"The road goes on forever and the party never ends."
--Robert Earl Keen
Tomorrow is yet another primary day in the Democratic presidential nomination race, between Hillary Clinton and the Reverend Jeremiah Wright.
What's that? Wright is not running, you say?
Oh, that's right -- the actual candidate is Barack Obama. I apologize. After watching the blathering on yesterday's Sunday morning news shows, I don't know how I could have forgotten that and gotten the two mixed up. After all, the whole point of public opinion shows are to keep us informed of the serious issues of the day, right?
Seriously, though, here we sit waiting for yet another set of primary returns to come in. Could anyone have predicted at the beginning of the campaign that this is where we would be -- in May, 2008 -- still not knowing who one of the major candidates was going to be? Well... um... you decide. Here is what I wrote almost a year ago, on May 23rd (the full article is worth a read, especially for the long excerpt from H.L. Mencken at the end of it -- first-person reporting from the "open" Democratic convention of 1932):
Wouldn't it be fun to have real national party conventions next year?
By "real" I mean, of course, presidential nominating conventions that actually do the work of nominating a party candidate, instead of wasting four days of America's time to certify an already-foregone conclusion. Some may call me crazy for saying so, but I think there is truly a possibility we could have at least one up-for-grabs convention next year.
. . .
The new primary calendar (which is still changing almost weekly, it seems) will be heavily front-loaded into January and the first week in February. Conventional wisdom has it that this is going to favor a single, strong candidate from each party, who will win the nomination in a landslide on February 5th. However, this conventional wisdom may be completely wrong.
The way the old primary calendar was structured, New Hampshire, Iowa, and a few other states who voted extremely early would narrow the field down to three or (at the most) four candidates. The minor candidates would (at this point) run out of money due to lack of donations (nobody likes to bet on a sure loser), and either gracefully drop out or continue running a "shadow" campaign in the hopes of being a "kingmaker" later in the contest by being courted by one of the frontrunners.
The second, middle phase of the campaign would be a bruising fight between the three or four frontrunners. Usually what would happen at this point is that one of them would start to generate "momentum" and start to be seen as the inevitable nominee. As more and more states voted in their primaries, the field would dwindle until only one remained. Then at some point, the single remaining frontrunner would get the magic number of delegates to the convention (50% plus one) and be the unofficial nominee. Any state which voted after this point would be completely irrelevant to the process.
Problem was, states got tired of being irrelevant. So they moved their primaries up to the front of the line. In 2008, as many as half the states could vote on the same day (Feb. 5th). But what if this precludes any kind of "momentum" for the frontrunner candidates? Four or five states will vote before 2/5, but what if the results are mixed? What if each candidate wins one state, places second in one other state, and third (or worse) in the rest? There would be no clear frontrunner going into 2/5.
This is the point where most pundits somehow assume that on 2/5, everyone in twenty or more states is going to speak with one voice, and the primary campaign will be over. I'm not so sure about this. What if we came out of 2/5 with results all over the map? What if two or three candidates appear to be splitting the delegates fairly evenly?
This would (ironically enough) mean that the states at the back of the line suddenly become the crucial battleground states for the nomination. The only place left to get that "momentum" would be in the states which voted in the middle or at the end of the schedule. But even that's not assured. And if no candidate is the clear nominee by convention time, then we would have a real convention for a change. All the delegates' votes in the first round would go for the candidates they are pledged to vote for; but then in subsequent rounds of voting, we would have absolute pandemonium.
So here we are, examining the "crucial" battleground states for the nomination... nearing the "back of the line" of the primary calendar. While I did lay out the possibility of an open convention in that article, I also shied away from making an actual prediction that it would happen. I'm still not ready to do that, as I still think there is a good chance the race will be over this Wednesday morning. Now (to prove I highlight my mistakes as well), I think this is something like the fourth or fifth time I have predicted "it's going to be over in a matter of days." To date, I've been wrong every single time. Nobody's perfect.
But there are only four possible outcomes for tomorrow night (without getting into the relative size of the victories, just on win-versus-lose). We'll take these in order, from "least likely to occur" up to "most likely," and then I'll pick the one I think is going to happen.
Hillary Clinton wins North Carolina. Barack Obama wins Indiana.
Wow, this would set the chattering classes on their collective ear if it happened! It might be fun to watch for that reason alone -- kind of like the media train wreck that was New Hampshire, earlier in the race.
But don't bet the farm on this one, as it is just not going to happen. This is the exact opposite of what the polling averages in each state have shown, and would be a double upset. Like I said, if it happens, it'll be fun to see some media egos deflated as a result, but otherwise it's not going to change the outcome of the contest much.
Result: Hillary stays in the race until the end. Obama eventually wins.
Hillary wins North Carolina and Indiana.
A Clinton two-state sweep! This, obviously, is the preferred result over in the Clinton camp, because it would allow them to claim she's got "momentum" and Obama is faltering badly. This is the only argument that has a chance of winning over enough superdelegates for Hillary to have a prayer of actually winning the nomination.
Voters may like being pandered to (what a concept!), and Hillary's gas tax holiday may be doing more good for her than the polls are registering. Political commentary from the inside-the-Beltway crowd usually misses an enormous point: most people don't pay a lot of attention to politics, until it impacts their own lives in a personal way -- and virtually everybody uses gasoline. This is why gas prices are an almost one-to-one predictor of the government's popularity among the public at large. So maybe people are buying McCain and Clinton's gas tax holiday after all.
Hillary is polling slightly ahead in Indiana, but Barack is still polling further ahead in North Carolina. This is why this option is less likely to happen than the next two possibilities. Hillary is favored to win two out of the next three contests (West Virginia, Kentucky, and Oregon), so she could make a good "momentum" case. Unfortunately for her, it's a wee bit late in the game for such momentum to do her much good at this point, in terms of actual delegates in the bank.
Outcome: Hillary stays in it all the way to the convention. Pandemonium in Denver!
Barack wins North Carolina and Indiana.
This is more likely to happen because he's not as far behind in Indiana as she is in North Carolina. Perhaps voters saw through the gas tax holiday pandering after all. Voters are not as dumb as many politicians (and virtually everyone in the mainstream media) think they are. Look for some media types to discover this astounding fact if Obama sweeps these two states.
At this point, I don't see how Hillary Clinton stays in the race. If Obama wins by double-digits in North Carolina and only a few points in Indiana, the math is just going to overwhelm Clinton. I don't believe that Clinton will stay in the race if there is no rational path to her victory -- I think she will know that it's over, and bow out.
Upshot: Hillary holds a press conference Wednesday morning and quits the race.
Hillary wins Indiana, Barack wins North Carolina.
If you bet the outcome determined by the polls, this is where to put your money. Hillary has been ahead in Indiana for a while, and while Obama made it a tighter race there than she may have expected, she edges him out for the Hoosier title. Obama, on the other hand, takes the Tar Heel State by a comfortable margin.
If this is the result tomorrow night, then watch the pledged delegate count. North Carolina has more delegates, and if Obama wins bigger there than she does in Indiana, then he will likely gain in his pledged delegate overall lead by a handful (five to ten, maybe). If the races are closer than expected, it may be a wash, with neither side picking up more than a delegate or three (at the most).
Resolution: Hillary claims she's won the "tiebreaker" state (counting Pennsylvania with these two), and continues her pitch to the superdelegates that Obama can't win in the Rust Belt, and can't win big states. Obama counters with: "North Carolina is bigger than Indiana, and only 25 delegates smaller than Ohio." The race goes on.
And on. And on. Robert Earl Keen is right. The road goes on forever....
Well, I just barely called Guam right last Friday, but I kind of blew the "point spread" since I predicted a big Obama win, and he apparently won by only seven votes. But seven votes is seven votes, so I'm chalking that one up in the win column. Which brings us to tomorrow's predictions.
I'm going to have to go all safe and "conventional wisdom-ey" on this one. Hillary squeaks out a win in Indiana, Barack wins comfortably in North Carolina.
My gut feeling (Chris' gut to Chris' brain: "Please, somebody, make it STOP!!!") is telling me to predict an Obama sweep. Plus, I could win our "predict the outcome of the Democratic race" betting pool, as my guess was Hillary calls a press conference at 10:00 A.M. (Eastern) on Wednesday morning and gives her swan-song concession speech, during which she announces she'll be campaigning for Obama from this point out.
But now that we're here, I have less and less certainty in my previous prediction.
I strongly believe Obama is going to win in North Carolina. The North Carolinians I know tell me it's a lock -- Obama will take the state, no problem. The polls seem to agree. A Hillary upset here could indeed change the dynamics of the entire race, but I just don't think it's going to happen.
Indiana is the real toss-up, though. There are many factors in play in Indiana. Something the mainstream media hasn't really put together yet is that the recent Supreme Court ruling on Voter ID laws was in the state of Indiana. This means that everyone has to show a photo ID to vote. This may suppress minority voting. But to counter that, there's a lot of minority votes in certain regions of the state that are largely being ignored by the media. And one of these regions is Gary and the whole northwestern corner of the state, which is really a giant extension of Chicago. This whole region of the state is actually part of the Chicago television market, meaning they have been getting "local" news about Obama for years now. Obama is a known quantity here, and needs no "introduction" to these voters.
Plus, Obama plays an excellent game of basketball. Unlike his bowling, he's "got game" with his hoops. And, much like Texas and high school football, non-Hoosiers just "don't get it" about how important basketball is in the state. So maybe that'll give Barack a needed edge here, who knows?
The polls have been up, down, and all over the map in the past few months in Indiana. This instability in the polling numbers means that pollsters really don't know what is truly going on in the electorate. Meaning an Obama upset is entirely possible. Or Clinton could surprise everyone and gain a victory margin here as big as she got in Ohio (10%) and Pennsylvania (9%).
But while my gut screams at me to call an upset here, I have to say I think Clinton's going to pull it out in the end.
So, my prediction is: Clinton wins Indiana, by four to six points. Obama wins North Carolina, by ten points or more. Everybody sing along:
The road goes on forever and the party never ends!
Those are my picks, what are yours?
Total correct Democratic picks so far: 36 for 52 -- 69%
Total correct 2008 Republican picks: 37 for 50 -- 74%
Total overall correct picks: 73 for 102 -- 72%.
[Previous states' picks:]
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Chris Weigant blogs at: ChrisWeigant.com