Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Super Tuesday Looms Large: Can It Be We're Only A Week From the End Game?

Goodbye, Rudy Tuesday/Who could hang a name on you?/When you change with every new day/Still I’m gonna miss you
—Apologies to the Rolling Stones
Is it possible that a week from today that the Democratic and Republican presidential races will be over bar the shouting?

The likelihood the 22-state Super Tuesday primaries will produce prohibitive favorites in either let alone both parties would not seem to be great. But big-state wins by Hillary Clinton and John McCain would make them the presumptive nominees because it would be extremely difficult for their chief rivals -- Barack Obama and Mitt Romney -- to play catch up in the convention delegate races.

The wrangling between the Clinton and Obama campaigns over single delegates as in Nevada and Clinton's push to seat blackballed Michigan and Florida delegates when there are more than 4,000 at stake shows how important the delegate race is going into Super Tuesday, especially with John Edwards now bowing out.

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It took a few weeks longer than the Democrats, but a welcome shakeout in the Republican race after the Florida primary vote left Rudy Giuliani sucking his thumb and Mike Huckabee sucking his rivals' dust.

Although Romney was a relatively close second to McCain, who got 36 percent of the vote compared to his 31 percent, Romney has won only one of the five contests he has entered and that was in Michigan where he has native-son status. In a way, the race is now Romney's to lose although he has only two clear-cut advantages over McCain at this critical juncture -- he is better organized in more states and can spend his sons' inheritance to a fare thee well while the Arizona senator is scraping the bottom of the fundraising barrel.

Nevertheless, McCain's win on a top-down-on-the-convertible Florida winter day was all the more impressive because this was a closed primary in which only registered Republicans could vote and he received broad support from mainstream Republicans in what will be a crucial swing state in November.

Giuliani's expected endorsement of McCain will be overplayed in the media. After all, the one-time GOP front runner bombed so badly in Florida with a mere 15 percent of the vote after leading all Sunshine State polls for weeks that he will be bringing only a relatively small handful of supporters over to the Arizona senator.

According to exit polls, McCain bombed with conservatives in Florida. His greatest challenge may now be not so much beating back Romney as attracting independents while fending off the right-wing attack dogs for whom a McCain nomination is akin to the bubonic plague. As it was, Romney outpolled McCain among self-identified conservatives by 37 percent to 27 percent.

While I am ecstatic over the hit to Giuliani's massive ego and marvel at his ability to blame everyone but himself, I take a special satisfaction in Huckabee's fourth-place Florida finish with a pathetic 14 percent of the vote.

The Huckster was a novelty from Day One and has predictably revealed himself to be a resume without a man. There simply aren't enough fellow evangelicals in the Super Tuesday states to jump-start the Preacher Man's campaign, although he's presumably still praying for a miracle while hoping to siphon votes from Romney as he did in Florida.

A Florida footnote: By Sunday, the final day of early voting, more than 1 million voters -- some 10 percent of those eligible -- had already cast a ballot.

I have seen the future and it is early voting, something that a few other states like California also are experimenting with. This sets up the interesting dynamic of masses of people voting well before the campaigns have played out.

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I will be voting for Obama with guarded enthusiasm in my Super Tuesday primary and explain why here, but he is unlikely to win tiny Delaware, let alone big big big California, New Jersey and New York.

With 2,232 delegates need to secure the Democratic nomination, Clinton has 232 and Obama 158. John Edwards had 62. But as of today Clinton has the delegate edge in most of the Super Tuesday states, according to CNN's Delegate Scorecard, and with Edwards now gone it seems likely that the majority of his supporters -- and perhaps his delegates, as well -- will gravitate to her.

With 1,191 delegates needed on the Republican side, CNN says McCain has 97 and Romney 74. Huckabee is a distant third with 29 delegates, while Ron Paul (remember him?) has six and Giuliani a mere 2.

It ain't over 'til its over, but it may be over a lot sooner than had been expected.

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