Just a few months ago, the Democratic presidential debates had become boring. They were filled with the same old talking points and sound bites that the media crave yet the educated voters abhor. But with less than a month left until Super Tuesday, the candidates decided to mix things up, and mix things up they did.
First there was Iowa. Hillary Clinton was the heir-apparent, Barack Obama was the sleeper, and John Edwards was do-or-die in the Hawkeye state. Caucus-goers, however, decided they were not crazy about being told who to vote for. Obama won by double-digits, Edwards finished second, and the juggernaut Clinton machine ended up with fewer state delegates than Edwards.
In the following days, the media caught “Obama Fever.” Polls showed a huge win by the Illinois Senator and pundits sounded the death knell on the Clinton campaign.
Then, with just two days to go before the New Hampshire primary, Hillary had a public emotional moment and New Hampshire voters decided they were not crazy about being told who to vote for either. Clinton pulled out a three-point victory, the media and the pollsters blushed, and the other contenders (save Dennis Kucinich and John Edwards) bowed out.
On the road to Michigan, things really got ugly. Clinton and Obama argued over whether Lyndon Johnson or Martin Luther King, Jr. was responsible for civil rights reform, getting so heated at times that both sides eventually called for a truce on all matters racial. Of course, Michigan was of little consequence, as the state Democrats rescheduled the primary against party rules and were therefore stripped of their delegates. Obama and Edwards pulled their tickets from the ballot, so that left Clinton, who won by default.
Nevada, rich in labor support, was the next test. Dennis Kucinich, still in the race despite little support, lost his court battle to participate in the debates. In somewhat of a surprise, Clinton won the caucuses handily and John Edwards, a perennial union favorite, gathered a paltry four percent of the vote to finish third.With South Carolina looming, Edwards continues to be the favorite amongst grassroots, populist Democrats, Clinton the favorite of the D.C. establishment, and Obama the agent of compromise and the now cliché’d term “change.” Regardless, Obama and Clinton are neck-and-neck in the national polls with Edwards trailing behind in money and support.
The primary advantage for the Democrats is the uncertainty of Republican voters. Mitt Romney was down and out after losing Iowa and New Hampshire, then came back to beat John McCain in Michigan and crush the entire field in Nevada. Mike Huckabee, the poster boy for evangelical Christians, won Iowa even as he was vilified by the GOP establishment, yet was unable to overcome a surging McCain in South Carolina.
That said, while national polls among Democrats show Clinton ahead, Edwards and Obama perform much better in head-to-head matchups against the Republican candidates. If the Democrats want the candidate who is most electable and most willing to really change the status quo, Edwards is the obvious nominee. However, as long as money continues to define politics and organized labor remains divided, the real question is whether Edwards’ supporters, their candidate fading fast, trend to Clinton or Obama.
The smart money still has Clinton grabbing the Democratic nomination, but it may come down to Super Tuesday (or perhaps even the convention) before we know for certain. Her odds of winning the White House are considerably larger. Most polls show Clinton narrowly losing to a McCain ticket, a ticket that looks more likely every day.
By and large, the GOP is a divided party. They cannot decide whether to embrace or distance themselves from President Bush. The pro-business faction is in favor of immigration while the populist faction wants to deport millions of low-wage workers. The evangelicals are no longer just a voting bloc to be used, but are threatening to take over the party.
The initial front-runner was CEO and former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney. Romney had the money to buy his way through the first primaries and then compete on Super Tuesday. Unfortunately, many evangelicals were wary of his Mormon faith and the Republican establishment had problems with his liberal policies as governor. Romney’s losses in Iowa and New Hampshire forecasted doom, but wins in Michigan and Nevada kept him in the running.
Rudy Giuliani, the candidate of 9/11, was ahead in the national polls until his multiple marriages and ties to corrupt officials damaged his candidacy. In one of the oddest political moves in recent history, Giuliani refused to campaign in Iowa, New Hampshire, Michigan, or South Carolina, betting it all on Florida, where polls place him at third or fourth.
Senator-turned-actor Fred Thompson was lauded by the establishment as the next Reagan. Thompson then proceeded to give subpar speeches on the stump and was derided as lazy. His only electoral claim to fame thus far is a third place finish in South Carolina.
At one point, Mike Huckabee struck fear into the hearts of Democratic activists. Huckabee’s record was liberal on certain issues, but truly conservative socially. He is pro-life, anti-gay marriage, and an evolution denier. Huckabee pulled out a surprise win in Iowa and finished a close second in South Carolina. However, recent statements advocating amending the Constitution to reflect “God’s laws” have scared away many supporters.
Ron Paul, the Congressman from Texas, has shattered fundraising records with his promise to get out of Iraq immediately and abolish the Internal Revenue Service. Upon further scrutiny, a racist newspaper attributed to Paul, his views on the legalization of drugs, combined with a belief that virtually all government agenices should be eliminated has kept Paul in single and double-digits throughout the primaries.
This leaves John McCain, the maverick Senator who consistently angers both parties. McCain is liberal on anti-torture resolutions, global climate change, and social issues. He is conservative in his views on the Iraq war, saying that U.S. troops could stay there for at least 100 years.
McCain also catches flack for embracing Bush after Bush slimed him in the 2000 South Carolina primaries and for embracing the religious right, an organization he once shunned. For all his perceived faults, the Republican establishment has rallied behind McCain, gaining him wins in New Hampshire and South Carolina.
In any other year, a large crop of candidates would be good for a political party, but the GOP has been walking a political tightrope for years, merging the populist, religious, and business factions into one large yet divided tent.
Their choices are now split along these lines. They have Paul and Thompson as the populists, Giuliani and Romney for business, and Huckabee the theocrat messiah.
The GOP should support McCain. For all his faults, he is the closest to the Republican platform. It doesn’t hurt that McCain has a lot of Independent and Democratic support. McCain also comes closer to beating the Democratic candidates in head-to-head national polls.
The choice for Republicans is now whether they can compromise after years of total control or concede the next four years to the other side, lest today’s GOP becomes yesterday’s Democrats.