Sen. John Kerry always seems to be a day late and a dollar short.
On Thursday, Sen. Kerry traveled to South Carolina to endorse Sen. Barack Obama for
"Who better to turn a new page in American politics?" Sen. Kerry said at a rally
with Sen. Obama at the College of Charleston. "We are electing judgment and
character, not years on this earth."
There is nothing wrong with the choice of Sen. Obama to endorse, or (for Democrats)
the reasons Sen. Kerry gave for endorsing him, which included Sen. Obama's
opposition to the war in Iraq "from the beginning." But the timing was weird.
Had Sen. Kerry endorsed Sen. Obama on Monday, on the eve of the New Hampshire
primary, the endorsement might actually have helped Sen. Obama. Sen. Kerry crushed
Howard Dean there in the 2004 primary, 38.4 percent to 26.3 percent, so his
endorsement might have swayed some Democrats. And if Sen. Kerry had endorsed Sen.
Obama then, it would have been a major feature of the last news cycle before New
Hampshirites went to the polls. Instead, it was dominated by Hillary Clinton's
crying, and by her put down of two sexist hecklers, both of which apparently helped
her a great deal.
Sen. Kerry got creamed in the South Carolina primary in 2004, and this year
Democrats won't vote in South Carolina until Saturday, the 26th. His endorsement
has much less value here than it would have had in New Hampshire. All that it
really does is torque off his running mate in 2004, Sen. John Edwards, who is the
guy who creamed Kerry in South Carolina.
The only thing that can be said with confidence about the Democratic race is that it
effectively will be over on Feb. 5, the mega primary day. That's because it's
essentially become a two person race between Sen. Clinton and Sen. Obama. The
Republican race, alas, may not be settled until the convention.
Most of the pundits who predicted an Obama landslide in New Hampshire still rate him
a slight favorite to win the nomination. After New Hampshire, there is no reason to
put much stock in their opinions. But there are some objective reasons for thinking
The next Democratic contest is a caucus in Nevada on Jan. 19. Sen. Obama, by virtue
of having obtained the endorsements last week of arguably the two most powerful
unions in Nevada, the state chapter of the Service Employees International Union and
the Culinary Workers union, ought to prevail there.
That would send Sen. Obama into South Carolina on the 26th with wins in two states
(Iowa and Nevada) with miniscule black populations, and a close second in a third.
Customarily, about 40 percent of the voters in South Carolina Democratic primaries
are black. That percentage likely will be higher this year because a serious black
candidate is running. Logic suggests they'll vote heavily for Sen. Obama now that
they've seen that white folks have. Logic is thus far buttressed by three recent
polls which show Sen. Obama with a significant lead in the Palmetto state.
Then the scene shifts to Florida on Jan. 29, which figures to be as important a
primary for Democrats as it will be for Republicans, even though no delegates are at
stake. (The Democratic National Committee took them all away to punish Florida for
moving its primary up.) Sen. Obama may get a bounce because Florida votes three
days after South Carolina. But blacks make up a smaller percentage of the primary
electorate than in South Carolina, and senior citizens who in New Hampshire
flocked to Hillary Clinton in large numbers make up a large percentage.
Because I never bet against the Clintons in a close race they bring a machinegun
to a knife fight I think Sen. Obama will win the nomination only if Sen. Edwards
drops out of the race and throws his support to Sen. Obama while he still has some
support to throw. If the anti-Clinton vote is divided at all, Hillary wins.
Perhaps Sen. Kerry chose this bizarre time to endorse Sen. Obama in South Carolina
to send a subtle message to his former running mate. But Sen. Kerry never has been
known for his subtlety.