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Friday, January 25, 2008

Barack Obama, South Carolina Polls, and the Expectations Game

(Editor's note: Uninspiring debate from the Republicans last night, though maybe that was their intention after the Democratic slugfest. Next week, I will dedicate the first three days of posts to the Republicans and their crucial Florida Primary. For now, time to preview tomorrow's South Carolina Democratic Primary.)

The four latest major polls from South Carolina:

Survey USA (1/22-1/23)
Barack Obama: 45
Hillary Clinton: 29
John Edwards: 22

Reuters/CSPAN/Zogby (1/21-1/23)
BA: 39
HC: 24
JE: 19

Clemson (1/15-1/23)
BA: 27
HC: 20
JE: 17

Rasmussen (1/21)
BA: 32
HC: 28
JE: 17

Average of the four:
BA: 38
HC: 25
JE: 19

Analysis: For Barack Obama, this is setting up to be the least gratifying and least useful early primary victory in the history of early primary victories. Aside from winning, there are two objectives every candidate hopes to achieve in a primary election:

1. Beat expectations.
2. Convince voters in subsequent primaries to vote for them.

Obama's impending South Carolina win will not achieve either of those objectives. These polls are not helping. He is expected to win by double digits. Therefore, since one cannot win by triple digits, the best he can do is meet expectations. To win by only 7-9 percent would be seen as a disappointment considering African-Americans are expected to be about 50% of South Carolina voters. Even a 20-point victory, when compared to a 12-point win, would do nothing but add a few more delegates to his total. The day-after stories will be unaffected.

This brings me to the second objective. No matter how well he does, the performance will be chalked up to overwhelming African-American support, which I expounded on with Tuesday's post. There will not be a bounce in Obama's national polls numbers, and with no relevant primaries between South Carolina and Super Tuesday (the Florida Democratic Party has been stripped of its delegates for pushing ahead of February 5th), his last best shot at cutting Clinton's lead will come and go. At best, Obama can hope for no recourse from mainstream white voters. Realistically, there could be combined conscious and subconscious efforts from white voters across the country to correct the South Carolina vote. At worst, it will be an overcorrection that will sink the Obama campaign.

To recap the week for the Dems: Clinton is the nominee, because Obama cannot win unless Edwards drops out by Super Tuesday.


See you next week, when I take a close look at Tuesday's Florida Primary for the GOP candidates, and if McCain wins, it will be time to re-visit the VP possibilities for Senators Clinton and McCain.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Kucinich Out

Reuters is reporting that Dennis Kucinich has dropped out of the race to the White House. He was found somewhere near the starting line.

John Edwards' Last Chance at Relevance

On Tuesday Fred Thompson dropped out. He did so without endorsing a fellow Republican candidate, not that it would have mattered. Almost all Thompson supporters had already found a new candidate. Imagine if Thompson had exited the race after his disappointing Iowa and New Hampshire finishes, when his polling numbers were still high in parts of the country. Back then, a Thompson endorsement would have meant the world to any candidate, who would greatly benefit from Thompson's verbal support in the Deep South and Midwest. Yet, with Thompson steady decline and feeble exit, he has no impact on his party's primary.

John Edwards is destined to share a similar fate. That is, unless, he drops out by February 5th.

It's disappointing that Edwards hasn't had a better showing in these primaries. The Democratic Party and the democratic process would have benefited from a third viable candidate. Indeed he was viable, up until the Iowa Caucus results were clear. Several times throughout 2007, I wrote that he had a great chance to win the nomination if he won Iowa, but nothing less than a win was acceptable.

After his second place finish there, the writing was on the wall. If he couldn't finish first Iowa, he couldn't finish first anywhere. Proving this, he has since placed in a distant third in New Hampshire (39-37-17) and an extremely distant third in labor-rich Nevada (4%?!), where he had previously polled well.

With these losses, Edwards continues to slip nationally. He continues to lose influence. If he is truly serious about change in Washington, he has a decision to make. Does he fight against the status quo of dynastical might (Clinton), or does he fight against the Democrat who does not support true universal health care (Obama)? He's tried both, but if he continues, he will have zero impact.

Most think Edwards would endorse Obama over Clinton. I agree. However, as I've written about this week, the Democratic Primary is careening towards a Clinton nomination. If Edwards wants to stop it, he needs to drop out, point to Obama, and say "This is our guy." The amalgam of Edwards and Obama supporters would be enough to stop Clinton.

It is worth mentioning that this cannot wait until March or April. It cannot even wait for February 6th, the day after Super Tuesday, when the Edwards campaign truly dies. If Edwards waits that long, his national support will be in the high single digits, and his endorsement will mean less. Moreover, by then Clinton's lead may seem insurmountable, as she will put some distance between herself and Obama on the fifth, while half of the states have already voted.

What's most tragic about this entire story is that this may very well be the end of Edwards' career in public politics, and while short, it's been impressive. He used one Senate term to be a contender in two national elections, he became a national figure - a powerful, tell-it-like-it-is speaker - who is greatly respected by the Democratic Party, liberals, and all geographical regions. Respect, however, did not translate into votes. He can probably become a poor man's Al Gore, fighting poverty and racial discrimination from the private sector, so it's not as if he'll retire. However, the list of guys who run for President twice and fail twice is long, while the guys who try a third time with any viability has two names on this list: William Jennings Bryan (1908) and Bob Dole (1996), neither of whom were close to being a favorite to be sworn in on inauguration day.

So this is John Edwards' last chance at relevance in presidential politics, and ironically, to achieve relevance, he must drop out. Then, he must support the candidate of his choice and bring his still sizeable voting constituency with him.

Otherwise, he will suffer the same feeble fate of Fred Thompson.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Old John McCain's New Inevitability

(Editor's Note: At the conclusion of the South Carolina primaries, it became clear to me that we have reached the point of no return in the nomination process for both parties. The nominees are about to be decided. In fact, one week from today, we'll see that a Clinton vs. McCain general election is inevitable. Yesterday, I explained how the Democratic nomination would play out. Today, the Republicans...)

Republicans

The carousel of favorites has come full circle. Following President Bush's second inauguration in 2005, John McCain was considered the favorite for the Republican nomination in 2008. It was his to win, indeed he was the inevitable favorite for 2008 dating back to his runner up performance against Governor Bush back in 2000.

Early in 2007, however, a lackadaisical McCain campaign lost the lead to an aggressive Rudy Giuliani. Giuliani held the lead in national polls for about ten months, though for a time during the summer, Giuliani shared that lead with unofficial candidate Fred Thompson, who yesterday dropped out after months of futility when his potential energy from that summer was promptly dissipated upon his September declaration.

Aside from the summer's temporary shared lead with Thompson, Giuliani held a double-digit lead for most months of 2007, but Mitt Romney was up big in Iowa and New Hampshire, leading many to believe that those two wins would realign the national polls. For a time, many considered Mitt Romney, despite his wishy-washiness on key conservative issues, was the candidate most likely to rally conservatives against Giuliani's socially moderate platform, and Romney was dubbed the favorite.

Then, however, a conservative southern governor came to the limelight, much to the delight of desperate social conservatives. In late November, Mike Huckabee took over some leads in Iowa polls. By December, he was the national poll leader for the GOP. Then he won Iowa. All of a sudden, it was Mike Huckabee who was the favorite.

His appeal in the Midwest and Deep South, however, did not translate into popularity in the larger states nor the liberal northeast corridor. John McCain took New Hampshire, and used that to spring board to a South Carolina win last Saturday. It was this win that has set up the rest of the Republican Primary.

John McCain has four crucial assets that make it very easy for Republican voters to run, not walk, to him as the primaries head into Phase 2.

1. The Media. Horse race coverage will be crucial beginning with this week's Florida polls, and through the Florida Primary, and up through Super Tuesday. No candidate in the Republican Party is a friend of the media as much as John McCain. He has a history with nearly every anchor and commentator, and can therefore most effectively spin good results into momentum, not to mention more easily withstand pitfalls.

2. Florida. As McCain currently has the momentum in horse-race coverage, Florida is his last road block, if you can even call it that, to victory on Super Tuesday. He was already narrowing leading Florida before South Carolina. We have yet to see a poll to be taken since Saturday, but it is fully expected that McCain will extend that lead. With the momentum of South Carolina, and with Mike Huckabee and Rudy Giuliani struggling of late, it comes down to McCain and Romney, which indeed are the two candidates the entire nomination will come down to. If Super Tuesday were held today, McCain would win a small plurality of the votes. However, after he wins Florida, he might win a majority.

3. Frontloaded Super Tuesday. As mentioned ad nauseum on this blog, this year's Super Tuesday is as super as ever. Whomever is envisioned as the favorite going into Super Tuesday will win Super Tuesday. Whomever is the winner on Super Tuesday will win the nomination. Cue the transitive property (or something): Since McCain will be envisioned as the winner after his Florida win, he will win Super Tuesday. Since he will win Super Tuesday, he will be the nominee.

4. General election strength. In a general election that will see both parties digging in deep, knowing how important it will be to hold all states from the 2004 election, it is the middle ground that is more valuable than ever. Which Republican candidate appeals to independents and moderate like John McCain? None.

4a. Beating Hillary Clinton. The Republicans will soon see Hillary Clinton as the nominee. Republicans hate Hillary Clinton. Republicans do not want Hillary Clinton to be President. Republicans will do anything it takes to keep Hillary Clinton from being President, even if that means voting for one half of McCain-Feingold. John McCain has the best chance of taking the winnable middle ground, which capitalizes on Clinton's unfavorability weakness. Romney, Huckabee, and Giuliani all run the risk of being polarizing candidates, which nullifies the Republican advantage in a campaign against Clinton. The sooner Republicans realize that John McCain stands the best chance of beating Hillary Clinton, the sooner they do that it takes to nominate John McCain.

These four reasons, individually, make a great case for McCain winning the Republican nomination. As an amalgamation, they are too overpowering too ignore.

It is inevitable. John McCain will be the Republican nominee.
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