Today is Super Tuesday, when 24 states vote in Republican and Democratic primaries. It’s the Super Bowl of the primary season, and normally the winner on Super Tuesday is the one who sweeps the nomination.
Except for this year.
On the Democratic side, I’m predicting a race in which both Hillary and Obama come out with enough strength to keep this contest going. The dynamics of the race are such that neither Obama nor Clinton have enough dominance to decide the contest one way or another. They both have entrenched bases of political support. They both have plenty of funds. They both aren’t going anywhere. Which means that the Democratic race will go one for some time after Super Tuesday, and states that have been virtual afterthoughts in normal election cycles may suddenly become crucially important. Not only that, but the Democratic “superdelegates” who are supposed to prevent another replay of the 1968 fiasco could end up tipping the scales to Clinton since those superdelegates are part of the old Democratic machine. That would cause a great deal of rancor within the Democratic Party.
The bottom line is that the Democrats are a deeply divided party right now, and Super Tuesday is only going to make things worse. Clinton will sweep the big states like New York and California. Obama will do well in the smaller states. At the end of the day, neither one will be out, and the Democrats will be fighting this one out for a while longer. I don’t think that the race will have a clear winner until April, and perhaps not even then.
On the other side, the race is clear. John McCain has the Republican nomination. Mitt Romney is positioning himself as the conservative alternative to McCain, but by the time you’re running based on what you’re not rather than what you offer yourself, the race has already been lost. Romney will carry a few states, but McCain will have a major sweep tonight. The reason why is simple: people want to back a winner. Romney hasn’t closed the deal, which means that even if he benefits from conservative backlash to McCain he just doesn’t have the support necessary to carry him over the top. McCain now has the bandwagon effect going for him, and the sheer momentum of that is enough to put Romney out. He can run beyond today, but unless he comes very close to McCain it would be just throwing more money after bad.
At the end of tonight when the dust settles, it will be a knock-out fight between Hillary and Obama on the Democratic side while John McCain will be a virtual lock for the GOP nomination. While McCain goes to CPAC and starts rallying his base, the Democrats will be involved in a bitter feud that may not end for a long while.
UPDATE: Open Left has an interesting piece on how Democratic “superdelegates” could up deciding the Democratic nomination. If that analysis proves correct, the Democratic race could get very contentious indeed.