McCain's Win Gives the Democrats an Advantage

Sen. John McCain’s sweep of the Tuesday primaries in Vermont, Rhode Island, Texas and Ohio gives him the advantage of time to raise money, secure his base and campaign nationally while Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton continue to slug it out state by state. But the advantage McCain has is diluted by what we can call the Giuilani effect.

And by the fact that the huge turnouts in Ohio and Texas showed that roughly twice the number of voters who went to the polls were Democrats. In Texas alone, almost 2 million Democrats voted compared to about 750,000 Republicans. In Ohio, where about 1.5 million Dems voted, the difference in turnout was even greater. But despite the heavy turnout, neither Obama nor Clinton seized a clear lead. In fact, the split decisions ended abruptly the Obama momentum.

In states such as Rhode Island — which Hillary Clinton won by about 61%-38% — the proportional distribution of delegates (of the 32 at stake) went in large part to Clinton. But in Texas — which Clinton lost narrowly to Obama 48%-50% – the even distribution of Texas’ 228 delegates added roughly the same number to each candidate’s tally. 

Going into the Tuesday primaries, Obama had a delegate lead of only about 100 over Clinton, and had roughly 1300, about 64% of the 2025 needed to secure the Democratic nomination. With the splits in Ohio (about 57%-41% for Clinton) and Texas (about 50-50), both Clinton and Obama inched closer to the number they need but the relative difference is almost the same. The Democratic rat race to the August Denver convention continues with no end in sight.

Sen. John McCain reached the 1191 delegate tally he needed to win the Republican nomination with sweeps in all four states yesterday. His speech — at about 9:50 pm EST last night — tellingly thanked the Republicans, independents, and “independent-minded Democrats” who had voted for him in the primaries. His last opponent, former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee, withdrew. In a warm and upbeat speech, Huckabee promised to campaign hard to unite the Republican Party behind McCain and through to the November election.

McCain’s win creates a Giuliani effect around his campaign. Giuliani suffered fatal inattention by the press in the months leading up to the Florida primary. His lead over the Republican field steadily diminished while the other candidates worked the states, cities and precincts in Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina. His speeches ignored, his town meetings less and less a draw, Giuliani sank from sight. And while he languished in near obscurity, his opponents overtook him and left him in the dust.

Now that John McCain has clinched the Republican nomination, there’s no story around McCain. The story, and the media attention, will be focused almost entirely on Clinton and Obama. 

McCain’s speech last night was a good kickoff for the fall campaign because it seized on the realities he faces. McCain staked his fortunes, as he has to, on success in Iraq. And he posed the differences between him and both Clinton and Obama. McCain said he’d leave it to his opponents to campaign against free trade agreements such as NAFTA, for nationalized health care and promised he would campaign on lower taxes, less regulation of business and a strong America.

McCain’s campaign — in the seven weeks between now and the Pennsylvania primary — the mainstream media will ignore as completely as they can. It will be McCain’s challenge to recapture the headlines every day.  He will be able to raise money, reach out to the Republican Party’s base and do all of the organizational tasks his opponents can’t until they secure the Democratic nomination. But few will hear about it because the press will be focused on the continuing battle between Obama and Clinton.

Though the Democrats will command the media, McCain gains — less, but nevertheless substantially — by the Democrats’ turmoil. Hillary Clinton is chipping away at Obama’s Teflon armor. And the longer they fight, the weaker each could be. 

Based on yesterday’s results, Hillary Clinton will be able to stop the hemorrhaging of the super delegates who were abandoning her for Obama. If she can, their race may not be decided before the convention.

But can she? We of the scribbling class enjoy the combat, and hope that the Democrats manage to do to themselves in Denver in 2008 what they did in Chicago in 1968. This year, instead of the SDS and the Weather Underground, the Dems will be surrounded by the Code crowds. 

If the Democrats can’t settle their nomination before the convention, they may leave it divided and angry. And on that divisiveness may hang John McCain’s chances to be president.