2008 Election Prediction: McCain over Clinton
Predicting the outcome of a messy nominating process weeks before the Iowa Caucuses, much less the presidential election months before the nominees are known, is a fool’s errand. Still, it’s a fun exercise and provides a chance to get away from News of the Day posts.
Despite some recent stumbles, I continue to agree with Dave Schuler that Hillary Clinton remains the odds-on favorite to win the Democratic nomination. While I think Barack Obama or John Edwards would be more attractive general election candidates and that Joe Biden would make a better president, she’s got almost everything going for her: organization, money, momentum, name recognition, and a sense of inevitability.
My sense is that most Democrats would prefer Edwards or Obama — or, heck, Dodd — but want to rally behind a candidate they think can win. Clinton is smart, disciplined, and has the last name “Clinton.” The latter is not an inconsiderable advantage given that the Democrats have won the White House precisely two times in the last seven tries (a span of twenty seven years) and that Bill Clinton accounts for both of those victories. She brings along her husband — two for the price of one, redux — and much of his organization. Simply put, she’s the Democrat best positioned to run a smart, professional race and Democrats are willing to get behind her.
As I’ve noted in previous posts, the polling numbers are very much in her favor as well. There’s been a lot of talk about her losing the aura of invincibility but her lead in the national polls and most state polls remains as strong as ever. Yes, Obama has pulled even in Iowa. But she still dominates in New Hampshire and almost all the other early states.
Obama remains a largely unknown quantity and I continue to believe that his initial popularity represents his ceiling rather than a floor. He’s highly intelligent, charming, and a superb orator and provides a stark contrast to her image as a cold, robotic candidate. But people don’t know what he stands for and he’s doing his best to keep it that way. He won’t get away with that much longer and, inevitably, taking stands will alienate people.
On the Republican side, I’m almost beyond guessing the outcome. Mike Huckabee has come out of nowhere to become a frontrunner while one-time frontrunner John McCain has been left for dead and made a significant comeback all in a span of months. The only thing I’m reasonably confident of is that my initial prediction on Fred Thompson, that he was an empty vessel into which conservatives hungry for another Ronald Reagan were pouring their hopes in vain, seems to be right.
Since we’re playing the prediction game, though, I might as well go against the conventional wisdom. My colleague Alex Knapp predicted on OTB Radio months ago that McCain would rise from the ashes, Phoenix-like, to take the nomination. I’m now inclined to agree with him, mostly because I can’t see any of the others winning.
Mike Huckabee is the latest media darling and he’s suddenly got a plausible path to the nomination: Win Iowa and then have all the social conservatives rally around him. That could happen. After all, Bill Clinton managed to go directly from the Arkansas governor’s mansion to the White House. Still, it appears that there are a lot of skeletons in Huckabee’s closet and I don’t see in him the political skillset that Clinton used to shrug off attacks.
Rudy Giuliani, who not all that long ago was my default choice for the nomination, has been revealed as a one trick pony (Biden’s quip about “a noun, a verb, and 9/11” may be the best line of the campaign to date) and as a potentially dangerous leader. He’s a smart, seasoned executive but has seemingly little regard for checks and balances and other legal niceties. We don’t need more of that. Plus, 9/11 or no, I don’t see him winning over the South and he doesn’t appear to be a sure thing to win in the blue states, either.
Mitt Romney has been my least favorite of the major GOP candidates from the start, largely on grounds I can’t explain. Aside from the dog incident, there’s no reason for me to dislike him but I’ve got the same gut aversion to him as I had about Bill Clinton in early 1992. He just strikes me as smarmy, insincere, and willing to say whatever he needs to get elected.
His plan was to go all-in for Iowa and New Hampshire, win both, and then use that to create a sense of inevitability and run the table. It’s now looking quite likely that he’ll lose both. If that happens, he’s toast.
Plus, I think his handling of the Mormon issue will be a deal-breaker in the South.
That leaves McCain. The polls show him in 5th place nationwide at the moment (albeit in a statistical tie for third). He’s managed to alienate much of the Republican nominating electorate. And he made a strategic decision to blow off Iowa, thus ensuring that he will get out of the gate slowly.
His decision to try to stake his claim, again, via New Hampshire was looking like a failed strategy a couple of months ago but recent polls show him closing the gap. He’s in a distant second behind Romney right now and Huckabee is right on his tails. Then again, I don’t see many New Hampshirites pulling their lever for Huckabee and Romney’s Favorite Son status could take a hit if the wheels come off in Iowa.
Giuliani will likely take Michigan but then there’s the long trek through the South, beginning with South Carolina, and West, including California. If Thompson throws in with McCain after New Hampshire — which seems likely if McCain wins there or at least seems viable — then it could get interesting.
Huckabee is a natural in the South, to be sure, and McCain isn’t. But that’s also the part of the country where his military service and strong commitment to national security will do him the most good. By contrast, Huckabee should look like a lightweight. Indeed, all the others look inexperienced next to McCain.
A McCain-Clinton matchup would be interesting. Both candidates have considerable experience on the national stage and are able campaigners unlikely to make debilitating gaffes. Ultimately, though, I think McCain would come out ahead.
During times where national security is on the radar screen, Republicans traditionally have an advantage. This would be especially true with McCain, a career naval officer who knows full well the horrors of war, running against a relative novice in military affairs who seems to have no real vision in that arena.
There are, obviously, a whole lot of If’s in the above scenario and I’m not at all confident that things will play out this way. It’s my best guess, though, based on what we know now.
Others playing: Dave Schuler