Super Tuesday Postmortem (Updated)

As I write this, a bit after 6 am, we don’t know the results of all the Super Tuesday states. What we do know if that Barack Obama and Mike Huckabee did much better than expected but that Hillary Clinton and John McCain strengthened their perception as frontrunners by winning California and New York, the biggest prizes of the night.

Delegate Count Republicans Super Tuesday (Partial) Republicans:

ABC News goes with this shocking headline: “McCain Wins California, Huckabee Gets Boost — Romney Vows Campaign Will Go On as GOP Contest Shapes Up as Two-Man Race

Sen. John McCain cemented his position as the Republican front-runner with his projected win in the California primary — the most delegate-heavy state up for grabs on Super Tuesday, based on ABC News’ exit poll data and partial vote counts.

While many of the biggest states on Super Tuesday went to McCain’s camp, former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee also picked up key projected wins in Tennessee and Georgia, as well as leads or projected wins in four other states, based on exit poll data and vote counts.


The results were more disappointing for former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, who ABC News projects will win his home state, Colorado, Minnesota and the small prizes of Montana, Utah and the North Dakota and Alaska caucuses. But in a speech delivered from his campaign headquarters in Boston, Romney spoke passionately to a crowd of cheering supporters.

“One thing that is clear is that this campaign is going on!” said Romney.

Earlier in the evening, Huckabee told a crowd at his own campaign’s headquarters in Little Rock, Ark., “Over the past few days a lot of people have been trying to say this is a two-man race, but you know what? It is, and we’re in it!”

The problem with that, though, is that, while Huckabee managed to turn out evangelical support in the South despite having been written off, it’s unclear where his support comes from in the upcoming contests. While the 169 delegates shown on the graphic above (courtesy CNN) may move a bit as the final tallies are calculated, he remain a distant third place with the South mostly out of the way. I just don’t see him getting another 1,023 delegates.

Regardless, Huckabee helped himself big time. Not only did he further demonstrate his appeal to Christian conservatives but he’s run a sunny, humorous campaign and built what, publicly at least, seems to be a warm relationship with John McCain. The prospects of them sharing the ticket have grown.

As for Romney, WaPo’s Jonathan Weisman adds insult to injury with “Romney’s Expenses Per Delegate Top $1M.”

By Republican strategist Alex Vogel’s calculation, Mitt Romney […] has spent $1.16 million per delegate, a rate that would cost him $1.33 billion to win the nomination.

By contrast, Mike Huckabee’s campaign has been the height of efficiency. Delegates haven’t yet been officially apportioned, but roughly speaking, each $1 million spent by Huckabee has won him 20 delegates.

Over at The Corner, the estimable John O’Sullivan views the results as “a positive rejection of Romney” and suspects it’s confirmation that “many evangelicals would vote for anyone but a Mormon.” Mark Steyn agrees. There’s no doubt anti-Mormonism is a factor. As I’ve noted many times, many evangelicals — and that includes a lot highly educated, successful people, contrary to the media myth — believe Mormonism is a cult.

Mostly, though, I believe Romney just rubs rural America the wrong way in much the same way that Hillary Clinton does. He comes across as “slick” and packaged and insincere. For all their faults, McCain and Huckabee strike most people as genuine.

Delegate Count Democrats Super Tuesday (Partial) Democrats:

Wow. There were plenty of indications that Obama was surging. There has been growing anti-Clinton backlash (ironically, mostly aimed at Bill but with Hillary the victim) and quite a few endorsements and other signs that mainstream Democrats were moving toward Obama. California was tightening into a toss-up but Clinton was leading the polls just about everywhere there were polls. Instead, she won Calfornia but he picked off a whole lot of other states.

Once again, ABC News summed it up well with their headline: “Clinton Wins Delegate-Rich States; Obama Takes Most States.”

Sens. Barack Obama, D-Ill., and Hillary Clinton, D-N.Y., traded Super Tuesday victories in an expectedly tight Democratic race that has turned into a fierce battle for convention delegates.

Energized, Democratic voters turned out in high numbers as an unprecedented 22 states held Democratic primaries and caucuses, but all those voters in all those states did little to determine a Democratic front-runner.

Obama appears to have won the most states, picking up victories in Illinois, Idaho, Colorado, Minnesota, Connecticut, Utah, North Dakota, Kansas, Delaware, Missouri, Georgia and Alabama, according to analysis of exit polls and the vote count.

Clinton won the delegate-rich states of California and New York, the largest and second-largest states to vote tonight. Clinton has also picked up victories in Massachusetts, New Jersey, Arizona, Oklahoma, Tennessee and Arkansas, where she and her husband have deep roots.

MSNBC goes with a similar take: “Clinton wins California, most other big states — But party’s delegate rules mean Democratic race to end up virtually tied.”

Florida and Michigan:

One point that our own Dave Schuler has made repeatedly bears re-emphasis at this time: The fate of Florida and Michigan’s delegates is going to be a huge issue here. Clinton won both of these usually-delegate-rich states handily, albeit in uncontested races. Were their normal slate of delegates in her column, she’d be much further ahead. And, if they somehow get added into the mix later in the game, it’ll have a major impact on the outcome.

Prediction Games:

A couple of states aren’t yet decided but my success rate at predicting Super Tuesday was decidedly less than stellar. To be sure, I had caveats throughout the post that I was just taking a SWAG at several states in the absence of polling. But, still, I got a lot of states wrong, guessing that there would be a lot more coalescing around the frontrunners than we actually saw.

On the Republican side, I allowed that Huckabee could pick off a Southern state or two that I gave to McCain (figuring a lot of Huck’s supporters would satisfice between one of the two “viable” candidates), so I at least covered myself. My biggest problem was underestimating Romney’s support in the Northwest, which I presumed, mostly in the absence of polling data, was likely to go for McCain’s ornery style and maverick message.

Not much better on the Democratic side and for mostly the same reason: I was way off in guessing the attitudes of the Northwest. But, really, I just underestimated Obama’s support across the board.

At least I called California right!

Where We Go From Here:

I don’t see how anyone other than McCain wins the Republican nomination at this point. Romney has plenty of cash to spend but it doesn’t seem to be getting him anywhere. Huckabee is a likable guy that too many of us have underestimated but I just don’t see where he’s going to get another thousand delegates; the map just isn’t his friend at this point.

Most of us thought Hillary Clinton would be the prohibitive favorite this morning. She ain’t. The David Broder conventional wisdom has been that, the longer this race went on, the more it benefited Obama. That sure seems to be the case. He’s clearly the Democrats’ better general election candidate and the guy who seems to appeal most to the base.

Chris Bowers, Ed Morrissey, Steve Bainbridge, and others are talking brokered convention for the Democrats, with potentially ugly results. It’s much more likely now than I’d have ever guessed. Still, I’d be surprised if it comes to that. While it’s true that the Democrats’ bizarre combination of proportional representative primaries and non-democratic superdelegates complicates the process, it’s a two-person race and my guess is that the party coalesces around one of them before long. To the extent that Hillary’s still relying on inevitability, though, she’s in trouble.

Update (Dave Schuler)

I think the honest truth is that Barack Obama needed to do better in California than he did to secure the Democratic nomination. The big states whose primaries are still to be held are Ohio and Texas on March 4 and Pennsylvania on April 22 so I expect that both Clinton and Obama will devote substantial time to them, particularly to Ohio and Pennsylvania. It’ll probably be the most attention that Pennsylvania has received in generations. And, since Ohio is a state that Clinton very much wants to carry in November, I suspect she’ll practically live there, giving the Buckeye State the sort of attention that’s usually reserved for Iowa and New Hampshire.

In Obama’s favor are that he’s tended to do well when he’s had enough time to devote to particular states and that he’s got the money to keep trooping on. In Clinton’s favor are the organization that she’s been building for the last 16 or more years and the superdelegates who are mostly pledged to her. Obama didn’t win big enough yesterday to cause them to bolt.

Remember that there are 796 Democratic superdelegates. That means that the 783 Clinton delegates vs. the 709 Obama delegates (the standings as they’re currently being reported) don’t really tell the whole story. Taking the superdelegates into account and assuming the same pattern of neck-and-neck gaining of delegates by Clinton and Obama in the remaining primaries, Clinton will be the Democrat’s nominee in November.

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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. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Dantheman says:

    Note that the predictions when all delegates are counted (especially Chuck Todd’s on MSNBC) from yesterday is that Obama will have taken slightly more than Hillary, allowing him more bragging rights.

    I will add on the Democratic side that the calendar for the next few weeks favors Obama. This weekend has Nebraska (a caucus, the type of contest where Obama has been doing best, plus he won the neighboring states of Kansas and Missouri yesterday), Louisiana (where the percentage of blacks should carry him over, just as in Georgia and Alabama yesterday) and Washington (a youngish, hi-tech state). Then next week Maryland, Virginia and DC. A week from now Obama could have very serious momentum, and Hillary may need to take both Texas and Ohio on March 4 to get back in this.

  2. Patrick T. McGuire says:

    Conventional wisdom ain’t what it used to be.

    Remember when the coronation of Hillary Clinton was a done deal, that the primary process was just a formality for her on her trip to the White House? Remember when John McCain was written off because he couldn’t raise any money? For that matter, remember when a candidate’s ability to raise campaign funds was directly proportional to his electability?

    While I had predicted that the selection process of a Republican candidate would go on for months with the candidates changing places in the race many times, Dave Schuler said that “makes no sense” as it would all be over on Feb. 5th. I got the scenario right, but I missed on who the end players would be. I figured Huckabee would be eliminated long before Feb. 5 and expected Guiliani (remember him?) to be a significant player to the end.

    However, the point I have made all along is that this country isn’t the same as it was before 9/11. All the old conventional wisdoms no longer hold true. The people of this country are in a revolution against the established process, against a federal government that doesn’t function, and against those that expect them to continue living with a process that fails them.

    It’s gonna be an interesting year.

  3. Trevor says:

    I’m a bit confused at this works, if Edwards is out can why does he still have delegates, can he shift his delegates over to either of the other 2 candidates?

  4. Triumph says:

    A couple of states aren’t yet decided but my success rate at predicting Super Tuesday was decidedly less than stellar.

    Don’t be so hard on yourself–you nailed the Democrat American Samoa race.

    I stupidly thought that Faleomavaega’s support of Barack would translate into support, but it appears that Togiola Tulafono’s machine got the vote out for Clinton, as you predicted.

  5. Triumph says:

    I’m a bit confused at this works, if Edwards is out can why does he still have delegates, can he shift his delegates over to either of the other 2 candidates?

    In between $500 haircuts, Edwards managed to pick up some delegates in the early races. He has not endorsed Hussein or Hilzilla. If and when he does endorse, those delegates will go to Breck Girl’s candidate.

  6. Trevor says:

    In between $500 haircuts, Edwards managed to pick up some delegates in the early races. He has not endorsed Hussein or Hilzilla. If and when he does endorse, those delegates will go to Breck Girl’s candidate.

    Your not a Democrat are you?

  7. Jim Henley says:

    James, it’s obvious that the Ron Paul REVOLution cleans up on the Republican side from here out. It’s a two-man race between Dr. Paul and McCain now, as would be obvious but for the MSM conspiracy. Send money! Put your name on our mailing list!

    On the Dem side, you have to predict the nomination goes to Gravel, since he’s the last white man in the contest.

  8. Trevor says:


    Excellent analysis, I was waiting for you to put something up. Is there anyway you could go into more detail about the superdelegates, what exactly makes them better then “normal” delegates?

  9. Triumph says:

    The big states whose primaries are still to be held are Ohio and Texas on March 4 and Pennsylvania on April 22 so I expect that both Clinton and Obama will devote substantial time to them, particularly to Ohio and Pennsylvania.

    There are some significant races before March that could help Hussein–next week’s VA-MD-DC and Saturday’s WA, also WI on Feb 19.

    Hussein could creep up in the delegate count before the big state races commence.

  10. Dave Schuler says:

    Quite true, Triumph. But the number of delegates at stake in the big state races are sufficient that they swamp the numbers of those available from the smaller states.

  11. Gary Gulrud says:

    If their candidate is McCain the GOP is dead; their only hope is to swing the House and that is in doubt with the Senate incumbents on offer. Why show up at all if your Congressman is safe. In my district if I make it before closing (2 hour commute) to buttress Bachman for a job well done I will at best vote Independent against Coleman and possibly Democrat against McCain. That’s a promise.

  12. Rich says:

    Great, I get 2.5 months of Hillary and Obama commercials in Pennsylvania, where I live. Shoot me now. I guess I can’t watch TV between now and April 23rd.