The media are reporting on the presidential primary like a bunch of junior high girls gossiping about the latest news of who has a crush on whom. For a brief few days, Obama was the next JFK, with an unstoppable juggernaut of hopeful and youthful voters. But today, Sen. Clinton, who was all but out of the race at the end of last week, has regained her air of inevitability.
On the GOP side, Romney is down, but not out. But after two second-place finishes in states where he expected to perform the strongest, his chances aren’t good. Huckabee was the great charismatic hope a couple of days ago. He’s not completely forgotten, but he’s yesterday’s news. McCain has now been assumed to have mounted an unstoppable charge to the nomination.
Get a grip folks! As far as actual delegates, Obama has 25, Clinton has 24, and Edwards has 18. Whoever wins the Democratic nomination needs at least 2,025 delegates. On the GOP side, Romney has 24 delegates, Huckabee has 18, McCain has 10, Thompson has 6, Paul has 2, and Hunter has 1. Whoever wins the Republican nomination needs 1,191 delegates.
So, Obama and Romney are the current leaders, whatever that means. You wouldn’t know it from the media coverage.
Let’s get real about this. On the Democratic side, the three candidates named above have 1.2%, 1.1%, and 0.8% respectively of the needed delegates. On the GOP side, the six candidates listed above have 2%, 1.5%, 0.8%, 0.5%, 0.2%, and 0.1% respectively of the needed delegates. This basically tells us that the current top three contenders in each party are in a statistical dead heat.
But why is this even important right now? We’ve had a grand total of three states complete most of their primary processes. (The Wyoming GOP will award two more delegates at its state convention.) We’ve still got 47 states and DC to go.
Well, the reason this stuff is important is that history shows that momentum builds from the early states and that later states take the cues from the early states. At least that’s what we’re told. But, no, it does not actually mean this. In fact, later states often vote quite differently than do early states. What early victories mean is that a campaign isn’t dead yet. Candidates that win big or that perform better than expected can more easily raise additional funds to spend campaigning in later states.
In this year’s compressed primary schedule, it is not at all clear that this factor will be as meaningful as it has been in past races. If you don’t already have a significant campaign machine up and running in MI, NV, SC, FL and all of the Feb. 5 states, you’re probably toast, regardless of how well you have performed in IA, WY, and NH.
All of the Democratic candidates score fairly well here. Giuliani and Romney are the only GOP candidates that get good grades here. (Giuliani has purposely foregone the early states in order to focus mainly on later states with high delegate counts, so he has no delegates yet.) McCain probably comes in next, with Thompson behind him. Huckabee, whose campaign has been run on a shoestring budget, simply doesn’t have much going in these states, and he has precious little time to get it all together. Paul has a pretty good organization of loyal grass roots supporters in most of these states. Hunter does not.
Having a great campaign machine does not mean that you can win. It means that you can be more competitive. Those that have mediocre or ethereal campaign organizations can still be competitive, but it’s a lot more difficult.
At any rate, it is not clear that the current candidate rankings mean anything with respect to who will ultimately win each party’s nomination. Nor is it clear that the IA and NH votes will ultimately prove to be meaningful in this respect. Anybody that tells you that they have a good understanding of who is going to win each nomination is either deluded or is lying. Right now, it’s all very much up in the air. With 3.3% of needed Democratic delegates decided and 5.1% of needed GOP delegates decided plus all of the uncertainties of this year’s campaign cycle, nobody really has a clue what is going to happen.
This is part of the reason for the media’s adolescent handling of the race. The fact that this is the first wide-open presidential race in more than half a century adds to the titillation. I’m afraid that we’ll have to live with this silliness for about four more weeks. By the morning of Feb. 6, there should be a lot more clarity. But somehow I doubt this will mean an end to media ridiculousness on the issue. I mean, after that, there will be another nine months to go until the general election.