22 January 2008

Wide Open Races

There were several political events of some note while I was on hiatus, such as the New Hampshire Primary (remember when that used to be in March?), the Nevada Caucus (where?) and the South Carolina primary (hey, I'll get to vote in that next time around). The talking heads have talked around these so much you'd think there'd be nothing left to say, but the truth is they've really not said much of anything. I'll say something after the jump.

The reason being, talking heads are only happy when things are following a clear, pre-determined path, or are clearly deviating from the pre-determined path in such a way that the talking heads can make witty observations about why that's happening, what went wrong, or claim they made a clever prediction that this was really what would happen all along.

None of the pre-established storylines for this campaign season have been followed, though. Instead what we have is this:

On the GOP side, at least three candidates, and possibly more, have a realistic and plausible shot at winning the party's nomination, and it is a near certainty that all three of them, and possibly at least one other, will win more states and more delegates within the next 15 days, preventing the picture from getting a whole lot clearer.

On the Dem side, both the long-established front-runner and the hot challenger have managed to underperform or overperform in at least one contest since Iowa. South Carolina votes this weekend and the assumption is that Obama will win it, but by how much? Edwards partisans have been reduced to claiming their man won last night's rather tetchy debate and state residents will have to "reexamine" him as a candidate. A third of voters don't know who to vote for, and another third say they might change their minds. Nobody knows what will happen, and as on the GOP side, both Clinton and Obama will win more states in the next 15 days.

So, five states down the primary/caucus calendar, we don't have any real idea whatsoever who is going to win either of these races.

It's been ages since that was the case. 1988 was the last time there was a real fight for both nominations, but Bush had better organization than any of his opponents and walked away with too many Super Tuesday victories to be overcome. Al Gore waited until everybody else but Jesse Jackson had already dropped out to start harping on how unelectable Dukakis was (the first time "electability" became a major issue), and was too late to change the race dynamics.

Things are a bit different this time. Everyone is waiting for February 5th, this year's version of Super Tuesday, when no less than 24 states will hold primaries or caucuses (idiots have taken to calling it "super duper Tuesday," but we are not idiots here at Smitty's World). This is nearly a national primary; previous super Tuesday contests have rarely seen more than 10 states (although there were 16 in 1988) and never have they included states as large as California, New York, and Illinois.

This should, obviously, favor candidates with the most money, the most name recognition, or the best organization. But there's a problem. On the Dem side, Clinton has the best organization but Obama has the most money and both score almost equal in name recognition. On the GOP side, McCain and Giuliani have the best name recognition, but Ron Paul has the most money and Mitt Romney has the best organization. And people like Mike Huckabee and Fred Thompson more than they like any of the others. The media have been no help, either (not that they ever are), because they're fragmented and confused in part, but also because they like a good story, so they've been pimping Huckabee and trying to destroy Clinton, publishing stories claiming that the other candidates all hate Mitt Romney and pretending that John Edwards still has a good shot at winning. They've done nothing but muddy the waters. And the polls have been awful; average error is above 6%, in some races the difference between first and third place.

This has been a real popcorn voting season and it looks to get better. Over half of all the Democratic delegates will be awarded on the 5th, and 2/5ths of the Republican ones. If one candidate sweeps the voting it will be a done deal, but at least at this point, 14 days out, it seems unlikely any candidate in either party can do that. There are two contests between now and then, a Democratic primary in South Carolina on Saturday that Obama is expected to win—which is to say, if he doesn't win it, people will assume his campaign is doomed—and the Florida primaries on the 29th, which are meaningless for Democrats but should be interesting for the GOP, especially if Rudy Giuliani is able to pull off a victory.

There. An entire political post without a single mention of issues or anything of substance. I almost feel like a real pundit.

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