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ENPR: McCain Dominates Super Tuesday, Sits at Threshold of GOP Nomination

Outlook

  1. Sen. John McCain‘s (R-Ariz.) late-night Super Tuesday victories in Missouri and then California give him half the convention delegates needed and all but clinch the nomination for him. Once again, Romney’s tactics such as pouring $10 million into California worked in theory but not in practice.
  2. The anti-McCain barrage from conservative talk show hosts led by Rush Limbaugh did not work. The old GOP tendency to get behind the presumptive leader trumped irritation with McCain. Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour went on TV last night to say it was time for McCain’s opponents to get out and make him the nominee.
  3. There is now no clear path for Gov. Mitt Romney to the nomination. The former Massachusetts liberal never was able to sell himself as a conservative, finishing third behind former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee and McCain in Southern states.
  4. McCain is still a heartily disliked figure in the Senate, but usually soft-spoken Sen. Thad Cochran (R-Miss.), uncharacteristically, was the only anti-McCainiac to speak out. The reason may be that Cochran is the Senate’s king of pork while McCain is a leading anti-porker.
  5. A test for McCain comes Thursday at the annual Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC), an event he stiffed last year. He has to repeat what he has been saying lately: First, he will veto any tax increase passed by the Democratic Congress. Second, he will name Supreme Court justices in the mold of Chief Justice John Roberts and Associate Justice Samuel Alito. More than that, he has to say he is one of them.
  6. McCain’s asset is that there is no genuine conservative left against him. Huckabee is an evangelical, not a conservative (which is one reason he is unlikely to be picked as McCain’s running mate). In next week’s “Potomac primary” (Virginia, Maryland, and D.C.), it looks like McCain will be the winner, with Huckabee a strong second in Virginia.
  7. Thanks to proportional representation, the Democratic fight will stretch out into April. It would have been a very big night for Sen. Hillary Clinton (N.Y.) had Sen. Barack Obama (Ill.) not squeezed out a win in Missouri. The next really big tests come March 4 in Texas and Ohio.
  8. The overriding story is that twice as many Democrats as Republicans voted on Super Tuesday, and the gap in enthusiasm was even larger. McCain as nominee faces a massive task ahead.

Republican Presidential

Super Tuesday: Sen. John McCain (Ariz.), as we expected, dominated Super Tuesday, gaining a huge lead in the delegate chase and putting himself at the threshold of the GOP presidential nomination.

  1. McCain’s win in California was the pleasant surprise for him, and the icing on the cake. It demonstrated that although he lacks strong support in the conservative movement, he has strong backing in broad swaths of the GOP.
  2. The winner-take-all-states were aligned for McCain, and he nearly swept the table. As expected, McCain took his home state of Arizona, as well as the Rudy Giuliani states of New Jersey, New York, and Connecticut. He also won the two most competitive winner-take-all contests, with his triumphs in Missouri and Delaware. That left Mitt Romney with only Utah.
  3. Outside of his core base of Massachusetts and Utah, Romney carried Minnesota, Colorado, Montana, Alaska, and North Dakota — less than the underdog needed. McCain carried more competitive contests, capturing the winner-take-all states plus pluralities in California and Illinois.
  4. Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee outperformed expectations, carrying the South — with Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Tennessee, and West Virginia all voting for Huckabee. This dampened McCain’s potential blowout, but it also further buried Romney. Huckabee’s strong showing had the effect of making McCain’s nomination even more likely.

Going Forward: McCain has not clinched the GOP nomination, but he may as well have.

  1. McCain needs 1,191 delegates in order to win the GOP nomination, and after Super Tuesday, he stood at around 600. This means he still has work to do, but he is now the overwhelming favorite.
  2. Romney certainly has a chance mathematically, but, without a dramatic shift, not realistically. He has not appealed to most GOP primary voters, so far, and there is little reason to believe things will change. Romney just has not proved to be a compelling, appealing candidate, and there is no sign he will become one.
  3. Huckabee’s strong Southern showing demonstrated the solidity of his base. Still, exit polls and county results show he has not reached beyond a segment of the evangelical base. He may continue to win delegates, but he never was a serious contender for the nomination.
  4. McCain’s lead will help him going forward. In open primary states, such as Virginia next Tuesday, many moderates will vote the GOP line and back McCain. McCain will enjoy winner’s spoils, winning where he otherwise might have faltered.
  5. McCain looks like the nominee and is just waiting for the results to be official.

Democratic Presidential

Super Tuesday: The 22-state primary looked like something of a tie for the Democrats, with Clinton’s big win of California as the biggest coup of the night.

  1. Obama won more states than Clinton, but Clinton won the biggest states. The Democrats’ extreme reliance on proportional allocation of delegates meant that nobody was the overriding winner, but Clinton’s popular vote in the big states give her the edge.
  2. The main factor confusing things last night was the delegates awarded by congressional district. There was insufficient data today to know where the delegate chase stood. It looked, at press time, as though Clinton had built up a steady lead.
  3. Obama continued to show a fairly broad appeal, with his three areas of strength being the youth vote, the black vote, and the wealthy, well-educated liberal vote. Clinton’s success was among older voters and white women.
  4. Clinton’s big win in California (53 percent to 41 percent) was largely due to the gender gap in Democratic turnout (55% of Democratic primary voters were female). That win provided Clinton with the biggest media boost of the night and the most bragging rights. With two-thirds of the state’s delegates allocated by congressional district, that big win could also translate into a good chunk of delegates when the counting is done.
  5. Clinton’s huge win (more than two to one) among Hispanic voters in California also highlighted the success of the Clinton’s race-based campaign.

Going Forward: While a brokered convention is nearly impossible, considering the two-way nature of this race, a real delegate hunt is in full swing, with Clinton as the favorite.

  1. Neither candidate can count Super Tuesday as a momentum booster, but Obama was more in need of a boost than was Clinton. Clinton’s steady march of victories and her delegate lead reflect the strength of her well-oiled machine. Obama’s success, based on the hype and the hope, is harder to hold onto.
  2. The race is Clinton’s to lose. Obama either needs to make a big splash, or he needs Clinton to make a big misstep. He cannot win by going negative.
  3. Much of the race will rest on unpledged delegates — who seem to be breaking towards Clinton. While Obama collects big endorsements from major politicians, he still probably cannot beat Clinton in a battle of back-room negotiating.

House 2008

Florida-15: Rep. Dave Weldon (R) will retire at the end of this term, in a district he has held since first winning in 1994. Weldon’s district is based around Cape Canaveral and is Republican turf. Weldon’s relatively close win in 2006 (56% to 44%) over a poorly funded candidate has Democrats excited about this race.

Republicans will likely choose between State Rep. Stan Mayfield (R) and State Sen. Bill Posey (R). On the Democratic side, physician Steve Blythe (D) was already running against Weldon, focusing on Weldon’s pro-life record. Former Brevard County Commissioner Nancy Higgs (D) is also running. Leaning Republican Retention.

New York-25: New York Democrats look to continue their steady domination of the state congressional delegation, as vulnerable Rep. James Walsh (R) steps down at the end of this term, leaving a Democrat-leaning district open. Businessman Dan Maffei, who came within 2,500 votes of knocking off Walsh last year, is the presumptive Democratic nominee.

This Syracuse-based district is Democratic turf, voting for Gore in 2000 and slightly for Kerry in 2004. Walsh’s long popularity here was largely based on his ability to bring home pork. The eventual Republican nominee will not have that advantage, and he will be facing a well-funded, popular, experienced Democratic nominee in a presidential year. This one will be tough for Republicans to hang onto. Leaning Democratic Takeover.

Virginia-11: As expected — and somewhat belatedly — Rep. Tom Davis (R) announced this week he would not seek an 8th term in Congress. This opens up a competitive race and yet another Democratic pickup opportunity.

Davis was a member of the historic class of 1994, knocking off an incumbent Democrat in that Republican tidal wave year. An unusually blunt pragmatic moderate, Davis quickly rose through the ranks and spent recent years eyeing runs for higher office. This year, he briefly entered the U.S. Senate race, but dropped out when it was clear he would lose at a nominating convention to former Gov. Jim Gilmore (R).

Davis’s wife, a state senator, was swept up in the Northern Virginia Democratic tidal wave of 2007 and lost her re-election. Davis says it’s now time for him to make some money, and he is stepping down.

Fairfax County, the district’s base, is steadily becoming more Democratic, just like most wealthy white suburbs on the East Coast, which was the key to Democrats’ recent takeovers of the state legislature, U.S. Senate seats, and governorship. The Western end of the district is in Loudon County, which is more conservative, but also drifting Democratic. Bush won this district by 6.3 percentage points in 2000, but carried it by only 0.6 points in 2004.

The only Republican currently in the race is local businessman Keith Fimian (R). Fimian is a conservative candidate who has been raising money and laying the groundwork for the run for months, since Davis briefly entered the Senate race. A political novice, Fimian’s business and charity ties will help him raise funds, and his recent involvement on the ground in Republican politics gives him some experience.

Virginia Republicans choose their nominees by convention, which often has the effect of clearing out the field early. This is important for Republicans here, considering Davis’s late retirement announcement.

On the Democratic side, the two big names are Fairfax County Chairman Gerry Connolly (D) and former Rep. Leslie Byrne (D), whom Davis knocked off in 1994. Byrne is the liberal of the two, with Connolly’s strength his ties to Fairfax County businesses. Byrne is the early favorite here.

With an up-ticket Democratic blowout likely in the Senate race, and the trends this district is showing, Republicans will have a hard time hanging on here, especially because Davis can be expected to offer minimal help. If Fimian proves to be a strong candidate, though, and Byrne’s liberalism turns off voters, the GOP could hang on. Leaning Democratic Takeover.

Illinois Primaries

Illinois-11: New Lenox Mayor Tim Baldermann (R) will face State Senate Majority Leader Debbie Halvorson (D) in the very competitive race to replace scandal-tainted Rep. Jerry Weller (R). This district, in the abstract, leans towards Republicans, but this year’s matchup favors Democrats. Leaning Democratic Takeover.

Illinois-14: Serial candidate Jim Oberweis (R) finally won a primary, handily defeating State Sen. Chris Lauzen (R) in both the special election primary and the general election primary to replace resigned Rep. Dennis Hastert (R).

In the March 8 special election to fill out the remainder of Hastert’s term, as well as in the November general election, Oberweis will face businessman and scientist Bill Foster (D), who won a competitive primary. In the general and special elections, Oberweis will have to overcome conservative resentment about a negative primary and a strong Democratic tide. Leaning Republican Retention.

Illinois-18: Conservative State Rep. Aaron Schock (R) secured the nomination yesterday and is likely the next congressman here, poised to replace retiring Rep. Ray LaHood. Likely Republican Retention.

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Written By

Mr. Novak was a syndicated columnist and editor of the Evans-Novak Political Report, a political newsletter he founded in 1967 with Rowland Evans. He passed away August 19, 2009. Read tributes to Robert Novak and his legendary work, as well as memories from Novak alumni and the Human Events family.

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