Florida Primary Postmortem

John McCain Wins Florida Primary The victories of John McCain and Hillary Clinton in Florida last night presage what will happen in next week’s Super Duper Tuesday contests and have significantly reshaped the race.

Polls and Predictions Compared to Final Results

The polls finally got one right, correctly predicting the winners and the order of finish of all challengers with uncanny accuracy.

The final RealClearPolitics average had Clinton winning 48-29-14 over Barack Obama and John Edwards and the near-final results were 50-33-14. My own prediction of 51-35-14 was slightly closer because I factored in late-deciders.

On the GOP side, RCP had it 30.7-30.1-14.7-12.9 for McCain, Mitt Romney, Rudy Giuliani. With 99% of the votes counted, it was actually 36-31-15-14. My prediction of 35-32-17-11 was close enough for government work.

Impact on the Race

Delegate Count Democrats 30 Jan 2008 Democrats: Despite the efforts of the Clinton campaign to spin this as “a significant victory,” this was an essentially meaningless contest for the Democrats. Neither candidate campaigned in the state and no delegates were counted.

That said, I believe it foreshadows what will happen on Super Tuesday. Despite both Clinton and Obama raising unprecedented sums of money, campaigning in 22 states in six days is next to impossible. As in Florida, no campaigning gives the advantage to the candidate with the best organization and name recognition. My guess is Clinton will have an impressive showing next week and all but wrap up the nomination.

The polls bear me out. Clinton has decisive leads in the biggest states: California, New York, and New Jersey. If she builds a commanding lead, it’ll be almost impossible for Obama to recover.

[Update/Breaking: John Edwards is dropping out, making his non-factor status official.]

Delegate Count Republicans 30 Jan 2008 Republicans: The GOP only penalized Florida half its delegates, still leaving it the biggest prize to date. While McCain was the perceived frontrunner after wins in New Hampshire and South Carolina, he was technically in third place in the delegate count yesterday morning. Now, he’s officially in the lead.

More importantly, he’s taken a commanding lead in the expectations race ahead of Super Tuesday. Mitt Romney outspent him 10-to-1 in television advertising and still couldn’t win. McCain also proved he could win a contest limited only to registered Republicans.

Mike Huckabee was already toast after having lost to McCain in South Carolina and last night’s fourth place finish in a “Southern” state merely amplifies that. He came out of nowhere to win Iowa and raised his name recognition considerably with this run. But he didn’t have the fundraising ability or gravitas to catch on beyond a narrow evangelical base. He’ll stay in the race through next Tuesday’s contests and may even win a state or two; but he’s simply not going to win the nomination.

Rudy Giuliani made his final stand in Florida and got crushed. His concession speech last night was eloquent and he’ll remain a major force in Republican politics. All indications, though, are that he’ll drop out as early as today and endorse McCain.

Ron Paul will hang in until the end. Why not, really? He’s raised gobs of money and is a message candidate. But it’s now all-but-officially a two man race between McCain and Romney.

And it doesn’t look good for Romney. Despite his overwhelming advantage in cash on hand — fitting payback to McCain for sponsoring an idiotic campaign finance reform bill — his appeal is simply limited. And a Giuliani endorsement should put McCain over the top, since they’re splitting the same center-right, security minded constituency.

Conservatives ranging from Michelle Malkin to Robert Stacy McCain can’t believe McCain beat Romney. Republican primary voters, apparently, figure an 82% conservative who sometimes takes positions seemingly designed to anger the base is preferable to a guy who was a Massachusetts liberal a few months ago but now says exactly what conservatives want to hear. Go figure.

Yes, it’s true that self-identified “conservatives” once again preferred Romney to McCain, according to the exit polls. Florida’s “closed” primary allows people who describe themselves as “independents” or even “Democrats” to vote in the Republican primaries so long as they’re registered as Republicans. Malkin is angry at this, Flip Pidot is “flummoxed,” and Ed Morrissey is resigned. But that’s how these things always work.

McCain advisor John Weaver observes that, “[I]f Romney wasn’t born on third base, if he had to campaign and fundraise like everyone else, I’m sure he wouldn’t be here anymore.” He’s right. Romney has never been better than 4th in the national polls. He’s been competitive because he’s been able to self-finance a ridiculous amount of advertising in every state while everyone else has had to pick and choose their battles. But even that hasn’t been enough.

Romney has lost in Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina, and Florida. The only seriously contested race he’s won has been in his “home” state of Michigan.

It’s mano e mano from here on out, with Huckabee and Paul mere spoilers. Every indication is that McCain is ahead in the states that matter — and that’s with Giuliani factored in. We’ll know soon enough which man Republican primary voters prefer.

The Veepstakes

Hillary Clinton would be wise to beg Barack Obama to be her running mate but he’d be a fool to accept. She needs his support to heal the damage her scorched earth campaign has caused with the crucial African American base. But their message and style are too different and I agree with my colleague, Dave Schuler, that he’d be far better served to make a run for Illinois governor.

My guess is that Clinton choses someone like Jim Webb or Phil Bredesen or Evan Bayh.

Joe Lieberman has categorically removed himself as a candidate for VP on a McCain ticket, which removes the most intriguing possibility there. One wonders if Rudy Giuliani would be willing to sign on? I’d have said there wasn’t a chance as recently as last night, but his quick (reported) deal to drop out and endorse McCain may signal that the relationship is closer than I’d thought.

To the extent Giuliani’s endorsement is designed to form a “Stop Romney Coalition” — which strikes me as probable given the animosity Romney’s campaign has engendered — it seems improbable that McCain would ask Romney to be on the ticket. And while McCain and Huckabee have gone out of their way to be cordial, I can’t imagine that pairing.

Fred Thompson might make a good choice. He and McCain like each other, have worked well together, and are close on the issues. And Thompson brings street cred with conservatives without the the baggage of a Huckabee. Yet, as I’ve observed previously, if the man can’t muster the energy to campaign for himself, he’s unlikely to do so for someone else.

There are plenty of candidates outside the 2008 field. Lindsey Graham? A governor, perhaps? Michael Steele?

One thing’s for sure: He’ll need to make a good choice. While the second banana slot is almost always overrated as a decision factor in presidential contests, McCain’s age and the strong possibility that he’d be a one-term president if elected make picking someone perceived ready to step into the presidency more crucial than ever.

Images courtesy CNN

UPDATE: Also see these other wrap-ups and reactions:

  • Steven Taylor‘s “Post-Toasties (Florida Orange Juice Edition)”
FILED UNDER: *FEATURED, 2008 Election, Blogosphere, Public Opinion Polls, The Presidency, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Anderson says:

    Whether or not you can imagine McCain-Huckabee, it’s the most advantageous pairing. The Huckster’s cred is precisely where McCain needs it most — with the Repub base.

    And McCain is old enough that Huckabee’s actually becoming President is definitely on the table.

    As for Hillary, I’ve said before that Jim Webb is the best Veep for her, assuming that Obama won’t bite. The really crucial question is, will Obama campaign for her?

    Obama supporters at Yglesias’s blog are saying they will sit on their hands rather than vote Hillary in November — a deeply, deeply stupid position for a Democrat. And as one commenter noted, deeply ironic for followers of the “unity” candidate.

    I think Obama will look like a first-rate hypocrite if he doesn’t campaign hard for Clinton.

  2. Rick Almeida says:

    Obama supporters at Yglesias’s blog are saying they will sit on their hands rather than vote Hillary in November — a deeply, deeply stupid position for a Democrat.

    True. Disgruntled Fredheads at RedState are are making the same statements vis-a-vis McCain.

    My guess is that both are just bowing off steam and the majority of them (on both sides) will pull the D or R lever…but who knows?

    I think mobilization and turnout will be key in November.

  3. Tano says:

    The big loser so far in all this is Rush Limbaugh.

    Wouldnt it just be peachy to have a McCain-Huck vs, Clinton-Obama election, in that light? Hell, I might even want to listen in on that!

  4. just me says:

    The Huckster’s cred is precisely where McCain needs it most — with the Repub base.

    I don’t think Huck appeals that much to the base. Maybe certain portions of it, but I think Huck would hurt more than help McCain. I think McCain would do best to look outside the Beltway for his runningmate, I just don’t think Huckabee is the best person to fill the spot.

    And I don’t think there is any way we will see a Clinton-Obama or visa versa ticket. I think by the time all is said and done Clinton and Obama will have mostly bitter feelings for each other, and I don’t see at all how being Hillary’s VP helps Obama over the long haul, and I don’t see how Hillary helps Obama as his VP. Obama would do better to choose a sitting or former governor to balance his lack of executive experience.

  5. RW Rogers says:

    James: The problem with Obama becoming governor of Illinois is that is an extreme example of a party patronage state. While recent occupants of the office have complied some pretty impressive records, rap sheets and scandals are not usually vote-getters on the national level.

    If Obama ran as a reformer and then actually did reform the way the government works there, that would be impressive, but there’s no reason to believe he’d actually do that given his close links to the Cook County crowd. Better to stay away in Washington, DC, I think.