Well, New Hampshire did not, in fact, confirm the preferences expressed by the good citizen-voters in Iowa less than a week before: on the Democratic side, we had Senator Hillary Clinton taking the Granite State by a fair, yet not all that sizeable, margin over Senator Barack Obama, the victor in Iowa's Caucuses; while, amongst the Republicans, we saw Senator John McCain victorious by a margin over 2nd place finisher and former Governor Mitt Romney as significant as that by which Mr. Romney had finished 2d to former Governor Mike Huckabee in Iowa.
So, what does this all portend right now, as I type this?
First, let's look at the Democrats:
Senator Clinton's victory in New Hampshire means what I said it would mean in my Commentary of 6 January this year: that she has now returned herself to the status quo ante: ante-Iowa, that is! In other words: she is, once more, the Democratic "front runner". However, that is all it means! Nothing less, yes- but, by the same token, nothing more.
Yet, come the rising sun this past Wednesday, 9 January, we were greeted with the spectacle of various and sundry amongst the cream of media punditry opining long and loud about how "Hillary has shaken up the political world" and the like...
Senator Obama's 1st place showing in Iowa truly was a shock to the race for the Democratic Presidential Nomination, as was Senator Clinton's finishing virtually neck-and-neck with former Senator John Edwards, if only because it showed that the Seemingly Invincible One was not at all that invincible after all. Now, however, with Senator Clinton having pulled out a win in the Granite State- admittedly, a win that seemed, only a day or so before that State's Primary, to have eluded her- we are, in a sense, back to that which was always expected by this point in any event. Put another way: if you lose the first game of the season and then win the very next one, you are still 1-1 after 2 games played- same as you would have been had you won the first game only to lose the second!
What we have right now, in reality, is a virtual tie between Senators Clinton and Obama atop the Democratic Party heap: if one combines the estimated number of pledged delegates from Iowa (projected out through the Caucus/Convention procedures yet to occur in that State) with the actual number of pledged delegates gained in New Hampshire, Obama currently lays claim to, at least potentially, 25 such pledged delegates to Clinton's 24 (with Edwards lurking not all that far behind with 18).
(By the way- just for the record- I don't pay all that much attention to so-called 'superdelegates'- at least, not at this early stage of the Presidential Nomination Process- for they tell me comparatively little, if anything, about what is actually happening "on the ground". One can so easily find references in print and on the Internet to Hillary Clinton having a low three digits worth of delegates to Barack Obama's high double digit collection: most of these are- on the Democratic side- endorsements by PLEO delegates who are, technically, officially "unpledged" going all the way into the Convention itself late this Summer.
Many of these endorsements were made prior to even the Iowa Caucuses [thus they don't- nor can they- reflect the current "real time" political situation]; many others have recently been made public in an effort to potentially influence those yet to vote in a Primary or Caucus; all are potentially subject to later change [depending on the success or failure of the contenders who have been so endorsed]. Above all, however, all such endorsements translated into "pledged superdelegate" numbers are merely expressions of the will of politicians within the Party.
I, meanwhile, care far more about expressions of the will of the ordinary voter and how that will, so expressed, might ultimately come to affect what happens on the floor of the National Convention and this is found solely within the breakdown of the pledges of delegates as determined by the application of the process in each State to the results of voters' presidential preference. So far, the average Democratic voter [in, to be fair, but two States] seems split in a way that the politician 'superdelegates' are not. And that, gentle reader, is where we really stand at this very moment!)
So, where do the Democrats go from here?-- to Michigan, of course: a State holding a Presidential Primary this coming Tuesday 15 January...
yes, that's right, I said Michigan!-- for the Democrats!!
'Tis true that Michigan- as is the case also re: Florida (holding its Presidential Primary on Tuesday 29 January)- has been stripped of its entire Democratic National Convention delegation by the national Democratic Party because the State decided to hold a Presidential Primary prior to 5 February 2008 in violation of Party rules which only permit four States (Iowa, Nevada, New Hampshire and South Carolina) to do so.
Under the original plan approved by the Democratic Party's Rules and Bylaws Committee and subsequently approved by the Democratic National Committee, there were to be two early Caucuses (instead of Iowa's "traditional" only one such Caucus) followed by two early Presidential Primaries (instead of New Hampshire's "traditional" only one such Primary) before other States and equivalent jurisdictions (such as Territories or, say, "Democrats Abroad") would be permitted to join the presidential nomination fray.
And the original schedule under this plan was: Iowa would have held its First-in-the-Nation Caucuses on Monday 14 January, followed by Caucuses in Nevada on Saturday 19 January, then New Hampshire's First-in-the-Nation Primaries would have taken place on Tuesday 22 January, with South Carolina holding a Presidential Primary on Tuesday 29 January. Had this all been done this way, I might well be writing a "pre-Iowa Caucus" Commentary right now, instead of one that is already dealing with events post-New Hampshire!
Florida was the first State- it did so in May of last year- to move its Presidential Primaries up to before 5 February, to Tuesday 29 January (it was, therefore, also the first State that the national Democratic Party leadership stripped of its entire National Convention delegation as a penalty for having done so). The Florida Democratic Party itself has often claimed that this change was the result of Republican control of the Florida Legislature (along with a Republican Governor willing to sign into law such a change), but this is actually rather disingenuous: for the vote in the Florida House of Representatives was 115-1 in favor (a later vote in that body to accommodate Amendments to the bill later made by the State Senate was actually 118-0 in favor!), while the Florida Senate approved this change by a vote of 37-2. Now, last time *I* checked, Florida did not have but 3 Democratic legislators! Which, of course, means that most Democrats in the Florida Legislature also supported changing the date of that State's Presidential Primary: thus, it was hardly a "Republican" bill!
Michigan, meanwhile, also moved up its Presidential Primary- to this coming Tuesday, 15 January- and this was done (this past September) with the signature into law of this change by that State's Democratic Governor, Jennifer Granholm! (And, like Florida, Michigan- too- was unceremoniously stripped of its entire delegation to the Democratic National Convention for being so defiant).
Now, had things remained this way- that is: a pre-'Super Duper Tuesday' schedule of: 14 Jan- Iowa; 15 Jan-Michigan; 19 Jan- Nevada; 22 Jan- New Hampshire; 29 Jan- South Carolina and Florida- then, maybe, the national Democratic leadership might have had a good argument for so sanctioning Florida and Michigan... again, maybe (but, then again, maybe not!- for a reason I will touch upon shortly).
But this is not how things remained: this past October, South Carolina Democrats moved their Presidential Primary up to Saturday 26 January (so as to be "first in the South" ahead of Florida), while the Iowa Democratic Party decided to move its Caucuses up to Thursday 3 January (and, of course, they were actually held on that date: to be fair, Iowa's Democrats did this in order to have their Caucuses on the same date as the Republicans would be holding theirs [the Iowa GOP was dealing with Wyoming having moved its Republican County Conventions up to Saturday 5 January]). Then, come November, New Hampshire moved its Presidential Primary to 8 January (so as to be able to hold them before Michigan's).
Looked at another way: Nevada has been the only State among the 4 permitted by Democratic Party rules to hold "First Determining Step" delegate selection events prior to 5 February to not have changed the date of such "First Determining Step"; looked at still another way: the Democratic Party US allowed three States to change their Primary or Caucus dates but, at the same time, is punishing two other States for doing the same thing!
Here's the problem with that (and the very reason that I earlier wrote that "maybe the national Democratic leadership might have had a good argument for so sanctioning Florida and Michigan" had that Party not allowed the other States to so change): States of the American Union are sovereign; Political Parties are not! What we have here is a Political Party (and, yes, the Republicans- in their own way- have also done much the same thing the Democrats have done: don't worry, dear reader-- I'll get to the GOP in this piece shortly!) telling a sovereign State just when it can hold an election!!
Now, the conduct of elections is one of the inherent functions of a constituent State of the United States of America: the Constitution of the United States itself makes this abundantly clear-- after all, the U.S. House of Representatives (and, since the adoption of the 17th Amendment nearly a century ago now, the United States Senate as well) is chosen by voters who shall have the Qualifications requisite for Electors of the most numerous Branch of the State Legislature [Article I, Section 2, clause 1] and, as regards the election of a President and Vice-President of the United States, Presidential Electors are chosen in such Manner as the Legislature thereof may direct [Article II, Section 1, clause 2]- including (as all States, along with the District of Columbia, now so direct) by the People themselves. Nowhere in the Federal Constitution is Suffrage in and of itself defined (later Amendments to the document deal only with grounds under which one cannot be denied Suffrage as already defined by a State: Race, Color or Previous Condition of Servitude [15th Amendment], Sex- that is, Gender [19th Amendment] and Age, if one has attained the age of 18 [26th Amendment]).
As a result, if a State wants to hold an election- even a Primary or Caucus for purposes of nominating candidates or selecting delegates to a higher-tier Convention- on any day of its own choosing, it can do so, subject only to its own State Constitution and/or the provision in Article I, Section 4, clause 1 of the Federal Constitution providing that Congress may at any time by Law make or alter such Regulations [already made by the State] pertaining to the Times, Places and Manner of holding Elections for Senators and Representatives. Note well that- as I myself have often pointed out in earlier writings of mine on this very website- there is no Congressional authority to regulate the manner and method by which candidates for President and Vice-President are nominated. Constitutionally, then, such authority would be held by the State (as a Reserved Power under the 10th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution) before it could devolve upon a Party.
In other words: since a national Political Party in the United States of America is, by definition, a confederation of State Parties and a State Party itself can be regulated by its State under that State's own sovereign power over the conduct of elections- including Primaries and Caucuses, how- then- can a national Party be permitted to so cavalierly dictate to a State when it can, and cannot, hold its own elections?
Furthermore, this whole exercise- what amounts to a "staring contest" between the Democratic National Committee and the Democratic Parties of both Florida and Michigan- is altogether pointless! For I would find it rather surprising should the eventual Presidential Nominee of the Democratic Party in 2008- whoever it might turn out to be- be giving his or her Acceptance Speech before a National Convention in which both Florida and Michigan are completely unrepresented (let me put it this way: were the Democrats' 2008 National Ticket to do just that, it would the first major political gaffe of the ensuing General Election campaign!)
No, I think that come the Democratic National Convention late next August, there will be something along the lines of the settlement of a civil lawsuit in which the plaintiff can thereafter claim "vindication" while the defendant is not required to admit to any wrongdoing. Yes, indeed, come Monday 25 August 2008 in Denver, there will be delegates from Florida and Michigan in attendance (unless, instead, there be a large helping of abject political tomfoolery!)
Nonetheless, if only for now, Michigan is holding a Presidential Primary this coming Tuesday 15 January that will pledge, to presidential contenders, 128 of 156 delegates who are not all that sure they will actually be traveling out to the Rockies late this Summer (or, if they do show up at the front door of the Convention Hall, whether they'll be allowed inside). The Democratic Party also threatened to take away already pledged delegates from presidential contenders who might actively campaign in Michigan (as well as Florida)- though even this was "fudged" (for there were certain fund-raising events held in Michigan which Democratic presidential contenders were permitted to attend [but when is campaigning not really campaigning?]), thus many contenders opted to not have their names even appear on the Michigan ballot (though this was also largely done as a form of "suck up" to Iowans and New Hampshiremen).
What this means is that Michigan, on the Democratic side, is now pretty much reduced to being, more or less, a referendum on Senator Clinton's candidacy (for she is the only "top-tier" contender on the ballot there). Voters in the Michigan Democratic Primary must vote for "Uncommitted" in order to register their support for any contender other than Mrs. Clinton, Senator Chris Dodd (who has already withdrawn from the presidential nomination race), former Senator Mike Gravel or Congressman Dennis Kucinich (these last three being the only names, other than Hillary Clinton's, also on the Michigan Democratic Primary ballot). A write-in vote for any contender other than those actually appearing on the ballot will be null and void and, therefore, of no effect should (as I have already indicated I fully expect will happen) Michigan delegates eventually are to be seated on the floor of the Convention in Denver.
As for the Republican voters in Michigan this Tuesday, their situation is not so dire-- or, at least, it is not so dire as the situation involving former Governor (and Michigan native) Romney's candidacy! ;-)
As was the case with New Hampshire, Michigan's GOP delegation will be but half of its original allocation (and I will here give the national Republican Party any and all due credit for at least attempting some fairness by sanctioning all States that are pledging National Convention delegates earlier than 5 February, even "First-in-the-Nation" New Hampshire, by stripping all of them [as per the rules of the GOP] of half their delegates but, unlike the Democrats, not all of them! [also unlike the Democrats, the GOP is not preventing presidential contenders from campaigning in said States]-- this does not, however, allow the Republicans to escape my argument, as made earlier in this piece, that- for constitutional reasons- national Political Parties should not be permitted to so dictate when a sovereign State might hold its elections-- by the way, the reason Iowa [along with Nevada] are allowed to "slide", on the Republican side, with their pre-5 February Caucuses is that, as is so often pointed out here on 'The Green Papers', Caucuses do not actually directly pledge National Convention delegates, whereas Presidential Primaries usually do).
Despite the truncated number of Republican delegates coming out of Michigan, the State remains a crucial test for Mitt Romney. A loss in the State of his birth does not necessarily deal his candidacy a mortal blow, as- although many delegates will be pledged to the winners of each of the State's Congressional Districts- some of the delegates will be pledged proportionally based on the statewide returns (thus, if Romney can come in, say, 2d, he will get at least a few delegates); however, not winning a State which his father once served as Governor (thus, the Romney name is still reasonably well known here, even though it has been four decades since George Romney served as Michigan's Chief Executive) would not at all serve him well going into South Carolina the weekend thereafter.
As for the other main GOP presidential contenders- Huckabee, McCain and former Senator Fred Thompson- Michigan is more of a "jockeying for position" going into South Carolina on Saturday 19 January. Senator McCain (here not taking former Governor Romney into consideration) would probably be helped most by a win in Michigan; Thompson, meanwhile, is going to have to make what might very well be his last stand against Huckabee in South Carolina (in order to determine who truly emerges as the "Southern candidate" on the Republican side) in any event. Meanwhile, as I have already indicated in my 6 January piece, former Mayor Rudy Giuliani is concentrating on Florida and, this depending on how he does in the Sunshine State, 'Super Duper Tuesday'.
We will all just have to actually see how the political landscape of the Grand Old Party looks after Michigan before the fullest assessment of the stakes in South Carolina can be most fairly made.