RISE OF OBAMA, HUCKABEE MEANS NOMINEE BATTLES COULD GO TO THE CONVENTIONS
Published in the New York Post on January 6, 2008.
Senator Eugene McCarthy once said that “politics is like coaching football. You have to be smart enough to know how the game is played and dumb enough to think that it is important.”
So forgive us if this column is a little bit like spelling out playoff scenarios in the NFL and assigning probable home field advantage in the case of different matchups.
But here’s what might happen in New Hampshire and what it will mean. Get out your scorecards.
Hillary cannot be knocked out even if she loses all the early primaries. Her berth in the finals is assured by her national standing, her strength among “super delegates” (Congressmen, Senators, Governors and State Party Chairmen who automatically get votes at the convention) and her financial clout. But she can and will be bloodied. Meanwhile, if Obama wins in New Hampshire, particularly if he does so by a convincing margin (which we think is likely) he will probably go on to sweep Nevada and South Carolina, the other two early primaries. His status as front runner will be solidified – and that’s where his troubles will start.
Once Hillary is no longer in the dock, undergoing the scrutiny of being a front runner, Obama will have to endure the slings and arrows. Hillary will probably play the race card. Not overtly and not directly, but she will speak in code saying that Obama can’t win. What that really means is that a black cannot prevail in 2008 in the United States. We, presumably, aren’t ready.
But Obama will benefit from a generational surge that animated his Iowa victory. In the caucuses, he carried voters under 30 by four-to-one. In a contest that had been about transcending race and gender, the key factor on which it turned was age. Generation X saw in Obama a way to push the boomers off the stage, taking their drugs and permissive lifestyle with them. To these young voters, Obama is the future and the Clintons are the distant past.
Obama and Hillary will go to the mat in Florida and, a week later, in New York and California. Who will win? It’s anybody’s guess.
Edwards is out unless he finishes close to the top in New Hampshire. But he probably won’t. The anti-Hillary voters get that Obama is the one who has a chance to beat her and aren’t about to waste their votes on Edwards after his disappointing finish in Iowa. He staked his entire campaign on Iowa where he has campaigned for six years and only managed the same lame second place finish he achieved in 2004.
Rudy Giuliani doesn’t have to win any of the early primaries. He doesn’t even have to compete. Like Hillary, his national standing gives him a spot in the finals. But he faces a serious threat in John McCain. Since the former POW appeals to the same vote that Rudy covets – moderates whose main focus is terrorism and national security – he poses a real danger to Giuliani. In early 2007, Rudy edged ahead of McCain and moved even further into the lead when the Arizona Senator became identified with what the right calls the Bush amnesty plan for illegal immigrants.
But, largely on the strength of some very, very good television commercials, which summoned an outpouring of national emotion as they showed McCain in captivity in Vietnam, Rudy’s advantage evaporated. The price Rudy has to pay for avoiding a battle in Iowa and New Hampshire is that he will have to run against McCain, splitting his vote for the rest of the primaries.
Huckabee won’t win in New Hampshire. There is no real evangelical base there and he can’t duplicate the months he spent living in Iowa and pressing the flesh there. But if Romney loses in New Hampshire, the former Arkansas governor has a very good chance of winning in Michigan, proving that he is viable in a big industrial state. Giuliani and McCain could also prevail in Michigan. A loss in Michigan would hurt Huckabee, but not mortally. He can probably count on a comeback in South Carolina where the evangelicals are in charge. But if Huckabee loses Michigan, he risks being written off as an evangelical candidate, a modern day Pat Robertson, marginalized to the sidelines of national politics. If Huckabee wins Michigan, he moves to the front tier to challenge Rudy and McCain in Florida and on Super Tuesday.
McCain will probably win New Hampshire, dooming Mitt Romney. The checkbook candidate from Massachusetts needs to win in next door New Hampshire to stay alive. But he won’t. Romney, confident in his ability to raise more money by raising his pen and writing a check, won’t drop out. But he’ll get drubbed in Michigan if he loses New Hampshire. Losing the first three primaries will knock him out.
Unless Huckabee shows real momentum by a Michigan or a Florida win. If it appears likely that the GOP field will come down to Rudy, McCain and Huckabee, the economic conservatives (Rush Limbaugh et al) will realize that they have no horse on which to bet. On taxes and fiscal issues, they see McCain as too liberal for opposing Bush’s tax cut and worry about Huckabee’s spending and tax policies in Arkansas. They might back Rudy but his pro choice position scares them. So . . . they may need to breathe new life into either Thompson or Romney. The former task is like raising the dead, so they may settle on Romney giving Mitt a new lease on life.
Most likely, Rudy, McCain, Huckabee and Romney all compete on Super Tuesday and none of them wins a majority. Then it goes to Ohio and Texas who vote in early March . . . or, quite possibly, to the convention floor.
So while we will know whether its Hillary or Obama on Super Tuesday, we may not know the Republican nominee until September!