Some called it mini-Super Tuesday, evoking memories of the coast-to-coast February 5 Election Day that spanned the entire country. Last night we had only four races, but the results did in fact echo those from February 5: a clear, undisputed Republican winner and pure chaos on the Democratic side.
THE GOP RACE ENDS
As for the Republicans, 256 delegates in Vermont, Rhode Island, Ohio and Texas were up for grabs. John McCain won by huge, twenty-plus point margins in all four, raking in the lion’s share of these delegates and, by the count of most news outlets (including AP, NBC and ABC), easily clearing the bar of 1191 delegates needed to secure the nomination.
Mike Huckabee graciously withdrew from the race, as he promised he would once McCain reached the 1191 threshold. He pledged to support McCain and work to unify the GOP and the country. It was a classy ending to a plucky race, one which left him well positioned as a new leader for evangelical conservatives and with the potential to expand his base of support in future races.
Today, President George W. Bush is expected to endorse McCain and the Republican National Committee will also confirm that McCain is indeed the nominee.
In his victory speech McCain happily accepted the nomination and set the framework for the general election: a respectful fight on the issues. Perhaps in an effort to distinguish himself from his potential Democratic rivals, he disclaimed any pretense that the country owed him any special consideration. He asked that the candidates be judged on “their record, their character and the whole of their life experiences.” While defending his support for the Iraq war he stressed “we already are in Iraq” (a pointed reference to his opponents who would rather debate the past than steer a course for the future) and explained that the next president’s job was to decide how to secure American interests, defeat terrorist and prevent regional carnage.
He also jabbed his opponents who would “abrogate trade treaties” and gave a feisty defense of conservative policies as a means to increase economic growth. With pledges to make healthcare more accessible and affordable and to promote energy independence he left no doubt that he was ready to take the fight to all areas of the country. Declaring that Americans are not timid (“we make history”), he showed a sunnier, more optimistic side of himself. He then concluded with by snatching a theme from one of his potential opponents, saying he would run on “hope built on courage and faith and the principles which made us great.”
THE DEMOCRATIC RACE: SHE’S BAAAACK
Has a severe case of buyer’s remorse has gripped the Democratic electorate? Doubts may finally have taken hold over whether a first term Senator was up to the job of commander-in-chief. It might have been that the Democrats suspected Barack Obama was whispering sweet nothings in their ears about protectionism while playing footsie with the Canadian government. Whatever the reason, Obama lost three of four races, and those hoping for a definitive end to the Democratic race will be sorely disappointed.
Hillary Clinton won impressively in Ohio and Rhode Island and edged out Obama narrowly in Texas, while Obama took Vermont. She held women voters and won impressively among Hispanics in Texas and union voters in Ohio. In both states late deciding voters broke in her favor by a two to one margin.
Obama supporters will want to focus on the hard delegate numbers. Of the 389 delegates at stake (228 in Texas, divided between those awarded in the primary and those in the caucus, and 161 in Ohio) Clinton will at best win a small majority. She will continue to trail Obama by approximately 100 delegates and her chances of securing 2025 needed for the nomination before the primary voting ends in June is slim.
However, all that delegate math, as far as she is concerned, is beside the point. She now claims the momentum and will seize on the results as evidence that voters have come to their senses and recognized that her “experience” beats his “change” message. More importantly, she now has much of the MSM whipped into a feeding frenzy, angry that Obama’s campaign team misled about a meeting between economic advisor Austan Goolsbee and Canadian officials and even more furious that he refuses to answer extended questions on his relationship with indicted Chicago developer Tony Rezko.
In short, all the ingredients are there for Clinton to not only remain in the race, but to argue with renewed vigor that she is the better choice to go up against McCain. She will argue with greater credibility now to those key superdelegates that Obama simply is not up to the general election battle. She will continue to press for the DNC to count the Michigan and Florida delegates (who were previously excluded when their states moved their primary dates up before February 5), and will gain further encouragement from the prospect of a “do over” Florida primary suggested by Governor Charlie Crist.
This much is clear: the Republicans have their nominee and the Democrats have a battle royale. If Democrats truly believe that the race is only serving to energize the base and ramp up turnout for the general election, they should be thrilled that weeks and weeks of hard campaigning lie ahead. However, judging from many of the stunned and disappointed Democratic faces on last night’s cable news shows (yes, both the anchors and the guests) it seems that may not be the case. John McCain, on the other hand, looked positively delighted last night. That tells you all you need to know.