- While both the Republican and Democratic presidential races are undecided going into the massive array of February 5 primaries (which amounts to nearly a national primary), a Hillary Clinton vs. John McCain contest in November looms as the most likely prospect. That is the match-up that offers the highest likelihood of Republican success despite the continued sniping at McCain by certain right-wing activists.
- There are two major developments on the Democratic side within the party’s multi-ethnic coalition: a) Black voters, once for Sen. Hillary Clinton (N.Y.), have lined up behind Sen. Barack Obama (Ill.); b) Latinos are massively for Clinton. This ethnic divide is shown in California’s Field Poll. With non-Latino white voters there evenly split between the two candidates, the one-sided Latino vote for Clinton gives her a 12-point margin in California.
- However, a 12-point lead in California — the biggest of the February 5 primaries — with 20 percent undecided is not all that reassuring for Clinton. If this were an old-fashioned California primary (for example, McGovern vs. Humphrey in 1972) with both candidates’ filling the TV-radio airwaves and traveling the state, anything could happen. But there is no time for that, and Obama must rely on voter perceptions fueled by the news media and the Internet.
- Why is former Sen. John Edwards (N.C.) staying in? He cannot be nominated, but extreme proportional representation by the Democrats means that he could collect hundreds of delegates and go into a deadlocked national convention capable of swinging the nomination either way. There is no doubt that he would swing to Obama. Obama and Edwards are extraordinarily chummy, and important elements of organized labor would like to see Edwards as attorney general in an Obama cabinet.
- The "never for McCain" crowd is noisy, but it is mostly outside regular party ranks (Rush Limbaugh and former Texas Rep. Tom DeLay, for example). McCain is getting support from such non-predictable Republican conservatives as Jack Kemp and Sen. Tom Coburn (Okla.). The Republican tendency to coalesce around a leader will grow if McCain wins the January 29 Florida primary.
- One of the most peculiar in the array of celebrity endorsers who went to South Carolina to stand by McCain’s side was Sen. Joe Lieberman (ID-Conn.). He votes consistently liberal in the Senate on just about everything but Iraq, but is acclaimed by Republican voters for getting elected in ’06 as an Independent despite losing the Connecticut Democratic primary on the war issue. He was cheered and applauded by conservative South Carolina audiences as a conquering hero. There will be no McCain-Lieberman ticket, but Lieberman illustrates McCain’s appeal outside the Republican box.
- The House Republican retreat beginning Thursday behind closed doors will debate the earmarks issue. They could make a strong statement by: a) declaring a one-year GOP moratorium on earmarks and b) naming anti-earmarks crusader Rep. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) to an Appropriations Committee vacancy. They are unlikely to do either, instead continuing a pattern of business as usual.
- Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke will attend the House Democratic retreat at Speaker Nancy Pelosi‘s (Calif.) invitation. She is seeking to convey the impression there is an alternative policy force on Capitol Hill trying to deal with deepening economic crisis.
Nevada Caucuses: Clinton’s win in Nevada, though small in impact, portends serious difficulty for Obama on Super Tuesday and beyond.
- The impact of Clinton’s victory in the Nevada caucuses is not great. Nevada is a small state, without anywhere near the storied history of political importance of Iowa and New Hampshire, or even Michigan and South Carolina. Being on Saturday of a long weekend and overshadowed by playoff football, the media value was small.
- Also, Clinton’s margin of victory was not huge (51% to 45%), and Obama actually won more delegates.
- While Hillary’s win might not change much going forward, it is a telling indicator of her strength — winning where the stars were aligned for Obama.
- Obama had the endorsement of the top newspaper, the backing of the important Culinary Workers union, rules in place to facilitate their caucusing, and the PR benefit from the Clinton supporters’ failed suit to block casino workers from caucusing. Despite all of this, he couldn’t win.
- Clinton had the state party establishment behind her, which helped. But aside from South Carolina and Illinois, Obama will not be any better situated in later states than he was in Nevada.
South Carolina: The South Carolina debate Monday night provided the most fireworks in the battle between Clinton and Obama.
- Clinton and Obama both took good digs at one another, but the heightened negativity is in itself a boon to Clinton. By going negative, Hillary does not hurt her image, but Obama hurts his.
- Clinton is already the knife-fighting candidate, and that is part of her appeal. Obama is supposed to represent a new era, hope, and a change in tone. However well-placed his jabs at Clinton, they tarnish his chief virtue. Also, voters still react negatively to attacks on a woman.
- Edwards tried Monday night to present himself as above the fray — a strategy that has worked in presidential and congressional primaries in the past. But the fact that he had to remind viewers that he was running reflects his diminished stature.
- Obama is still the favorite in Saturday’s South Carolina primary, where half the voters will be black, but the odds against his winning the nomination are lengthening every day. Discussion of race, brought up mostly by the Clintons, is to Obama’s disadvantage. His success so far has stemmed from his rejection of Jesse Jackson-style identity politics. A return of identity politics helps Clinton.
- It is in this light — the resurrection of identity politics — that Clinton’s black outreach should be viewed. Winning over black voters is not key to winning the nomination, nor is it very attainable for Hillary. Reminding voters of race, and backhandedly portraying Obama as a black candidate hurts him among white Democratic voters.
- New Hampshire and Nevada results show Hillary’s strength even where she shouldn’t win. Obama’s big lead in South Carolina polls is not insurmountable, and even a close finish boosts Hillary here.
Overview: The race is still open, but Sen. John McCain (Ariz.) is favored for the nomination after his South Carolina win. Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney is the most likely to give McCain a challenge.
- McCain has the momentum, and his recent movement in the polls is shocking — rocketing from the teens to around 30 percent in national surveys, and moving ahead in state polls, including Florida and California.
- Romney still leads in the delegate count. Given his ability to win uncontested states and his consistently respectable showings in states he doesn’t win, he has a chance to maintain that lead — barring a McCain earthquake.
- Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee still shows no signs of strength outside the evangelical community. It’s hard to see how he will expand his base with McCain in the spotlight now. Huckabee can’t win on the faith vote alone.
- The withdrawal of former Sen. Fred Thompson (Tenn.) leaves the field with no full-blooded conservative and adds a new wrinkle. It’s hard to guess where Thompson’s supporters will go, and they likely will split three ways. While Thompson personally is close to McCain, he likely won’t endorse him right away. By narrowing the field, however, Thompson’s withdrawal increases the odds McCain could sweep on Super Tuesday.
- Former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani‘s rope-a-dope strategy appears to be a dud. He is not even the favorite in Florida anymore, and a loss there would be the end for him.
- If McCain does not ride a Florida win into a Super Tuesday sweep, a delegate chase will ensue between him and Romney, with Huckabee in third.
South Carolina Primary: John McCain‘s win here makes him the first candidate to win two big states, and Fred Thompson‘s third-place finish knocks him out.
- McCain’s chief competition here was Mike Huckabee, whom he beat 33 percent to 30 percent. If the exit polls can be trusted, they are telling.
- McCain’s base was among atypical Republicans. On most issues polled in the exit polls — abortion, church attendance, opinion of President Bush, immigration, and more — voters who held the majority or plurality opinion (for example, that abortion should be illegal) voted strongly for Huckabee. Voters who held the minority opinion voted strongly for McCain. This is a variation of the theme in New Hampshire, where McCain’s margin of victory came from independents.
- While his base is atypical Republicans, McCain still does well among standard conservatives (he won the pro-life vote in New Hampshire, for example). His strength among conservatives could grow as he continues to win and looks like the man who could beat Hillary.
- Huckabee finished a strong second, but his South Carolina showing demonstrated the same pattern we have seen elsewhere: strong support among evangelicals and little elsewhere. Almost all of Huckabee’s support (82 percent, according to exit polls) came from voters who described themselves as "born-again" or "evangelical" — actually a majority of South Carolina Republican primary voters. In most February 5 states, Huckabee won’t have that advantage.
- Fred Thompson’s campaign ended here, with his third-place finish. With many conservatives’ coming to terms with McCain and other conservatives’ hanging onto Romney, Thompson couldn’t make a splash. It’s hard to guess where his would-be backers will go, but on net, his withdrawal boosts McCain’s odds of running away with the nomination on Super Tuesday.
- South Carolina was another poor showing for Romney. He simply is not appealing to voters in hotly contested states. Still, he leads in early counts of delegates and popular vote, showing that he has a chance in the widely dispersed Super Tuesday contests.
Nevada Caucuses: Romney won in Nevada’s little-contested caucus.
- Representatives Ron Paul (Tex.) and Duncan Hunter (Calif.) were the only candidates besides Romney to try to win in Nevada’s caucuses. The lack of competition made this win even less significant that it would have been.
- Romney’s wins in Nevada and Wyoming are the fruits of his huge war chest. With 19 states in play February 5, it’s possible many of them will resemble these uncontested primaries. Romney could sweep the smaller states where McCain, Huckabee, and Rudy Giuliani will not have campaigned.
- The small-state wins and the repeated second-place finishes elsewhere have made Romney the delegate-leader going into Florida. For once, this year, the delegate chase could actually matter.
- Nevada also has a significant Mormon population — an advantage Romney won’t have in very many other states.
- Ron Paul’s second-place finish is his best yet. Nevada has a libertarian streak, which boosted Paul, probably to his ceiling of 14 percent. He continues to scoop up delegates, which could come into play this summer.
- McCain’s third-place finish, in a virtual tie with Paul despite the fact McCain didn’t campaign hard here, hints at his nascent air of inevitability. The national polls also bear this out. Exit polls show his strongest group was moderates, and voters who value electability (although Romney won both those groups).
- Hunter, despite his work here, finished dead last and has finally dropped out.
California-4: The race to replace Rep. John Doolittle (R) in his Northeast California district is beginning to take shape, as some potential candidates have dropped out and others have firmly entered. Out of the race are Auburn City Councilman Mike Holmes, state Assemblyman Ted Gaines, and state Sen. Sam Aanestad. In for the long run are Iraq War veteran Eric Egland and former state Sen. Rico Oller. Former Rep. Doug Ose could run as well.
Egland, in his spirited 2006 primary challenge to Doolittle, built a strong base of grass-roots support. He has published a book, been on the talk circuit, and endeared himself to the area with as a charismatic family man. While he has campaign experience, he will be the novice in that regard in this field.
Oller served four years in the assembly, four years in the state senate, and ran and lost a primary for the neighboring 3rd District in 2004. In that race, he spent at least $250,000 of his own money, raised more than $1 million, and garnered strong grass-roots backing as the underdog. This time around he has the endorsement of state Sen. Sam Aanestad and is expected to be the party choice, unless things change.
Ose left Congress in 2005 after six years of representing the neighboring 3rd District in order to honor his term-limits pledge. Although a "Draft Doug" movement has sprouted up, Ose said he is still speaking with his family about it.