What if we look back on the 2008 presidential nomination contests and conclude one or both were effectively decided by a single vote and among a group of judges at that?
Democratic partisans still argue that the 2000 presidential contest was decided by a single vote in the U.S. Supreme Court, even though media recounts of Florida ballots showed that the outcome would not have been changed if Bush v. Gore had gone the other way. But there's no doubt that a 4-3 ruling by the Michigan Supreme Court last Wednesday saved that state's Jan. 15 presidential primary, which was in danger of being scrapped over a dispute about whether it adhered to the state constitution. The winners are likely to be Mitt Romney and Hillary Clinton
Mr. Romney pushed hard for an early primary because he has a natural advantage in Michigan. He was born in Detroit, and elderly voters still fondly remember George Romney, his father, who served as governor in the 1960s. Mr. Romney is counting on winning Iowa on Jan. 3 he has more paid workers there than all the other GOP candidates put together and he plans to use his advantage as a former governor of next-door Massachusetts to win New Hampshire's Jan. 8 primary. Winning Michigan would then give Mr. Romney three straight victories before the critical Jan. 19 South Carolina primary.
Among Democrats, Hillary Clinton is for now the only leading Democratic candidate to appear on Michigan's ballot. The other top-tier contenders withdrew, following the guidance of the Democratic National Committee, which is threatening to take away Michigan's delegates because it is scheduling a primary against the party's rules. But few observers believe the state will actually be stripped of its delegates in the end, so if she remains the only significant name on the ballot, Mrs. Clinton may pick up some momentum, a publicity bounce and some delegates to boot by exerting almost no effort.
Democratic National Committee member Debbie Dingell, wife of Rep. John Dingell, will try to persuade the state Legislature to amend the primary law to restore the names of Barack Obama, John Edwards, Joe Biden and Bill Richardson. But that could be a tough sell given that Secretary of State Terri Lynn Land, the state's top elections officer, says the primary is already well behind schedule and any further delay will make it impossible to get absentee ballots out.
John McCain could also benefit from the Michigan primary should he do well enough in New Hampshire to remain viable. Michigan has no party registration, and in 2000 the votes of independents and Democrats helped Mr. McCain crush George W. Bush in Michigan's primary. Rudy Giuliani and Fred Thompson are less likely to be able to capitalize on the Michigan primary because they have not built large grass-roots organizations in the state. Similarly, Mike Huckabee has not spent any significant time or money in the Wolverine State.
In allowing the primary to go forward, Michigan's high court overturned two rulings that had held that it would be unconstitutional because the two major political parties would have exclusive access to the list of those who voted in the primary. The Supreme Court, using dubious reasoning, said the public's interest in having open primaries as opposed to conventions of party activists outweighed the need to provide equal access to what are clearly public records. It sided with those who wanted publicity for the state over those who wanted public disclosure. (The law setting the primary had a "nonseverability" clause, so that the courts could not order the vote to go forward in compliance with disclosure laws.)
Michigan has now shaken up the primary calendar in a fundamental way. Among Democrats, look for Mrs. Clinton's rivals to work behind the scenes to get their names on the Michigan ballot, whether or not delegates are at stake. Media coverage has become the true currency of politics, and no Democratic opponent of Mrs. Clinton wants to hand her an uncontested victory.
Among Republicans, the pressure will be for Mitt Romney to win Iowa and New Hampshire. He is saturating Iowa with mail and ads and is currently spending $200,000 a week on ads on New Hampshire's ABC affiliate. If he wins both, he will then try for a triple slam with Michigan. Rudy Giuliani, who is trailing badly in Iowa, may now have to focus on winning New Hampshire to avoid giving Mr. Romney a clean sweep in the early states. The pressure on Messrs. McCain and Thompson to poll well somewhere is now more intense.
Iowa and New Hampshire are often said to be the launching pads for successful presidential nominees. This year Michigan may rival them in importance.