Tuesday, February 05, 2008

How the Super Tuesday Primaries Changed from a Blessing to a Curse

Two syndicated columnists from widely divergent places on the conservative-liberal spectrum agree in op-ed pieces that for multiple reasons--some foreseeable and some not--today's Super Tuesday primaries and caucuses have turned out to be a very bad idea.

Though I am generally loath to agree with him on anything, ultra-conservative Robert Novak has a cogent analysis of how the Democrats painted themselves into a corner. He places most of the blame on their 35-year experiment with proportional representation:

"Under proportional representation, a candidate collects delegates by achieveing the 15 percent viability level either statewide or in a congressional district. In a four-delegate district, Clinton could win 59 percent of the vote and still split the delegates with Obama, two to two. The impact of California consequently is dissipated..."

Thus Novak says that despite the Clinton campaign's belief that it could guarantee her nomination by front-loading the primaries, it turns out there is "no mathematical possibility" that Democrats voting today in 22 states for 1,681 delegates can gain Clinton or Obama the 2,025 delegates needed to sow up the nomination. Novak argues that the two candidates are so close in the polls that the outcome may not be decided by March 4th (the Texas and Ohio primaries) or even by April 22nd (Pennsylvania).

He regards this and "Clinton fatigue" as more or less foreseeable factors. Less foreseeable were Obama's recent surge in popularity and "the surprising list of senators who endorsed Obama after Clinton won the New Hampshire primary." This suggests to Novak that Clinton is more distrusted by her Senate colleagues than anyone realized, and that many of the 796 "super delegates" may remain undecided right up to the convention in Denver.

Writing from the more moderate-liberal end of the spectrum, David Broder says the national geography involved in today's voting, so soon after the single-state contests in South Carolina and Florida, does a real disservice to the Super Tuesday voters. There is no way the candidates of either party can do justice to so many far-flung voters at once:

"What has developed in this election cycle is a system in which the best-informed people have the fewest votes to bestow, while the people with the most votes have the least chance to examine the credentials of the candidates. Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina and Nevada had graduate-school time to study the field, while the voters in the Feb. 5 states got only a CliffNotes version of the campaign."

The wise states were the ones that avoided the temptation to join the Super Tuesday stampede and opted instead to have their primaries later in February, March or April. Broder would like to hope that this experience will slow the race to join the Super Tuesday model. But even though the Super Tuesday voters have become the losers in the process, he is not optimistic that any state will volunteer to leave "the first tier" or that more won't be lured to join it.

Another element is the elements. Neither columnist mentions it, but today's weather is forecast to be snowy and bitterly cold in several of the Super Tuesday states--to the point that it may keep significant numbers of voters from getting to the polls. This, of course, is not abnormal for February 5th. But it is another factor that those who hyped Super Tuesday failed to take into account.

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