Sunday, January 20, 2008

Nevada and SC-GOP Aftermath

The headline today is, "Hillary Wins Nevada."

It should be, as it should have been in Iowa and New Hampshire, "Another Democratic Tie." Hillary won a 51%-46% majority of the delegates to the state convention, but barring unfaithful delegates the actual national delegates picked in April will split 13-12 in favor of Barack Obama.

More notable is that, in this contest, Hillary barely broke the 50% mark. I hadn't expected her to do that well. Reports of a 2-1 or better Hispanic vote in her favor over Obama indicate at the very least a strong backlash against the unions' political action. If it's more than that- if it's an actual racial support for Mrs. Clinton over all other candidates- then Obama is cooked in California and probably overall. He needs to do some fence-mending with the Latinos fast... or else Tsunami Tuesday is going to go very, very badly for him indeed.

As for Obama's chances overall, the facts on the ground show him running even with Clinton, but facts almost never determine political outcomes. The popular view is now that Hillary is on a roll, and that Obama is just a little bit short. He absolutely, positively has got to win South Carolina now, and that state is no longer a "gimme" with his losing both the Hispanic and white vote in Nevada. Part of his problem- and this is becoming more apparent over the past week- is that Obama is the more conservative of the two as a matter of philosophy. Unlike Hillary, who advocates rapid, untested intervention into the economy and micromanagement of the lives of all individuals, Obama is willing to watch, wait, and let people run their own lives... or, at least, he's willing to do so more often than Hillary. With the Iraq war fading fast as a political issue in the light of economic troubles, he's losing his advantage there- an advantage which, quite frankly, was his strongest suit in Iowa after being "the change candidate."

Obama has to do two things. First, he has to start a talking campaign- not from his own mouth, nor directly from his campaign staff, but among his grass-roots supporters- reminding people of the old Clinton "trustworthiness." People need to be reminded of the Rose Law Firm records, of the Clinton White House records secrecy, of every single vote Clinton has made to give more power to the Bush White House. He absolutely MUST do this... because both Bill and Hillary have, in the past week, attacked Obama on his war record, on his effort to rig Nevada, on his race-baiting, and even on his religion- without any grounds, but people are buying it all anyway. If Obama doesn't attack the Clintons, and attack them with solid facts rather than allegations, he loses.

Second, Obama needs to jump into the economic issue with both feet. He needs a solid, simple-to-understand proposal for helping people swamped in debt, losing their homes, losing their jobs, etc. Clinton has done this with a band-aid moratorium on foreclosures that can only function if lenders are coerced by government fiat into complying- which would lead to their collapse just as inaction will. Her proposal is factually bankrupt but SOUNDS good- just as all her proposals. Right now Obama's acting as if he's content to see what comes through the Senate... and he absolutely cannot afford to do that.

If Obama spends this week starting whispers about Clinton and countering her economic proposals with his own, he'll take South Carolina and make a good showing on Tsunami Tuesday. If Obama reaches out to Hispanics, his odds will be further improved. If he fails to do any of this, Clinton will take a strong and definite delegate lead out of Tsunami Tuesday... one which Obama probably won't be able to overcome.

As for John Edwards... he's done. He has nowhere else to go. South Carolina won't turn for him, no matter what happens. He leads nowhere- he's not even in second place in his home state of North Carolina at the moment. His campaign is running on empty. The longer he stays in the race, and the more his support bleeds away to nothing, the less power he'll have to negotiate with either Clinton or Obama. Right now Edwards should be shopping his endorsement to Obama for whatever he can get. Clinton might like Edwards' support, but she doesn't need it, not with the backing of the Democratic machines and establishment. If Edwards stays in, based on Nevada's results, his followers split evenly between Hillary and Obama... which is good for Hillary, possibly disaster for Obama.

Now over to the Republican side. Romney has proved, for the third time, that he can buy elections provided he has a long period without substantial opposition. His money, and his current lead with delegates, makes him one of the two frontrunners. The other frontrunner is John McCain, whose marginal win in South Carolina proves that he can succeed in a badly divided race. Ron Paul's second place effective tie with McCain in Nevada sounds good until you recall that Romney got a clear majority there, and Paul and McCain split half of what was left over. The fact that Paul only got 4% in South Carolina only emphasizes the lack of importance to his Nevada finish.

Huckabee is done. Finis. So is Fred Thompson. Both are Southerners, both are hard-line religious conservatives, and both lost to McCain. If they didn't win in South Carolina (and they didn't), then they can at best hope to win their home state. Giuliani, despite finishing behind Ron Paul again in both Nevada and South Carolina, is still a question mark awaiting the votes in Florida, California and New York- the places he's focused his campaigning. At this point McCain, Romney and maybe Giuliani can be considered viable nominees. Unfortunately for Republicans, of the four other candidates only Duncan Hunter has read the writing on the wall and formally bowed out.

What do the three GOP frontrunners need to do? McCain needs to get Thompson firm on his promise to back McCain if and when he bows out; without Thompson's active support, virtually none of his people will come to McCain based on their own thoughts. Romney needs to win in a tightly contested state that doesn't have some of its delegates docked- that means neither Florida nor Maine qualify. Giuliani absolutely, positively cannot afford to lose Florida, after all the effort and time he's invested there. McCain and Romney can go on without any more wins before Tsunami Tuesday: Giuliani cannot.

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