As I predicted, John Edwards and Rudy Giuliani have withdrawn from the Presidential race after the Florida primary confirmed that neither had a chance of winning. This leaves Hillary Clinton and Barak Obama on the Democratic side of the race (and yes, Mr. Mike 0% Gravel who doens't yet have a single pledged or superdelegate to his name and isn't likely to get any outside Alaska where he might manage one or two out of four thousand if he is still running), while John McCain, Mitt Romney and Mike Huckabee are the remaining viable candidates on the Republican side (there are a few non-viable Republican candidates like Ron Paul left too).
A brokered convention on the Democratic Party side of the race is now almost unthinkable. Given the proportional representation system used to allocate Democratic delegates to the National Convention, and the boosts that Obama will receive from a share of Edwards voters and from the momentum he captured by his decisive first place finish in South Carolina, I doubt that either candidate will come away from Super Tuesday on February 5 in a position to be declared the presumptive nominee. But, six days from now we will have a pretty firm idea of who the most likely Democratic nominee will be.
More practically, this leaves Democrats on Tuesday February 5, 2008 who check in from 6:30 p.m. to 7:00 p.m. at their caucus site easily determined from the website of the Democratic Party of Denver for Denver Democrats, with a short ballot to fill out -- only Clinton, Gravel, Obama and Undecided will be available as choices, making caucus math quite a bit easier than it might otherwise have been.
Edwards withdrawal is a two edged sword. Edwards supporters are not monolithic, and will definitely split in which candidate they support instead. Edwards has not endorsed either candidate, although he is believed to favor Obama personally. In the South, his continued candidacy has helped Obama (which is why Edwards sayed in) believe Edwards split the white vote with Clinton, while not cutting into Obama's 80%ish support in the black community, among both black men and black women equally despite a gender gap among white voters with women favoring Clinton. This is huge in the South where blacks much up a large percentage of the Democratic primary electorate. Obama needs a very large share of currently undecided voters and Edwards supporters to capture the nomination, but his recent showings of viability have already started to boost his showings in surveys. Obama has also shown a remarkable ability to bring new people into the political process to support him, while Clinton has done better with long time, established Democratic voters.
A lot of suggestive evidence from sources like shifts in support in Daily Kos preference polls, the demographics of South Carolina Edwards supporters, and the impact the gender gap in favor of Clinton has on relative support for Obama and Edwards in Florida according to exit polls, suggests that the Edwards vote should shift at least 60-40 in favor of Clinton. But, ideologically, Edwards like Obama is favored by the liberal wing of the Democratic party, so ideologically, it makes sense for the balance to tip towards Obama. The Kennedy endorsements with week, with the more famous Kennedy's endorsing Obama and some lesser known ones endorsing Clinton, illustrated this leaning. I would certainly suspect that Edwards superdelegates will go disproportionately for Obama, rather than Clinton, not that it matters all that much, because Edwards had far fewer superdelegates to start with than his two main rivals for the Democratic nomination.
Of course, even a 50-50 split of the Edwards vote leaves Obama behind Clinton given the polling in Super Tuesday states. Clinton supporters tend to be pretty sure of their choice relative to other supporters, so in addition to Edwards suppporters Obama needs a big chunk of undecided voters as well. It is going to take powerful momentum between now and Tuesday for Obama to pull out front runner status, and as Markos at Daily Kos has remarked, Hillary Clinton is close to unflappable on the campaign trail -- her biggest campaign gaff in the past couple of weeks has been, the mixed blessing who is her husband's over zealous campaigning on her behalf.
An eyeball look at the detailed state by state data in this Daily Kos diary, modified by knowledge now of an Obama uptick in the polls since that post was made a couple of weeks ago, and the Edwards withdrawal from the race, leads me to predict that on Super Tuesday, Obama and Clinton will split pledged delegates almost exactly evenly, leaving the race to be decided by the late primary states.
Most people in a better position to know than I am who have chimed in on the Republican nomination race think that McCain's winner take all first place finish in Florida, and the withdrawal of Rudy Giuliani accompanied by Giuliani's endorsement of McCain, give McCain a serious boost going into Super Tuesday. But, McCain has had a number of outbreaks of foot in mouth disease recently, will be facing a string of primaries in which only Republicans (and hence not independents) can vote that will hurt him with the moderate wing of the Republican party to whom he allegedly most appeals, and is reportedly short on money compared to his rival Mitt Romney (and in the general election as well).
Huckabee's fourth place finish in Florida with a mere 12% of the vote, his failure to win South Carolina which is home to many voters in his evangelical Christian base, and his failure to take either of the top two slots in New Hampshire, makes his long ago first place finish in Iowa look like a trial balloon that has burst. I expect Huckabee's support to lag from the most recent polls in Super Tuesday and the event itself, although where his supporters go is a hard question, as neither McCain nor Romney have impeccible conservative credentials, or a populist streak. Huckabee has announced that he will stay in the race for Super Tuesday, and polls indicate that he could win as many as four of the couple dozen states in play that day. But, momentum is against him doing even that well, and a less than 20% win rate does not a nominee make.
Huckabee's only viable winning strategy is to win enough delegates to force a brokered convention in Minneapolis-St. Paul this Septemeber and to emerge as a compromise candidate between the dominant McCain and Romney camps. But, the fact that a decent share of Republican primary states are winner take all, and the smaller share of superdelegates in the Republican convention, means that Huckabee will be hard pressed to get enough delegates to deny the front runner majority support. Winner take all primaries are strongly biased in favor of candidates who would otherwise be mere plurality candidates.
Rumor has it that Bloomberg, the liberal Republican Mayor of New York City, is also thinking of throwing his hat into the ring with an independent run, and the possibility that Ron Paul will quite the Republican race to become the Libertarian Party nominee at a convention in Denver in August, has still not been foreclosed.
In Denver, meanwhile, enthusiasm for Obama is huge. He came to speak this morning at Magness Arena on the University of Denver campus and I even got a ticket to attend the 8:30 a.m. rally and started to go. A line to get in probably a mile and a half long and four or five people wide dissauded me. I'll read about it in the paper. Hillary Clinton will appear at the University of Denver this evening.
The Odds Of Winning
At this point, I give Clinton about a 60% chance of winning the nomination (with the other 40% chance being an Obama nominee), and McCain likewise about a 60% chance of winning his nomination (with Huckabee having no more than a 5% chance and the 35% balance to Romney).
While current surveys show both McCain-Clinton and McCain-Obama to be statistical ties, I think that close examination of the candidates and a general disgust with Republican rule will tilt the balance to something like a 55% chance for either Democratic nominee over McCain in a general election.
Both Clinton and Obama would fair far better against either Romney or Huckabee in a general election. By my estimation, either Democrat would have a 60%-65% chance of winning against one of these opponents.
Readers are welcomed to do the math an convert this data into tables and bookies odds as an exercise.