Thursday, January 31, 2008

January 29: Florida

McCain 36
Romney 31
Giuliani 15*
Huckabee 14
Paul 3
Clinton 51
Obama 33
Edwards 14*

*subsequently dropped out of the race.

The Republican nomination is John McCain's to lose, a state of affairs that has left a lot of Republicans very unhappy. They do have a point: McCain isn't winning greater percentages of the vote than he did in 2000. In South Carolina, he actually won less! He's winning because the right wing of the Republican Party couldn't decide whether they wanted Huckabee, Romney, Giuliani, or Thompson. Even with Thompson out of the race, the split between the three "respectable" candidates allowed McCain to prevail.

For the first time since New Hampshire, McCain prevailed over Mitt Romney in an all-out battle. Romney still has plenty of money, but McCain has even more momentum. Romney needs to make a major dent into McCain's support on Super Tuesday, or else the Republicans will have a nominee before the Democrats (who'da thunk it?)

Rudy Giuliani staked everything on Florida; after finishing well behind both McCain and Romney, he wisely cut his losses. Mike Huckabee is in trouble after finishing second in South Carolina and fourth in Florida, both states he had hoped to win; he is not attracting voters beyond his evangelical Christian base. Ron Paul's supporters are certainly principled, but they are not at all powerful.

Just as in Michigan, the Democratic primary in Florida was a beauty contest. The Democratic National Committee stripped Florida of its delegates, and neither of the three contenders did much campaigning there. Hillary still outpolled Barack Obama by a significant margin; given that Florida is full of senior citizens and a lot of votes were cast by mail weeks in advance, Obama ought not to be too worried.

John Edwards, after trailing badly behind Clinton and Obama for the third consecutive primary, decided not to hang on any longer. This clears the field for one of the most intriguing political contests in American history - the wife of a former president against a black man with almost no ties to the current people in power. Obama needs to (at least) win the California primary and scare Hillary in New York for his challenge to remain viable.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

January 26: South Carolina (Democratic)

Obama 55
Clinton 27
Edwards 18

Huzzah! Now, for some objective political analysis:

Hillary can't be too scared: among white voters (a minority among South Carolina Democrats), the split was Hillary 40/Edwards 35/Obama 25. On second thought, Hillary ought to be really afraid - in South Carolina, the cradle of secession, the home of Strom Thurmond, "Cotton Ed" Smith, and other such undesireables, a black man got one out of every four white votes. The cross-tabs show that Hillary is being isolated to her base among older white women - a base that matters, but not enough to prevail over Obama.

Caroline Kennedy
endorsed Barack Obama in today's Sunday New York Times. Her third-to-last paragraph is a tour de force of an attack by velvet scissors:

"Senator Obama is running a dignified and honest campaign. He has spoken eloquently about the role of faith in his life, and opened a window into his character in two compelling books. And when it comes to judgment, Barack Obama made the right call on the most important issue of our time by opposing the war in Iraq from the beginning."

By omission, Hillary is running an undignified, dishonest campaign, can't articulate what faith means to her, ghostwrites her books for political expediency instead of 'opening a window into her character', and flip-flopped on the Iraq war. Too bad all those charges are true.

John Edwards, who won the South Carolina primary four years ago, finished third yet again. At this stage, Edwards seems likely to stay in the race, hoping to have leverage at the convention if Clinton and Obama finish the primary season in a virtual tie. It's clear that he's not staying in it to win primaries, because he has gone steadily downhill since his strong performance in Iowa.

The campaign trundles on with Obama and Clinton tied at two victories apiece (Michigan excepted). Obama has two impressive victories, and Clinton has two narrow ones. February 5 looms.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

January 19: South Carolina (Republican)

McCain 33
Huckabee 30
Thompson 16*
Romney 15
Paul 4
Giuliani 2

*subsequently dropped out of the race.

John McCain lost Michigan to Mitt Romney, but he has regained his momentum and his front-runner status with his South Carolina win. The Republican contest has boiled down to McCain versus Romney at this juncture. Mike Huckabee not only couldn't pull out the victory, but he has trailed John McCain in every election since Iowa. Fred Thompson did finish third by a whisker over Romney, yet he decided to throw in the towel. Curiously, he did not endorse McCain (which he had said he would do), thereby releasing his supporters to all three of the surviving contenders.

With a two-week hiatus, followed by Florida (on Saturday, February 2) and Super Tuesday on the 5th in quick succession, the Republican contest shifts from a succession of local campaigns to a national campaign. This really hurts Mike Huckabee, who doesn't have the money, campaign team, or all-around national political experience of McCain and Romney. Unless he wins Florida outright, it's easy to see Huckabee buried in third place after Super Tuesday.

Pundits continue to talk about Rudy Giuliani as a threat in Florida and New York. I don't know why - he hasn't outpolled Ron Paul anywhere but New Hampshire or won a 10% vote share in any state. Color me unconvinced.

January 19: Nevada caucuses

Clinton 51
Obama 45
Edwards 4
Romney 51
Paul 14
McCain 13
Huckabee 8
Thompson 8
Giuliani 4

In contrast to Michigan, the Democratic outcome was more important in Nevada. Let's get the Republican results out of the way:

With McCain, Huckabee, and Thompson fighting to win South Carolina, Romney was free to concentrate on Nevada. His wide margin of victory is a small feather in his cap. Ron Paul came in second; he won only 6,000 votes, but few people expected him to come ahead of both McCain and Huckabee. Rudy Giuliani continues not to win votes; only Duncan Hunter did worse.

The Democratic primary has evolved into a contest between one candidate with mass appeal and another candidate who is playing Democratic identity politics-as-usual. At least Nevada's caucus-goers did not split the vote for change; Edwards received a paltry 4%, extinguishing the dying embers of his campaign. As it stands, Hillary prevailed by a slight margin, but Obama actually earned one more delegate (Hillary prevailed in and near Las Vegas, but Obama won more regions of the state than Hillary).

Barack Obama must win South Carolina this Saturday to keep himself afloat. If he succeeds, the Democratic outcome is anybody's guess.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

January 15: Michigan primary

Romney 39
McCain 30
Huckabee 16
Paul 7
Thompson 4
Giuliani 3
Clinton 55
"Uncommitted" 40
Kucinich 4

A brief note on the Democratic side: Hillary got exactly what she wanted by not withdrawing from the Michigan ballot. Political analysts know that a 40% vote for nobody at all is an acute embarrassment to Hillary. (Exit polls indicated a split of roughly 45% Clinton/40% Obama/15% Edwards.) The general TV-watching public doesn't know the minutae of the Michigan primary; it only sees Hillary put up next to Romney as the "winner".

The "Uncommitted" campaign, despite being the butt of jokes (you can read a faux Uncommitted victory speech here), must have been well organized to win such a large share of the Democratic votes. I had mild fantasies about Dennis Kucinich breaking the 10% barrier; alas, it did not come to pass.

Romney won the Republican primary by running for governor of Michigan. With his back to the wall (it was win-or-go-home for Romney in his putative home state, just as Clinton and McCain desperately needed to win New Hampshire to stay afloat), he hammered at Michigan's awful economy and promoted himself as a sound manager. That he is - at this stage, even I would prefer Romney to Jennifer Granholm as Michigan's governor - but he is little else.

John McCain, in marked contrast to Romney, wasn't running a Michigan-specific campaign; he was running a national campaign where Michigan happened to be the next stop. McCain would have liked to have won (as did Sally and I, who both voted for him), but he's probably content with having finished a strong second.

As a lifelong Michigander, I reliably believe that Mike Huckabee's 16% share of the vote approximates the percentage of Michigan Republicans who are both sincere evangelical Christians and anti-globalists. Huckabee seemed quite disappointed that he couldn't capture many votes outside of his natural base. South Carolina is a do-or-die proposition for him; anything other than a win there makes the Republican side into a McCain vs. Romney race.

Ron Paul, Fred Thompson, and Rudy Giuliani need to win over actual, live voters (yes, they are, but not many) before I take any of them seriously. Thompson is really pushing for a top-three finish in South Carolina; if he doesn't make it - and I doubt he will - then he's most likely done.

To close, has a hilarious one-paragraph synopsis of the three leading Republicans:

"In a nutshell, Romney is the favorite of the Republican establishment and Wall St. He's a successful multimillionaire and an experienced and competent manager. McCain is the favorite of the national security Republicans. He knows more about military affairs and foreign relations than all the other candidates in both parties combined. Huckabee is the favorite of the evangelicals. He believes in Jesus, but he doesn't believe in abortion, gay marriage, or evolution. It is going to be a wild ride this week."

Monday, January 14, 2008

The confusing Michigan primary

The best resource on explaining the Michigan primary tomorrow, why Obama and Edwards aren't on the ballot, etc., is at Electoral Vote, a great political junkies' website. I encourage readers to check out the link. The site is frequently updated, often every 24 hours, so look soon!

On the Democratic side, the state Michigan Democratic Party and the mass media are encouraging Obama and Edwards supporters to vote "Uncommitted" (write-in votes are not permitted), but I received a contrary e-mail today from venerable Congressman John Conyers of Detroit. Conyers is for Obama, but is urging Michigan Democrats to vote for Dennis Kucinich instead of "Uncommitted". I can't wait to see the size and contours of the anti-Hillary protest vote.

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

January 8: New Hampshire (Democratic)

Clinton 39
Obama 37
Edwards 17
Richardson 5
"Field" 2

Boy, am I infuriated.

First, I'm angry at John Edwards's supporters on the left. Edwards had a reasonable strategy for New Hampshire: bash Hillary, promote Obama, and hope that Obama knocked out Clinton and turned it into a two-man race. Obviously, that failed - and it failed because Edwards, and his supporters, half believed he could sneak into second place. All Edwards did was split the change vote. 60% of New Hampshire's Democratic voters wanted change, but their divisions allowed the united 40% Hillary bloc to prevail.

Second, I'm appalled at Hillary's woman-centric campaigning and her ability to attract worn-out apologists like Gloria Steinem to her banner. If Barack Obama principally appealed to black voters as a last, desperate expedient, can you imagine the headlines? He'd be called a race candidate, a second Jesse Jackson (unfairly to Jackson, who won a substantial percent of white votes in the 1988 cycle), and worse. Yet Hillary appeals to womenpower and gets away with it. Why is this so? And how can the women who bumped Hillary over the top in New Hampshire think that her presidency would be any more woman-friendly than Obama's?

It's not like Margaret Thatcher or Angela Merkel have done extraordinary things for the women of the UK and Germany - but wait, Americans don't know a monkey's paw about comparative politics. Shame on them.

Ironically, Iowa and New Hampshire, far from determining the Democratic nominee far in advance, have decided nothing. With the renegade Michigan primary off of the calendar, Nevada and South Carolina will decide everything. Most precisely, they will decide who has the most money and momentum heading into Super Tuesday. If either Obama or Clinton can win both states, they will be the likely nominee.

I hazard no guesses. But I do know this: now, both Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton realize that the "other candidate" can beat them. Good luck to both teams - especially to Obama's.

January 8: New Hampshire (Republican)

McCain 37
Romney 32
Huckabee 11
Giuliani 9
Paul 8
Thompson 1
"Field" 2

It was encouraging to see John McCain prevail in New Hampshire; still, the basic calculus of the Republican race stayed the same. McCain still needs to beat Romney in Michigan and Huckabee in South Carolina. Do both, and he wins in a cascade. Do one, and he's the leader of the pack. Do neither, and it's an ugly Romney v. Huckabee cage fight.

With Fred Thompson's collapse and consecutive underwhelming performances by Ron Paul and Rudy Giuliani, the race has stratified into three men who are running to win and three others who are running in circles. I know I'm averaging a closed primary and an open caucus, but look at the Iowa/New Hampshire average vote shares:

Romney 28
McCain 25
Huckabee 23
Paul 9
Thompson 7
Giuliani 7
"Field" 1

Last night on CNN, I heard Sen. Lindsay Graham of South Carolina gush about McCain's victory. He promoted McCain as the best potential Commander-in-Chief in the field. As I watched the candidates' names from both parties scroll across the bottom of my TV screen, it hit me how massive the advantage McCain holds in national security and foreign policy.

The ten major candidates have incredibly diverse upbringings, strengths, weaknesses, and expertise. Yet, as a whole, their experience in international relations is nearly nil. I asked myself, "Who would be the second-best Commander-in-Chief, after McCain?" It took me twenty minutes to answer the question: probably Bill Richardson. Of course, the gap between McCain and Richardson is massive, and Richardson has no realistic chance of being nominated.

If John McCain can secure the Republican nomination, I am strongly predisposed to vote for him on that competency alone. The Democratic nominee would have to be open-minded and quick to learn; Obama has the edge over Clinton and Edwards in this regard. Still, a series of Democratic foreign policy gaffes, even from Obama, would throw my vote - and the general election - to McCain.

Friday, January 4, 2008

Iowa caucus (continued)

In increasing order of likelihood, here are the five stop-Huckabee Republicans.

5) Rudy Giuliani

Rudy has fallen farther and faster than any mainstream media-anointed "front-runner" in memory. It's easy to see why.

First, Giuliani has an abrasive, schoolyard-bully character. It played well in New York; it doesn't play well in middle America. Richard Nixon had a similar persona, but:

A) It was a different time, when abrasive authority figures were the norm.
B) Giuliani is, believe it or not, usually more abrasive than Nixon.
C) Nixon's presidency ended disastrously.

Second, Republican primary voters have learned just how far left he leans on their hot-button social issues (abortion, gay rights, public prayer). He's not just farther left than the Republican field; he's farther left than Obama or Edwards, too.

Third, his inspired post-9/11 leadership is fading away. After all, voters have short memories, and 9/11 was nearly seven years ago. Also, he is more creature than creator of New York City's renaissance. Michael Bloomberg is a less flamboyant, but more effective, mayor than Giuliani ever was.

4) Ron Paul

Paul's support is coming from four extremely heterogenous groups:

1) The 2% of true-blue Libertarian Party members.

2) The 4% of conspiracy theorists. Some are attracted by Paul's old-fashioned isolationism. Others are drawn by his diatribes against paper money and his pledge to return the U.S. to the gold standard.

3) Under-30s (keep in mind that there are many more U30 Democrats than U30 Republicans).

4) A few (not all) fiscal conservatives who are tired of hearing candidates profess their belief in fiscal responsibility and then spend up a storm. Paul is the only one they trust to hold the line.

Given the odd lot under his banner and their small proportion in the electorate, Paul doesn't strike me as a serious contender.

3) Fred Thompson

Fred Thompson, like Ronald Reagan, is an affable actor who once played the President. Unlike Ronald Reagan, who wanted to be President very badly - to the point of nearly toppling a sitting Gerald Ford in the 1976 primaries - Thompson would like to be President, but doesn't want to fight hard for it. It's a shame, because he has some of the best people working for him and some of the best ideas of all the Republicans.

Thompson will hang around until he realizes that his competitors are hungrier than he is.

2) Mitt Romney

Romney has all the characteristics you want in a presidential candidate except sincerity.

Like John Edwards, he badly needed to win Iowa outright, but for different reasons: he needed to knock Huckabee and Paul out of the race. Iowa voters chose sincerity and (relative) poverty over Romney's flip-flopping, vast personal fortune, and Establishment backing. Now he is rapidly losing ground to McCain in New Hampshire. Like Hillary vis-a-vis Obama, if he stays close, he lives to battle on. If he loses big to McCain, he's fatally wounded.

1) John McCain

The Republican hierarchy has a simple, stark choice: swallow the poison pill, back McCain, and watch him - their only electable candidate versus Obama - prevail. In a delicious irony, it would mean backing him in South Carolina to beat Huckabee!

A bit of the old McCain from 2000 is creeping back: the grandfatherliness, the lack of patience with stupid questions, the unmatched devotion to a foreign policy worthy of America's values, the twinkle in his wizened eyes.

After New Hampshire, he needs to beat Romney in Michigan and Huckabee in South Carolina, and he needs the Republican base, who hates his guts, to do it. Either the base comes to its senses and propels McCain to the nomination, or they engage Huckabee and Romney in a drawn-out, dirty cage fight that lasts till summer and leaves the survivor in no shape to prevail against the Democratic nominee.

January 3: Iowa caucuses


Obama 38
Edwards 30
Clinton 29
"Field" 3


Huckabee 34
Romney 26
Thompson 14
McCain 13*
Paul 10
Giuliani 4

*did not campaign

O me of little faith; I never imagined that we would see an Obama/McCain general election. Now, the respective candidacies of America's two best men for the job is not only possible, but probable. Neither did I imagine how responsible and mature Iowa voters would be in rejecting the plastic media faces in the race (Clinton, Romney, and Giuliani) and voting for men of principle who say what they believe.

An Obama/McCain race would be one of marked contrasts: extreme age versus extreme youth (in Presidential terms), white versus mixed race, a long Senate record versus a short Senate record, decorated veteran versus non-veteran, pro-Iraq War versus anti-Iraq War, career politician versus community organizer-professor-state senator, etc. Both men embrace the innate feisty elements of their personalities. A debate between the two would be must-see TV.

But how might this come to pass?

The Democrats

Hillary is in a world of hurt for coming in third, but the candidate in most trouble after Iowa is Edwards.

Edwards spent more time in Iowa and staked more on winning Iowa than anyone else, yet Obama won the pro-change, anti-Clinton vote decisively. The activist left of the Democratic Party, which has mostly preferred Edwards's Bryan-ish, tub-thumping populism thus far, is going to split: some will stick with Edwards to the end, but most will trickle over to Obama in order to stop Hillary (whom they regard as scarcely better than the incumbent).

I see a New Hampshire outcome of something like 50% Obama/30% Clinton/20% Edwards. If Obama can break the 50% barrier and win an outright majority, the race could be over quickly, with the Super Tuesday states cascading to his banner. If Clinton can stay with 10-15 percentage points of Obama, then we have a no-holds-barred, two-horse race for the nomination that could last the entire spring.

Regardless, a third-place finish by Edwards in New Hampshire ends him.

The Republicans

Mike Huckabee is not your typical Christian-conservative Republican.

He doesn't talk about hot-button social issues that could alienate the wider electorate - he refers, with a wink and a nod, to his Southern Baptist pastorate and his encyclopedic knowledge of Scripture. He's cool in a campy manner; indeed, he has pulled the biggest coup de theatre of any candidate thus far by convincing Chuck Norris to follow him around. Most astounding, he actually cares about social justice and economic inequity.

Huckabee raised taxes as governor of Arkansas, says he will do the same as President, and says Jesus's mission on earth was serving the poor. He attacked Hillary on the campaign trail, but he saved his most vicious retorts for the putative "leaders" of his party: Rush Limbaugh, the Club for Growth, and (more guardedly) Bush and Cheney. In a way, he out-Edwarded John Edwards. Country-club, Wall Street/K Street Republicans are shaking in their boots. But what recourse do they have?

PS: Could I vote for Huckabee? No, I cannot vote for him because of his woeful, amateurish lack of a foreign policy. Still, he is a man I admire, one who I'd like to meet and drink the beverage of his choice with, and I certainly understand where his supporters are coming from.

To be continued...

The Drury Sequence on Hold

The Drury Sequence is on hold for the short term as I blog on the 2008 presidential primaries. Thanks for your patience as I went through typing my fall seminar papers and welcoming Sally back to Michigan (the latter being far more pleasurable!) in December.

May all of you enjoy the blessings of Jesus Christ in this new year!