I am truly fascinated by American politics; the slowest day in American politics usually has as much going on as the busiest one in Canadian politics. It is a truly different system, and probably not a better one, but it is an awesome thing to observe if you are a politico like me. And, even if you aren't a political nerd, it is worth paying attention to the U.S. political scene because what happens in Washington can ressonate around the world.
As we move into the actual voting to select the respective party nominees in January (after a year of full out campaigning) the conventional wisdom of the moment seems to be that Mitt Romney is the front runner to win (owing to his strength in the early states of Iowa, New Hampshire and Michigan), but that Rudy Giuliani could win if he is not too badly damaged by Romney's strong early showing. This is certainly a reasonable possibility.
However, the primary calendar this year is much different. In the past, if the results weren't determined after the first 4 to 5 primaries, all but the top 2 or 3 contenders would drop off until "Super Tuesday", when a big batch of big states went in early March. That is not how it will work this year. In fact, over the period of a few weeks, about half of the delegates will be chosen. If there is no clear winner, it will be months before the rest of the delegates are chosen.
Here is the Republican primary calendar and the number of delegates pegged to each state:
Jan 3 - Iowa 40
Jan 5 - WY 27
Jan 8 - NH 12 or 24* (New Hampshire is entitled to 24 delegates but may be penalized half for going early)
Jan 15 - MI 31 or 61* (Michigan is entitled to 61 delegates but may be penalized half for going early)
Jan 19 - NV 32 and SC 46
Jan 29 - FL 57 or 113* (Florida is entitled to 113 delegates but may be penalized half for going early)
Feb 2 - ME 20
Feb 5 - AL 47, AK 28, AZ 52, AR 34, CA 172, CO 46, CT 29, DE 18, GA 71, IL 70, MN 40, MO 58, MT 24, NJ 52, NY 101, ND 26, OK 41, RI 19, TN 54, UT 35, WV 30
Feb 9 - KS 39, LA 46, WA 40
Feb 12 - DC 19, MD 37, VA 63
Feb 19 - WI 40
Mar 2 - HI 19
Mar 4 - MA 43, OH 88, VT 18, TX 138
Mar 11 - MS 35
Apr 22 - PA 74
May 6 - IN 56, NC 69
May 13 - NE 32
May 20 - KY 45, OR 30
May 27 - ID 31
Jun 1 - PR 23
Jun 3 - NM 32, SD 26
Assuming that Romney does not run the table in the first batch of states, let me propose the following to you:
Mike Huckabee, who is running second and has more committed supporters, wins in Iowa. This destabilizes Romney, and Wyoming, where no candidates have campaigned excessively, splits its delegates fairly evenly in several directions. In New Hampshire, John McCain, who won there in 2000, takes the prize. Romney regains some traction by winning in Michigan, a state where he has a strong organization and where his name is not new to the scene - his father was Governor. Going in to South Carolina, Fred Thompson, who is focusing his efforts there and who hasn't slipped in the polls there as he has in many other places, wins.
The same day, Giuliani carries the Nevada caucuses. Giuliani would put himself significantly into play by winning the delegate rich state of Florida.
Not the most likely scenario but possible. It is certainly realistic to see three candidates win in the early contests, and it is not impossible to see all 5 major candidates pull something off.
Now add to the mix the Maine caucus on Feb 2. Let's say that Ron Paul, a Libertarian Republican who has raised nearly $10 million on the internet in the past few weeks, wins in this state which has favoured independents in the past (it has had two independent governors in the past 30 odd years and gave Ross Perot second place in the 1992 presidential election).
Then we head into a massive delegate fest on February 5 - alternately called Tsunami Tuesday or Super Duper Tuesday (a play on the former Super Tuesday in March). One presumes that under these circumstances, the delegates would get split up in many directions. Rudy Giuliani and Mitt Romney could do best in these states, one imagines, due to name recognition and moderate positions for Giuliani, and lots of money for Romney. McCain, who seems to be rebounding from his slippage this summer, could also do well on name recognition. Thompson and Huckabee could carry southern states and Paul could eke out wins in 3, 4, 5 or even 6 way races.
Let's imagine the Feb 5 states split like this:
Giuliani CA 172, CT 29, DE 18, NJ 52, NY 101, RI 19
Romney AK 28, IL 70, MT 24, ND 26, UT 35
Thompson GA 71, TN 54, OK 41, WV 30
McCain AZ 52, CO 46, MN 40, MO 58
Huckabee AL 47, AR 34
So, assuming that all states are winner-take-all (a number of them are, but for our purposes, this would be easier) and that Wyoming splits three ways between Giuliani, Romney and Huckabee, this would be the delegate standings after Feb 5:
Giuliani 489 (or 555)
Romney 223 (or 253)
McCain 208 (or 220)
This is a rough plausible guess at the turnout. However, I could see any of the top three doing worse, and McCain, Huckabee (and maybe Paul in a small
way) doing better. But even this way, with the delegates not spread as evenly as they might be, Giuliani has barely a third of the delegates elected and less than a fifth of the delegates needed to win the nomination. In this scenario, it is hard to see how any of the candidates could become the presumptive nominee before the convention, so we would then see a convention with lots of horse trading and late nights with a "Canadian style" method for choosing the party leader on multiple ballots.
Some extra variables to consider though are that in the U.S. conventions have no rules forcing the bottom finisher off of the ballot, and if the convention is inconclusive, they can draft a compromise candidate. So, rather than choose any of the above, after a few ballots of going nowhere a Newt Gingrich, Jeb Bush, Condi Rice or even Dick Cheney could present themselves as a candidate to bring the delegates together and walk away with the prize.
Crazy, eh? The Democratic race doesn't have as much potential to go crazy but if John Edwards were to win Iowa and Barack Obama New Hampshire, both possibilities, an equally strange scenario could play out.