Crystal Ball, Take II
Now, back to the Democrats...
I woke up this morning with the feeling that the nomination of Hillary Rodham Clinton is no longer inevitable. I've made this contention for months, but will offer two blueprints of the more simplistic Democratic race. One has Hillary winning Iowa narrowly, steamrolling her opponents in New Hampshire, besting Barack Obama narrowly in South Carolina, by a wide margin in Florida, and clinching the nomination on Tsunami Tuesday. This is the blueprint I have consulted for the last several months, but recent developments urge caution and suggest a plausible alternative.
Notice how I mention only two candidates in the first scenario. My second narrative doesn't involve a broader field with the exception of John Edwards. For all intents and purposes, this is a two-horse race, and Edwards is a mere sideshow who provides a significant opening for Obama in Iowa. Bill Richardson boasts an impressive resume, but his message fails to resonate on the trail given the rock star status of his opponents, and Biden and Dodd, the savvy Senate veterans, have yet to find any traction in Iowa or elsewhere. It is in the heartland where the second scenario takes root.
According to recent polls, Obama has taken the lead in the Hawkeye State, eclipsing Clinton and Edwards, although in a statistical dead heat. Edwards' presence is critical here. He finished second in the 2004 caucuses, and led in the polls for most of this year. Yes, his $400 haircuts was his downfall, but his bevy of support remains in tact, and many of these folks actually caucused for him four years ago. A top-three finish is virtually guaranteed, and it seems as if he hurts Hillary more than Obama, as the former VP candidate polls in single digits in other states where Clinton has 20-point leads.
Edwards could win Iowa, and Hillary is prepared for this with New Hampshire as her firewall. Edwards lacks the financial resources to compete elsewhere short of a resounding victory in the caucuses, and he must abide by federal spending standards as he agreed to accept matching funds, limiting state-by-state spending, New Hampshire included. An Obama victory is more threatening, for it convinces voters elsewhere that the amateur is a viable candidate.
Assuming Obama wins Iowa, New Hampshire voters, particularly the independents who can vote in either party primary, are known to shun establishment figures (see the Clinton dynasty) and search for mavericks (McCarthy, McCain...Obama?). A Granite State surprise sets Obama up for South Carolina, where half of the Democratic electorate is African-American. If the Illinois Senator runs the table here, he'll close the gap with Clinton in Florida, and be well-positioned for success on Tsunami Tuesday. Indeed, in some ways he is already more organized in the February 5th states, the Prairie State included. Moreover, only Obama has the financial wherewithal to compete with the Clinton machine in what is essentially a national primary.
Obama probably doesn't clinch the nomination on Tsunami Tuesday, but I could see the contest concluding on February 19th when Wisconsin and Washington voters flock to the polls. These states have a similar affinity for anti-establishment mavericks, and Obama may be their man.
I know, I'm taking the easy way out here with separate scenarios, and my refusal to pick a winner. If I were a betting man I'd stick with Clinton, but the NY Senator let her guard down in the Democratic debate last month and provided the opening the upstart Obama has been searching for all along. Regardless, the narrative will have real-life authenticity in five short weeks...