Monday, January 07, 2008

On the Eve of the New Hampshire Primary.

I am hesitant to comment on the course of the 2008 presidential primaries. Whenever the outcome of this election starts to look like a sure thing, there's some major swing that can't really be accounted for. This is the first presidential election that I've taken the liberty to blog about, and it makes sense to exercise more caution than I have been. This past September I was so confident about my predictions, but now they seem like premature speculations. At the time the front-runners were pretty clear- Hillary Clinton would get the Democratic nomination, and Giuliani would be the Republican choice. They both had clear leads in the polls which seemed insurmountable. Since then there has been a radical shift in the conclusions of qualified political observers.

If you talked to me a year ago, I would have told you that I thought that Barack Obama had a chance to win the confidence of the Democratic Party. A lot of people who heard me talking about Obama thought I was absolutely crazy. Quite a few people pointed out that they didn't think an African American had any chance to be the establishment selection. Yet Obama was so charismatic, and seemed to have a way of conveying his political message in inspiring tones. I was sure that he would win a lot of folks over. But then he seemed to taking his advisers to heart, and his appearances started becoming more vanilla. I lost the sense that he could win with that strategy, however much I wanted him to. When my friends asked me what I thought about his prospects, I replied that I was pretty sure that Hillary would prevail.

Then January 3rd happened, and Obama beat the field in Iowa. Even Edwards performed better than Hillary in the "heartland". Finally the media buzz about Barack started to increase in volume. On the eve of the New Hampshire primary, I'm hearing whisperings about Clinton throwing in the towel. I think that type of conjecture is simply ridiculous. You don't raise the kind of money she has, and then quit on your supporters before the contest is truly underway. If you saw my post on endorsements earlier, you already know the size and scope of the political machine that she commands. The Republican Right is falling over itself trying to proclaim her defeat, but the game has just started. While it's true that Obama is leading the polls in New Hampshire, these projections are anything but infallible. And I wouldn't completely count Edwards out yet. Regardless, the real test of viability for a leading candidate is not until February. In my opinion, that's make-or-break time.

On the other side of the aisle, I see nothing but a big old mess. I don't see anything close to a consensus forming among Republicans. There is so much division among conservative pundits and political analysts that I wouldn't want to attempt to make a prediction at this point. The era of being able to rally behind a coalition figure is over for the GOP. There is no George W. Bush in this election. (That would have been George Allen of Virginia, had he not sabotaged himself with the "macaca" comment.) It's actually kind of fun to hear the various talk radio hacks attack the various candidates. The "family values" crew has seemed to identify Mike Huckabee as their savior. The anti-tax establishment likes McCain or Giuliani. Mitt Romney might be a clear compromise if he wasn't a Mormon, and had shown any sort of consistency on his stances on abortion and gay marriage. Duncan Hunter and Ron Paul are merely also-rans. Fred Thompson still lacks any kind of traction.

Each of those GOP guys is unacceptable to a portion of the party base. The anti-immigrant posse will fight with increasing fervor against Huckabee. Social conservatives will never accept Giuliani, nor are they likely to trust Romney's convictions. They will also resist John McCain. The anti-tax crowd will view everybody with suspicion. A lot of them will likely defect to the libertarian ticket, which could end up being led by Ron Paul. In essence the brass ring could be seized by any of the candidates, but it's going to be tough for the winner to mobilize the party. This could be a year of low turnout for Republican voters, especially if the cynicism resulting from Dubya's multiple failures takes hold. The one thing that could potentially unite them all is their rabid hatred of Hillary Clinton. If she gets the nod from the Dems, the campaigns leading up to the general election are going to be particularly interesting.

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