New Hampshire Approaches
Finally, I’m back in Chicago after another cross-country drive, just in time for Nativity tomorrow. Time for some accountability for my predictions. My Iowa predictions were partly right, but I didn’t take seriously the polling showing Obama’s support increasing and I didn’t believe that so many people would actually show up for Thompson. I put too much confidence in reports of Edwards’ organisational strength, even as I was sure that Romney’s organisation would not save him. The second-tier Democratic candidates’ support for Obama as the preferred second-choice was also probably important in expanding Obama’s lead. I remain convinced that Thompson is finished and McCain will not go very far beyond Michigan, but should Thompson (who has always been a kind of McCain Lite anyway) drop out and endorse McCain that might keep the latter in the running a bit longer. Should Romney collapse entirely, McCain will become the candidate who serves as the fallback for movement institutional conservatives, while Huckabee will probably continue to surprise these same institutional conservatives with the levels of support he receives in larger states.
I watched the debates last night in short bursts, since the Jaguars-Steelers game was far more interesting and hearing Mike Huckabee spouting off about “Islamofascism” made me want to scream. Having seen the debates in brief, interrupted bits, I cannot gauge who performed the best overall. My impression from what little I did see was that Romney is getting desperate, McCain is acting like the snide bully he usually is when he’s in a position of strength (which will ultimately backfire on him), Huckabee will probably do better than most of the chatterers and bloggers believe he will and Giuliani will do worse than expected (assuming that you expect Giuliani to finish third and ahead of Huckabee). Ron Paul did well enough in Iowa that he should manage to get at least 10-12% in New Hampshire, which will be a decent showing but far less than many supporters wanted to see. Rasmussen’s latest N.H. poll seems to confirm this and matches what I was saying last week pretty closely.
The crosstabs in the N.H. poll do suggest that the anti-Huckabee campaign has had a damaging effect on the candidate’s chances at the nomination, as 33% of respondents (and 27% of Republicans) said they are “not very likely” or “not at all likely” to vote for Huckabee if he were the nominee, which is three times as many as said the same about Giuliani or Romney. Among just Republicans, Giuliani and Romney fare a little worse (18 and 19% respectively are unlikely to vote for the candidate if nominated), but Huckabee remains the least attractive potential nominee for N.H. Republicans of what I suppose must be considered the top four. (Thompson and Paul would receive even less support as the nominee from New Hampshire Republicans–among Republicans, 32% said they would be unlikely to vote for Thompson, and 44% said the same about Paul.) For his sake, Huckabee has to hope that New Hampshire really is unrepresentative of Republican attitudes (the relative popularity of McCain seems to prove that it is). Even so, these numbers can and probably will be used to build up an electability argument against Huckabee and in favour of McCain. Romney’s support remains soft, as does McCain’s, with at least a third of both candidates’ supporters saying they might change their mind, but there is so little time remaining to peel away voters from either one that this may not matter.
Rasmussen has a very different Democratic race from the polling I have been seeing this weekend and hearing on the radio, showing Obama with a commanding lead over Clinton (39-27) and a boost for Edwards (now at 18%). If that’s right, I can see Edwards finishing very close in third place, almost validating his conceit that the race has become an Obama v. Edwards grudge match. In reality, he will remain a nuisance until February 5 and will persist after that on the basis of decent showings in some Southern primaries, but will not be able to keep going indefinitely. Conceivably, Clinton need not give up until after the early and mid-March primaries. It still seems impossible to me that the Democrats will nominate Obama and proceed to march off a cliff, which is what they would be doing. It’s true that the numbers on electability in the Rasmussen poll support the idea that Clinton is the least electable potential nominee among non-Democrats (with 30% saying they’d be unlikely to vote for her), but it is preposterous to think that the most left-wing of the three leading Democrats will, in fact, win a general election while the most “centrist” of the three is going to be a liability to her party. The people who are so adamantly opposed to Clinton are not going to vote for the Democratic nominee in any case. Whether or not she alienates these people is almost beside the point, and it is a strange thing for Democrats to worry about in any case. It is as if Republicans fretted over which of their candidates most upset the Kossacks and then voted for the one that offended them the least.
What we are seeing in intra-Democratic debates about whether Clinton is “too polarising” for the general election is really an argument about something else, and I think it mimics the fight between Goldwaterites and Rockefeller Republicans in 1964. Inasmuch as Rockefeller represented the epitome of Me-Tooism and Goldwater represented an uncompromising, principled conservatism, Obama is playing the progressive version of Goldwater and Clinton that of Rockefeller. Obama is a somewhat better campaigner than Goldwater, but he’s not so much better than he will overcome the resistance to his candidacy that will come from concerns about his experience, voting record, policies and, yes, his identity and race.
Obama’s campaign represents a rebellion against the Clintons’ and the New Democrats’ power in the party establishment, and he might just succeed in taking the nomination. It isn’t a perfect comparison, of course, but an Obama nomination would bring about a progressive electoral self-immolation somewhat like the landslide loss of 1964 (the margin of defeat would be narrower than ’64, because of the overall pro-Democratic trends in the country, but it would still be a defeat). That might lead to a takeover of the party by Obama-ites, much as the McGovernites captured much of their party during the ’70s, or it might have a similar galvanising effect on progressives that Goldwater’s campaign had for conservatives. More likely, ’08 will end as every previous cycle has ended for the progressive, “new ideas” candidate running against the more established pol–in defeat during the primaries.