It's still not the way to bet, but it is now distinctly possible that one, perhaps
both, presidential nominations won't be settled until their respective national
This will be described by the news media as unalloyed bad news for the politicians.
They'll urge the parties to settle on a presumptive nominee as soon as possible.
But nomination battles that last into the summer are really only unalloyed bad news
for the news media, so politicians should take the advice we journalists proffer
with a grain of salt.
Campaigns that go on that long drain resources that could be put to better use in
general election campaigns, and leave deeper intra-party scars that have less time
to heal before the fall campaign begins.
On the other hand, long, closely fought campaigns hold public interest, and sharpen
the ultimate nominee's debating skills. If both nominees are known on Super Tuesday
Feb. 5, the intervening months between then and Labor Day will be zzzzzzzzz.
But for journalists especially television journalists the more candidates who
are viable for longer means the more reporters and camera crews who have to be
assigned to follow them around. That costs money lots and lots of money. So
journalists are quick to crown frontrunners, and to urge losers to drop out.
Most people think it's more likely the Republicans will have a brokered convention,
because there are so many GOP candidates, and so little enthusiasm for them. But a
brokered convention may be more likely among Democrats, because of the way Democrats
Most Republican primaries are winner take all, either statewide or by congressional
district. If a frontrunner emerges, he can rack up a significant lead in delegates.
Democrats have adopted a system of proportional representation. Losers get
delegates too, provided they meet a minimum threshold. In Nevada Saturday, Barack
Obama, the loser, wound up with one delegate more than Hillary Clinton, the winner.
Proportional representation, even more than his runaway ego, is the reason why John
Edwards is still in the race. He crashed and burned in Nevada, but had won 26
percent of the delegates selected in Iowa and New Hampshire. Mr. Edwards can't be
king. But if the race between Sen. Clinton and Sen. Obama remains close, and Mr.
Edwards can win 15 percent or more of the delegates in South Carolina next Saturday,
and then on Super Tuesday, he could be the kingmaker.
The other reason why a brokered convention may be more likely among Democrats is
that Democrats have made every Democratic governor, senator, congressman and state
party chair "super delegates." Some have announced support for Sen. Clinton or Sen.
Obama, but all are free to change their minds at any time.
Journalists longing to proclaim Sen. McCain the frontrunner did so after South
Carolina Saturday, and if he wins in Florida, he will be. But Sen. McCain has yet
to win a plurality of Republican voters in any primary, and in most of the primaries
to come, only Republicans will be permitted to vote.
There is no Republican frontrunner, though the results last weekend in South
Carolina and Nevada suggest that unless Rudy Giuliani can pull an upset in Florida
Jan. 29, the race will settle into a slug fest between Mitt Romney and Sen. John
McCain. The doubts many Republicans have about both men should keep some of the
others in the race for at least a little while longer.
After Florida, all the candidates will be broke except for Mr. Romney, who can self
finance. But there is little reason for any of them to formally withdraw from the
Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee has demonstrated little appeal beyond his
evangelical Christian base. But that base is pretty solid, and he doesn't have to
do much to turn it out. He can't be king, but if he can win delegates in a few
Southern primaries, maybe he could be kingmaker and the vice presidential
If Rudy Giuliani wins in Florida, and in New York, New Jersey and Connecticut on
Super Tuesday, he could be the most powerful person at the convention in
Former Tennessee Sen. Fred Thompson has never finished higher than a distant third
in any primary. But he's hanging on, because in a brokered convention, the
nomination often goes to the candidate who is disliked the least, so even Fred still
has a chance.