So... Mitt Romney won the Michigan Republican Primary.
And the happiest man in America at this news was one Rudy Giuliani because the Republican Party US has still not firmly settled on a potential 2008 presidential nominee (given the fact that, now, three different presidential contenders have won first-step delegate distribution events in each of three different States) and this makes Giuliani's Florida-into-'Super Duper Tuesday' strategy seem that much more viable (now: if Rudy can only hang in there for another 10-plus days or so; if only the campaign money doesn't run out; if only Giuliani can do well enough in Florida [at this point, either a win or, perhaps, that oxymoronic "virtual tie"- that is, being so close to the winner if he himself does not win (if only because 'Winner Take All' Florida is large enough to potentially allow non-winners to still pick up delegates from more than a few Congressional Districts: thus, Florida is really merely 'Winner Take Most')- in the Sunshine State will only be "well enough"]; if only... if only... if only; if ifs and buts were candied nuts...)
Meanwhile, while we all wait to see just what fate the "political gods" might have in store for the former New York City Mayor come 29 January-- and 5 February (well... maybe!), we have the spectacle of South Carolina, on the Republican side, come Saturday 19 January.
South Carolina has become, in effect, two separate "bouts" within a single Party in the same State:
the "main event" is Mike Huckabee vs. Fred Thompson-- the "new kid", still somewhat buoyed by his "come from nowhere" showing in Iowa (though the lustre has worn off at least some, given the fact that he could not translate it into any real momentum in either New Hampshire or Michigan [which emerged as John McCain vs. Mitt Romney battles: when a candidate comes in 3rd but behind by a margin such as that shown by Huckabee in the two Northern States in which Primaries have been held so far-- well-- tell me: what was the real difference between Mike Huckabee's performance in the Granite State and John Edwards' in that same Primary re: the other Major Party?) taking on the "old pro"...
yes, Fred Thompson is, indeed, an "old pro": for I still can well recall that summer morning way back in 1973 (I was out of school on what my New Jersey school district called "Summer Recess" between my junior and senior years in high school) when Thompson, as the Minority Counsel for the Senate Select Committee on Presidential Campaign Activities (better known as "the Senate Watergate Committee"), was the one who got to question then-FAA Administrator Alexander Butterfield ("Just what was he doing testifying before this committee?", I wondered as I stared, bleary-eyed, at the TV in my family's rec room downstairs while eating a bowl of cold cereal) as Butterfield revealed that then-President Richard Nixon had had a comprehensive taping system installed in the Oval Office, as well as elsewhere in the White House ("You mean, there are actually TAPES of John Dean talking about that 'cancer growing on the Presidency'??!!", I thought [and, to this day, I still don't recall if I might have actually said this aloud as I, at the time, did a rather impressive 'spit take' involving a fairly large mouthful of milk-soaked Sugar Pops])
Once my chin had regained its full feeling from the beating it took when it hit the floor after my jaw had flown open upon first hearing what Mr. Butterfield had to say, I remember thinking- I kid the reader not! (and the reader has to understand that Thompson had more hair back then, that it also was darker and longer [in an 'Elvisian' sort of style], and he- of course- already had that by now well-known [especially to fans of TV's Law & Order] rather stentorian Tennessee drawl) "Hey! this Fred Thompson guy would be perfect for the lead role in a movie about the life of President Andrew Johnson"-- a rather prescient thought, by the way, on two fronts: 1. Fred Thompson would, in fact, become an actor; 2. he would also later be a sitting member of a United States Senate as "Court of Impeachment" during only the second time in American History a President had actually been formally impeached by the U.S. House of Representatives (how interesting, then, might it have been had Thompson once actually played an Andrew Johnson dealing with the first, an Impeachment Trial that was just as much the mix of constitutional theater and political circus as Bill Clinton's would itself prove to be more than 130 years later).
South Carolina is, in truth, "Fred Thompson's Last Stand": A loss and he's out; for a win by Mike Huckabee in the Palmetto State will cloak the former Arkansas Governor with the imprimatur "Southern candidate" in the Republican presidential sweepstakes, a mantle the former Tennessee Senator cannot thereafter possibly overcome. No, Thompson needs a win here (just as Rudy Giuliani would most benefit from a Thompson victory in South Carolina for, by now, obvious reasons): there is not enough room, at this stage of the "game", for two GOP candidates with Southern accents!
The "undercard" in South Carolina, meanwhile, is McCain vs. Romney: neither needs to necessarily win in South Carolina to remain viable in Florida going into 'Super Duper Tuesday' but neither can falter badly either, for both contenders have serious demons to overcome amongst the palmettos: McCain's early strong challenge to then-Texas Governor George W. Bush began to "go off the tracks" in South Carolina eight years ago (Saturday 19 February 2000-- thus, another South Carolina Primary being held on a Saturday the 19th is potentially fraught with potential anguish for the Arizona Senator); Romney, on the other hand, is facing a Primary that will include a larger-than-average bloc of conservative Christian voters, as compared to most of the rest of the Union, many of whom sincerely believe that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints to which Romney adheres is, at best, some kind of un-Christian cult (despite its name).
Most importantly, however, McCain and Romney are, inevitably, going to be compared to each other as the returns from South Carolina are examined: after all, each has now won a Presidential Primary (something that Huckabee cannot yet say, by the way, which is why a Huckabee victory in the Palmetto State does not all that harm Giuliani's strategy: it would still be three different winners in three separate Primaries [though a Thompson win- four different winners in four separate States- would be even better for the former NYC Mayor, as already noted earlier in this piece]) and, although South Carolina is also 'Winner Take All'- and pretty much truly so (for, here, there are not all that many Congressional Districts from which the losers Statewide can hope to still pick up delegates) and where McCain and Romney actually finish in the voting- in relation to each other- will say quite a lot about the stakes for each of them in Florida and on to 5 February's 'Super Duper Tuesday'...
meantime, it should go without saying (but I'll here say it anyway), that a win in South Carolina by either McCain or Romney clearly gives whichever one might actually be that winner in this scenario a huge leg up on the road to the Republican Presidential Nomination (by the same token, a victory in the Palmetto State by either the Arizona Senator or the former Mass. Governor/Michigan native is very bad news for Mike Huckabee and his own chances for that same nomination).
Turning now to the Democrats, we have to look at what has just happened (and, to some extent, what did not happen) and what this all portends for the presidential contenders in that Major Party:
Hillary Clinton won Michigan with a significant majority of the vote: problem is, none of the other "top tier" Democratic presidential contenders were on the ballot in Michigan; in addition, there was a sizeable vote for 'Uncommitted'.
This is not all good news for the New York Senator-- first of all, in a situation where one is running virtually unopposed (all due apologies to Mike Gravel and Dennis Kucinich but, if you are a "lower tier" candidate and you can't take advantage of the potentially "wide open" situation presented to you in Michigan, well-- the less said, the better!), it is very difficult to motivate the average voter to cast a vote- in effect- for 'None of the Above'; also (this based on the exit polling and other polling data) most of those who came out to vote 'Uncommitted' were not exactly "Friends of Hil' "!
In the end, Senator Clinton picked up 73 of the pledged delegates from Michigan but 55 (some 43%) of these pledged 128 will be Uncommitted [and I look at delegate counts, not popular vote, when I analyze these Primaries and Caucuses; after all, IT'S THE DELEGATES, STUPID!!! ;-)]. The Clinton campaign's mantra is that "a win is a win is a win" but, in truth, this was not all that much of one (though I do expect the Michigan delegation- along with that from Florida- to be in place on the floor of the Democratic National Convention in Denver late this Summer, despite the penalties currently imposed by the Party; it is also rather likely that, despite the fact that the vast majority of those who voted for Uncommitted delegates to be pledged in Michigan were so clearly voting against Hillary, many- if not most- of the Uncommitted delegates will only end up being in Senator Clinton's corner come that Convention).
Nonetheless, the Democrats now also move on- first to Nevada, holding Caucuses on Saturday 19 January (there are also Caucuses on the Republican side in Nevada) and then their test in South Carolina comes on Saturday 26 January, in a Party-run Primary to be held exactly a week after the GOP's Primary in that same State.
Thus, the issue of Race has raised its ugliest head amongst the Democrats of late: as I've already opined, in my 6 Jan Commentary, the African-American vote in the Palmetto State will prove most important-- to here repeat:
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, I also asked the rather obvious question:
[H]ow 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?
'Tis true that, back on 6 January, I had purposely framed this within the then-still-reasonable premise that Barack Obama might win New Hampshire on top of his coming out on top in Iowa (thus, forcing South Carolina into the position of having to save Senator Clinton's presidential aspirations): this, of course, didn't happen and, largely because Senator Clinton was able to "pull out" New Hampshire (thus, it is more Senator Obama's candidacy that now most needs salvation), the battle for the hearts and minds of Palmetto State African-American Democrats has actually become all that much more intense!
And this intensity certainly runneth over earlier this very week!
It all stemmed from a seemingly innocent off-hand comment by Hillary Clinton, back when she was still campaigning in a New Hampshire that, at the time, she- and most everyone else- thought she might still lose, that Dr. Martin Luther King's "dream" (as in his famous "I Have A Dream" speech on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial during the pro-Civil Rights 'March on Washington' in August 1963) only began to be fully realized when President Lyndon Johnson signed the comprehensive Civil Rights Act of 1964 [Public Law 88-352: 78 Stat. 241] less than a year later. Senator Obama responded to this by stating that Mrs. Clinton so saying was "ill-advised and unfortunate".
That Senator Obama saw (and then acted upon) his opportunity to take a rather cheap shot across Senator Clinton's bow is patently obvious: considering an opponent's comments are "unfortunate" is one thing; calling them "ill-advised" has all the air of a threat! But it is also just so much Political Correctness, not also to mention abject Historical Revisionism.
The long-delayed promises of the post-Civil War 14th and 15th Amendments to the Federal Constitution (No State being permitted to deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws in the 14th; The right of citizens of the United States [specifically defined by the 14th Amendment as [a]ll persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof] to vote not being denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude in the 15th) were, indeed, so long-delayed by virtue of the lack of serious Federal enforcement of these provisions (whether through a long history of governmental ennui as regarded Race Relations [itself the product of base Politics: Democratic Administrations were not all that keen on confronting Members of Congress from a then-solidly Democratic South they very much needed come Election Day; Republican Administrations of the period, not even having all that much of a- if any- political presence in that same South, not having much of an incentive to be all that proactive in this regard in any event (besides the vast majority of Turn-of-the-Last Century Blacks tended to be, at best, working poor- thus, among those who would be, almost by very definition, economically counterpoised to that Business- large and small- upon which the Grand Old Party depended for much of its Election Day support: truth be told, African-Americans of the era [along with their concerns, including enforcement of their most basic Liberties] were, for the most part, badly squeezed between these two countervailing national political juggernauts] or simply too many "half-hearted" Civil Rights Laws- those few passed by Congress during the Reconstruction era, along with those of 1957 and 1960- with much high-sounding verbiage but precious few real "teeth").
It was precisely in answer to this altogether sad chapter in American History that the aforementioned Civil Rights Act of 1964 (which principally addressed stronger enforcement of the 14th Amendment) and the later Voting Rights Act of 1965 [Public Law 89-110; 79 Stat. 437] (which was the strongest statute passed, to date, dealing with enforcement of the 15th Amendment) were adopted. Simply put: Dr. King's dream of persons "not be[ing] judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character" would yet be a dream without the necessary and proper tools of Law to make sure that, while no government can regulate the content of a human being's individual mind, whatever that content cannot- in the end- keep "the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slaveowners" from "sit[ting] together at the table of brotherhood", a "table of brotherhood" that principally consists of the liberty of all who are of adult age to legally participate in the very Compact that, in the form of the Federal Constitution, binds the "We, the People of the United States" of its Preamble.
So, how was what Senator Clinton suggested all that "unfortunate", let alone "ill-advised"? Why does each of the two Amendments to the Constitution I have cited above even contain a section specifically granting Congress the power to enforce them by appropriate legislation? Why did Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.- along with the others who spoke on that summer day (including, by the way, now-Congressman John Lewis [D-Georgia] who addressed the multitude in his then-capacity as Chairman of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee: thus there yet remains a link, even in today's Washington, to that long ago March on it)- even bother to show up in the Nation's Capital in the first place, if they were not, in fact, trying to push Congress to enact legislation that might yet bring Dr. King's "dream" to its fullest realization?
Senator Obama has- smartly, in my opinion- since tried to well downplay his "tiff" with Senator Clinton in this regard but the historiographical division it has already raised will, nevertheless, have a potentially profound effect on what will, soon enough, play out come the voting in South Carolina's Democratic Presidential Primary.
Finally, I don't want to at all give the State of Nevada too short shrift herein: yes, as I've already mentioned, Caucuses are being held in that State on Saturday 19 January re: both Major Parties [Democrats and Republicans -Ed.]. Like Iowa, however, these Caucuses will not be actually pledging National Convention delegates to presidential contenders per se and, while the Republican contenders will be far more focused on what is transpiring in South Carolina, the Democrats have only Nevada to look at this weekend and, while it will be most interesting to see who actually wins there and by how much, the fact remains that the real, final pre-'Super Duper Tuesday' test for the Democratic presidential hopefuls is yet to come (about which more in my next Commentary).