The Green Papers Commentary

Mixed Results for both George W. Bush and John McCain out of Delaware

Thursday, February 10, 2000

"The Green Papers" Staff

Well, Steve Forbes went ahead and surprised me by dropping out anyway (as I had noted in my previous Commentary "THE REAL LOSER IN NEW HAMPSHIRE... The Decline and Fall of Steve Forbes 2000", I did not expect Mr. Forbes to drop out before at least seeing how things would go in South Carolina's Bush vs. McCain bout scheduled for 19 February) and this, plus McCain's surprising second-place showing in the First State- surprising because he hadn't even made a major effort regarding that state's primary, has suddenly greatly altered the campaign for the Republican presidential nomination.

It's now a potential Bush-McCain marathon in the GOP, folks: the Republican race could soon shape up into something along the lines of Gary Hart/Fritz Mondale among the Democrats in 1984 or Jimmy Carter/ Ted Kennedy in that same party back in 1980. For to whom is the majority of the "anybody but Bush" crowd going to turn now?... certainly not Alan Keyes! John McCain has now set himself up- and with the help of a state he did not even set foot in!- as the only viable alternative to what, only a month or so ago, appeared would be a Republican National Coronation- instead of a Convention- in Philadelphia this Summer. Yet this does not mean that Senator McCain has quite put himself into the position of a man who can wrest the big prize- the Presidential Nomination itself- from the Texas Governor.

I still think McCain has to win in South Carolina- if only to start catching up to and then passing the Texas Governor in the race for delegates to the GOP Convention (I base my perception of the delegate race, by the way, on the "soft count" of "The Green Papers" as I write this- which currently has Bush at 27 delegates, 16 ahead of McCain; getting the bulk of South Carolina's 37 delegates on 19 February [the Palmetto State's GOP primary is Winner-Take-All, but some of the delegates are Winner-Take-All by district- not statewide, so that someone other than the winner of the primary COULD pick up a handful of delegates here] would put McCain ahead of Bush for the time being- pending the results in Arizona and Michigan the following Tuesday [22 February]). However, I no longer think that losing South Carolina would deal the Arizona Senator the "knock-out blow" it might have were it not for Forbes dropping out. But neither will it be the decisive and significant dent in Bush's campaign should McCain win there that it otherwise would have been- again, largely because of Forbes' departure.

For the impact of Forbes' leaving the presidential race is now the big question mark which can only begin to be answered in South Carolina: to whom among either Bush or McCain will those who had backed the magazine publisher now turn? (or will many- if not most of them, for now, vote for Keyes or [more likely] just stay home??) George W. Bush seems the most natural candidate for the Forbes supporters to support- but Forbes (in an effort to set himself up as THE alternative to the Texan had McCain faltered in New Hampshire and, later, South Carolina) spent most of his campaign bashing Bush for lacking in both the fiscal and sociocultural conservatism that Forbes had put himself forth as best representing: can those who once lined up behind Mr. Forbes because they could not stomach Governor Bush suddenly begin to favor a man they came to love to dislike? Yet, as Forbes attempted to point out in the course of his campaign (though not quite as strenuously), McCain is perceived by those who were Forbes' most rabid supporters as being even less committed to traditional Republican conservatism than Bush is. McCain's only possible appeal to Forbes voters is- at best- that he, like the magazine publisher, is a maverick in this race or- at worst- that at least he is not George W. Bush.

Both Bush and McCain benefited from the results in the Delaware primary: the Texas Governor avoided what could have been seen as a loss (even if he had won a plurality in Delaware and still walked off with the state's 12 GOP delegates) by winning a majority in the First State and, by so doing, knocking Steve Forbes out for good. The Arizona Senator, meanwhile, showed that there is a significant faction within the Republican Party (i.e., it ain't just Independents voting for McCain) which is still quite dissatisfied with Bush as their party's potential nominee this Fall by his ability to gain significant support without even campaigning in person (despite Bush's constant references to the Arizonan as a "hypocrite" for skipping primaries and caucuses).

But Bush and McCain also suffered setbacks as a result of the primary voting in the First State: McCain no longer has Steve Forbes siphoning off voters who are more lukewarm to himself than to the Texas Governor, while Bush has to be concerned about a rival who can win people over enough to vote for him without even spending his campaign war-chest! South Carolina has now become even more important to both of the front-runners than it was even after McCain's big win in New Hampshire. Ten days from now, when the dust from the Palmetto State contest settles, we will have a much better handle on whose Pros more outweigh his Cons.

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