by Frank Schnittger
Wed Jan 30th, 2008 at 05:37:39 AM EST
The US Presidential race gets serious next Tuesday with a "nationwide primary" taking place across 22 states likely to largely determine the nomination process in both camps. Hilary Clinton is still the front-runner for the Democrats with a 10% lead over Obama in the national Polls (taken before South Carolina), but her wins in Michigan and Florida were rendered largely meaningless by the decision of the Democratic National Committee to strip those states of their delegates as punishment for bringing their primary dates forward.
Obama, on the other hand, has gained real momentum from his wins in Iowa and South Carolina where he proved he can unite most of the black vote behind him, whilst maintaining a substantial share of the white vote. He has also secured the endorsement of influential long term Democratic old guard figures such as Senator Ted Kennedy and Caroline Kennedy, the only surviving child of JFK. John Edwards' hopes have now gone, having failed to win South Carolina, the state of his birth, but he could still be an influential figure as a "spoiler" candidate and as a kingmaker in a "brokered" Convention if neither Clinton nor Obama achieve an absolute majority of delegates.
The even more complex Republican race is also beginning to resolve itself. Thompson is already gone, likely to be followed today by the long-time front runner Giuliani, who, having staked all on Florida and having lost, now has nowhere to go. To my surprise, Romney gained real traction by winning his "home" state of Michigan and is now McCain's main challenger.
My prediction, last December, that Huckabee would win the Republican nomination is looking very shaky in that his meteoritic rise in the polls hit a very hard ceiling when he failed to expand his appeal beyond his evangelical and southern base. He is, however, still likely to win some southern states come Tuesday, and I wouldn't write him off yet. McCain has been the real surprise, reversing a long-term decline in the polls to win in New Hampshire and South Carolina and now, for the first time, in an exclusively Republican Primary in Florida. He is the Democrat's worst nightmare as he is the only Republican contender with a good chance of winning against any Democratic nominee. It would be some irony if, in this most propitious year for Democrats, a Republican were to capture the White House.
My intention had been to commentate on the election form a European perspective and to use the opinion polls as consolidated at Real Clear Politics as my guide. However they have proved to be of decidedly mixed predictive value, largely because they have failed to measure the degree of enthusiasm for a particular candidate, and thus the differential turnout in a Primary season which has broken all records for turnout overall. Extraordinarily, there have been no national polls taken since South Carolina so it is difficult to predict how much of a bounce, nationally, Obama will get from his resounding victory there, and to what degree it can be offset by Clinton's much more hollow victory in Florida.
The Clinton camp must be really rueing the fact that their two victories in the most populous states of Michigan and Florida have been rendered valueless in terms of delegates, and of much lesser value in terms of momentum ahead of Super Tuesday. However, at the risk of getting this all wrong, I am still predicting that at least some of Clinton's 10% lead in the national polls prior to South Carolina will hold, and that she will reassert her lead at the national level come Tuesday.
The emergence of "race" as an issue, and Bill Clinton's combative style, will have angered many liberal Democrats, but his South Carolina victory also demonstrated how much Obama is now dependent on the black vote, a demographic which will be much less significant in many of Tuesday's primaries. Obama has handled himself superbly, particularly when confronted by the two pronged Clintons' attacks in South Carolina which seriously backfired on them there. But perhaps they were playing a longer game. The closer identification with the black vote which helped him in South Carolina may prove much more of a hindrance to him elsewhere. There may even be a subterranean "white" and Hispanic backlash, and Edwards will be much less of a factor in drawing off potential support from Clinton in the future.
We are therefore left with the peculiar irony that the most polarising Democratic contender could well win the Democratic Party's nomination despite having angered many of its black and more liberal white support base, and she may well be faced by McCain who has been, by far, the most successful Republican in drawing support from independent voters. However, my prediction is also that the famous Clinton line "It's the Economy, Stupid" will be the decisive issue come November, and on that basis, the memory of an economically relatively successful Clinton era will outweigh the genuine attraction of McCain as a national hero to many independent voters.
Romney's perceived economic competence will also greatly help his candidacy in the meantime, but I will be amazed if a "non-Christian" wins the Republican nomination, however conservatively he now presents his social politics. For a former Massachusetts Governor, he has achieved some feat of political self re-invention. To have any chance of success, he badly needs Huckabee to continue to draw away all prospect of the evangelical vote gravitating towards McCain as the lesser of two evils.
Romney and Huckabee are still very beatable Republican candidates for either Clinton or Obama, but a McCain victory in the Republican Convention would make it a much more difficult election to call..