The winnowing-out process has begun, and we have just been winnowed in!--
former U.S. Senator FRED HARRIS of Oklahoma, upon his 4th place finish in the 24 February 1976 New Hampshire Democratic Presidential Primary with 11% of the popular vote (Harris would be unceremoniously "winnowed out" just a week later, with a 5th place finish and only 8% of the popular vote in the 2 March 1976 Massachusetts Democratic Presidential Primary: he dropped out of the '76 Democratic presidential nomination race shortly thereafter).
It's almost time for the Big Game!--
no, not Super Bowl XLII this coming Sunday... I'm talking about-- no, not Mardi Gras-- well, any of you reading this (considering this is a political website) should know what I am talking about!
Before I get to my comments regarding stakes in- and prospects resulting from- 'Super Duper' Tuesday, 5 February, let me make a few comments about two presidential contenders departing the race:
Already there are those amongst the Greater Punditry who are decrying former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani's campaign strategy (skipping the early Caucuses and Primaries in favor of Florida and the 'Super Duper' Tuesday he never reached) as having been badly thought out, misguided, even stupid. I will here most strongly disagree:
Giuliani's problem was that he was a former Mayor and former and current Mayors- like former and current Congressmen- generally have little chance of being nominated for President of the United States (the last time a sitting Congressman was elected President was James Garfield in 1880 [and he had already been elected to the U.S. Senate by the Ohio State Legislature for the upcoming six-year term before he was elected to the Presidency]; a Mayor- former or current- without holding another higher office? Never!). His campaign strategy reflected this inherent weakness (not the only one Giuliani had, however-- for another glaring weakness was that, by his having been Mayor of New York City, his conservative [even politicoeconomic, put aside sociocultural] credentials were not seen as being as authentic as those of the other Republican presidential contenders [thus, there was good reason for him not to concentrate on the States- Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina- he pretty much "blew off"!]):
Giuliani needed three things to happen in order for his campaign strategy to work:
1. He needed three different winners in the three pre-Florida Primaries: he almost got that! (2 percent of the vote in South Carolina going for Huckabee instead of McCain and...)
2. he needed to have, as his principal opponents going into Florida, candidates who did not attract many of the same kinds of voters he was hoping to attract (note well that, when McCain was "on the ropes" last year, Giuliani's star in the polls was on the rise; the worst news, then, for Giuliani was that it was McCain who ended up winning South Carolina: for, with McCain now the "front runner' going into Florida, Giuliani was already "toast"- not only in Florida, but also in the 'Super Duper' Tuesday States).
3. he needed Security- both at home and abroad- to become the primary issue going into Florida and 'Super Duper' Tuesday: it wasn't (important though it may be). Thus, Giuliani's "noun, verb and 9/11" (to, if only once more, borrow Delaware Democratic Senator Joe Biden's rather sardonic formulation) campaign was going nowhere-- and this last had rather little to do with where Giuliani might have chosen to run hardest.
In the end, Giuliani expected his "face time" as the Mayor of New York City during the horrific events of 11 September 2001 to carry over into "name recognition" and, through that, "associaton with the very term 'Homeland Security' "-- for a time, it actually did-- but a presidential campaign is, in the end, as much about issues as it is about personality and Giuliani- a former Federal prosecutor who became Mayor of the Nation's largest city- simply could not match up well with a United States Senator with bona fide military experience and heroism, let alone two former Governors from two disparate regions of the country (no matter where the reader might consider Mitt Romney to "really" be "from"!): Giuliani's rather polarizing irascibility (on which I touched in earlier Commentaries of mine) further complicated his candidacy.
As for former North Carolina Senator John Edwards: he may have merely "suspended" his campaign but, in reality, it's clearly over for him.
Having said this, let us not forget that Senator Edwards got quite a bit of flak- from some quarters- for running for President after his wife, Elizabeth, had found out her cancer had recurred. Much of this, for the most part, was criticism beneath contempt: essentially, the "family values" crowd was attacking Edwards and his wife for doing the very thing that "family values" implies a family should do! For I find it quite hard to believe that John Edwards would have continued his campaign had his wife not at all supported his decision to do so. All the more reason for me to so firmly show a so-called "family values" candidate who has come around my neighborhood the more weather-worn side of my front door once he or she utters those very words (as I did at least once this past Spring!)
There were even cheap "potshots" at Senator and Mrs. Edwards for having their still young children along with them on the campaign trail: by all accounts, Mrs. Edwards' cancer is incurable and I would think it a most honorable thing for a mother to want to spend as much time with her children as she can, knowing what she knows about her medical condition, even where the "family business" happens to be National Politics. Nearly a decade and a half ago, I myself lost a dear collateral female relative- someone who was a childhood playmate and something of a "sister" to me back in my much younger days- to what was diagnosed as terminal cancer: she had one young son and, from what I could see, she made as grand an effort as humanly possible to spend as much time as she was able with him before she got too sick to do so and later passed on-- I simply can't imagine that Mrs. Edwards would do any less than my cousin did and the mere fact that Mrs. Edwards' husband was seeking the Highest Office in the Land should do nothing at all to diminish this observation of mine.
on with the Show....
What to watch for immediately after 'Super Duper' Tuesday: the DEMOCRATS
The main thing to look for on the Democratic side, once the "dust" of 5 February's Primaries and Caucuses has "settled", is how far the leading candidate in pledged delegates is ahead of the trailing candidate.
I have already addressed the issue as to why the so-called unpledged PLEO (that is, Party Leader-Elected Official) "superdelegates" don't really tell us anything- even right now, just before 5 February- in my 12 January Commentary, where I wrote the following (here excerpted to remove comments of mine that were time-dependent):
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"... 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.
At this point, then, one should still be paying far more attention to such "pledged delegates" and how they break down between the two still viable contenders for the 2008 Democratic Presidential Nomination.
The arithmetic involved is pretty basic (well-- at least it starts out "basic"!): 16 States are holding Democratic Presidential Primaries (if one counts New Mexico's Democratic "primary-in-caucus" as one of these), from which 1,475 Democratic National Convention delegates are to be formally pledged to presidential contenders (so long as a contender reaches a threshold of 15% at either the district or statewide level, depending on from which level the pledged delegates come), In addition, 3 other jurisdictions (2 more States and a Territory- American Samoa) are also formally pledging a total of 96 more delegates to Democratic presidential contenders via a binding presidential preference canvass during what are, otherwise, Caucuses. Thus, there will be a grand total of 1,571 Democratic National Convention delegates actually pledged by the voting- in either Primaries or Caucuses- on 'Super Duper' Tuesday.
(To make the story complete here: 4 States- Alaska, Colorado, Idaho and North Dakota- are holding the more usual type of Caucus on 5 February- like that which was held in Iowa back on 3 January- in which delegates to a higher-tier Convention are pledged to support presidential contenders at that next level Convention but pledged National Convention delegates are not being so pledged until a Convention- or Conventions- meeting some time later [thus, the support for Democratic presidential contenders recorded in these States on 5 February will not necessarily be reflected in the National Convention delegation from those States as later pledged]).
There are two "magic numbers" that mark when a Democratic presidential contender has mathematically clinched the nomination: 2,025 (if the national Democratic Party hierarchy sticks to its guns and refuses to seat Florida and Michigan delegates at the Convention in Denver for violating Party rules regarding when they could hold their Primaries) and 2,208 (if Florida and Michigan delegates are so seated [that is, the sanctions are lifted]). Since I already have argued, in my Commentaries, that Florida and Michigan delegates will eventually be seated (as I said as late as in my 28 January Commentary), I will use the latter number- 2,208- as the "finish line" for purposes of this discussion.
Senator Hillary Clinton currently- as I type this- leads Senator Barack Obama by some 100 pledged delegate votes (as estimated by 'The Green Papers': "estimated" because this website has come up with delegate pledges coming out States which have already held Democratic Caucuses- that is, Iowa and Nevada- even though neither have actually pledged National Convention delegates yet). If you don't like Iowa and Nevada being factored in (because you want only delegates that have actually been pledged by Primaries), then the current margin in favor of Senator Clinton among National Convention delegates already pledged to Democratic contenders on the Democratic side is not much less than 100 (a "spot count" of already actually pledged delegates- including Florida and Michigan- is 196 for Clinton, 105 for Obama [a "spot count" because, as of this typing, we still do not have hard numbers of the breakdown of Democratic congressional district delegates coming out of Florida]).
It is rather obvious that, even if either Senator Clinton or Senator Obama could win all 1571 delegates being pledged on 5 February, the contender in question still would not have enough pledged delegates in hand to actually clinch the nomination as a direct result of 'Super Duper' Tuesday. Of course, while a Democratic presidential contender could, conceivably, "run the table" (that is, win each and every 5 February delegate pledging "event"), that person cannot win all 1571 in play because of the Proportional rules used by the Democrats in their Primaries and Caucuses: even if- for instance- current pledged delegate leader Mrs. Clinton were to win each and every 'Super Duper' Tuesday Primary and Caucus, Mr. Obama would still get a fair share of the pledged delegates from each and every such jurisdiction (one has to presume that, where Clinton comes in first, Obama would come in second-- and, it goes without saying [but I'll say it anyway], this also holds true vice versa).
So what does this portend?
It portends that- in the immediate wake of 'Super Duper' Tuesday- the trailing candidate (whoever it is, whether Clinton or Obama) has to, at minimum, stay within clear sight of the leading candidate's rear-view mirrors: that is, the trailer cannot allow the leader to get more than a couple hundred pledged delegates ahead of him or her coming out of 'Super Duper' Tuesday. If, immediately after 5 February, we see a lead of several hundred pledged delegates (again, discount- for now- any endorsements by unpledged PLEOs="superdelegates"), the trailing candidate is clearly in deep trouble...
Why?--- because it will be more difficult for the trailing candidate to catch up to the leading candidate the further behind- in pledged delegates- the trailing candidate is right after 'Super Duper' Tuesday.
Think of a Baseball pennant race: Team A is in first place in the Division with Team B in 2nd place, 4 games behind-- there are three weeks left in the season with 20 games left to play for each team. In such a case, were the leading team (A) to win just half their remaining games (that is, go 10-10 the rest of the way), the trailing team would have to go 14-6 (that is, win 70% of their remaining games) just to tie them, 15-5 (75%) to win outright...
now, let's say team B has a great following week, winning 5 out of 6 games played that week, BUT team A wins 4 out of their 6 that same week-- now team B is 3 games behind with 14 over now two weeks left to play for each team: if the leading team (A) now goes 7-7 (again, win but half their games) the rest of the way, the trailing team will have to go 10-4 (71.4%) to tie, 11-3 (78.6%) to win outright. Trailer B had a better record than A over the course of a week, but the percentages needed to catch up if leader A "coasts" the rest of the way are higher-- put another way: B bested A but it is now harder for B to catch up to A (for 71.4 > 70 and 78.6 > 75).
I use this analogy to point out that, mathematically, one can do better than an competitor and still have things made more difficult for you. A several hundred (I'm talking 600, 700 minimum here) pledged delegate lead is a tough one to overcome because, even if the trailing candidate wins most of the remaining Primaries and Caucuses after 5 February (and there are fewer of these after 5 February than there were before), the leading candidate will still get a healthy chunk of pledged delegates and, as this continues to happen, it becomes more and more likely the trailer will still be behind when the leader (even after the pledged delegate lead has been chipped away at, Primary by Primary, week by week, leading up to the Convention) finally does mathematically clinch the nomination...
which now brings me to the "superdelegates" (that is, the unpledged- at least officially- PLEOs);
if a Democratic candidate emerges with a several hundred delegate lead, you are going to begin to see "bandwagoning" among these. Right now (again, an estimate by 'The Green Papers' helpfully aided by Matt Nelson of 2008 Democratic Convention Watch), some 300 "superdelegates" (out of the total of around 800) have already endorsed presidential contenders: 2/3 of these are supporting Senator Clinton, with 1/3 supporting Senator Obama, leaving some 500 still out there, jes' a-sittin' on that proverbial "fence"- as of this typing.
If a Democratic presidential contender emerges from 'Super Duper' Tuesday with a several hundred pledged delegate lead over the trailing candidate, you can bet that more and more of these 'on the fence' "superdelegates" will endorse the leader, as opposed to those who will endorse the trailer-- another route via which the leading candidate can reach that "magic" 2,208 before the trailer (no matter how well the trailer does after 5 February) can ever catch up!
So, my advice? Keep an eye- come Wednesday 6 February into Thursday the 7th- on that "pledged delegate" tally board (no matter what source for this you might use- 'The Green Papers' or someone else). Very simply: whoever is trailing after 'Super Duper' Tuesday cannot have allowed the leader to be so far ahead in pledged delegates (of which more in a future post-5 February Commentary of mine).
What to watch for immediately after 'Super Duper' Tuesday: the REPUBLICANS
On the GOP side, things are a bit different... if only slightly so.
First of all, you have a clear "front-runner" here: John McCain, winner of 3 Primaries- New Hampshire, South Carolina and Florida- to Mitt Romney's 1 (Michigan). Furthermore, McCain leads Romney (with Mike Huckabee, the only viable Republican contender other than McCain and Romney, in 3d place) in pledged delegates- whether you factor in the sanctioned delegates from the 5 "offending" States- those who violated Party rules as regarded the timing of their Primaries- being seated at the Convention in any event or not. Senator McCain is, therefore, the man to beat right now and the key question is: can Romney and/or Huckabee do so in significant manner on 5 February?
The Republican math is as follows:
15 States are holding Republican Presidential Primaries on 5 February, with 823 pledged delegates up for grabs total. In addition, two States holding Caucuses- with 51 pledged delegates between them- are formally pledging National Convention delegates on 'Super Duper Tuesday', along with 18 pledged delegates coming out of something called a "Presidential Convention" (in West Virginia). Thus. a grand total of 889 delegates are being pledged this coming Tuesday. (3 States are holding Iowa-style Caucuses on 5 February where Republican National Convention delegates will not be pledged until later Conventions).
The "magic number" for clinching the Republican presidential nomination is 1,191 (if the 5 sanctioned States remain so sanctioned come Convention time) and 1,259 (if all GOP National Convention delegates are seated as originally allocated- that is, the aforementioned sanctions are lifted). As there is only a 68 delegate difference between these two numbers, either one will do for purposes of this discussion.
Of the 15 GOP Primaries on 5 February, 7 are fully Winner-Take-All- that is: where the winner of the Primary statewide gets all the delegates up for grabs; in addition, the West Virginia Presidential Convention is Winner-Take-All: thus, a total of 346 of the 889 delegates in play on 'Super Duper' Tuesday (nearly 40%) could- theoretically- go to a single GOP presidential contender, if we assume (of course, we can't yet know if this will actually happen) that the same contender wins all 7 of these Primaries plus West Virginia; a sizeable windfall if a Republican presidential candidate can pull this off! Meanwhile, however these 8 States actually go come 5 February (all for one winner, or split evenly between two contenders), it has to be clear that a loss in any one of these by even one single vote loses all the delegates availbale from that State on 5 February.
In addition, 3 other GOP Primary States are Winner-Take-All statewide and by district (perhaps we should call these Winner Take Most): this entails a total of 280 pledged 'Super Duper' Tuesday delegates (a little over 30% of the total 889)- with 213 of these 280 being available to the winners of Congressional Districts (which means that the statewide loser could still pick up delegates in these States [though, almost by definition, the statewide winner(s) will gain the lion's share of these 213]). One other State is at least potentially Winner-Take-All (Tennessee, where at least 2/3 of the vote at either the congressional district or statewide level garners the winner all delegates from the relevant level), but that is unlikely to happen and Tennessee's 39 pledged GOP delegates will likely be apportioned proportionally, as will- by definition- pledged delegates in three other States: if we count Tennessee as proportional as well, then a total of 158 delegates from these 4 States will be awarded proportionally (much to the relief of the statewide losers in these States)- but this proportionality (mimicking that which is almost always found on the Democratic side) only accounts for 18% of the available 5 February delegates.
This leaves, on the the one hand, the 51 delegates from those "bound Caucus" States mentioned earlier: one of these- Montana- is yet another Winner-Take-All statewide "event", while the other- North Dakota- has rules very much like those used in Tennessee's Primary (and a caucus in a State of small population, such as North Dakota, is at least a bit more likely to produce 2/3 of the vote for a presidential contender, so this one could also be Winner Take All-- but it could also be Proportional); on the other hand, there is Illinois, which is holding a Presidential Preference Primary at the same time Republican National Convention delegates are being directly elected by the voters (a throwback to the way Presidential Primaries were more usually conducted early in their history nearly a century ago): the GOP preference vote in Illinois is merely Advisory (the derisively named "beauty contest"); the real pledging depends on which delegates are elected by the voters. Theoretically, then, all of Illinois' 57 pledged delegates could end up going to a single presidential contender (a-la Winner Take All).
As the reader can so readily see: this produces a crazy-quilt pattern of delegate distribution "events" on the Republican side come 5 February but the overall stakes are quite clear: if one Republican presidential contender "runs the table" on 'Super Duper' Tuesday (or even "runs the table" in 5 February Winner Take All/Winner Take Most States- regardless of how he does in the other States [since he is going to get a share of the pledged delegates in those States that would offset any delegates "given up" in Winner Take Most contests]), the GOP presidential nomination race may well be just about over once the 'Super Duper' Tuesday "dust" has "settled" over the following days.
As for what comes after 'Super Duper' Tuesday on the Republican side: first of all, a lot depends on whether or not the final clause of the preceding paragraph actually proves to be true. If not (in other words, we have has as "crazy-quilt" a series of statewide victors as the manner in which Republican delegates are pledged on 5 February), one has to then pretty much look at what one has to look at on the Democrats' side- how far ahead in pledged delegates is the leading candidate over the trailing candidate(s):
There will be only 21 of the 50 States (plus the District of Columbia as a 22d jurisdiction) that will have yet to have started their Republican National Convention delegate distribution by 5 February-- thus, the "best pickin's" after 'Super Duper' Tuesday will, obviously, be in these 22. Of these 22, the vast majority (19) are Presidential Primaries and they break down pretty much evenly between Proportional events and Winner Take All (or Most) [7 apiece: 3 are mixed (a combination of Winner Take Most and Proportional elements), 1 (Pennsylvania) is like Illinois, described above, and 1 (Nebraska) is purely Advisory (a "beauty contest" all the way): therefore, much of what I have already said as regards the Democrats post-'Super Duper' Tuesday holds, at least to some extent, for the Republicans (relatively large lead for the leader = bad news for the trailer(s), even if not yet eliminated; comparatively small lead for the leading candidate= the GOP race is still wide open).
The only "spanner in the works" on the post-'Super Duper' Tuesday Republican side- as opposed to what I said about the Democrats- are those 7 Winner Take All/Most Primaries (along with Winner Take Most Caucuses taking place in Kansas on the Saturday immediately following 'Super Duper' Tuesday): two possibilities exist as regards events such as these-- either a trailer will win these and, thereby, gain at least somewhat significantly on the GOP presidential contender he is chasing OR the leader will win these and put serious distance between himself and the trailer(s) [as well as be that much closer to the magic 1,191/1,259]. Winning any of these Winner Take All/Most Primaries (if also combined with a good showing, where not outright winning, Proportional delegate distribution "events" held on the same day as any such Winner Take All/Most Primaries) could be the Republican presidential nomination race version of "sudden death" victory!
In addition, as with the Democrats, one has to be aware of "bandwagoning" where a leading candidate has established a sizeable lead in pledged delegates over any trailer(s)- though, in this case, the "bandwagoning" will be among voters in upcoming "events", rather than among those politician-"superdelegates" the Democrats have. An evident winner (the "relatively large lead" scenario) coming out of 'Super Duper' Tuesday will tend to produce more wins than losses down the road: in any event, whatever actually happens on 'Super Duper' Tuesday, the Republican candidate(s) behind immediately thereafter simply cannot afford to remain so far behind if he/they wish to maintain any remaining reasonable hope for the 2008 Republican Presidential Nomination after 'Super Duper' Tuesday (again, this will certainly be addressed in a future Commentary to come soon after 'Super Duper' Tuesday itself).