Tuesday, February 05, 2008


Eight Questions for Super Tuesday

Dan Balz of the Washington Post has another smart "Eight Questions" story out today previewing Super Tuesday and helping readers divine the import of the results. I was asked again to share my thoughts/answers, so here they are (with as usual a few small grammatical fixes).

1) Will either race end on Tuesday?

No. For the Republicans, there’s a high likelihood that McCain will emerge in a commanding position, but I doubt he will be able to run up a big enough margin to knock Romney totally out of the race this week. On the Democratic side, I also agree with the conventional wisdom — based on the polling and the other indicators, it's hard to see one candidate coming out of Tuesday with anything close to a decisive advantage in terms of delegates or momentum. Assume we are going at least until Pennsylvania, and could well be a super-delegate free-for-all.

2) What constitutes victory?

For McCain, it’s winning enough delegates to make clear that Romney can’t win, and forcing the realist wing of the base to finally and fully coalesce around him.

For Clinton, it’s running up a big enough margin in key states, particularly in swing states that will play pivotal role in the general, that she regains her clear front-runner status -- and undecideds in the next several primaries see her as not just the likely nominee but the best chance to win in November.

For Obama, it’s battling Clinton to what is seen as effectively a draw, which will show his electoral viability, and coming into the next batch of primaries on a psychological playing field. That will enable him to play to his strength, touch more voters directly, and beat her on message and likeability.

3) What states bear watching?

California, New Mexico and Arizona — all three because they will help resolve this question about Obama’s ability to compete with Latino voters, and the second two because they will be indicators of how each candidate will play in swing states in a pivotal region for Democrats in the general.

Georgia — this will be a bigger and more revealing test of Obama’s crossover appeal than South Carolina, especially with supposedly New South surburbanites, and help show us how big a factor his race might be in the general.

4) Where will Edwards's voters go?

That's impossible to predict with any degree of certainty, because they are not monolithic. A big chunk of them are hard left and anybody-but-Hillary voters, and most of those will go with Obama (as we saw from the most recent Kos straw poll and the MoveOn endorsement). But a big chunk of them are white downscale voters who are not necessarily that ideological and were drawn to Edwards’ economic populism, and Hillary is clearly making a heavy play for these voters and showing some success. My bet is they break more in Obama’s favor, but not in significant enough numbers to tip the balance Obama’s way.

5) Can Obama win Latinos?

Yes, and I agree with the conventional wisdom that Kennedy is a significant help/validator here. But there is conflicting evidence about how many he can win, and we won’t know just how competitive he is until we get a chance to digest the exit polls from CA, NM, AZ and other states with a significant Latino presence.

6) Will women continue to be Clinton's secret weapon?

Hard to say at this point that women are Clinton’s secret weapon. In fact, you could just as easily argue that outside of NH, they are more here secret vulnerability. There is a lot of anecdotal evidence that she is failing to sway a lot of white working women — particularly the post-Boomers -- who should by all rights be with her, and it’s this failure that has prevented her from turning her natural gender advantage into an electoral trump card and given Obama an opening to take this nomination away from her.

7) Can McCain win conservatives and pro-Bush Republicans?

Yes, to a point. He is gradually increasing his share, and that number is going to grow in many states Tuesday because he will likely have inevitability on his side, along with a bigger number of conservative validators. But the bigger question is not whether he can win them but can he turn them out in a general, and it seems now that will be determined largely by who his opponent his. Against Hillary, he won’t have to pander that much to engage and mobilize the base, which will give him the freedom to play to the center. But if it’s Obama, he’s got a much bigger challenge, and not sure how he pulls off that difficult and delicate balancing act.

8) Who is better positioned for a long campaign after Tuesday?

That’s difficult to say, because both Clinton and Obama will have enough money and muscle to run straight through to the convention, which are the traditional measures. I tend to think it’s going to come down to two intangible factors. If Obama stays close tomorrow, and then finds a way to change the conversation and the dynamic of the campaign, he has a much higher vote ceiling and potential for growth. But if we stay on the same track we have been on, Hillary seems best positioned to squeeze out a tight win because of her experience — not her experience as a leader, but her and her team’s experience in winning tough, close political streetfights. As with sports, having been there can make a big difference. But as we saw with the Giants last night, it's far from a guarantee of victory.

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