South Carolina and Nevada Post-Mortem

I dashed off some quick thoughts last night after John McCain’s win in South Carolina but let’s look at the race more closely.


Delegate Count Democrats 20 Jan 2008 Not much has changed, really, aside from a ratcheting up in the bitterness of the Clinton-Obama battle. Both Clinton and Obama are claiming victory in Nevada, with the former winning the popular vote and the latter “winning” a non-binding delegate count by one.

This win preserves Clinton’s momentum post-New Hampshire and strengthens my view that she’ll be the nominee. Obama had the support of the Culinary Workers Union and had the benefit of bizarre rules that had caucuses taking place in casinos so these workers could easily be mobilized and still lost. Still, Obama is expected to blow Clinton out in South Carolina, so he’ll get some momentum back and avoid a bandwagon effect.

Clinton will blow Obama away in Florida but get zero delegates for her effort. Whether that will matter in the minds of voters going into the Super Duper Tuesday primarypalooza remains to be seen.

John Edwards, meanwhile, is toast. There’s no real reason for him to quit the race but his lackluster support is embarrassing. He’ll likely come in a distant third even in his “home” state of South Carolina, adding insult to injury.

Delegate Count Republicans 20 Jan 2008 Republicans

Romney still leads the delegate count by a nearly 2-to-1 margin. McCain is the frontrunner, though.

Partly, that’s a function of McCain’s cozy relationship with the media. Partly, that’s because the pundits continue to frame the story in terms of the traditional Iowa-New Hampshire-South Carolina script and are largely ignoring Michigan and Nevada, much less Wyoming. Partly, it’s because Romney remains a distant third in the national polls.

Duncan Hunter is officially out of the race. Who knew he was still running? One wonders to whom he’ll release his delegate.

Ron Paul will continue to run as long as he pleases. He can take some solace in a much-stronger-than-expected showing in the Nevada Caucuses but there remains no way he wins that doesn’t involve thermonuclear war and/or invasion from outer space.

Stick a fork in Fred Thompson; he’s done. Had he shocked the world and won — or even came in a respectable second — in South Carolina, he would have a reason to stay in the race. A distant third, though, pretty convincingly demonstrates that he doesn’t have a chance. The Rooskies might have a plan for winning under such circumstances but I don’t think Thompson does.

Jeff Emanuel wistfully bids his White Knight goodbye but acknowledges that “the Fred Thompson for President campaign suffered from being one of the most lackluster, disorganized, and uninspired electoral efforts that I can remember.” FDL’s Thers has a serious case of SchadenFred, though, noting that lamenting Thompson’s demise “is a bit like shutting the barn door after the horse fell asleep in the hay watching Matlock.”

Rudy Giuliani’s campaign comes down to a Hail Mary pass. And three of his offensive linemen are out of the game. And his best wide receiver just pulled a hammy. He’s staked his campaign in Florida, where he’s concentrated all his resources. The state has 57 delegates and it’s winner take all. McCain was already leading by three points and now he’s got momentum. If McCain wins, it’s hard to imagine many people in the Super Duper Tuesday states taking a risk on Giuliani. If Rudy wins, though, he’s suddenly very much in it. California, New Jersey, New York, Connecticut and others could easily go into his column.

Mike Huckabee is on life support. Michelle Malkin pronounces last night’s loss in South Carolina, where his Southern accent and a huge trove of evangelical Christian voters gave him a decided advantage, “the end of Mike Huckabee.” I’m inclined to agree, even though he could still take several states on Super Duper Tuesday: Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Tennessee, and Oklahoma. I don’t see the math at this point, though. Those states just don’t have enough delegates.

So, it’s essentially a McCain-Romney race right now with Giuliani getting a play-in game on the 29th.

The Veepstakes

The acrimony between Clinton and Obama makes it unlikely that the loser would accept the second slot on the ticket. I’m not sure Clinton would have taken it, anyway. Edwards already did that once and was lousy at it; his ego is too strong to be a second banana. That would seem to leave the also-rans, Richardson or Biden, or the never-rans like Evan Bayh or Mark Warner or Phil Bredesen.

Would Romney or McCain or Giuliani take the number two slot if they don’t win the nomination? I can’t imagine any of them would. A McCain-Giuliani ticket would be intriguing — and certainly radically change the nature of the modern Republican party — but it’s not going to happen. McCain-Romney or Romney-McCain would just be too weird.

Huckabee and McCain have shrewdly gone out of their way to be civil to one another to avoid antagonizing the other camp. Could McCain tab Huckabee as his veep to shore up support among social conservatives? That’s a risky strategy, considering that Huckabee could be attacked as an extremist in the general.

Fred Thompson seems a more natural veep choice, since he’s much more mainstream. But if he doesn’t have the energy to campaign for himself, how hard is he going to work for someone else?

Delegate count graphics via CNN.

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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.


  1. just me says:

    I don’t think any of the current frontrunners other than Huckabee (who I actually think may be bucking for a VP slot, whether the eventual winner bites is up in the air) have the kind of ego that would let them play second fiddle on the ticket.

    I think by the time it is over there is going to a lot of animosity between the Clinton and Obama camps-the base and voters may rally around the eventual winner, but I am not seeing either taking the VP slot, if the other turns out the winner.

    I am not sure there will be tons of animosity among the GOP frontrunners (or at least not as open and in the media), but there are too many huge egos, and I think the eventual winner knows it and will likely look elsewhere.

  2. FireWolf says:

    One thing you didn’t mention James is that Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty is out stumping for McCain. There is wild speculation among the local pundits/MSM that McCain might tap Pawlenty for his Veep spot.

    And although Pawlenty has denied such rumors time and time again, one has to wonder why a sitting Governor is out stumping for a presidential candidate.

    Perhaps he’s looking to run in 2012?

  3. Dave Schuler says:

    Odds are that the pick for the Vice Presidential slots of both parties will be somebody who hasn’t been running for president.

    I’ve always thought that Hillary Clinton would end up as the Democrats’ nominee and I’ve seen some signs of a rally-round effect, mostly consisting of the touting of polls suggesting that HRC could beat all Republican comers.

    Whether Giuliani is toast or soon to be hailed as a brilliant political strategist depends entirely on how successful his big state strategy is. We’ll know in Florida.

    I continue to believe that the outcome in the Republican race depends on Republicans’ survival instincts. If there’s a national death wish of the sort that’s been exhibited by the Illinois Republican Party, they’ll go with Romney.

  4. Jeff Quinton says:

    Michael Steele for running mate would be my choice.

  5. James Joyner says:

    I’ve heard Pawlenty’s name mentioned, although I honestly don’t know much about him. Steele is actually a very interesting choice, though.

  6. Tano says:

    Would that not be such blatent tokenism? I mean ususally you tend to choose someone who has, at the very least, shown the ability to win an election, on his own, in his own state. What is his qualification other than being head of a PAC, and black?

    I never thought that Obama would end up on a Clinton ticket, but, contrary to most people, I actually am thinking more and more that it just might happen.

    Sure there is acrimony. But these two are grown-ups, or at least one would hope so. There is probably much more serious acrimony amongst their respective supporters – and that is something that probably should be healed. The Clintons do not want to go into the general with an angry black base, or liberal intellectual base.

    Clinton could come off as magnanimous, and Obama gets a free pass into the status of her heir-apparent at the head of the party – whether that be for 2012 if they lose, or 2016 if they win. And I am sure that he would prefer to run for president next time and point to VP experience, rather than having to go back to the Senate or to Springfield to earn his chops.

    I agree that i dont see her on his ticket though.

  7. FireWolf says:

    About Tim Pawlenty: Here

    And Michael Steele: Here

    FYI 🙂

  8. Derrick says:

    Could any Rudy fans out there explain to me why we want another President who believes that “Hail Mary” passes connote a real strategy? I mean its possible that Rudy takes Florida still, but doesn’t his strategy seem a bit irresponsible for a so called national candidate.

  9. DL says:

    Look at history – McCain has a penchant for crossing party lines to stick it to his base. I predict he’ll ask John Kerry to be his VP. Just think of the ticket – a hero with real medals and a….well you get the idea. Once he’s nominated, Hillary will be the real coservative in the race.

  10. just me says:

    DL McCain may like playing maverick, but I don’t think he is an idiot.

  11. Paul says:

    On paper one would think McCain, if he wins the nomination, would take someone the evangelicals like, such as Brownback. But I wouldn’t be surprised if McCain throws the paper out the window and goes with his gut of who he thinks is the best fit for him, like Clinton did in 1992. But that wouldn’t be a democrat, and certainly not Kerry. DL’s comment has some irony because of course there was much talk of a Kerry-McCain ticket in ’04, on the theory that McCain had nothing to lose because he would be too old to win the GOP nomination in 2008.

    And McCain’s age would make his VP pick potentially very important.