain. Of crucial importance will be the weight assigned by voters to the two. At the moment it appears that the economy and health care edge out the war in Iraq and terrorism as issues of concern in the polls. Of course a president can do far less to influence the economy than national security policy, and even if we’re in a recession it will probably be over by the time the next president is inaugurated. Moreover, since McCain is not closely associated with the Bush administration it is an open question to what extent voters will punish him for what may be seen as the Bush recession.

Admittedly, there is a strong tendency among voters to use a general election as a referendum on the state of the economy with the incumbent party being punished if the economic news is bad. But that could be trumped if terrorism and war stay in the news since McCain is so much more better qualified than Clinton/Obama to “keep us safe”—the only voter concern that can rival the economy in importance.

I don’t profess to have the foggiest notion of how these dynamics will play out. The only safe prediction seems to be that it will be a wild ride until November—as wild as the past year, and that’s saying something.

It’s only the morning after Super Tuesday, but it still’s not too early to think about the really super Tuesday—the one that comes in November. In that regard I was struck by the two major stories of this morning after the election news. One is that the economy is apparently continuing its slide into recession. The other is the testimony of Mike McConnell, the director of national intelligence, that Al Qaeda is improving its ability to attack the United States.

The former story seems to favor Clinton/Obama (or Obama/Clinton), the latter McCain. Of crucial importance will be the weight assigned by voters to the two. At the moment it appears that the economy and health care edge out the war in Iraq and terrorism as issues of concern in the polls. Of course a president can do far less to influence the economy than national security policy, and even if we’re in a recession it will probably be over by the time the next president is inaugurated. Moreover, since McCain is not closely associated with the Bush administration it is an open question to what extent voters will punish him for what may be seen as the Bush recession.

Admittedly, there is a strong tendency among voters to use a general election as a referendum on the state of the economy with the incumbent party being punished if the economic news is bad. But that could be trumped if terrorism and war stay in the news since McCain is so much more better qualified than Clinton/Obama to “keep us safe”—the only voter concern that can rival the economy in importance.

I don’t profess to have the foggiest notion of how these dynamics will play out. The only safe prediction seems to be that it will be a wild ride until November—as wild as the past year, and that’s saying something.

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Speaking of the Super Bowl’s impact…

…Looks like Mike Huckabee might have been inspired by Tom Petty’s halftime performance. If his speech in Arkansas is sincere, he “won’t back down.”

So much for my theory that Huckabee would turn his Super Tuesday successes over Romney into a face-saving, vice-presidential-nomination-pursuing, exit-in-strength strategy. That is, unless he’s waiting for Romney to exit first, thereby remaining in the race to block for McCain until California likely determines Romney’s fate.

…Looks like Mike Huckabee might have been inspired by Tom Petty’s halftime performance. If his speech in Arkansas is sincere, he “won’t back down.”

So much for my theory that Huckabee would turn his Super Tuesday successes over Romney into a face-saving, vice-presidential-nomination-pursuing, exit-in-strength strategy. That is, unless he’s waiting for Romney to exit first, thereby remaining in the race to block for McCain until California likely determines Romney’s fate.

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The Romney Factor

The vehemence of the opposition to John McCain in many conservative quarters this past week naturally raises the question of where these folks were before McCain gained momentum. Why wait until after Florida, when McCain seems well on his way, to roll out the most forceful criticism? Why wait until a few days before Super Tuesday to endorse Romney? The objections to McCain were always there, after all.

Looking over the dynamics of the past several months, and especially January, once the voting got going, I think you have to conclude that Romney’s negative charisma was the key reason. For months, many conservatives understood that a Giuliani or McCain candidacy could be a disaster, yet somehow there was never a serious coalescing around Romney. I don’t think his religion was to blame. Something about Romney just didn’t have the right ring to it; there was a sense that he would say anything and do anything, and that beneath the veneer might be another veneer, and another. It was—in a lesser dose, to be sure—something like the feeling so many Americans had about John Kerry in 2004.

So for months conservatives held out hope for Fred Thompson—the potential generic conservative mascot, acceptable to all—keeping an open mind about Romney but withholding serious support. Thompson, unfortunately, thoroughly failed to capitalize on the immense opportunity handed to him, and so throughout the summer and fall and into the winter the Republican race was held in a peculiar kind of limbo: the money wasn’t flowing, normally decisive opinion-shapers on the right remained uncommitted, and everyone seemed to be waiting to see what would happen (“maybe in this debate Thompson will show some energy”) rather than assertively making something happen. This created a race without any stable conservative presence, and opened the door for Huckabee’s temporary rise—which made any establishment conservative coalescence even less likely. Meanwhile Rudy Giuliani committed a kind of strategic suicide, and John McCain was left as the only simultaneously likeable and serious candidate running.

This was beginning to become apparent in the wake of Iowa, was reasonably clear after New Hampshire, and became crystal clear after South Carolina. But still many conservative heavyweights who were very eager to avoid a McCain candidacy did not line up behind Romney. Only after Florida, with his fate almost sealed, did a good number earnestly make his cause theirs. Why take so long? Why resist? Many conservatives seemed unable to get over a persistent concern about Romney, which naturally translated into distress about his electability in the general election. Once Thompson turned out to be a dud and the generic conservative slot was left empty, the nomination was Romney’s to lose. He seems very likely to have lost it.

Conservatives have serious reasons to worry about a McCain candidacy, to be sure. But if Mitt Romney couldn’t even win their votes all this time, shouldn’t we assume he would have had a lot of trouble winning other people’s votes in November?

The vehemence of the opposition to John McCain in many conservative quarters this past week naturally raises the question of where these folks were before McCain gained momentum. Why wait until after Florida, when McCain seems well on his way, to roll out the most forceful criticism? Why wait until a few days before Super Tuesday to endorse Romney? The objections to McCain were always there, after all.

Looking over the dynamics of the past several months, and especially January, once the voting got going, I think you have to conclude that Romney’s negative charisma was the key reason. For months, many conservatives understood that a Giuliani or McCain candidacy could be a disaster, yet somehow there was never a serious coalescing around Romney. I don’t think his religion was to blame. Something about Romney just didn’t have the right ring to it; there was a sense that he would say anything and do anything, and that beneath the veneer might be another veneer, and another. It was—in a lesser dose, to be sure—something like the feeling so many Americans had about John Kerry in 2004.

So for months conservatives held out hope for Fred Thompson—the potential generic conservative mascot, acceptable to all—keeping an open mind about Romney but withholding serious support. Thompson, unfortunately, thoroughly failed to capitalize on the immense opportunity handed to him, and so throughout the summer and fall and into the winter the Republican race was held in a peculiar kind of limbo: the money wasn’t flowing, normally decisive opinion-shapers on the right remained uncommitted, and everyone seemed to be waiting to see what would happen (“maybe in this debate Thompson will show some energy”) rather than assertively making something happen. This created a race without any stable conservative presence, and opened the door for Huckabee’s temporary rise—which made any establishment conservative coalescence even less likely. Meanwhile Rudy Giuliani committed a kind of strategic suicide, and John McCain was left as the only simultaneously likeable and serious candidate running.

This was beginning to become apparent in the wake of Iowa, was reasonably clear after New Hampshire, and became crystal clear after South Carolina. But still many conservative heavyweights who were very eager to avoid a McCain candidacy did not line up behind Romney. Only after Florida, with his fate almost sealed, did a good number earnestly make his cause theirs. Why take so long? Why resist? Many conservatives seemed unable to get over a persistent concern about Romney, which naturally translated into distress about his electability in the general election. Once Thompson turned out to be a dud and the generic conservative slot was left empty, the nomination was Romney’s to lose. He seems very likely to have lost it.

Conservatives have serious reasons to worry about a McCain candidacy, to be sure. But if Mitt Romney couldn’t even win their votes all this time, shouldn’t we assume he would have had a lot of trouble winning other people’s votes in November?

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McCain Strikes Back: Lay Off The War Hero

John McCain was apparently incensed by Romney’s crack at Dole and issued this statement:

Governor Romney’s attack on Bob Dole is disgraceful, and Governor Romney should apologize. Bob Dole is a war hero who has spent his life in service to this nation and nobody has worked harder to build the Republican Party. Bob Dole deserves the respect of every American and certainly every Republican.

Governor Romney denounced Ronald Reagan in the mid ’90s while Bob Dole was working tirelessly to elect Republicans across the country. Governor Romney was missing from those fights when I was standing with President Reagan and Senator Dole to build the Republican Party.Governor Romney is trying to divide the Republican Party and his disparagement of one of our Party’s greatest leaders is a sad commentary on Governor Romney’s increasingly bitter campaign.

UPDATE: The full back and forth is here. This strikes me as the last way Romney wants to spend Super Tuesday.

John McCain was apparently incensed by Romney’s crack at Dole and issued this statement:

Governor Romney’s attack on Bob Dole is disgraceful, and Governor Romney should apologize. Bob Dole is a war hero who has spent his life in service to this nation and nobody has worked harder to build the Republican Party. Bob Dole deserves the respect of every American and certainly every Republican.

Governor Romney denounced Ronald Reagan in the mid ’90s while Bob Dole was working tirelessly to elect Republicans across the country. Governor Romney was missing from those fights when I was standing with President Reagan and Senator Dole to build the Republican Party.Governor Romney is trying to divide the Republican Party and his disparagement of one of our Party’s greatest leaders is a sad commentary on Governor Romney’s increasingly bitter campaign.

UPDATE: The full back and forth is here. This strikes me as the last way Romney wants to spend Super Tuesday.

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The Voters Will Eventually Have The Last Word

As we wrapped up the day before Super Tuesday, it was an anti-McCain-fest from the Romney camp and his supporters. Talk radio and bloggers kept up the drum beat against McCain, bashing everyone from former GOP Presidential nominee and Senator Bob Dole to respected conservative journalists. The voice of (French) reason could nevertheless still be heard/read. (And yes, there is very little pro-Romney rhetoric being voiced by the McCain foes, perhaps an indication as to why McCain has been able to build a 20 point lead in national polls. It is hard to beat someone with simply a “not him” argument, no matter how loudly one argues.)

Although his own campaign clarified last week that Romney did not support Ann Coulter’s declaration that McCain and Hillary Clinton were politically identical, Romney released his own ad asserting they really were and contending, among other things, that both Clinton and McCain opposed the appointment of conservative judges. (Justices Alito and Roberts, whom McCain vigorously supported, don’t qualify as conservative?) McCain finally hit back with a TV ad pointing out that Romney’s infatuation with Ronald Reagan is of recent vintage.

What to say? There will eventually be a winner and a general election. If McCain does prevail and win the nomination, even some of the harshest critics will reverse course and support the GOP nominee they excoriated. Others will sulk, perhaps denying needed votes in a close general election.

Mostly, the role of much of the conservative new media will be clarified. The distinction between provocative discussion and electoral influence will be laid bare. It is one thing to provide an alternate source of information for conservatives, help shape policy debates and correct imbalances in the mainstream media; it is quite another to assume that a majority of Republican voters will follow ballot box advice. Clarity is important.

As we wrapped up the day before Super Tuesday, it was an anti-McCain-fest from the Romney camp and his supporters. Talk radio and bloggers kept up the drum beat against McCain, bashing everyone from former GOP Presidential nominee and Senator Bob Dole to respected conservative journalists. The voice of (French) reason could nevertheless still be heard/read. (And yes, there is very little pro-Romney rhetoric being voiced by the McCain foes, perhaps an indication as to why McCain has been able to build a 20 point lead in national polls. It is hard to beat someone with simply a “not him” argument, no matter how loudly one argues.)

Although his own campaign clarified last week that Romney did not support Ann Coulter’s declaration that McCain and Hillary Clinton were politically identical, Romney released his own ad asserting they really were and contending, among other things, that both Clinton and McCain opposed the appointment of conservative judges. (Justices Alito and Roberts, whom McCain vigorously supported, don’t qualify as conservative?) McCain finally hit back with a TV ad pointing out that Romney’s infatuation with Ronald Reagan is of recent vintage.

What to say? There will eventually be a winner and a general election. If McCain does prevail and win the nomination, even some of the harshest critics will reverse course and support the GOP nominee they excoriated. Others will sulk, perhaps denying needed votes in a close general election.

Mostly, the role of much of the conservative new media will be clarified. The distinction between provocative discussion and electoral influence will be laid bare. It is one thing to provide an alternate source of information for conservatives, help shape policy debates and correct imbalances in the mainstream media; it is quite another to assume that a majority of Republican voters will follow ballot box advice. Clarity is important.

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Romney vs. McCain on Iraq

They went back and forth and back again. McCain had the advantage for two reasons. First, he did not lose his cool. That was the only way to upset his glide path to Super Tuesday. (Romney I think got lost in the weeds by mixing up complaints about negative ads – whining never wins debates – and trying to clarify his own position.) The more significant reason: McCain put his career on the line for the surge and America’s success in Iraq. People know that. All the rest is small beans.

They went back and forth and back again. McCain had the advantage for two reasons. First, he did not lose his cool. That was the only way to upset his glide path to Super Tuesday. (Romney I think got lost in the weeds by mixing up complaints about negative ads – whining never wins debates – and trying to clarify his own position.) The more significant reason: McCain put his career on the line for the surge and America’s success in Iraq. People know that. All the rest is small beans.

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Ridiculous Early Analysis

If the Florida results remain as close as the exit polls make it appear, nothing is going to be resolved tonight on the Republican side with the frontrunners. If John McCain wins it by a point or two, he gets all the delegates and the headlines that he is the winner of Florida — which helps going into Super Tuesday. But Mitt Romney has no reason to back off, even though he will have lost four of the five real contests so far. He’s worked successfully now to establish himself as the McCain alternative, and there appears to be enough anger and suspicion of McCain among Republicans to make a Romney win plausible if McCain does something to injure himself.

And if Romney wins by a point or two, McCain just keeps going the same way he has. We’re going into a 21-state vote a week from now, and Romney’s money isn’t going to help him much because even he doesn’t have enough to flood the airwaves everywhere on his own behalf.
The question, now, is how long before Rudy Giuliani and Mike Huckabee decide to drop out. Unless something extraordinary happens in the next two hours, Giuliani stands revealed as a strong candidate who made a clever and compelling effort to game the system and failed. And despite the idea that he was the Next Big Populist Thing, Huckabee can’t buy a non-Christian-identity vote.

What may help McCain is the prospect that Giuliani and Huckabee will both endorse him this week before Super Tuesday, which will allow McCain to argue that he is unifying the party by unifying his rivals behind him. If McCain could pull off getting Fred Thompson this week as well, he will have the best answer to the increasingly agitated conservative rage radiating toward him from the radio speakers and a browser near you.

If the Florida results remain as close as the exit polls make it appear, nothing is going to be resolved tonight on the Republican side with the frontrunners. If John McCain wins it by a point or two, he gets all the delegates and the headlines that he is the winner of Florida — which helps going into Super Tuesday. But Mitt Romney has no reason to back off, even though he will have lost four of the five real contests so far. He’s worked successfully now to establish himself as the McCain alternative, and there appears to be enough anger and suspicion of McCain among Republicans to make a Romney win plausible if McCain does something to injure himself.

And if Romney wins by a point or two, McCain just keeps going the same way he has. We’re going into a 21-state vote a week from now, and Romney’s money isn’t going to help him much because even he doesn’t have enough to flood the airwaves everywhere on his own behalf.
The question, now, is how long before Rudy Giuliani and Mike Huckabee decide to drop out. Unless something extraordinary happens in the next two hours, Giuliani stands revealed as a strong candidate who made a clever and compelling effort to game the system and failed. And despite the idea that he was the Next Big Populist Thing, Huckabee can’t buy a non-Christian-identity vote.

What may help McCain is the prospect that Giuliani and Huckabee will both endorse him this week before Super Tuesday, which will allow McCain to argue that he is unifying the party by unifying his rivals behind him. If McCain could pull off getting Fred Thompson this week as well, he will have the best answer to the increasingly agitated conservative rage radiating toward him from the radio speakers and a browser near you.

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The Obama Triumph and the Clinton Crisis

The colossal size of Barack Obama’s victory over Hillary Clinton in South Carolina — a 28-point margin — really does suggest the possibility that her candidacy is going to implode in the ten days between tonight and Super Tuesday on February 5. First, a 55-27 loss in a state she was projected to lose by 12 or 13 points is very significant. It indicates that polls aren’t properly measuring the intensity of Obama’s support. Exit polls say he won 52 percent of those who decided in the last week. That’s not only a reflection of the hostility generated by the ugliness of the Clinton attacks against him. It’s also a reflection of a genuine and unmistakable degree of excitement he is generating on his own. That kind of excitement can’t be quenched by negative campaigning against him unless that negative campaigning is issue-driven, and the stuff the Clintons have been throwing at Obama has nothing to do with issues.

And it’s important to ignore all the blather about how Obama won because he dominated the black vote. We know from Iowa and New Hampshire that he can win white votes, particularly among more affluent and younger whites.

It would be foolish to assume Mrs. Clinton can’t win. But she is going to have to change her ways to win, to run a different campaign, to find a way to establish differences between her and Obama on issues that redound to her benefit. The problem for her, and it is a very big problem, is that Obama doesn’t have to change a thing to win. Not a thing.

The colossal size of Barack Obama’s victory over Hillary Clinton in South Carolina — a 28-point margin — really does suggest the possibility that her candidacy is going to implode in the ten days between tonight and Super Tuesday on February 5. First, a 55-27 loss in a state she was projected to lose by 12 or 13 points is very significant. It indicates that polls aren’t properly measuring the intensity of Obama’s support. Exit polls say he won 52 percent of those who decided in the last week. That’s not only a reflection of the hostility generated by the ugliness of the Clinton attacks against him. It’s also a reflection of a genuine and unmistakable degree of excitement he is generating on his own. That kind of excitement can’t be quenched by negative campaigning against him unless that negative campaigning is issue-driven, and the stuff the Clintons have been throwing at Obama has nothing to do with issues.

And it’s important to ignore all the blather about how Obama won because he dominated the black vote. We know from Iowa and New Hampshire that he can win white votes, particularly among more affluent and younger whites.

It would be foolish to assume Mrs. Clinton can’t win. But she is going to have to change her ways to win, to run a different campaign, to find a way to establish differences between her and Obama on issues that redound to her benefit. The problem for her, and it is a very big problem, is that Obama doesn’t have to change a thing to win. Not a thing.

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Primary Fun in the Sun

In Florida, Rudy Giuliani, John McCain, Mike Huckabee and Mitt Romney are in a virtual tie heading into the January 29th winner take-all GOP primary. But I would have never known that from talking to people during my trip to Florida last week. That’s because my ambit extended no further than Fort Lauderdale to Boca Raton along the Atlantic coast, an area that’s heavily settled by pro-Rudy people from the New York Metropolitan area. Giuliani will do very well in this heavily Jewish area as there are even Democrats who have switched their registration to the GOP to support him. And he has support further south where refugees from Castro and other Latin American thugs are drawn to both Giuliani and McCain. But it’s not clear how well he will do in the other Floridas, such as the central Florida farming areas, the Tampa-Orlando tourism and high-tech corridor, and the northern tier with close ties to the military that stretches from Jacksonville on the Atlantic to Pensacola snuggled up against Alabama on the Gulf Coast. McCain has ties to this northern tier. He trained in Pensacola and his family spent his years of captivity in Jacksonville. Huckabee has a strong network of Christian support on the Florida Panhandle and Romney has a natural affinity with the Republican business community.

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In Florida, Rudy Giuliani, John McCain, Mike Huckabee and Mitt Romney are in a virtual tie heading into the January 29th winner take-all GOP primary. But I would have never known that from talking to people during my trip to Florida last week. That’s because my ambit extended no further than Fort Lauderdale to Boca Raton along the Atlantic coast, an area that’s heavily settled by pro-Rudy people from the New York Metropolitan area. Giuliani will do very well in this heavily Jewish area as there are even Democrats who have switched their registration to the GOP to support him. And he has support further south where refugees from Castro and other Latin American thugs are drawn to both Giuliani and McCain. But it’s not clear how well he will do in the other Floridas, such as the central Florida farming areas, the Tampa-Orlando tourism and high-tech corridor, and the northern tier with close ties to the military that stretches from Jacksonville on the Atlantic to Pensacola snuggled up against Alabama on the Gulf Coast. McCain has ties to this northern tier. He trained in Pensacola and his family spent his years of captivity in Jacksonville. Huckabee has a strong network of Christian support on the Florida Panhandle and Romney has a natural affinity with the Republican business community.

Romney has sometimes been written off regarding Florida despite the support of Jeb Bush. But in a multi-polar state with 10 major media markets, Romney’s money gives him an important advantage in an election where marked support for four strong candidates means that it’s possible to take all of Florida’s bounty of delegates which as little as 30 percent of the vote. And that’s where the Giuliani strategies come in. Absentee mail balloting began two weeks ago and by some estimates, almost half of all votes will have been cast by primary day. First and foremost Giuliani who, first began contacting voters here in the summer of 2007, has been working Florida at the cost of his national poll standing, is counting on winning the absentee balloting. He concludes every appearance, every rally, every speech with the cry of “let’s go vote.” Another part of his strategy is to target specific issues that appeal to the non-New Yorkers. Besides talking tough on Castro, he’s detailed plans for 1) a national disaster fund, a concept that appeals to a state that’s been so hard hit by hurricanes and 2) an expansion of the space program.

But for all that the election might well come down to the economy. Overall Florida is teetering on the edge of recession. Home sales fell about 20 percent nationally in 2007, but 30 percent in Florida where home prices decline by 10 percent compared to the three percent nationally. Retails sales, a proxy for consumer spending dropped 5 percent in the state last year and even more sharply in some areas. In Pompano, where I was staying and even in tony Boca, there are numerous empty stores. In one, previously very successful Pompano mall, 30 percent of the retail space is now unoccupied with, I’m told scant prospect of being rented out during this cycle. Housing wise, the local brokers have their heads in their hands as the inventory of condos that can’t be moved pile up and prices sink further.

The former Massachusetts Governor and New Yorker mayor are the two who have spoken with the most authority and depth on the economy. Romney who won Michigan with pie in the sky rhetoric finally has an issue with the economy where he comes off as genuine. Giuliani has outlined a well thought out tax-cutting agenda for dealing with Global competition. But from my conversations, and what I read and saw neither has been able to speak to the effects of the bursting the mortgage asset bubble which in turn has sharply reduced consumption. It’s reasonably likely, unforeseen events aside, that the candidate best able to speak to that issue over the next nine days will win Florida and the momentum need to go on to Super Tuesday.

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The Michigan Primary and the Nevada Debate

We will be live-blogging the results in the Michigan Republican primary tonight, and simultaneously writing about the Democratic presidential candidate debate in Nevada, starting at 9 pm eastern time. Two quick thoughts.

1) If the exit polls hold up and Mitt Romney wins, that will mean three different Republicans have won the first genuinely contested state contests — Huckabee in Iowa, McCain in New Hampshire, Romney in Michigan. It is possible Fred Thompson will win South Carolina next week. And all these results make it even more plausible that Rudy Giuliani will hold on to win Florida two weeks from now, because there will be no frontrunner and therefore no one will benefit from momentum in the effort to prevail in Florida.

Five contests. Five different winners. All going into Super Tuesday. It sounds like chaos, but maybe it’s the best thing for the GOP, because the party is going to have to generate some kind of news excitement if its candidate is to have a chance in November.

2) Expect a ridiculous amount of discussion in Nevada tonight about strange issues that seem to be about nothing — maybe like the taxation of gratuities. The main voting bloc in the Democratic party in the state consists of people who work in hotels, and Hillary needs to peel part of it away from Obama, who secured the endorsement of its union.

We will be live-blogging the results in the Michigan Republican primary tonight, and simultaneously writing about the Democratic presidential candidate debate in Nevada, starting at 9 pm eastern time. Two quick thoughts.

1) If the exit polls hold up and Mitt Romney wins, that will mean three different Republicans have won the first genuinely contested state contests — Huckabee in Iowa, McCain in New Hampshire, Romney in Michigan. It is possible Fred Thompson will win South Carolina next week. And all these results make it even more plausible that Rudy Giuliani will hold on to win Florida two weeks from now, because there will be no frontrunner and therefore no one will benefit from momentum in the effort to prevail in Florida.

Five contests. Five different winners. All going into Super Tuesday. It sounds like chaos, but maybe it’s the best thing for the GOP, because the party is going to have to generate some kind of news excitement if its candidate is to have a chance in November.

2) Expect a ridiculous amount of discussion in Nevada tonight about strange issues that seem to be about nothing — maybe like the taxation of gratuities. The main voting bloc in the Democratic party in the state consists of people who work in hotels, and Hillary needs to peel part of it away from Obama, who secured the endorsement of its union.

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