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Monday, February 04, 2008

Random* Thoughts On Super Tuesday's Eve

Here are a few observations regarding tomorrow's votestravaganza. First, the GOP side:

  • It seems likely that McCain will grab a dominating position by tomorrow night. I have to admit that I didn't see this coming. Like most other observers, and with apologies to the Sugarhill Gang, I thought McCain was like cold butter on breakfast toast back when he canned the consultants who were paying themselves all his money (or whatever it is they were doing with it). And now, it's hard to imagine that he won't essentially clinch the nomination tomorrow night. It seems like his only real concern is to keep expectations from getting so high that Romney can put enough lipstick on a piggish win or two to (re?)claim some momentum. But given the winner-take-all nature of most GOP primaries, that seems unlikely.
  • I have to say that I am not at all surprised that Rudy "Brother-can-you-spare-$50 million-for-one-delegate" Giuliani flamed out. The guy is a poor fit, to say the least, for most GOP primary voters, and he's now proven yet again that he's an awful candidate when running outside of NYC and not against weak Democratic competition. 
  • I am really surprised that Huckabee has disappeared. I think he made a mistake by competing in NH, which is not really his type of state. He ought to have gone straight to SC from Iowa. Anyway, I guess he's just out of money.
  • Will Ron Paul pick up any delegates, at all, tomorrow? And, what's he doing with all that cash he's raising? If he's not spending it now, it seems plausible that he's thinking of running against Ralph Nader in November.
  • I think there were some other GOP candidates who have withdrawn, but I can't remember Fred Thompson's name at the moment, much less those US Rep guys.

Turning to the Democratic (note the "ic") side:

  • Ignore all the talk--you can see it everywhere from TPM to the NYT--of who's up where. Unlike the GOP primaries, the Democratic contests are almost all at least partially proportional representation. There are odd, state-specific rules about how the delegates are apportioned, both within and across congressional districts. The key is the number of delegates. At the end of the day, if Obama gets 40% of the vote in NY or CA, he'll get roughly 40% of the delegates, and similarly for the Clintons. Tomorrow night will be the last time that anyone serious focuses on which states the Clintons or Obama "win". By Wednesday, everyone will be watching the Democratic (note the "ic") delegate count, not who "won" each state.
  • Look for people to start to talk in earnest about the so-called superdelegates. These are current and previously elected Democrats who have delegate status by dint of their offices. There are 796 of these folks, which is just less than 1/5 of all convention delegates. In principle, if either Obama or the Clintons got the support of all the Super Ds, the other candidate(s) would need to win just over 62% of the so-called pledged delegates available via primaries and cacuses. According to this page at CNN, the current pledged-delegate tally is Obama 63, Clintons 48, and Edwards 26. While the Clintons currently have a lead in Super Ds, 184 to 95, these commitments are nonbinding (even on the convention's first ballot). So, if things are close, and the Super Ds start to worry that the Clintons aren't the best candidates, then we might see some defections. Moreover, to the extent that Obama's momentum continues, he might start to outpace the Clintons among the Super Ds. Whichever way they go, the Super Ds could be a HUGE part of determining who wins.
  • I don't want to overstate the importance of endorsements. But, there's been an interesting, and little discussed, trend since about Jan 1: it seems like a lot of red- and purple-state elected Dems have endorsed Obama. I'm thinking of Sens. Ben Nelson (Nebraska) and Claire McCaskill (Missouri), as well as Governors Kathleen Sebelius of Kansas and Janet Napolitano of Arizona (actually, Napolitano might have endorsed Obama earlier). I can't remember the rest of the folks I noticed at the time they announced (I think Rep. Oberstar of MN is another, though). The only such endorsement of the Clintons in recent weeks, at least that I can think of, was Sen. Patty Murray of Washington. And Clintons-endorser/former Sen. Bob Kerrey of NE went out of his way to praise Obama in a letter to the NYT recently. The lesson I draw from all this is that perhaps Dems in states with tough re-election battles don't want the Clintons at the top of the ticket. Which is understandable to me:  the Clintons weren't exactly good for the Democratic Party the last time they "led" the party.
  • I've read that in national polling, Obama does much worse in states that vote tomorrow than those that vote later. It'll be interesting to see (a) whether that's true, and (b) whether that point gets much play in the media if the Clintons do very well tomorrow. On a related note, one big wildcard in CA, and possibly other states, is how much of Obama's dramatic increase in support comes from people who've already voted for the Clintons in early voting. Josh Marshall had a post up today suggesting that polls adjust for this factor, though of course the only way to do so is to ask people if they've voted, and if so, for whom. Who knows how accurate such questions are--my guess is that they're probably less accurate than the whom-do-you-plan-to-support questions. But that really is just a guess.

Finally, in the interests of humility, I'll note that two weeks ago, I was certain that the GOP race would still be going strong, maybe with 4 serious players, after Feb 5. Shows you what I know.

*Formally, these thoughts can't really be considered random unless they're defined on a measurable space. If you're the sort to worry about measurability, then you can consider the above thoughts assorted rather than random. And if you're the sort who doesn't appreciate a little theoretical statistics humor, then you're almost surely not still reading this post, now, are you?

Posted by Jonah Gelbach on February 4, 2008 at 04:09 PM in Current Affairs | Permalink


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thanks for your comment.

to clarify: "the Clintons" isn't supposed to be cute at all. they've been running a joint campaign for president, haven't they? (all i've done is take them at their word, which i admit is not a recommended move, to be sure). and if one discounts that facet of their campaign for a third term, then what does one make of sen. clinton's claim to have so much more experience in govt than sen. obama? honestly, i have a hard time figuring out which one of them will choose the direction of the SC (i already know how seriously *she* took the question of authorizing war....not seriously enough to read the *#[email protected]#[email protected]# NIE, that is).

personally, i don't find and never have found the clintons in the least bit amusing. more tragicomic, if anything.

Posted by: jonah gelbach | Feb 4, 2008 10:33:46 PM

Is "the Clintons" supposed to be amusing or provide some kind of insight? A little too snarky for my taste. (Let's not forget, after all, that this is serious stuff! The direction of the Supreme Court, the "war", the ongoing battles for equality, and much more ride on this. Playing cute games does no one any good. Though it's possible I've been uncharitable in my reading of the phrase ...)

Posted by: Jason | Feb 4, 2008 10:24:39 PM

ps very amusing, linking to that old umd pic of me.....i think you were still at maryland when they took that!

Posted by: jonah gelbach | Feb 4, 2008 6:02:55 PM


I wear it not just in the neighborhood, but uniformly almost everywhere.

Btw, isn't that a rather undignified name, even for you?

Posted by: jonah gelbach | Feb 4, 2008 6:01:48 PM

Just one question: Were you wearing your dork hat when you wrote this? I know you were . . .

Posted by: K-Lick | Feb 4, 2008 5:57:46 PM

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