Monday, February 4, 2008

Any given Super Tuesday

During Sunday’s Super Bowl XLII broadcast — in which the New York Giants beat the New England Patriots to lay claim to what’s already being called the biggest upset in NFL history —one of the ads that many people often really tune in to watch was more over-the-top than usual:

The one-minute Coca-Cola spot featured carnivorous Democratic strategist James Carville, and Bill Frist, former Senate Majority Leader and stock trading enthusiast, sunnily setting aside their political differences and bonding over Cokes on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial.


As we’ll find out tomorrow, this amicable scenario is a fantasy even by the standards of the modern TV commercial. Tuesday, Feb. 5, is the day of the bonanza, with 2,600 delegates at stake for both parties across 23 states and American Samoa — a national contest for the crown before the crown, an occasion for bloodsport and smashmouth couched in polls and spin, a pre-super bowl of politics likely to be as spirited as what we saw Sunday night.

Some of the networks said that polling results from most of the states is incomplete, or there’s not enough information to make any kind of guess. But some of the states in play today can be conjectured to be in one candidate’s column or another based on affinities revealed throughout the campaign, and the way races invariably tighten up before the vote:

For the Democrats

California: The state’s bushel basket of delegates had long been thought largely secured for Clinton, but recently Obama has made inroads in the Sunshine State. The latest state polls show Obama gaining on Clinton, and at least one public appearance suggested cracks in the presumption of a Clinton victory: At a weekend rally there, Oprah Winfrey, back on the Oprahbama! Tour, appeared with Maria Shriver, Kennedy kin, longtime Democrat and … wife of Republican governor Arnold Schwarzenegger. (Their pillow talk may never be the same.) Add the efforts of Sen. Ted Kennedy (eagerly cultivating the Latino vote by invoking Robert F. Kennedy’s support of United Farm Workers leader Cesar Chavez in 1968) to the equation, as well as the fact that, well, it’s California — a state that’s long prided itself on going its own way.

Georgia: On the basis of turnout of African American voters in South Carolina, this is probably consistently strong for Obama. A McClatchy-MSNBC poll released Sunday showed the junior senator with a six-point lead over Clinton. The backing of Rev. Joseph Lowery, an icon of the civil rights era, won’t hurt. “People across the nation are gasping for fresh air in the stifling and corrupt atmosphere of contemporary politics,” wrote Lowery in an op-ed in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “Obama offers hope of deliverance from an old guard that commands the current scene."

Not to be out-iconned, the Clinton campaign can count on the support of Rep. John Lewis, 22-year veteran of Congress and a figure present at the creation of the civil rights era’s more direct confrontations with Jim Crow segregation. “I chose to support Hillary Clinton because she is already respected among the community of nations, and she has demonstrated her ability to lead,” Lewis wrote on the AJC’s Web site.

Alabama: In a Jan. 29 poll by Capital Survey Research Center, the polling division of the Alabama Education Association, potential black voters seem to have rallied to Obama, no doubt partly because of Bill Clinton’s tiptoe on the racial third rail earlier in the campaign. Obama gained the support of the influential New South Coalition in December, the Washington post reported. Beyond that, expect a follow-on, coat-tails effect from his win in South Carolina.

Illinois: Obama is likely to be a lock in this state, Obama’s home state and the launching pad for his campaign. And endorsement from the Chicago Tribune, the Chicago Sun-Times, Chicago mayor Richard Daley, and the full slate of the city’s black aldermen won’t hurt either.

Kansas: With its governor Kathleen Sebelius endorsing Obama, there’s a strong suggestion that Obama has a fighting chance in a state that that went for President Bush in the 2000 and 2004 elections. "I think he represents the kind of leader that we need for the future of the country," Sebelius told The Associated Press.

New York: Despite a feverish attempt to gain traction in what should be an obvious Clinton stronghold, the Obama campaign will probably lose this one handily – if Hillary can’t win here, where can she win? But Obama is likely to make strong showings among black and Latino voters, many of them young, unbeholden to Billary, and eager to flex the muscle of their rising political presence in New York City.

For the Republicans

Sen. John McCain would seem to have solidly secured status as the frontrunner, picking up endorsements from Schwarzenegger, Florida governor Charlie Crist, and former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani, who mercifully bailed from a floundering campaign. These follow convincing McCain wins in South Carolina and Florida.

But his hubris may be showing: At Wednesday’s Reagan Library debate, and elsewhere on the campaign trail last week, McCain spoke of himself in a tense you might call the conditional presumptive, using language that pointed to his more or less expecting to win the nomination. It’s a variation on the same entitlement Hillary Clinton has promoted for months and, as such, just as subject to surprise.

And then there’s the rebellion within his own party. McCain has aroused the ire of arch conservatives like talk-radio Doberman Rush Limbaugh, as well as some more even-handed types. Sen. Thad Cochran of Mississippi, an old friend of McCain’s, endorsed Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, telling the Boston Globe that McCain “is erratic. He is hotheaded. He loses his temper and he worries me.”

Romney promises to stay in the race, and has the resources to do it. In a canvass a big as Tuesday, he has the potential to pull off an upset in some states, and finish a strong second in others, ahead of Arkansas former governor Mike Huckabee, mired in third place. Romney announced plans for big ad buys in California in the runup to Super Tuesday, estimated to be somewhere between $1 million and $7 million, Fox News reprted Thursday. Fox reported that Romney plans to contend for states with solid blocs of his fellow Mormons, such as California, Arizona and Utah. Romney is also said to be doing well in Tennessee and Georgia.

But don’t count Huckabee completely out of it. Some of the states up for contention Tuesday are in the “bible belt,” where he’s expected to finish strongly. Huckabee has a lead in Georgia, and recent campaign appearances in Alabama have been promising. Beyond the region, Huck’s gained endorsement from Rep. Duncan Hunter in California, and popular support that’s increased 400 percent in two months. It’s evidence that Huckabee has parlayed a smart grasp of politics, policy and popular culture into a White House bid of unexpected substance. He’s carved out a real niche in the campaign — and one whose relative economy (the candidate estimated his effort has cost $7 million, compared to Romney’s much fatter $40+ million operation) speaks nicely of a fiscal prudence that people have come to admire.

Both parties’ candidates are scrambling to make last-minute pitches in this playoff game, and it’s the fourth quarter.

OK, metaphor alert. Maybe we’ve overdone the football thing, but only slightly. You can play blitz politics just like in football. That’s not such a stretch.

It’s football Holy Writ: On any given Sunday, ay team can beat any other team in the NFL. And count on it: Sure as night follows day, someone has already made direct correlations between the winner and loser of the Super Bowl and the winner and loser of the party nominations, and the presidency. Some sage of broadband in bathrobe and pajamas has come up with a real connection between underdogs, politics and the NFL championship.

There has to be one. In sports and in politics, the outsider can be the champion. More than once, the smart money has gone home wearing its ass for a hat. The utterly implausible is inescapably possible. Anything can happen. We saw it in the game on Sunday night. Let’s watch the game on this given Tuesday.
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Image credit: Map image by and ©2008 Dustin M. Ramsey (Kralizec!). Used by express permission. Hillary Clinton: TalkAbout, used under Creative Commons Attribution ShareAlike 3.0 license. John McCain: Public domain. Logo: National Football League.

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