…you couldn’t have asked for a better night for the GOP. McCain clinches, Huckabee concedes, all effort can now be turned toward the general election…and in the meantime, Clinton wins 3 out of 4 and stops the Obama momentum.
In theory and on paper, this is not as huge a deal as it looks like – remember, we’re still doing proportional allocation on the Dem side. Even though Ohio is a big win, Texas is narrower, and Obama will almost certainly come out of the night still holding a delegate lead. Once he got over the tipping point, the likelihood of him falling behind (barring a spectacular flameout) is pretty slim.
But elections are not fought in theory or on paper, and Wednesday morning’s narrative will be the Clinton Comeback, and the notion that she now has the momentum with seven weeks to go before the next primary, in Pennsylvania – and presumably, the same message that won Ohio will play well at least in the western part of the state. More to the point, the story will be that the Obama train has hit a brick wall and will have to recover from this dizzying blow. And above all, there are two Democrats guaranteed to be punching away at each other for almost two more months, while John McCain stands aside looking Presidential and taking notes to recycle any useful attacks in the fall.
Realistically, it’s probably still Obama’s nomination to lose. But the fact that Clinton made her stand in Ohio and Texas – and pulled it off – means that there’s still a long slow slog ahead. And now, it’s difficult to see how this is anything but harmful for the D’s; the long knives were already starting to come out before today and you can expect the race to take a turn for the uglier almost immediately.
Going forward, for the Democrats to have a chance in November, one of two things has to happen. Either Obama has to turn this into a story about him being able to take a punch and come back hard, and run the table the rest of the way (and the remaining schedule looks somewhat favorable for him), or Clinton has to really make this the point at which everything changes, win big over and over the rest of the way, and make a plausible case to the superdelegates that she has the momentum and deserves the nod going into the convention. Which is kind of a longshot at this point, but cannot be counted out of the realm of possibility. But either way, the odds just took a huge leap that the Democratic nominee will wander out of Denver as damaged goods…which means that at least for tonight, John McCain has to be considered the favorite to win the White House in November.
EDITED TO ADD: Two thoughts, late into the night:
1) John Edwards looked like an idiot for not making his endorsement before Super Tuesday…and now he looks like a genius. Sure, he only controls 26 delegates, but his endorsement could go a long way in the remaining races, especially North Carolina – and the fact that he was probably the furthest left of the Big Three Dems on trade and labor issues means that he could provide somebody with a credibility boost on NAFTA in Pennsylvania and North Carolina.
2) Something’s going to have to be done with Florida and Michigan. Sure, they broke the rules and they deserve to be dinged for it – especially since it turns out that states later in the process are becoming more and more important, rather than less and less – but the symbolism of the Democrats not counting votes from Florida is just too egregious to let stand. That said, four things:
* Getting an election do-over will be virtually impossible, due to timetable and expense
* Since the original beauty-contest elections were not fully contested, those totals cannot be considered remotely valid
* While a caucus sort of thing could happen, the caucus format has been so favorable to Obama that it might be tough to get both sides to sign on to any plan that exclusively allocates delegates by caucus
* It is not inconceivable that some combination of Florida, Michigan and the Edwards delegates could be the margin of victory before the superdelegates come into effect…and what will be done about superdelegates to try to reflect some sort of small-d democratic process? Anybody’s guess at this point
I guess what I’m saying is that in a world that gave us impeachment in 1999, the Florida recount in 2000, the September 11 attacks in 2001, the Gulf War in 2003, an eight-month campaign in 2004, a two-house turnover in 2006, and a presidential campaign that has gone on continuously since then…the only thing you can count on is that nothing is too insane to contemplate.