06 February 2008

Super Tuesday Redux

Caucus turnout in Denver for the Democrats was about 26,000. This year Democrats had the highest caucus turnout in the history of the state for all time in either party. Two years ago in Denver, turnout was 2,600. In a typical year in Denver there are 6-7 people who show up to the caucuses. This year, it was more like 60-70. The caucus that I ran in Precinct 302 had about 90 people, compared to about 9 in a typical year.

Echoing a story heard all across the nation this year, Democratic turnout wildly exceeded Republican turnout. More people caucused for Barack Obama in Colorado than for the entire Republican field combined. I was among them, voting undecided in our precincts straw poll, but ultimately breaking for Obama when the undecided option failed to meet the 15% threshold. Notably, the spokespersons for both Clinton and Obama in my precinct were both Edwards supporters justifying their second choices to the gathered party faithful. I was never an Edwards supporter per se, but I had been seriously considering him until he proved unable to deliver even his home state of South Carolina. In breaking for Obama, I was in good company. Obama received roughly two-thirds support in Denver and statewide, and I have little doubt that his candidacy was an important driving factor in the high turnout we saw last night.

The Democratic race nationally is very close, and it could easily come down to a floor vote with the race resolved by superdelegate at the convention, for the first time since 1952. Clinton has the slight edge in delegates, but Obama has momentum.

As Boston Globe commentator Peter S. Canellos notes in a spot on analysis reproduced in the Denver Post today, so long as the Democratic race doesn't get too nasty, this may not be a crisis because:

Clinton and Obama agree on almost all the party's leading issues, suggesting that Democrats have chosen a message before selecting a messenger.

For that matter, even mud slung in a primary race loses its sting in the general because by then it is old stale news, and scandalous gossip is most potent when served fresh. Scandal excites emotions, but emotions are ephemeral.

Enthusiasm on the Democratic side could translate into coattails in Colorado this fall. High Democratic turnout could be decisive in getting Mark Udall elected to the U.S. Senate in a race where he is favored but not decisively. This enthusiasm, and hefty campaign contributions to the cause of moderate Democrat Betsy Markey in CD 4 will also make weak Republican incumbent Marilyn Musgrave's life miserable again this year.

The Republican Race

Republicans have a front runner in John McCain, but their winner take all system is showing its inherent weaknesses. McCain didn't manage to secure majority support outside of Rockafeller Republican strongholds Connecticut, New York and New Jersey, boosted in those places by Giuliani's withdrawal.

Mitt Romney and Mike Huckabee have divided the conservative vote, which doesn't matter matter much in the proportional representation system of the Democrats, but damages conservatives who make up 60-65% of the Republican nomination voter base in many states, allowing McCain to squeak out victories in winner take all states.

Libertarian leaning Republican Ron Paul has no hope of getting the nomination, but showed strong support in the West. He won 25% of the vote (ahead of McCain) in Montana, 21% (two points behind McCain) in North Dakota, 15% of the vote (seven points behind McCain) in Minnesota, and 8% of the vote in Colorado.

Indeed, Huckabee's capture (mostly just barely edging out McCain with a low budget evagelical oriented campaign) of many Southern state, and Romney's wins in the Rocky Mountain states and the Great Plains, shows just how fractured the Republican party is right now.

Republicans are fighting over the fundamental direction of their party and there is no consensus. One thing that is fairly clear, however, is that in an instant runoff vote system, McCain would not be the front runner for the Republican nomination. He is a plurality candidate who is doing well largely because the moderate win of the party and conservatives afraid of losing in the general election race have united around him. The fact that Republican turnout has been modest despite the fact that Republican voters are generally more reliable, in a race for the soul of their party is stunning.

McCain goes forward with little money, a demoralized party that isn't turning out for primaries and caucuses in numbers that rival their Democratic rivals, running in favor of a deeply unpopular war in Iraq, disliked by a majority of the rank and file members of his own party. Yet, McCain may not need to campaign terribly hard, because the rules work in his favor, so he may have trouble energizing activists he will need in the fall and getting free media coverage. It is exceedingly different for any of his opponents to win the nomination outright before the convention. Instead, the best strategy for Romney and Huckabee may be to try to deny McCain a majority and force a brokered convention in Minnesota.

McCain does have the greatest appeal to independent voters, but with a Republican front runner well defined, Democrats now have plenty of time to hone their efforts to position themselves to look good vis-a-vis McCain.

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