THE CLOCK IS OPERATING: WE'RE UNDERWAY!
What we are only beginning to learn as the
2008 Presidential Nominating Process- finally!- gets going
Sunday, January 6, 2008
by Richard E. Berg-Andersson
First off, permit me- gentle reader- to here go somewhat off-topic for what is, after all a political website, if only for a relatively short time, and take more than a few paragraphs to review what has so recently transpired at the very top level of American intercollegiate Football- what is now called the "Football Bowl Subdivision" (formerly Division I-A). Those of you reading this who are sports fans who don't happen to care for U.S. College Football, as well as those of you who don't like Sports altogether, please bear with me-- for my purpose here should become clear soon enough:
After the first few weeks of the as-long-as-14-week College Football regular season (during which teams representing their respective colleges and universities are permitted to play up to 12 regular season games), the "Fighting Tigers" of Louisiana State University, undefeated over their first 6 games of the season, emerged as the consensus #1 team (in separate polls of Associated Press-affiliated sportswriters and head coaches of collegiate football teams [or, in reality in many case, their staffs or the college's Sports Information Director]). But then, on Saturday 13 October, LSU lost to the "Wildcats" of the University of Kentucky by a score of 43-37 in three untimed overtime sessions and ended up being replaced as # 1 in the polls (as well as in a rather curious device known as the "Bowl Championship Series" system, which begins ranking the top college football teams after the halfway point of the season- in the case of 2007, immediately after the game in which LSU suffered its first loss) by the "Buckeyes" of Ohio State University.
Ohio State's reign at the top of the College Football world would last for as long as it, too, remained undefeated- which it did through its first 10 games of the season, until- come Saturday 10 November- it, too, finally lost: in this case, to the University of Illinois' "Fighting Illini" by a score of 28-21. Although, after that weekend, there were still two undefeated US college football teams in the FBS/ex-Div. I-A (the "Warriors" of the University of Hawaii, which would end up going undefeated throughout the 2007 regular season but was considered to be in a weaker, so-called "mid-Major" [as opposed to an outright "Major"] Conference [a "Conference" being a group of schools that have agreed to play each other more or less as in a league and only count games against each other toward the Conference's Championship- no matter who, or how many, outside the Conference a given team might also play]; and the "Jayhawks" of the University of Kansas, although playing as a member of one of the Major Conferences, so lightly regarded as to have been ranked as low as #20 in the polls going into the same weekend during which LSU would suffer its aforementioned loss to Kentucky), Louisiana State, with an overall record of 9-1, regained the top slot in the polls as well as in the BCS ranking system (which includes a "strength of schedule" component that tends to- at least relative to the polls- downgrade, in particular, teams in 'mid-Major' Conferences such as the Western Athletic Conference which includes Hawaii as a member).
But, after winning one more regular season game thereafter, LSU would lose yet once more- to the "Razorbacks" of the University of Arkansas, 50-48 (and, as was the case in their earlier loss to Kentucky, it would take three overtimes) on Friday 23 November, the day after the American holiday of Thanksgiving: in the ensuing polls and BCS rankings after that coming weekend, LSU would drop to as low as #7. Meanwhile, two new top teams would emerge after the long Thanksgiving weekend (though the polls differed as to which one was #1 and which was #2): the "Tigers" of the University of Missouri (who, already with but one loss, had just [on Saturday 24 November] beaten the aforementioned- as well as heretofore undefeated- Kansas "Jayhawks", 36-28) and, another 'one loss only' team, the "Mountaineers" of West Virginia University.
However, 14 weeks after the regular 2007 College Football season had first begun, both of these aforementioned teams would lay the proverbial "egg" in games, both of which were nationally televised simultaneously during Evening Prime Time on the East Coast on Saturday 1 December: West Virginia would lose, 13-9, to the "Panthers" of the University of Pittsburgh while Missouri (playing an "extra" 13th game to determine the Championship of its Big 12 Conference) was trounced by the "Sooners" of the University of Oklahoma, 38-17. Earlier that day, Louisiana State- playing in its own "extra" 13th game, for the Championship of its own Southeastern Conference- defeated the "Volunteers" of the University of Tennessee, 21-14 (Meanwhile, Ohio State- whose Big Ten Conference does not play such a 13th Conference Championship game- had not played a single down of American Football since Saturday 17 November, two full weeks before!)
so then, which two teams will be meeting in the BCS National Championship Game come Monday evening, 7 January 2008?--
Ohio State and Louisiana State--
Sound even vaguely familiar, all you political junkies out there so hungry for information about the US Presidential Nominating process?
If not, then please allow me put all of this another way, to- perhaps- much better to explain why I am bringing all this up in the first place on a site such as 'The Green Papers':
Louisiana State was the early "front-runner" coming out of the earliest contests for Best College Football Team in the Nation but, after a "gaffe" (its triple overtime loss to Kentucky), Ohio State moved ahead in the polls. A "bad showing" for Ohio State (its loss to Illinois) a few weeks later, however, allowed LSU to regain its status as a "front-runner", only to lose it again after a "less than expected performance" (its second triple-overtime loss to Arkansas). Two other "contenders"- previously towards the "back of the pack" (indeed, going into the weekend during which Louisiana State would suffer its first loss back in early October, West Virginia was not even in the Top 5 in the polls and Missouri had not cracked the Top 10)- came forth as possible "alternatives" to LSU and Ohio State but, in the end, were found lacking.
One more time (with feeling): As late as the eve of the games played on Saturday 10 November, Ohio State was #1 and LSU was #2-- but, by the end of that same month, both were no longer "front-runners" for what passes for the National College Football Championship-- yet, in the end, it will be these two teams that will be facing off for that very National College Championship!
And, if any of you reading this piece can follow all of what I have written above (and, furthermore, can even understand it!), then you- too- are well qualified to be analyzing the 2008 Presidential Nominating Process and writing about it, as I am doing right now: for who says that the process through which the two Major Parties choose their respective Presidential Nominees doesn't resemble at least one other, somewhat similar, institution well-ensconced within the greater American culture? ;-)
Politics is, more than anything else, Sport. It is Mankind's oldest continuously functioning competitive endeavor: primitive tribes and clans of Neanderthal and Cro-Magnon engaged in it and, by the time two or more contenders vied for the "championship belt" making one of them the new High Priest for the Akkadian Empire of Sargon I in the late 3d Millennium B.C., it was not all that much different- save for the ground rules and the number of people in the society allowed to participate- from today's American Elections. Forget Baseball, friends: Politics is America's "National Pastime". Forget the National Football League, folks: Politics is, in fact, America's #1 spectator sport. Oh, yes, indeed: a "spectator" sport- because, just as in the major sports the average American sports fan follows on a daily basis, most of us generally leave it to the professionals to actually play the game we all, however reluctantly, have to watch.
It is, of course, much less a spectator sport in an early 3d Millennium A.D. Republican Federal Democracy than it was for Sargon I's subjects in Mesopotamia, but it remains- for the most part- a spectator sport nonetheless. Furthermore, it is a GREAT spectator sport: Politics combines all the high-speed, fast-paced action of Baseball with all the graceful tact and measured courtesies of Ice Hockey and, as one peruses the statute books containing the Election Laws of the several States of this Union, it has a "rule book" as arcane and legalistic as that of the NFL or NBA. And we all can't wait to see just who gets into the "Playoffs" and, of the candidates who do so, who ultimately wins "THE Series" or "THE Cup" or "THE Super Bowl" come that first Tuesday after the first Monday of November every two years.
So it has been written in the Mission Statement of this very website.
Much as was seen in the course of the 2007 College Football season at its highest levels, we have just seen the two evident "front-runner"s, New York Senator Hillary Clinton on the Democratic side and former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney amongst the Republican contenders, each stumble at least a bit as a result of this past Thursday's (3 January) Iowa Presidential Caucuses, the first time that ordinary rank-and-file voters were allowed to truly express their presidential preferences in anger [;-)]. As the well-informed reader of this piece by now surely already knows: Democrat Illinois Senator Barack Obama scored a significant "win" in Iowa, while Republican former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee garnered an even more impressive "victory" in that same State (though I here purposely place the words "win" and "victory" in quotes because, in neither Party, will the results of presidential preference voting in Iowa actually directly determine the eventual makeup of Iowa's National Convention delegates insofar as how many such delegates are pledged to whom is concerned).
The portents of each of these results coming out of Iowa differ, however, between the two Parties:
Of all three apparently "top tier" Democratic presidential contenders, Senator Clinton was the one who could best survive a third place finish in Iowa. A third place finish for Senator Obama would have been quite devastating (to prove he was not merely a "flash in the pan", he had to finish either first or second), while Senator John Edwards could survive a third place finish in Iowa only if he finished a mere percentage point or two behind Clinton and Obama while those two remained within mere percentage points of each other.
As things turned out, Obama came in first by a rather impressive margin, considering the number of contenders, while- by finishing out just ahead of Mrs. Clinton, Edwards proved he was still (if only for the near term) still in the hunt for the trophy. However, reports of an impending obituary for Senator Clinton's presidential nomination hopes and dreams- as a result of her third place finish in Iowa- are grossly exaggerated!
Nonetheless, New Hampshire, come this Tuesday (8 January), holds the key for Hillary Clinton: she must win the Granite State to, in effect, match Senator Obama. She doesn't have to win by much, mind you (just as her third place finish in Iowa was worse news for her than would otherwise be indicated by how close she came to second-place finisher Edwards, even a narrow margin of victory for her in New Hampshire would pretty much return everything back to the pre-Iowa status quo [she would, thereby, again be the "front-runner"])-- by the same token, though, she cannot afford a loss in New Hampshire, even by a narrow margin.
The reason? South Carolina (26 January on the Democrats' Primary schedule)- and, in particular, strong support for the Democratic Party down there amongst African-Americans. By all accounts, Mrs. Clinton currently has rather sure institutional support among, for example, Black ministers and other key leaders of the African-American community in that State: however, if Senator Obama ends up with- in effect- Iowa and New Hampshire as notches in his proverbial "belt", how can it be expected that the larger segment of the Black community in the Palmetto State will so willingly vote against an African-American in order to save Mrs. Clinton's candidacy?
This is not at all, of course, to suggest that African-Americans vote in lock-step in any event (any more than do, say, women: Senator Clinton actually did not do all that well, compared to Senator Obama, amongst her own gender in Iowa, for instance) but a Barack Obama who comes into the South Carolina Primary later this month as a most viable contender for the presidential nomination of the one of the two Major Parties in the United States as a result of two significant victories (New Hampshire in addition to Iowa) will certainly prove far more attractive to many in the African-American community than he almost certainly did prior to what just transpired in Iowa!
Now, what if it is Senator Clinton who wins in New Hampshire? Well, then it becomes real interesting: John Edwards certainly becomes even more of a player in the State of his birth (if only as a "third way" for those who don't support either Clinton or Obama), while Senator Clinton can the more better spar with Senator Obama for African-American support in the Palmetto State and we will then be witnessing what will be, more or less, a "jockeying for position" re: 'Super-Duper Tuesday' come 5 February on the Democratic side.
In short, as regards the Democrats: New Hampshire will either confirm or deny the wisdom of Democrats in Iowa; how much New Hampshire does- or does not- do so will then determine just how South Carolina will be in play which, in turn, will reveal the overall "game plan" for 'Super Duper Tuesday' which, in its own turn, may- or may not!- give us a potential Democratic nominee-presumptive (but, of course, further expounding upon all of this will have to wait for a future Commentary on this website). In any event, just like LSU and Ohio State's respective '07 College Football squads re: the BCS National Title, Mrs. Clinton could still so easily end up claiming a "lock" on the Democratic Presidential Nomination by as early as a month from the date of the posting of this Commentary!
Before I now turn to the prospects among Republicans as a result of Iowa, let me here assure Democrats in both Michigan and Florida that the Primaries in both those respective States (which have become special cases in this Primary/Caucus "season") will be discussed in a post-New Hampshire Commentary (where I will discuss just why they are such "special cases" and, in addition, how this status might affect the entire presidential nomination battle); I just don't want to get hung up on such things in this piece (which will be, so I am sure, considered far too long anyway [;-)]).
The Republican picture, meanwhile, is quite a bit more "muddy"; certainly, it is not as straightforward as what one can discern on the Democratic side- pending what actually results from New Hampshire, of course.
First of all, one of the more well known GOP presidential contenders, former New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, didn't even effectively contest Iowa (nor, for that matter, is he paying much more than passing attention to New Hampshire). Instead, Giuliani has decided to pursue a strategy of concentrating on the 'Super Duper Tuesday' States (along with [scheduled for a week earlier] Florida, which- as I have already stated as regards the Democratic Primary in that State- I will write about in my next Commentary). New Hampshire and South Carolina will certainly tell us whether or not this strategy on the part of "America's Mayor" might actually be viable.
For Governor Huckabee is highly unlikely to win New Hampshire (even with momentum for his candidacy coming out of Iowa); the real test for Huckabee in the Granite State, therefore, is how well he might do compared to either Arizona Senator John McCain (who finished fourth in Iowa, but right on the tail of [surprise- if not himself surprised ;-)] 3d place finisher Fred Thompson) or Governor Romney, either of whom is- as of this typing- most expected to win in the Granite State. A 3rd place finish very close to whoever finishes 2d is not only good for Huckabee, it is also bad for Giuliani, mainly because South Carolina- which, on the GOP side, votes on Saturday 19 January- is more "Huckabee territory" than it is that of any other "top tier" Republican contender.
Giuliani would, or so it seems, prefer different winners in Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina (so that none of these have long-term momentum going into, first, Florida and, thereafter, 'Super Duper Tuesday': Guiliani, indeed, would most benefit from three "regional" GOP contenders emerging so that, depending on how well he himself does come 5 February, Giuliani can- assuming he does well enough on that big day, obviously- thereafter claim to be a far more "national" candidate than any of they). Failing this scenario, Giuliani would like a winner in two of the aforementioned three States to be most weak in the third State: thus, if Huckabee manages to combine a South Carolina victory with his "win" in Iowa, Giuliani benefits most if Huckabee looks fairly weak (4th place or lower- or, at least, a weak 3d place [that is, a 3d place finish as far back of the top two as Fred Thompson was in Iowa]) in the Granite State.
What Giuliani does not need is a Mike Huckabee who, even if ending up in 3d place in New Hampshire, is close enough to the 2d place finisher there to be able to turn victory in two States (again, here assuming Huckabee can win South Carolina) into clear "front-runner" status. Meanwhile, Huckabee finishing 2d- or even (gasp! [;-)]) 1st- in New Hampshire is potentially the stuff of Rudy Giuliani's nightmares (or at least those of his campaign staff [;-)])!
So long as Giuliani's "Big State strategy" still seems useful after both New Hampshire and South Carolina, no State prior to 'Super Duper Tuesday' can then really determine the final outcome of the Republican presidential nomination contest, if only because Rudy himself will remain on the fringes of the "battlefield" until then: hence the "muddiness" of prognostications relative to the GOP- at least right now. But New Hampshire will still go a long way towards showing us how smart- or foolish- the former Mayor has actually been!
As for those Republican contenders currently well inside the "pit" (aside from Huckabee, whom I have already touched upon): New Hampshire is potentially most dangerous, where not also potentially most damaging, to Senator McCain. The Arizona Senator doesn't necessarily have to win the Granite State, but he cannot lose it by a wide percentage margin (especially to Governor Romney) and he certainly cannot afford to finish no higher than 3rd! As was the case with Barack Obama on the Democratic side going into Iowa, a 3rd place finish for McCain in New Hampshire would be quite devastating (especially given the fact that, like Mayor Giuliani, he pretty much ended up blowing off Iowa [though, unlike Giuliani, McCain blew off Iowa in order to concentrate more on New Hampshire- thus, the stakes for McCain in the Granite State are, by very definition, already higher]).
Mitt Romney, meanwhile, merely has to at least finish 2d in New Hampshire (so long as it's to anyone except Huckabee-- an actual carbon copy of the top two GOP finishers in Iowa in the Granite State would be bad for both Romney and McCain) and for much the same reason Democrat Hillary Clinton could survive a 3rd place (which was itself so close to 2d place) finish in Iowa: their former respective "front runner" statuses garnered each of them a large amount of both cash and name recognition already (both of which will allow them to fight on beyond New Hampshire at least for the short term in any event). However, an outright win by Romney in New Hampshire would be a huge boost to his candidacy (even if he only ekes out such a victory over McCain). At any rate, Mitt Romney could very well also claim a "lock" on the Republican Presidential Nomination about a month from the date of this piece and, thus, also pull an "LSU and Ohio State" of his own!
By the way, if only for the record: over this past weekend, Wyoming (which, unlike Iowa, was the first State to actually pledge Republican National Convention delegates [though under a penalty of losing half its originally allocated delegation]) gave 2/3 of its delegates to Romney (and none to either McCain, Huckabee or Giuliani). Note how many delegates the Republican contenders get out of New Hampshire and be sure to factor in Romney's 8 from Wyoming (as well as, for that matter, Fred Thompson's 3 from that same State) to get a truer post-New Hampshire picture of just how New Hampshire played within the GOP presidential nomination battle.
Oh... and don't forget to fasten your seat belts, whichever of the Major Parties you might be the more interested in... for this is, quite obviously, still far from over!