Thoughts about the 2008 Presidential race – so far

January 26, 2008

For the first time since 1952, both parties are facing nomination battles with neither an incumbent President nor Vice President running. Thus far, the contests on both sides have been pretty fluid. In this article, we will discuss the race from both parties’ perspectives.
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Democrats

While the Democratic nomination has appeared to see-saw between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, clear patterns of support are emerging. Hillary has become the choice for the “downscale” Democrats, older women, organizational Democrats, and Hispanics. Barack Obama is becoming the favorite of affluent liberals, blacks, and young voters attracted to his sunny idealism. Meanwhile, an angrier and more liberal (compared to 2004) John Edwards struggles to get people to focus on his candidacy, and unless he can carry a state, his candidacy becomes more of that of a spoiler than as a serious candidate.

Today’s South Carolina race, which Obama won in a 55-27% landslide over Hillary Clinton, will not be a setback to Clinton, as blacks constituted nearly 50% of the Democratic electorate. The real stories in the upcoming weeks are (1) How much longer John Edwards will continue in the light of his poor third place finish in the state where he was born – especially since his share of support was less than half of what he received in 2004, and (2) As Hillary has become the preferred candidate for the “downscale” white and Hispanic Democratic vote, Obama must break through in at least one of the big states (New Jersey, California, Massachusetts) voting on “Super Duper Tuesday” if he wants to keep the Democratic race competitive.

In the delegate race as of January 27 (this includes the South Carolina results), Hillary maintains a comfortable, but not overwhelming, majority with 246 delegates to Barack Obama’s 173 delegates (2,025 delegates are required for the nomination) and John Edwards’ 52 delegates.

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Republicans

So far, different candidates (first Mike Huckabee, then John McCain, then Mitt Romney) have been blessed (or cursed) with the front-runner mantle. And now that the more purely conservative candidates (Fred Thompson, Duncan Hunter, and Tom Tancredo) have withdrawn, the remaining candidates have plusses and minuses in the eyes of conservative primary voters.

Mike Huckabee: While Mike Huckabee’s win in Iowa shocked the Republican establishment, his poor showings in subsequent primary states has hurt his credibility as a viable candidate. Even in South Carolina, a state filled with southern evangelicals, he still was able to get only 30% of the vote. Since then, he has had to cut back on his campaign. Unless he can sweep the Florida primary and/or the southern states having primaries over the next few weeks, he may have to withdraw from the race. While Fred Thompson’s withdrawal helps a little, he has not “closed the deal” with conservative Southern voters, as his record of tax increases and recent criticism of the Bush administration makes conservatives uncomfortable.

John McCain: Though he is a POW with mostly conservative credentials, his independence and occasional workings with the Democrats (opposing tax cuts, being in the “Gang of 14”, being courted by John Kerry to be his running mate in 2004) have left a bad taste in the mouth of many conservatives. While he would be a strong candidate against the eventual Democratic nominee, and has performed respectably in the handful of primaries held so far, he has benefited from his wins being in states where Independents (and, in some cases, Democrats) are allowed to choose a Republican ballot. He must win Florida and/or some of the big states which are voting on “Super Duper Tuesday” like California, New York, and New Jersey, because he has limited funds, despite his improved recent fortunes.

Rudy Giuliani: No one has risen to the top and plummeted like “America’s Mayor” has. He has run a risky campaign by largely foregoing the early primary states and concentrating on Florida and “Super Duper Tuesday” states. While this is shrewd in terms of focusing one’s resources, Republicans in these big states are voting based not only on Rudy’s special attention to them but also on the extensive news coverage being given to his competitors as they win (or lose) in the early states.

Mitt Romney: While it would seem unlikely that a candidate who in a 1994 debate said “…I believe abortion should be safe and legal…” and “….I’m not trying to return to Reagan-Bush..”, the fact is that Mitt Romney is well positioned to pick up the lions share of the conservative vote for several reasons: (1) His decade-old flaws are no worse than the flaws of each of his major opponents, (2) As the possibility of an economic recession increases thanks to a collapsing sub prime mortgage market, Romney’s “can do” record as a businessman is more believable to conservatives than his hunting record or his stance on social issues, (3) His personal wealth means he is amply funded, which is a valuable advantage to have on “Super Duper Tuesday”, when voters from more than 20 states from Alaska to Massachusetts will be voting.

In the delegate race as of January 26, Mitt Romney has a 59-40 lead over Mike Huckabee. John McCain has 36 delegates, and in the “back of the pack”, Fred Thompson has five delegates, Ron Paul has four delegates, and Rudy Giuliani has a single delegate (1,191 delegates are required for the nomination).

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Conclusion

While both parties are having competitive races, the volume of upcoming primaries in the next couple of weeks will inevitably lead to further reduction of both the Democratic and Republican fields. And the reality is, a Democratic nominee benefits from voter disappointment with the status quo, while a Republican nominee benefits from whoever (Hillary or Obama) the Democrats nominate, with Hillary being an especially polarizing figure who can unite the Republicans almost as well as Walter Mondale did.


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