Jewish World Review Feb. 18, 2008 / 12 Adar I 5768
GOP will unify as Obama and Clinton continue to vie
By Jonathan V. Last
http://www.JewishWorldReview.com | Super Tuesday? The circus has already moved on, with voting in Kansas and Louisiana on Saturday and a Democratic primary in Maine on Sunday. Maryland, Washington, D.C.; and Virginia vote Tuesday. The primary process is a remorseless eating machine.
Nonetheless, it's worth dwelling for a moment on Super Tuesday because its results give us a clearer picture than this weekend does. Also, because Super Tuesday was one of those rare nights where almost everybody was able to walk away happy. It's a win-win-win! So let's run down all the "winners":
John McCain: Only an act of God can stop him from winning the Republican nomination. In exit polls, he showed strength in all regions and across all bands - even among self-identified conservatives.
Mike Huckabee: He has done more with less than any presidential candidate in the last 20 years. Elite conservatives in print, talk radio, and on the blogs spent a week trying to tear down McCain and present Mitt Romney as the conservative alternative. But Huckabee did almost as well as Romney, on a campaign so cheap it won't run out of money. But he is going to run out of Southern states.
Hillary Clinton: Her traditional Democratic coalition continues to build. Originally composed of women, union voters, Catholics, and people making less than $50,000 a year, it now includes Hispanic voters. For some reason, the media keep predicting Obama blowouts, but Clinton keeps turning in solid electoral results. She won a crushing victory in California while also taking a Southern border-state (Tennessee) and Ted Kennedy's Massachusetts. Consider: Had Obama not won Iowa, his campaign would be hanging by a thread today. As it is, Clinton remains the mild favorite and probably has more room for opportunistic growth.
Barack Obama: Tuesday was never going to be a great day for him, but it could have been a disaster. His one-point win in Missouri was critically important because it showed he could beat Clinton in a toss-up state. Obama has created a coalition for himself of upscale white liberals and African American voters. Think of it as Bill Bradley-Plus. That's not a knock: You can go far in a Democratic primary with that support. But without some other coalition partners, it probably isn't big enough in the long term. He needs to expand if he wants to triumph.
The good news for Obama is that there will be a long run and he has the money to play.
Democrats: Look at their raw vote totals from Tuesday. In very "red" states such as Georgia, Alabama and Tennessee, Democrats ran even or ahead of Republicans in total votes. In middle-of-the-road Missouri, Democrats had better than a 4-3 advantage, a very good sign for them. The topography of 2008 suggests that Democrats have good ground on which to fight. And their candidates aren't bad, either.
Republicans: Here's the good news: They're going to nominate the guy who runs best against Democrats in every poll taken so far.
Such "theoretical" matchups can measure two things: name recognition and solidity of a campaign. Forget name recognition: McCain, Clinton and Obama are all well-known. But McCain's campaign is sound indeed. He will put immense pressure on independents and Hispanics. He should run extremely well with men. And his trump card is that he's the only person in the race who was right from the very start on what should be the defining difference in the campaign: Iraq.
The question for the general election will be whether McCain's advantages as a candidate can overcome the Democrats' general advantages in political terrain: a troubled economy, two wars, Bush fatigue, and a slew of vacated Republican Senate seats.
There were only two losers on Tuesday, and it's never nice to gloat, so let's dispense with them quickly:
Mitt Romney: He's gone. Everyone in America should have seen it coming. Mick Huckabee showed Romney - indeed, showed the world - how to squeeze the most return from his campaign buck. Romney, in getting absolutely awful return, in dollars per vote, for his millions, joins the list of candidates such as Jon Corzine in his 2000 Senate campaign - or Michael Bloomberg, who spent almost $69 million of his own money to win 744,757 votes in 2001.
The media: Here's a secret: Opinion journalists - talk-radio hosts, op-ed columnists, bloggers, and the like, left, right, mainstream, wacky - don't influence voter behavior. We can entertain and inform. At our best, we can help shape ideas. But we can't push a button or make voters make an X.
Two paths are diverging in the woods. The Republicans will begin mopping up and unifying the party over the next few weeks. The Democrats are in for a protracted and probably unpleasant fight that should go through April. (It could get personal, because the actual policy differences between the two candidates are so small.)
In the near term, Obama is poised to have a good couple of weeks, since he's likely to get Maryland, the District of Columbia, and Washington state. Clinton can look forward to competing hard in Virginia and Wisconsin. It will be nearly a month of skirmishing before the next big crossroads, Ohio and Texas.
And don't look now, but the Pennsylvania primary on April 22 might not only be important - it could decide the race.
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Jonathan V. Last is a columnist for the Philadelphia Inquirer. Comment by clicking here.
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