Hmmm... the political "crystal ball" sure has gotten more than a bit hazy of late!
Senator Barack Obama's big victory in South Carolina's Democratic Presidential Primary last Saturday (26 January) has certainly provided yet another "twist and turn" in that soap opera known as 'The Race for the White House'. Where it was beginning to look as if Senator Hillary Clinton might now begin putting the Illinois Senator further and further back as she looked in her rearview mirror, that is not going to be happening- if only for the next week or so.
But the biggest benefactor of South Carolina was, strangely enough, Palmetto State native son John Edwards. Although he came in 3rd, he finished close enough to Senator Clinton (or, rather, Mrs. Clinton fell to a finish not all that far ahead of Edwards) that he now gets to fight on into 'Super Duper Tuesday' come 5 February. However, this does not at all change the fact that Edwards did not lose big in his own region of the country far more as a result of Mrs. Clinton's relatively low percentage of the vote for a 2d place finisher than anything else: had the Obama-Clinton percentage breakdown in South Carolina been more like 42-40, or even 45-37, an 18% of the vote in his native State might still well have doomed Edwards' presidential ambitions; obviously, 'Super Duper Tuesday' carries with it its inherent ability to finally knock Senator Edwards out (but I will write more about this in a future Commentary [this is called "editorial foreshadowing", folks ;-)]).
For her part, Senator Clinton has now, once again, lost the "front runner" status she first lost in the wake of Iowa back on 3 January and then regained in New Hampshire five days thereafter. This doesn't mean, however, that Senator Obama has himself claimed that mantle- for, in effect, New Hampshire and South Carolina turned out to be "tit for tat": what Hillary did to Barack in the Granite State, Obama has now merely returned the favor.
Fact of the matter is: there is no "front runner"on the Democratic side and- putting Florida aside (if only for the time being: I will certainly touch on Florida's Primary come Tuesday 29 January and its relationship to the Democratic presidential nomination race later in this piece)- there will be no Democratic "front runner"- at least, not until all those many voters who will be going to the polls re: Democratic Presidential Primaries on Tuesday 5 February will have had their say.
On the Republican side, on the other hand, there is a clear "front runner" and it is John McCain. I won't dwell too much on the Republican stakes in Florida's 29 January primary in this piece, if only because I well explored this territory in my 23 January Commentary following the GOP's Primary in South Carolina a week before the Democrats in that State held theirs. I will only here reiterate that Rudolph Giuliani badly needs a win in Florida: failing that, he needs to make a rather good showing (even though Florida is, officially, Winner Take All under sanctions, Giuliani winning pre-sanction delegates [which may yet be seated once the Republican National Convention actually meets] by coming in first in at least a couple Congressional Districts would be an improvement over his current position within the field of GOP presidential contenders)-- a bad loss and Giuliani limps badly into 'Super Duper Tuesday' (assuming he does not, as result of so bad a showing in Florida, fold his tent even before 5 February) and, even then, Rudy faces the same scenario that John Edwards faces on the Democratic side- one in which 'Super Duper Tuesday' seems primed to take Giuliani out of the race once and for all.
Putting aside the possibility for a Giuliani victory in Florida (which would make 'Super Duper Tuesday' just as "wild" on the Republican side as it promises to be among the Democrats [as well as make just about everything I wrote in the preceding paragraph totally irrelevant]), we have to consider the "big three":
A McCain victory in Florida makes the Arizona Senator the man to beat come 'Super Duper Tuesday': in such a case, then, one would be left to look over just how Mike Huckabee and Mitt Romney matched up with each other (and with- again, assuming he does not win- Rudy Giuliani) once the Florida returns are in, for the person who finishes 2d to a victorious McCain (largely dependent on just how close that contender is to the top) will probably be perceived as the one with the best shot to catch up to McCain in the 'Super Duper Tuesday' sweepstakes; meanwhile, the person who comes in last- among the "big three" (as already noted, Giuliani has his own political problems to resolve)- is in serious trouble going into 'Super Duper Tuesday'.
On the other hand, a win in Florida by either Huckabee or Romney turns the GOP nomination race going into 'Super Duper Tuesday' on its head in much the same way that Barack Obama's victory in South Carolina over the weekend has already similarly muddied the Democratic presidential nomination battle.
As for the Democrats and Florida's Tuesday 29 January Primary:
Like Michigan, Florida has been sanctioned by the Democratic Party for holding its Primary "too early" and, thus, officially has no delegates to pledge to Democratic presidential contenders. Having said this, I have already opined- in my pieces on this website- that Florida and Michigan will be seated at the Democratic National Convention late this Summer, if only because a Democratic presidential nominee who accepts his or her nomination before a Convention that does not do so will be acting in a most politically foolhardy manner-- and everyone (regardless of denials to the contrary coming from Democratic Party higher-ups) knows this-- heck, a trained chimp knows this!
So, why- then- the announcement by Senator Hillary Clinton last Friday (25 January) that "I will ask my Democratic convention delegates to support seating the delegations from Florida and Michigan" as if she were standing in the midst of cloud atop Mount Sinai handing Moses the very stone tablets containing the Decalogue in its original Hebrew?
Well, first of all, it is- at best- "Action confused with Accomplishment" and- at worst- abject political disingenuity (for the reasons I've already mentioned: who, in his right mind, thinks Florida and Michigan will not be seated?). Besides, Michigan has pledged 73 delegates to the former First Lady: what else did one expect her to say? 'No, I don't need, nor even want, them'?! As it stands, many of the 55 Uncommitted delegates also pledged as a result of Michigan's 15 January Primary will also likely go for Mrs. Clinton in any event (quite ironic, considering that most of those who voted 'Uncommitted' that day did so as a vote against Hillary): how could one expect Senator Clinton to not try and seat something on the order of a hundred delegates which will be pledged to her come the Convention?
Her 25 January statement, then, is just about as noteworthy as me right now promising you- the readers and users of The Green Papers- that, from now on, whenever I walk around outside, I won't try all that hard to escape the Earth's Gravitational Field!
Having said all this: doubtless, many a Florida Democrat who plans to vote in the Primary will now be thinking 'Hey! If I vote for Senator Clinton, my State's delegates might actually get seated at the Convention!' (even though voting for either Edwards or Obama [or, for that matter, Biden, Dodd, Gravel, Kucinich or Richardson- also on the ballot] will have equally as much practical effect as it relates to Florida's Democratic National Convention delegates getting to vote during the Roll Call of the States in Denver) and this, perhaps, is the truest reason as to why Senator Clinton made that announcement last Friday...
and it is even more the reason, given the results in South Carolina the next day: Senator Clinton always very much wanted to have Florida under her belt as a win going into 'Super Duper Tuesday'- but now she needs a win in Florida, if only as something to wave about as her claim to have broken Obama's momentum going into 'Super Duper Tuesday' (this in a Democratic contest in which- at least so far- a gallon of milk has more shelf life than such "momentum"!)
Meanwhile, Senator Obama's "dangerous game", as I've termed it, continues to play itself out. Obama's abandonment of Michigan (at least somewhat in deference to Iowa's Caucuses and New Hampshire's Primary [if only because it showed an unswerving adherence to those Party rules that so allowed Iowa and New Hampshire to, respectively, be "first in the Nation"]) may well have helped him to best Senator Clinton in the Hawkeye State, even though it ended up allowing the former First Lady to (as already noted) reap a significant windfall in delegates coming out of Michigan; likewise, his deft use of Race (in classic Muhammad Ali "rope-a-dope" style) in South Carolina might well have not only sealed victory in South Carolina but also allowed it to be such a "beatdown"...
however, has Obama now begun to lose that which made him the Democratic presidential contender everyone was talking about during much of the calendar year 2007?-- that is: is he now in danger of becoming "the Black candidate" in much the same way that (pending future results in Florida and on 'Super Duper Tuesday') Mike Huckabee- in the former Arkansas Governor's case, by losing in South Carolina- has become "the Evangelical candidate"?
Huckabee's predicament is that he seems not yet to be able to expand his base of support among those Republicans not necessarily attracted to candidates who so closely identify with what was, once upon a time, termed "That Old Time Religion" (albeit in a more modern guise than what is implied by that very hymn). Likewise, the Illinois Senator risks having truncated his overall support by needing the reportedly overwhelming support of Black voters in order to win the Palmetto State: thus, Senator Obama now walks a tightrope similar to, however different from, Governor Huckabee's- in Obama's case, one that has been strung between the evoking of long-cherished Democratic Party memories of John Fitzgerald Kennedy and the recall of not-quite-so-cherished (at least among many voters who are not African-American) echoes of the Reverend Jesse Jackson (if not also the Reverend Al Sharpton).
More than likely, it was the kind of tightrope Senator Obama has always had to walk in his political career, especially once he had stepped out of the Illinois State Senate and out into the National spotlight some four years ago-- it's just that, now, the ominous drum roll from underneath that tightrope can be all that much more clearly heard.
For Barack Obama, Florida- and 'Super Duper Tuesday' beyond- will do much to show just how much longer he might be able to stay upright on that tightrope as we go on through the rest of the presidential nomination process.
All in all, Florida will be a most interesting State to watch for reasons other than the political machinations between presidential contenders in (as well as in opposition to) both Major Parties:
With all due apologies to Michigan, Florida is the first State on the Presidential Primary/Caucus calendar so far to have a rather mixed demographic. You have transplanted New Yorkers (those both Rudy Giuliani and Hillary Clinton are banking on), elements of the New South as well as at least some of the Old (Huckabee and Romney troll here, for different reasons; so- for that matter- would Edwards, for even different reasons- that is, if Democrats didn't risk Party discipline if they actually campaigned in the Sunshine State), retired military personnel from all over the country and active soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines and their on-base families (McCain might do well among these) and- of course, pretty much for the first time this pre-Convention period- a politically significant population of Latino voters in both Parties!
No matter the outcome on Tuesday the 29th, the Sunshine State will surely prove to be a fine introduction to that which has become known as 'Super Duper Tuesday', leaving those of us who watch the presidential nomination process more closely than most with quite a bit to ponder all during the week in between.