I’ve had family visiting today, so have been away from the blog, but keeping a close watch on the returns. The only thing I’d have to add at this point is after all the discussion about how chatoic and wide open the presidential race was this year, this may be remembered as the day where things began to resemble a much more typical primary season. In both parties, the two candidates who had a bit of an edge going into the day, started to solidify their grips on the nomination.
On the Republican side, I think John McCain comes out of this in very strong postion. Yeah, he still has his differences with the base, but if he was able to win South Carolina, where immigration was such a strong issue, I think it shows that he can emerge from a flawed field as the default candidate. Rudy Giuliani has staked everything on Florida, but it seems to me that he has lost the electability and national security argument to McCain in voters’ minds, and those were the pillars of Rudy’s strategy for winning the nomination. At this point, even if Giuliani wins Florida, it seems like it’s more likely that such an event would lead to a brokered convention than it would a Giuliani nomination. It’s pretty clear that Mike Huckabee doesn’t have much appeal beyond evangelical voters, which doesn’t bode well for him as the primaries go national. As for Mitt Romney, his defenders will say he has the most delegates, but that will be very short lived. Despite his early exit from South Carolina, he poured a lot of resources into the state, and his fourth place showing suggests that he’ll have a lot of problems with Southern evangelicals. The terrain on Feb. 5 doesn’t look too good for Romney. Okay, so he’ll win Utah, and let’s give him Massachusetts (although that’s by no means a lock). Beyond that, things are rough. Those Massachusetts/Utah victories would be partially offset by a McCain win in Arizona. There are the winner take all states of New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut, which will almost certianly either go for Rudy if he can pull out Florida, or McCain should Rudy lose Florida and get behind the Arizona Senator. There are the Southern states of Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, and Tennessee where Romney would have to be considered a longshot, given his showing in South Carolina, where he campaigned heavily. That only covers about half of the states to vote that day, but it’s hard to see how Romney would have any inherent edge in any other states such as Illinois, California, Colorado, and Minnesota. So, the bottom line is that by default, McCain is in the best position right now.
As for the Democrats, I think Hillary Clinton delivered a huge blow to Barack Obama’s chances of capturing the nomination. Just like New Hampshire, Obama’s narrow defeat was a better showing than what he may have hoped for a month or two back, but expectations changed since then, and this was a state where he really needed to win. Obama is no doubt giving Clinton a run for her money, but what we’re seeing is the advantage of Clinton having started out with a massive lead nationally and in most states. That is, Obama may do well enough to get close to her, but she started with such a margin for error, such a big cushion, that he’ll have trouble getting over the top. It’s sort of like a baseball team that is 15 games behind in early August, goes on an incredible winning streak, but at the end of the season comes two or three games short of the division title.