Saturday, December 22, 2007

Could Pennsylvania be the new decisive primary?

As I've written before, the result of the front-loading of the primary calendar could result in a presidential race being drawn out longer rather than concluded early as the conventional wisdom seems to suggest.

The early primaries and caucuses in Iowa, New Hampshire, Michigan, Nevada, South Carolina and Florida (as well as Wyoming and Maine for the Republicans) will all be held in less than a month. On the Republican side, it is almost certain that no one candidate will win all of these states and likely that no one candidate will even win a majority of them. On the Democratic side, it is conceivable to see a big split as well which could result from a Clinton loss in Iowa (seeming more likely). Especially in the case of a win by Edwards, and a strong fourth place finish by one of the also-rans, making him a semi-viable candidate in later contests, could get us to a split as big as four ways.

If we have the early contests split, then there will be no clear frontrunner dominating the media coverage heading into Tsunami Tuesday on February 5. On that date 20 states hold their contests for Republicans and 22 hold them for Democrats. Most candidates who have won primaries will be on relatively equal footing due to expanded media coverage and fundraising grown out of their victories. Some - like Clinton (who has a more established national organization), Romney (who has a fairly substantial organization and unlimited personal money to spend) and Giuliani (who has focused on the Feb 5 states since day 1) - will have a built in advantage on the whole, however each candidate that has had some success can focus his or her efforts on states where they have the best chance and still come out a "winner". It seems almost impossible to me for someone to win a January contest and then not win at least one of the Feb 5 states.

When America wakes on on February 6, there will have been presidential contests in 28 states for each party. If things play out as above, there could be 2 to 4 Democrats and 3 to 6 Republicans all on equal footing with the race, in terms of number of delegates, 56% of the Republican contest will be over and 57% of the Democratic race. We then go back into rapid succession with more contests being held in 13 more states on Feb 10, Feb 12, Feb 19, March 4, March 8 and March 11. On the morning of March 12, after candidates will have likely continued to focus on bases and split primaries, there would be no clear winner with over 80% of Republican delegates chosen and almost 85% of Democratic delegates!

Traditionally Iowa and New Hampshire have proved decisive because they have been the great equalizers. Money doesn't matter and the states are small enough on the ground that you can build an organization by simply meeting and pitching your case to everyone that matters on an individual basis. This contest could create a new equalizer. Iowa and New Hampshire never clinch the nomination for anyone, they matter because of perception and momentum. With over 80% of delegates chosen by this point, if things are split up, the only way someone could actually clinch the nomination would be if they had carried about 50% of all of the contests to date and swept the remaining contests.

As of March 11, the longest gap between two contests (that began over two months before on January), would have been the rest between the contests in Hawaii, Washington and Wisconsin on Feb 19 and the left-over Super Tuesday states of Ohio, Rhode Island, Texas and Vermont on March 4. That is to say two weeks without a victory for someone and it could well have been a victory for three people on each side, a two week wait, and another split of victories. In most cases, there will have been a week or less between contests. Thus, there will have been no chance for candidates to do anything but campaign and the campaigning they have done has either just skimmed the surface or ignored a great number of states and focused on a small sub-section where they have won.

However, after March 11 there is no contest until April 22. And that April 22 contest is only in one state. And, after April 22, there is no contest until May 6. Thus, after this non-stop electionfest, candidates will have six weeks to focus exclusively on winning the Pennsylvania primary. Whoever wins it will be the first person to have won the only contest on a single day and have had the ability to ride the free press and momentum of that lone win for more than 7 days. In Iowa and New Hampshire, traditionally, momentum can enable you to sweep the other 48 states, so one could imagine Pennsylvania could give the momentum to carry the remaining 8 or 11 (depending on the party).

After a split primary season, a clear winner in Pennsylvania could clinch the nomination or come very close and generate some much momentum that it would be clinched for the second ballot.

All of these states who anxiously moved their primaries to February 5 may need to be reminded of the old adage: be careful what you wish for. They will have succeeded in taking from two states - Iowa and New Hampshire - the power of choosing the major party nominees but, ironically, in doing so they may have taken the power from two states and given it to one.

Number of delegates at stake after penalties by national parties on those states who have gone earlier than permitted:

- by Feb 5 - 1268
- by Mar 11 - 1817
- total - 2264

- by Feb 5 - 2177
- by Mar 11 - 3260
- total - 3838



nbt said...

...and a strong fourth place finish by one of the also-rans, making him a semi-viable candidate in later contests, could get us to a split as big as four ways.

Man, you still haven't given up hope for Biden, have you?

Although, I will admit, I'm still hoping for a stong finish 3rd place [overall] finish from Ron Paul --- as he will likely do a '98 David Orchard and stick in the race even though there is no chance of him coming out on top. He has the $$$ after all.

nbpolitico said...

Or he will take the cash and the profile earned from participating in the Republican debates and run on the Libertarian and/or Constitution Party tickets. He was the Libertarian candidate for president in 1988.

nbt said...

That's the speculation. But he will defineitly have to make more of a surge after the new year.