2008 Election Prediction: McCain vs. Obama

It’s a tough thing to make Presidential election predictions, especially at this point in the game where things are in flux. It’s especially tough when, like me, you have a horrible, horrible record for calling the outcome of primaries and elections. Still, no self-respecting pundit can enter election season without making predictions that he will then boldly ignore once reality proves him terribly, terribly wrong. So here goes:

Republican Nominee: John McCain – I’ve actually been saying for quite a few months now that I think that McCain, campaign troubles to the contrary, is still the most likely Republican nominee. Granted, this is all dependent on one thing: Mitt Romney loses both Iowa and New Hampshire. I think right now, it’s pretty clear that Iowa is lost for Romney, and while he still has a solid lead in New Hampshire, I think an Iowa loss cripples his chances. If things play out the way they are now, I see an Iowa victory for Huckabee, followed by a McCain victory in New Hampshire, and either a Giuliani or McCain victory in Nevada. In any case, after those three losses, I’d expect Romney and Fred Thompson to drop out of the race, leaving Huckabee, McCain, Giuliani and Paul as the only major contenders left. And when the media starts to focus on the four man race prior to February 5, I can’t see anyone but McCain benefiting. While I respect Paul’s run, I suspect that he’s at or near his peak level of support, so he probably won’t be a factor. So let’s look at who we have left.

Huckabee is clearly completely unprepared for the Presidency. Indeed, his support in the polls has risen so fast that it’s disturbingly fascinating to watch him learn about the strange and wonderful world beyond the borders of Arkansas. His reaction to his quick rise to the top of the polls reminds me of a Victorian time-traveler who comes to the present and stares for hours in wonder at the automatic door at the supermarket. What marvels this place has! Not Presidential material.

Giuliani’s dead in the water. The polls have consistently shown that the closer people are following the Presidential race, the less they like Giuliani. He’s got more skeletons in his closet than the family in Poltergeist, and, as many have pointed out, all of the attributes that make him a good mayor will not make him a good President.

So, stack Huckabee and Giuliani next to McCain, who’s going to come out on top? McCain, that’s who.

Now, the Dark Horse in the Republican race is clearly Mitt Romney. If Romney can salvage either Iowa or New Hampshire, he will be in a much stronger position to take the nomination, and probably force McCain out of the race. However, given the flow of the campaigns so far, I just don’t think that Romney can pull it out.

Democratic Nominee: Barack Obama – Clearly, the tide is turning in Obama’s favor. He is rapidly gaining in the polls and his campaign has shown a lot of savvy in tackling Hillary Clinton. The only thing truly holding him back, I think, is that he’s not seen as being as electable as Hillary Clinton. However, early caucus or primary victories will change that dynamic. My understanding is that victory in the Iowa caucuses is all about second choices. My guess is that most Clinton supporters have Obama as their second choice–as do most Edwards supporters. So I think that Iowa will go Obama. And if Obama can follow up a victory in Iowa with a victory in New Hampshire or South Carolina, then the aura of inevitability that Hillary Clinton will crack and Obama will win. I think this is the most likely scenario–especially given the serious setbacks of her campaign as of late.

Plus, you know, Oprah is campaigning for Obama. Do not underestimate the Oprah. Seriously. Oprah Winfrey takes her career and her position very seriously, and I honestly believe that she would not be campaigning for Obama if she didn’t already think that the momentum was on his side–she has too much to lose already by actively getting involved in politics, and backing a losing candidate is only going to make that worse.

Could Clinton still take it? Maybe, but only if Obama drops the ball. But I think that a small crack in the armor is all Obama needed to send Hillary’s campaign tumbling down, so the only way for a Clinton nomination to happen is for Obama’s campaign to shoot itself in the foot.

FILED UNDER: 2008 Election, The Presidency, , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
Alex Knapp
About Alex Knapp
Alex Knapp is Associate Editor at Forbes for science and games. He was a longtime blogger elsewhere before joining the OTB team in June 2005 and contributed some 700 posts through January 2013. Follow him on Twitter @TheAlexKnapp.


  1. bryan says:

    so who will win the gen el?

  2. Tom says:

    Neither Obama nor McCain will win. I’ll bet you a beer. Very weak analysis and clear bias against Huckabee and non-understanding of how Iowa works (‘second place’ argument) or about how Edwards and Clinton supporters think about Obama (many not very highly).

  3. Alex Knapp says:

    Bryan – In a McCain v. Obama matchup, I have to say Obama. That said, I think it would be close.

    Tom – For the Democratic Iowa caucuses, my understanding is that second choices matter quite a bit. I’m basing my “Obama as second choice” argument on his high favorables and steady increases in Iowa polling.

    And I don’t have a bias against Huckabee. I’ve looked at him closely and find him ridculous and unprepared. A bias would mean that I dismissed him offhand.

  4. Triumph says:

    I honestly believe that she would not be campaigning for Obama if she didn’t already think that the momentum was on his side—she has too much to lose already by actively getting involved in politics, and backing a losing candidate is only going to make that worse.

    Brilliant–Oprah is cited as the new Karl Rove. Remember, this is the same person who supported Jessie Jackson in ’88.

  5. Tano says:


    I think your analysis was pretty solid, but there is a point re. the “second-choice” issue.

    I think it mainly comes into play when, in a particular caucus room, there is not 15% support for a particular candidate. The supporters of those candidates then move to their second choices. Therefore, the interesting question is not who Clinton or Edwards’ supporters have as their second choice – those candidates will probably get over the threshold most everywhere – the real question is who is the second choice of the Biden, Dodd etc supporters.

    I agree that Obama’s path to the nomination is getting wider by the day. Lots and lots of people in the party are less-than-thrilled about hillary, and to the extent that she loses the inevitability and electability mantles (nothing like losing the first three contests to do that), there might be a stampede toward Obama.

    On the GOP side, I agree that there is probably a deep panic setting in to the party establishment as they sense that, perhaps within the next six weeks, the party will have Huck as the presumptive nominee. Rightly or wrongly, the “smart” people see nothing but utter disaster for the party down that road. So there is going to have to be an intervention.

    But who? Believe it or not, there are still some who see Fred as the ideal across-the-board conservative, if only they could find the right combination of drugs to last him all the way to November. Rudy is probably toast – with the rise of Huck the socons are sending a pretty clear message – the nominee is not going to be someone that they dont approve of.

    It really comes down to whether the party grownups will place their bets on Mitt or McCain as the only choice to save the party from Huck – and of course, the question of whether that will work.

    I suspect they will find Mitt the more attractive candidate – given his resources, youth, and the fact that he has not pissed off so many of them over the years, as McCain has. Will it work? Who knows!

    Maybe Barack will spend the spring and summer acting presidential while awaiting his coronation while the GOP tears itself to shreds on the way to a brokered convention. In that case, all bets are off, except for the November bet, where Obama would have to be favored.

  6. Michael Schuyler says:

    I can see why you would say Huckabee is unprepared to be President, but surely Obama falls into the same category. Neither of them have ANY foreign policy experience; and Obama is a relative newbie with little established record. Perhaps that’s a good thing for him because it keeps his negatives low: He hasn’t done much. On the other hand, neither has HRC, who has the same longevity record in the Senate as Obama. the only reason she is popular is because she is the wife of a former president.

    I accept your scenario as written, but once you take a look at the nominees’ records, McCain is the one who can point to a solid record of experience. The crucible of his life has made him who he is. Nails say they are ‘as tough as McCain’ and that’s why, in the quiet moment with your own soul and secret ballot, you will choose McCain over Obama. You know we need a solid and proven leader in the White House. It’s OK. You don’t have to tell.

  7. Triumph says:

    I can see why you would say Huckabee is unprepared to be President, but surely Obama falls into the same category. Neither of them have ANY foreign policy experience; and Obama is a relative newbie with little established record.

    Yeah, but the difference is that Obama is not a complete idiot. Anyone who is on law review at Harvard, teaches con law at Univ. of Chicago is pretty sharp.

    Huckabee went to some unaccredited baptist college in Arkadelphia and has the “logic” to prove it.

  8. Rey says:

    Huckabee will win the nomination and presidency. The antihuckabee vote will split romney, rudy and mccain. Huckabee is honest andlikable and cares about the poor. He gets my vote and I am a democrat.

  9. Dave Schuler says:

    There are more registered voters in the city of Chicago than there are in the state of Arkansas. More people (in Illinois) have already voted for Barack Obama than have voted for Mike Huckabee.

    That says little about either’s experience, suitability for office, or ability to get votes. The most you can say at this point is that we really don’t know.

  10. Scott says:

    I’m voting for the McCain/Obama 2008 ticket.

    Because, taken as people, this is the pair we want for the President/Vice president, respectively. McCain is President, that’s what everyone wants, even if they don’t know it yet. Obama, we want you as Vice President. Maybe President some other time.

    Yes, it just so happens this would combine a Republican and Democrat. And why not?

    America, The United States, and The World would be thrilled to have McCain and Obama as the President and Vice President of the United Sates of America as soon as possible. It’s what we need for the best results.

    I’m serious, no bluff.