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The GOP Primary

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The Mitt Comes Off | The Reign of McCain.

I must now stand aside, for our party and our country. If I fight on in my campaign, all the way to the convention, I would forestall the launch of a national campaign and make it more likely that Senator Clinton or Obama would win.” With an eye to 2012, Governor Mitt Romney is out, meaning the GOP nominee is now, for all intent and purposes, John McCain.

So, now part of the question for our party becomes, which Democrat is more likely to beat McCain? I’m betting you can guess my answer. As Nicholas Kristof notes: “When pollsters offer voters hypothetical matchups, Mr. Obama does better than Mrs. Clinton against Mr. McCain. For example, a Cook Political Report poll of registered voters released this week found Mr. McCain beats Mrs. Clinton, 45 percent to 41 percent. But Mr. Obama beats Mr. McCain, 45 percent to 43 percent. The latest Washington Post/ABC News poll found similar results.

See also David Broder: “In either scenario, women break for the Democratic candidate. McCain leads Clinton by 13 points among men, but only runs even with Obama. Party lines are sharp, and the battle for independents would be close. Currently, independents give McCain a 12-point lead over Clinton but favor Obama by 6 points over the Republican.

Update: Another TIME poll agrees: “Obama captured 48% of the vote in the theoretical match-up against McCain’s 41%, the TIME poll reported, while Clinton and McCain would deadlock at 46% of the vote each…The difference, says Mark Schulman, CEO of Abt SRBI, which conducted the poll for TIME, is that ‘independents tilt toward McCain when he is matched up against Clinton. But they tilt toward Obama when he is matched up against the Illinois Senator.” Independents, added Schulman, ‘are a key battleground.’

The Sun Shines on McCain.

“My friends, as I said the other week in South Carolina, there is nothing in our country that is inevitable. We can overcome any challenge as long as we keep our courage, and stand by the principles that have made our party and our country great.”

Florida votes, and Arizona Senator John McCain is the big winner and — arguably — now the prohibitive frontrunner for the Republican nomination (much to the consternation of the conservative base.) Given that he’s easily the GOP candidate with the most crossover appeal, that’s bad news for the Democrats, particularly if we decide to get behind the one person on this earth (well, two people, counting her husband) who could manage to reunite the abysmally fractured GOP.

Speaking of which, Senator Clinton handily won on the (meaningless) Dem side — prompting much rejoicing and e-mailing by the Clinton campaign. (Although, in a bit of a shocker, it turns out she actually tied the delegate count with Mike Gravel.) Seriously, though, given that Florida is particularly choice demographic territory for Clinton, she’d probably have won the Sunshine State in any event. (As George Will and Slate have both recently pointed out, Florida is known as “God’s Antechamber” for a reason, and, as has been the norm, voters over 60 — 39% of the voting Dems — went for Hillary 59%-24%.) But, given that this ended up being basically the name-recognition primary, and that no delegates came of it, I’m not too concerned about the results. On to Super-Tuesday.

Update: Looking over the CNN exit poll numbers for the Dem side, this would seem to be the key stat in viewing both tonight and the road ahead:

When did you decide who to vote for?

Today: (10%): Clinton 34%, Obama 30%
Last 3 Days: (7%): Obama 46%, Clinton 38%
Last Week: (7%): Obama 39%, Clinton 31%
Last Month: (16%): Obama 47%, Clinton 40%
Before That: (33%): Clinton 63%, Obama 27%
Absentee/Early Voter: (26%): Clinton 50%, Obama 31%

So, among voters that have decided since the campaign took off in Iowa, Obama does rather well. It’s the long-time deciders and absentees — 60% of the electorate — where he seriously fell behind. This would indicate name recognition definitely played its part today, and that actual campaigning in Florida could’ve made a significant difference. Good to know, as we move forward.

Rudy’s Taken Out.

“We ran a [9/11] campaign that was [9/11] uplifting. The responsibility of [9/11] leadership doesn’t end with a single [9/11] campaign. If you believe in a cause [9/11], it goes on and you continue to fight for [9/11] it, and we will.” Apparently, 9/11 nostalgia doesn’t extend into the sixth borough….Florida also marked the end of the road for Rudy Giuliani (or Rudy 9iu11iani, as he’s sometimes known.) The mayor is expected to endorse John McCain tomorrow. Can’t say I’m sorry to see him go, although the prospects of Giuliani as McCain’s AG are sorta frightening in their own right.

End of a Non-Starter.

Today I have withdrawn my candidacy for President of the United States. I hope that my country and my party have benefited from our having made this effort.” Uh, to be honest, not really…Fred Thompson’s officially out of the 2008 race. Can Rudy Giuliani be far behind?

The Comeback “Kid.”

Hrm.

Well, that was unexpected…I must say, if nothing else, “false hopes” had a really good night. But, hey, I guess I should’ve known better. As The Wire continually reminds us, despite all evidence to the contrary, maybe a new day is never dawning. (You know, I should really develop some new interests. Maybe it’s time to become a gardening blog or something.)

Anyway, looking at the numbers, it looks like the difference voters in New Hampshire were women, who returned to Clinton’s corner in droves (47% to 34%), and older voters, who’ve been there all along (65 and over: 48% to 32%, 50-64: 39% to 30%, 40-49: 44% to 33%.) Well, at least the kids are alright. (18-24: 60%-22%, for Obama.)

That all makes a certain amount of sense, I guess. Women more readily see Clinton as a candidate of change by her very nature, and, as I wrote at great length about over the weekend, many older voters seem to buy what she’s selling regardless: another eight years of cautious, obfuscating, Grand Theft Auto-blaming and very “experienced” incrementalism.

To be honest, on its face, New Hampshire going Clinton doesn’t bother me all that much. It’s an older, whiter state, and for all its vaunted independence, it’s usually just contrarian for its own sake, like bad Slate columns and Armond White. Once Clinton became the underdog after Iowa, it was a natural pick-up for her.

What does concern me, tho’, is the bizarre polling problem we saw tonight. Some polls are occasionally wrong, sure, but every poll — not one poll, every poll — had Obama up between five and twelve points this morning. Ok, well, there were a lot of undecided voters, and clearly most of ’em broke for Clinton. So be it. More disconcerting, however, exit polls — taken after the votes were made, mind you — also had Obama up by five. So, how did we finish down two at the end of the night (with the polls still getting the GOP race exactly right?) How did every poll miss out on that seven point swing, a swing based on post-voting data? I suppose it’s still an open question, but the elephant in the room is the Bradley Effect, and, I gotta say, I’m pretty disgusted right now with my fellow white people. Vote for who you want to vote for, but don’t lie about it before or after the fact. If someone has a better explanation about the disparity in exit polls, I’m all ears. Update: Pollster has a good overview of the various prevailing current theories.

As for what explains Clinton’s victory, I must confess: even given what I said above, I’m at a bit of a loss. This is mainly because I thought the polls reflected, you know, the actual standings. The only real possible game-changer lately, other than just a collective New Hampshire uprising against media expectations (which is stupid – it was their poll answers creating and driving those expectations), was the “Diner Sob”, as Slate is billing it, the other day. Apparently, a sizable majority of New Hampshire’s older/women voters looked in to Clinton’s heart at that moment, and liked what they saw. Iron Eyes Cody for President! I dunno…admittedly, I’m feeling rather Menckenesque at the moment. Still, I’m reminded of Bernie Birnbaum, John Turturro’s character in Miller’s Crossing: “What were you gonna do if you caught me? I’d just squirt a few and then you’d let me go again.

Bleah. A no-good, lousy night, to be sure. Unless you’re John McCain — for him, the news is great on both sides of the ledger. If the current paradigm wins, so do Republicans. Now, I have no real inclination to vote Republican, but the fact remains: When it comes to campaign finance reform —the change issue — McCain has far, far better creds than Clinton.

Still, it’s not over yet, and adversity builds character, right? We’ve split the first two games, and now attention moves to Nevada and my home state of South Carolina. Neither are necessarily unfavorable terrain for Obama, so if he can weather the post-New Hampshire bounce over the next week, we’re still good to go. But it’s definitely harder now, no doubt. Florence, come to our aid! (For old times’ sake, if nothing else.)

By the way, New Hampshire? Eff you, you tired, gaseous windbag of an “independent” state. Robert Frost, Alan Shepard, and Christa McAuliffe notwithstanding, you haven’t contributed anything to the polity since Daniel Webster. From now on, I’m hiking in Vermont.

Ron Paul, Head Case.

“[T]he newsletters I saw all had one thing in common: They were published under a banner containing Paul’s name, and the articles…seem designed to create the impression that they were written by him — and reflected his views. What they reveal are decades worth of obsession with conspiracies, sympathy for the right-wing militia movement, and deeply held bigotry against blacks, Jews, and gays.McNulty might be acting like a nutjob these days, but, as TNR‘s James Kirchick writes today, he still has nothing on Ron Paul. “In the early 1990s, a newsletter attacked the ‘X-Rated Martin Luther King’ as a ‘world-class philanderer who beat up his paramours,’ ‘seduced underage girls and boys,’ and ‘made a pass at’ fellow civil rights leader Ralph Abernathy. One newsletter ridiculed black activists who wanted to rename New York City after King, suggesting that ‘Welfaria,’ ‘Zooville,’ ‘Rapetown,’ ‘Dirtburg,’ and ‘Lazyopolis’ were better alternatives.” (When asked about Kirchick’s story today, Paul called King “one of my heroes because he believed in nonviolence and that’s a libertarian principle,” but he didn’t exactly disavow this garbage: “Paul’s position is basically that he wrote the newsletters he stands by and someone else wrote the stuff he has disowned.” Sigh. The libertarians among us, and the libertarian philosophy, deserve a more sane spokesman.

Manchester Divided.

So, the debates.

Of course, every big show has an opening act, and the undercard tonight was the Republicans. I realize I’ve been slipping on the GOP coverage around these parts of late, and I apologize…I promise to catch up once the Dem side quiets down (As a show of good faith: hey, look! Romney won Cheney country.) Still, part of the reason I’ve been losing interest in the GOP’s internecine disputes this cycle is because — even notwithstanding the moldering albatross that is Dubya — their candidates are all so lousy, and everyone knows it. (The Iowa attendance numbers, where the Dems outnumbered Republicans 2-1, tell most of the story.) Still, my main impressions of the GOP side tonight were thus:

  • Nobody likes Mitt Romney. At various points Huckabee, McCain, Thompson, and Giuliani were all cracking wise about his flip-flopping and such, and he’s not even the frontrunner anymore. (McCain’s up six.) I guess the rationale is a poor Romney showing in New Hampshire might knock him out early. That, and he’s been throwing his money around in negative ads. Either way, Romney was the primary punching bag for the majority of the debate.
  • Fred Thompson seemed older, more slothful, and less presidential than I remember him. His lazy contributions basically involved making fun of Ron Paul every so often. No wonder he hasn’t been catching fire.
  • Speaking of Ron Paul, he had the gleam of a true believer about him (the vaguely Gandalfian looks help), and it’d have been nice to see his brand of old-school, Robert Taft conservatism get a fairer hearing from his opponents, just so its more frightening aspects could be exposed. (Paul’s libertarianism sounds refreshingly anti-imperialistic on the foreign policy side. But on the domestic front, it’d mean the Gilded Age all over again.) Still, I can see why he’s drawing so many disgruntled young Republicans to his standard. And at least he’s trafficking in the realm of ideas.
  • Perhaps the trail is getting to him, but John McCain seemed like he was on autopilot all night. Still, as George Stephanopoulos noted in the post-game, he spent the night touting his conservative bona fides rather than his maverick cred, which will hopefully pay dividends for Obama among undecided independents.
  • Rudy Giuliani stayed in typical 9/11 9/11 9/11 form, with the aid of Ron Paul’s speaking of uncomfortable truths about our overseas involvements. Still, it seemed clear he’s just biding his time until Florida. He barely went after frontrunner (and his most obvious rival) John McCain at all.
  • I actually thought Mike Huckabee displayed some impressive kung-fu, for the most part. I still think he’s fundamentally unelectable (From his son’s Frist-like murdering of a stray dog to the horrible Wayne Dumond case to the AIDS quarantines, Gov. Huckaboom’s closet has more skeletons than Undercity.) Still, given his evangelical backing, his aw shucks delivery, and his wilier-than-you’d-first-expect responses, I could see him causing serious problems for his GOP competitors, and he gave the best answer to WMUR announcer Scott Spradling’s Obama question.
  • Speaking of which — yes, in case you missed it, the Republican field was asked how they’d run against Senator Obama should he be the Democratic nominee. (Remember the earlier claims that Clinton was being treated unfairly in the Russert debate? Well, Obama got the exact same frontrunner treatment from Gibson and Spradling tonight in both debates, and, by and large, he handled it fine.) Anyway, in case you’re wondering, Huckabee and Paul praised the Obama phenomenon, Romney tried to claim the mantle of change for himself, McCain touted his own experience, Thompson muttered some stale two-decade old tripe about “liberals,” and Giuliani brought up…wait for it, wait for it…national security. (Obama’s later response to all this: “I was going back and forth between the Republicans and football…[But] you know, we’ve seen this movie before. We know the Republican playbook.“) The point being, none of these guys seemed to have anything close to an answer yet for the Obama phenomenon. (All they wanted to do was voice their tried-and-tested soundbites about Hillarycare.) Which brings us to:

    The Democrats. First off, I should say — and I’m sure it’s obvious by now anyway, judging by the content here the past few days — that I watched the debate not only as an Obama partisan but as someone profoundly irritated by Sen. Clinton for her lowball maneuvers of recent days. So, grab that shaker of salt and let’s proceed…

  • I thought Barack Obama did a solid job overall, and was strongest in the first half of the debate. He seemed knowledgable, thoughtful, decisive, and, most importantly, electable. He showed an ability to discuss specifics about the issues on the table, kept his larger narrative about hope and change intact, and made no serious blunders that would impede his post-Iowa momentum, which is all he really had to do. Obama scored his best response to Senator Clinton’s blunderbuss offense early on, when he calmly explained the differences between their two health plans and put the lie to her flip-flopping charges coolly and succinctly. For the most part, though, and as the evening progressed, he exercised his frontrunner privilege and stayed above the fray. Of course, he was aided in this strategy by… (Cue “Aunt Jackie“: “If that’s your man, then tag him in….“)
  • John Edwards, who performed just as well as he usually does. Clearly, the Edwards team made the tactical decision to try and knock out Clinton now and get it to a race between he and Obama. Thus: “‘Any time you speak out powerfully for change, the forces of status quo attack. He [Obama] believes deeply in change, and I believe deeply in change. And any time you’re fighting for that, I mean, I didn’t hear these kinds of attacks from Senator Clinton when she was ahead.‘” (The NYT is casting this as “Two Rivals Go After Defiant Clinton,” but that’s not in fact correct. Clinton went after Obama, expecting help from Edwards, who instead returned fire at Clinton. At that point, Clinton boiled over and Obama — recognizing Edwards would be an ally for the night rather than an adversary — magnanimously withdrew from the field. He didn’t “go after” anybody, and, as the frontrunner, why should he?)

    At any rate, Edwards’ decision to go after Clinton rather than Obama may seem like “ganging up,” but I can see the sense of it. For one, it’s clear to all now that Obama’s tapped in to a yearning for change that transcends the usual political categories, and, Edwards has decided he might be able to win the populism versus progressivism discussion between two “change” candidates if Clinton’s out of the picture. (It’d be a fascinating debate.) For another, I’ve been reading a lot of online coverage about the election post-Iowa, and it seems pretty clear that Edwards supporters are livid that he’s still considered the forgotten man in the race. Given that he bested Clinton in Iowa and is still being treated as an also-ran, he has a legitimate axe to grind with her.

  • Bill Richardson was there too.

  • Her back to the wall, Hillary Clinton was more combative than we’ve seen in any previous debate, calling Obama a flip-flopper right out of the box and not letting up much thereafter. (Obama’s jujitsu was solid, though, and he deftly deflected most of her attacks with specifics and a smile, until Edwards took over the fight. His only misstep may have been not playing along nicely enough with Clinton’s “I’m just a girl” act, although given everything Clinton’s been throwing at him in recent days, I’d say it’s a forgivable sin.)

    The Senator’s attack-mode, to my admittedly jaundiced eye, was unseemly. For one, this was the first time I can remember Clinton playing the “first woman president” card so flagrantly, and it reeked of desperation. (To his credit, Obama didn’t feel the need to return the wallowing in identity politics.) For another, her anger blazed through at certain moments, particularly after Edwards showed he wasn’t going to be her friend tonight, and I doubt it played very well to New Hampshire’s undecided. (But again, I’m not a good judge of this sort of thing by now. Lines like “We don’t need to be raising the false hopes of our country about what can be delivered” just drive me to distraction.)

    Speaking of which, one of the more intriguing volleys between Clinton and Obama happened late in the game, when Clinton once again tried to push the “false prophet” angle against Obama. Said Clinton: “So you know, words are not actions. And as beautifully presented and passionately felt as they are, they are not action. What we’ve got to do is translate talk into action and feeling into reality.” Obama’s response: “There have been periods of time in our history where a president inspired the American people to do better. And I think we’re in one of those moments right now. I think the American people are hungry for something different and can be mobilized around big changes; not incremental changes, not small changes…The truth is actually words do inspire. Words do help people get involved. Don’t discount that power, because when the American people are determined that something is going to happen, then it happens. And if they are disaffected and cynical and fearful and told that it can’t be done, then it doesn’t. I’m running for president because I want to tell them, yes, we can. And that’s why I think they’re responding in such large numbers.” That sums up a good deal of Obama’s oratorical appeal, and explains why Clinton, no matter what she says to the contrary, could never be the candidate of change. She just doesn’t get it. As I said in my progressivism post of a few weeks ago: Without vision, the people perish. America’s left is plumb sick of the poll-driven, over-triangulated brand of GOP-lite policy wonk Clinton represents. Put aside the V-Chips and school uniforms: We are looking to dream big again.

  • Mythical Maverick in Theoretical Hot Water.

    “I do find the timing of this whole issue very interesting. And we’re not going to stand for what happened to us in 2000. We’re getting close to the primary.” Matt Drudge’s recent attempts to foist a December Surprise into the Democratic primaries seems to have whiffed. Will he draw more blood in the GOP? John McCain decides to respond forcefully to an unpublished Times story — held up by editor Bill Keller and leaked to Drudge — involving some sort of unspecified lobbyist malfeasance. Hmmm. I’m torn on this. Since the NYT story hasn’t actually gone live, there may well be nothing to it. As such, this looks a bit like the Choose Your Own Scandal shenanigans that Clinton operatives attempted to unleash on Obama last month. But, then again, the NYT powers-that-be were idiotic enough to hold the NSA wiretap story through the 2004 election, so maybe their judgment about what constitutes newsworthiness around voting time should be in question.

    Dey Tuk His Jerb!!

    The Amazing 2008 Race claims another candidate in Colorado congressman Tom Tancredo, who dropped out today, and endorsed Mitt Romney as the next-best purveyor of gibbering anti-immigrant hysteria.) “Tancredo has consistently polled at the back of the nine-person GOP field.” Well, when the Immigrants and Terrorists come to poison your homes, taik your jerbs, and devour your children, don’t say you weren’t warned.

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