Thursday, February 07, 2008

Clinton-Obama Versus McCain-Huckabee November Matchup Moves Closer to Reality

Romney Drops Out of the Race, All But Assuring McCain of GOP Nomination Despite Still-Bitter Opposition by Right-Wing Hard-Liners; Clinton and Obama Face Pressure to Join Forces After 'Super Tuesaday' Exit Polls Show Them Too Evenly Matched to Run Without Each Other in Fall Campaign

Democratic presidential hopeful Sen. Hillary Clinton, left, Republican presidential hopeful Sen. John McCain, right.

Democrat Hillary Rodham Clinton (left) and Republican John McCain are more likely than ever to end up facing off against each other in the November general election -- with Barack Obama and Mike Huckabee as their vice-presidential running mates, respectively -- after McCain's chief GOP rival, Mitt Romney withdrew from the race Thursday, all but assuring McCain the Republican nomination. McCain has been effusive in his praise for Huckabee, suggesting that they'll end up the Republican ticket -- despite determined attacks against McCain by the party's right-wing hard-liners. Meanwhile, an analysis of the "Super Tuesday" popular vote published Thursday showed Clinton and Obama in a virtual tie -- strongly suggesting that they're too evenly matched to not join forces as running mates in the fall campaign. (Photos: Getty Images; AP)

(Updated 11:45 p.m. EST Thursday, February 7, 2008)

By Skeeter Sanders

If the contest for the White House was an athletic event, then Senators Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York and Barack Obama of Illinois will likely continue to run neck and neck in what is proving to be a long, grueling marathon for the Democratic presidential nomination that may last all the way to the Democrats' Denver convention in August.

Meanwhile, for Senator John McCain of Arizona, former Governor Mitt Romney of Massachusetts and former Governor Mike Huckabee of Arkansas, Super Tuesday turned out to be the GOP's version of a triple-threat steel-cage wrestling match. While McCain and Huckabee effectively tag-teamed Romney to the canvas Tuesday, a defiant Romney initially refused to surrender and vowed to fight on.

But on Thursday, Romney -- whose bid to become America's first Mormon president was resoundingly rejected by Christian evangelicals who strongly backed Huckabee -- withdrew from the race, prompting a parade of prominent Republicans to swing behind the Arizona senator.

For McCain, whose independent streak rankles many in the Republican rank-and-file, Romney's departure capped a remarkable turnaround. His campaign was left for dead last summer, out of cash and losing staff.

For Democrats, the dramatic turn of events on the Republican side is likely to increase pressure on Clinton and Obama to settle their differences and join forces as the Democratic presidential and vice-presidential ticket. But whether they're willing to do so -- and which one will agree to be the Democrats' No. 2 -- remains to be seen.

It Was 'November in February' for Democrats on Super Tuesday

It felt more like an extremely close general election in November than the closest thing to a truly national primary on a Tuesday night in February, as Clinton and Obama traded victories back and forth in 24 states from the Atlantic to the Pacific. As the night wore on, it became clear that Democrats were agonizing over having make a historic choice between a woman and an African-American as their party’s presidential nominee.

In a surprise development, Obama surpassed Clinton in at least one television network's tally of the total number of delegates the candidates have racked up after a chaotic Super Tuesday. With the delegate count still under way, NBC News said Obama appears to have won around 840 delegates in Tuesday’s contests, while Clinton earned about 830 — “give or take a few,” Tim Russert, the network’s Washington bureau chief, said Wednesday on "NBC Nightly News."

The running totals for the two, which includes previous contests and the party officials known as “superdelegates,” are only about 70 delegates apart, Russert said.

Clinton was portrayed in many news accounts Tuesday as the night’s big winner in the popular vote, but an analysis published Thursday in The New York Times showed the two candidates actually scored a virtual dead-heat tie among Super Tuesday voters.

Meanwhile, Obama’s campaign says he wound up with a higher total where it really counts — the delegates who will choose the party’s nominee at the convention. Nonetheless, both Democratic contenders are far from the magic number of 2,025 delegates needed to secure the nomination.

The Times analysis of the Democratic popular vote in all Super Tuesday states except Alaska -- which reported only its delegate count -- showed that Clinton received 7.42 million votes, or 50.2 percent, while Obama received 7.36 million votes, or 49.8 percent.

Clarity of any sort eluded the Democrats as campaigns turned to the next rounds. On Saturday, Louisiana and Washington state hold two-party contests while Nebraska Democrats and Kansas Republicans make their picks. Then comes a larger series of two-party primaries in Maryland, Virginia and the District of Columbia on Tuesday.

For Republicans, the night was anything but unclear, as McCain piled up victory after victory -- mostly in states with winner-take-all delegate rules -- to emerge with a commanding lead for the GOP nomination.

McCain, whose campaign was left for dead last summer, came back to capture more delegates (620) than Romney (270) and Huckabee (176) combined, putting him past the halfway mark to the 1,191 delegates needed to win the top prize. His victories stretched from New York to California, the biggest prize.

Romney Derailed by Evangelicals Uncomfortable With His Mormon Faith

Romney's fate had been virtually sealed earlier this week when he failed to stop McCain's coast-to-coast Super Tuesday rout. McCain and Romney spoke by telephone Thursday, but no endorsement was sought nor offered.

Romney had celebrated victories Tuesday in his home state of Massachusetts, Utah, Montana, Alaska, Colorado and North Dakota. But he was pummeled elsewhere on a day he had hoped to prove his presidential campaign wasn't doomed.

"This isn't just about the heart and soul of our party, it isn't just about which party's going to win in November. This is about the future course of our country," he said to about 500 supporters, many of whom wore stunned looks on their faces as the returns came in.

Romney's appeals to Christian conservatives fell on deaf ears -- as this blogger predicted weeks ago -- with Huckabee's Southern Baptist-dominated Christian evangelical base emphatically turning thumbs down on Romney's bid to become the nation's first Mormon president. Southern Baptists do not view Mormons as genuine Christians because of doctrinal differences on the nature of God and the rules of salvation and consider Mormons a cult.

Emboldened by a sweep of all five southern Super Tuesday states that were in play, Huckabee suggested that he and McCain were now the two main GOP candidates.

"The one way you can't win a race is to quit it, and until somebody beats me, I'm going to answer the bell for every round of this fight," the former Arkansas governor said in an interview with The Associated Press. Huckabee made a similar vow in a speech to cheering home-state supporters in Little Rock, portraying himself as the best choice for conservative voters.

He said his strong showings in the South demonstrated that "conservatives do have a choice, because the conservatives have a voice."

Despite Victory, Right-Wing Hard-Liners Still Snubbing McCain

In spite of his strong showing on Tuesday, McCain still has a major weakness: He remains deeply unpopular with party conservatives, who split their votes between Romney and Huckabee. McCain asked his loudest conservative critics Wednesday to "calm down" and support his Republican presidential candidacy.

But his appeals are likely to fall on deaf ears among a number of influential right-wing pundits and commentators -- most prominently radio talk-show host Rush Limbaugh -- who are hell-bent on stopping him.

With the GOP nomination virtually assured, McCain expressed hope that criticism from within the party would ease. "I do hope that at some point we would just calm down a little bit and see if there's areas we can agree on," he said Wednesday, the eve of a scheduled appearance before conservative activists at the annual Conservative Political Action Committee (CPAC) conference in Washington.

But these hard-line, so-called "conservatives" -- who, to this blogger, are really right-wing ideologues only slightly to the left of Benito Mussolini -- are in no mood to hear any of it.

Why? Because McCain, in these neo-fascists' estimation, committed two unpardonable sins:

1) He teamed up with Democratic Senator Russ Feingold of Wisconsin to move through a law that severely restricted campaign fundraising in federal elections. This infuriated the far right because the McCain-Feingold law robbed the GOP of its decades-long fundraising advantage over the Democrats. Now, it's the Democrats who are flush with money and the Republicans who are strapped for cash.

2) McCain co-sponsored a compromise bill that would curtail the nation's unsecured borders, while figuring out a way to deal with the 12 million illegal immigrants already here. That bill, unfortunately, was killed off by the rabid blatherings of the right-wing talk-radio hosts and their equally rabid listeners, who'll accept nothing less than the government building "Berlin Walls" on our northern and southern borders and throwing the estimated 12 million illegal immigrants already living here out of the country.

Clinton Captures the Big 'Blue' States -- But Obama Sweeps the 'Red' Ones

On the Democratic side, Clinton and Obama proved to be so evenly matched that the ultimate winner of their party's presidential nod may not be known for weeks.

Clinton won eight states on Super Tuesday, including the big, delegate-rich states of California, Massachusetts, New Jersey and -- not surprisingly -- her home state, New York. Not to be outdone, Obama won 13 states, including Alabama, Georgia, Connecticut and -- again, not surprisingly -- his home state, Illinois.

But Obama did something else: He won in states with overwhelmingly white populations, where a black candidate would have had great difficulty winning two decades ago: Montana, Alaska, North Dakota, Idaho, Minnesota -- once and for all debunking the notion, repeated by former President Bill Clinton during the bitterly contested January 26 South Carolina Democratic primary -- that a black candidate could not draw white voter support.

Moreover, Obama scored impressive victories in "red" states that have voted Republican in the last two general elections, including Alabama, Arkansas, Colorado, Kansas, Missouri and Utah.

Obama wasted no time Wednesday in seeking to convince Democrats that he offers the party its best hope of winning the White House this fall -- by warning that Republicans will have "a dump truck full" of dirt to unload on Clinton if the former first lady becomes the Democratic nominee.

At a news conference in Chicago, Obama offered some pointed advice to members of Congress and other party leaders who will attend the national convention this summer as "superdelegates" not chosen in primaries or caucuses.

He said that if he winds up winning more delegates in voting than the former first lady, they "would have to think long and hard about how they approach the nomination when the people they claim to represent have said, 'Obama's our guy,'" he said.

Exit Polls May Prompt Clinton-Obama Ticket in the Fall

But exit polls taken after voters cast their ballots revealed stunning strengths -- and weaknesses -- for both candidates, which could increase pressure on Clinton and Obama to settle their differences and join forces as the Democratic Party ticket in the fall campaign.

Obama greatly expanded his appeal with white voters — particularly white men — even as he scored an overwhelming majority of blacks, while Clinton solidified her support among Latinos -- with the notable exception of young Latinos under 30, who broke for Obama.

Clinton also won solid support among women, who made up 57 percent of Democratic Super Tuesday voters, while Obama scored high among men. Obama drew the lion's share of younger voters under 30, while Clinton swept older voters over 55.

While voters weren't specifically asked if they wanted to see Clinton and Obama become running mates, the exit polls did show that Democratic voters would be happy with either candidate as the party's nominee. But with voter sentiment nearly evenly divided between the two, a Clinton-Obama combo would appear to be much more formidable against the Republicans in the fall than either candidate separately.

And consider this: So far in this primary season, Democrats are drawing record-breaking turnouts across the country, almost twice as many voters as Republicans: 14 million to 8 million, according to CNN. And independents -- who make up a third of the general electorate and without whom neither party can win in November -- are leaning 2-1 in favor of the Democrats.

Prediction For November Matchup: Clinton-Obama vs. McCain-Huckabee

One thing that has been widely noticed in this campaign is the refusal of either McCain or Huckabee to fling mud at each other. On the contrary, they directed their fire at Romney -- and even then, only in response to Romney's attack ads against them in Iowa and New Hampshire and his biting remarks against McCain on the stump.

And McCain's effusive praise for Huckabee's southern success in his victory speech Tuesday night -- compared to his grudging praise for Romney -- is leading to speculation that the Arizona senator and the former Arkansas governor my become running mates in the fall campaign.

Such a combination would make sense, as it would instantly shore up McCain's support among conservatives (except, of course, the right-wing talk-radio demagogues). and it would neatly fit with the longstanding tradition of a party's president and vice-presidential candidates hailing from different regions of the country; in this case and Westerner and a Southerner.

It's a different story for the Democrats: The only fall combo that would make sense, given their almost even voter strength - not to mention the almost irresistable pull of making history -- is Clinton and Obama. Clinton without Obama would likely lose the support of young people. Obama without Clinton would likely fail to win over Latinos and older voters.

One thing is certain: With a matchup like this in the fall campaign, the only mudslinging would likely come from the independent "527" groups beyond the candidates' control.

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Volume III, Number 10
Copyright 2008, Skeeter Sanders. All rights reserved.



Katharine said...


As someone who hears you sometimes on WGDR and I've seen some printouts of your blog, it was lovely to see a local ID featured today on Buzzflash.

Kate Chase from Cabot