Potomac Primary Postmortem

Last night’s sweeps by Barack Obama and John McCain of the so-called Potomac Primaries in Virginia, Maryland, and the District of Columbia were widely expected. Since public perceptions are mostly shaped by press coverage and the press uses their preconceptions as the baseline, not a lot has changed. Still, there has been some fallout.

Republicans:

Republican Delegate Count John McCain has been the presumptive nominee since his big wins on Super Tuesday and Mitt Romney’s withdrawal two days later made it seem a fait accompli. Many, myself included, have thought that Mike Huckabee’s remaining in the contest as a spoiler hurt McCain, in that all wins were a non-story but any losses or close calls reinforced the perception that McCain was weak with the conservative base.

That’s the story WaPo led with on page 1, Michael D. Shear and Ann E. Marimow’s “In Va., Huckabee Again Shows Strength on Right.”

[E]ven as he dominated the Potomac Primary, McCain lost conservatives in Virginia, as he has across the South and parts of the Midwest — trailing Huckabee among that group and evangelicals as he attempts to unite a fractured Republican Party behind his candidacy.

[…]

Huckabee yesterday tapped into conservative discontent about McCain’s moderate positions on immigration, campaign finance, taxes and energy. Among conservative voters in Virginia, Huckabee won by large margins, according to exit polls, though McCain carried the group in Maryland.

In Little Rock, Huckabee again refused to concede the race to his rival. He said the results showed “there’s still a real sense in the Republican Party, a desire to have a choice, a desire to make sure voters who want a solid conservative, absolutely pro-life candidate still exist.” Huckabee added that “the nomination is not secure until somebody has 1,191 delegates. That has not yet happened.”

Still, Huckabee acknowledged that he could no longer become the party’s standard-bearer by winning delegates in the upcoming contests. Instead, he said victory “may have to happen at a convention.”

“We’re disappointed, but we’re not knocked out,” Huckabee told reporters.

Despite trailing far behind in the delegate race, Huckabee has spent the past 10 days embarrassing the senator with election victories, including taking two of three contests Saturday. Before yesterday, seven states declared themselves unwilling to fall in line behind a wave of endorsements for McCain by members of the Republican establishment.

The only good news, really, is that having an opponent at least keeps McCain semi-relevant the next fews months. As it is, the exciting race between Obama and Clinton is sucking most of the oxygen from the room.

That attention could be crucial if others have a reaction similar to Dennis Sanders:

He does go after the Democrats, but he seems to express what is wrong with their ideas instead of saying that they are evil. He expresses a desire for small government, stating that government isn’t the answer to every problem, but without all the anti-government rhetoric. He is willing to listen to those who disagree with him.

There is no talk about “family values” or other hot button issues.

This is a face of the GOP that I think many people would like to see; a party that is dedicated to small and efficient government, one that is strong on defense and willing to work with the opposition for the common good. This is a message that can reach across party lines and attract independents.

Of course, that’s Obama’s message, too.

[UPDATE: Others wondering what Huckabee hopes to accomplish: Steven Taylor, Steve Bainbridge, and Bill Jempty.]

Democrats:

Delegate Count Democrats 12 February 2008 WaPo’s Dan Balz asked yesterday “Will a Sweep by Obama Make Him the Front-Runner?” He hemmed and hawed until concluding with Mark Kornblau’s assement that “Obama may win the nomination. But he’ll be the underdog and the challenger until the day Hillary steps aside.”

That’s wrong. Obama’s insurgent campaign and dynamic oratory — and, frankly, departure from sixteennineteen years of Bush-Clinton-Bush — was already the preferred media story. Now, the spotlight turns to Hillary’s ability to take a punch.

Take a look at some of the headlines at Memeorandum:

I’ve picked Clinton to win the nomination and am still not convinced she won’t. But, surely, Obama’s got the momentum in a big way.

Graphics: CNN Election Central

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. Wizbang says:

    What is Huckabee after?…

    The former Arkansas Governor vows to stay in the race. And while it may be mathematically impossible to see how it could play out right now, I know this: Right……

  2. jeff says:

    departure from sixteen years of Bush-Clinton-Bush

    umm…..you mean 19 years????

  3. James Joyner says:

    umm…..you mean 19 years????

    Yes! I was starting the clock with Clinton rather than Bush for some reason.

  4. bains says:

    This is a face of the GOP that I think many people would like to see; a party that is dedicated to small and efficient government, one that is strong on defense and willing to work with the opposition for the common good.

    Two problems… I don’t, and haven’t seen McCain doing anything to shrink government. In fact, many of his signature issues have expanded governments intrusiveness upon citizens. Secondly, I’ll trust McCain on reaching across the aisle only when he actually seeks compromise rather than his usual embracing of capitulation to liberal idealogy.

  5. AllenS says:

    Hillary won’t be out of it until you pry the nomination out of her cold dead hands, and, may I add, drive a wooden stake through her heart.