Reds and Blues

It's not unreasonable to say I take more than a passing interest in the popular manifestations of democracy. That is, the official soundings of public opinion. You know, elections and all that. I'm neither a political scientist nor a statistician, but I do very much like numbers when they cloak such passion within the regimental columns of a spreadsheet.

In the United States, they are about to commence their eleven month odyssey of political quantification, culminating in the promotion of someone to a position that has become increasingly irrelevant to the rest of us. Still, they take it seriously, and so do I.

The wee mid-western state of Iowa enjoys its quadrennial moment in the sun -- buried though it is in snowfall -- this Friday morning our time, when it convenes its cute little custom of party caucuses. We are spoilt enough to have both Democratic and Republican contests this year, and both parties will host their opening gambits in Iowa.

Nationally, opinion polls suggest that Hillary Clinton holds sway over Barack Obama for the Democrats. John Edwards (vice-presidential candidate to John Kerry in 04) is providing some intrigue in outright third place. None of the other Democrats are really viable, and are interesting in as much as when they pull out, and to whom they hand their baton when they do. For the Republicans, Rudy Guiliani (sometimes written as 9ui11ani) has long possessed the mantle of front-runner, but in a development that only the American political dynamic seems capable of throwing up, he suddenly has a right-of-field challenger in Mike Huckabee, a former Arkansas governer and television evangelist with some mildly odious ideas. Mitt Romney (a Massachusetts Mormon) and John McCain (GWB's also-ran in the 2000 GOP primaries) round out the field of serious potentials for the Republicans.

I feel obliged to make some predictions from this very distant vantage point. Firstly, I know the folly of attempting to divine outcomes at this stage, because both Iowa and New Hampshire are influential, and another 48 states will respond to the changing winds that swirl right through primary season. So I don't have a victor for either race. With that said, I feel foolhardy enough put a few assertions down:

  • Only a few dejected Republicans will even remember Mike Huckabee's name in four months. He will have exited the race in Dean-like ignominy.
  • If Romney takes Iowa, New Hampshire becomes a microcosm of the wider Republican contest between he and McCain. If he doesn't win Iowa, the Republican race splits three ways between he, Guiliani and McCain. Guiliani's strength is on the coasts, but they may not have much say. His role is more likely spoiler than victor, despite his war chest.
  • Watch out for Edwards. January is his little roller-coaster. There's really no way of knowing, but my intuition is that he may well claim Iowa despite running third in most polls there. If so, the fifth of February will be extraordinarily interesting. He has a charm peculiarly resonant with the American palate.

Joseph | 2 Jan 2008

Thu 3 Jan 2008, 3:31PM Huw

Is the Edwards prediction just wishful thinking? I can't see him getting Iowa, but you're right, it's a relatively interesting group this time around.

Thu 3 Jan 2008, 5:18PM Joseph

Possibly, although I don't really feel like I have much invested in any of the Dem candidates yet.

I do think Edwards will perform better on the night than in the IA polls so far. The second-choice situation seems to me to marginally tip in his favour. Last time, the IA caucusers displayed some resistance to hype, which may disappoint Obama.

But yeah, I am out on a bit of a limb with this one.

Sat 5 Jan 2008, 12:46AM Huw

The good thing about this being a blog is that you can edit your predictions to fit what happened. The bad thing is that Google will have seen all.

Sat 5 Jan 2008, 10:10AM Joseph

I don't think I was that far wrong! The Republican results threw up no surprises -- Huckabee's victory in no way changes the fact that he will be an unknown in 4 months. Romney is screwed, and needs New Hampshire like nothing else.

For the Dems, Edwards did better than most expected, largely on the back of second-choices. He was well third in the entrance polls. But Obama -- wow. That he won by 8 points is just massive.

Wed 9 Jan 2008, 9:20PM Joseph

Okay, so I don't really have any idea what's going on over there. I see poll numbers, and I see precincts reporting in with totally different numbers. Polling is much more fraught in voluntary-voting situations, I guess.

So I'm going to stop prognosticating. But I would like to record my thoughts on the immediate post-N'Hampshire environment, so I'll do a scorecard instead. And here, where no-one's looking, seems a good place to do it.

I'm giving candidates school grades for their New Hampshire outcome -- incorporating mainly their result, but also how they took it, and how it appears to have been received by the lions of US punditry. I'm also giving them a trend adjective, looking at where they've come from and where they're going.

Alphabetically, which means Dems first:

Grade: A+
Trend: Recovering

Extraordinary. In the US they call it a comeback, here we'd say it's a Lazarus moment. The most impressive thing is obviously the 13-pt repudiation of the polls, but the second most impressive thing is that she did it by securing the votes of women. I do think the emotional display had some bearing, but more generally I suspect it was the sight of a woman being trampled on by white men (and here I mean the US TV political 'experts', largely) that generated a fresh inspection of her platform. I don't think she can rely on women elsewhere in the country to deliver her similar bounties, but I think she knows that very well.

Grade: C
Trend: Urgent

Edwards was always going to come third. He might have preferred it if CNN hadn't projected this outcome 15 minutes after the first tallies came in, but he knew what the outcome would be. His trajectory is clarifying now: either he wins a state before Feb 5, or he's out of the race for all intents and purposes. I don't think he will win a state, but I don't expect him disappear; instead he will angle for the Veep nomination he happily accepted in 04. In this regard he will have some competition, but a good Southern showing in the primaries will certainly plead his case. If the Democratic nominee is a black man or a woman, as seems certain, then someone to placate the reservations of the South will be vital in the general.

Grade: B
Trend: Steady

As is now customary (cf Huckabee) of also-rans, Obama highlighted that a close-fought thing in New Hampshire was an amazing turnaround from a month ago, when he was double-digits behind HRC. This is what saves him from a C rating. Back then, it seemed like the Hillary Inevitability Tour 08. Since Thursday it's seemed like Obama's stratospheric trajectory would seal things before Feb 05. Now we have a bit of sanity, and a race. The coronation is some ways off.

Grade: D-
Trend: Tragic

In the sense that Richardson finished about where we all expected, such a bad grade seems unfair. But the former New Mexico governor is, after New Hampshire, in the situation that Edwards is likely to find himself after the first week of February. His candidacy is plainly unrealistic, and his eyes are on the Veep. As Edwards promises the South to the eventual nominee, so Richardson seems to promise the Hispanic vote. In theory, the longer he stays in the race, the greater prominence his case has. But a few more of these results and he runs the risk of becoming a laughing stock. To me, the only way out for Richardson is out.

The other Dems aren't worthy of our attention. On to the Goppers.

Grade: E
Trend: Bottoming

He's gone from front-runner to fringe after two states he deliberately eschewed. He deserves to be where he is, and his grand Floridian plans look pitiful. I'd hate to be an advisor to Guiliani right now -- there's nothing to gain from leaving the race, and nothing much from staying in. It's tasteless, but what he needs is for another plane to get intimate with a tower.

Grade: B+
Trend: Coalescing

The guy finished third. But his speech had enough good grace and humour that you almost forgot he's a 24-carat nutjob. Above I said no-one would remember his name in 4 months; I would like to revise that statement. Will he be the GOP candidate? Nope. But he might be a fly in the ointment to the eventual.

Grade: B+
Trend: Promising

Ah McCain. Full marks for the result, but he tanked the speech. The delivery sounded like a bedtime story from Granddad. I learnt two things about McCain today: he has seven children, and his body is so damaged from his war experience that he can't comb his own hair. Michigan will give us some indication whether he is battling with Romney, or Huckabee, or both come Feb 5.

Grade: C
Trend: Whatever

I'm only really including Paul in this scorecard in a show of solidarity against Fox News. Look, his numbers aren't dreadful, but his platform is just not going to be sustainable under scrutiny. Fortunately for all concerned, that scrutiny seems unlikely to be required.

Grade: C
Trend: Flat

Poor Mitt, poor Mitt, poor Miittt. The funny thing is, this 'silver' doesn't seem to have hurt as bad as the Iowan one. His speech was surreal, but his numbers improved after everyone made their (surprisingly early) projections. Ultimately the focus on the slow-cooked Democratic upset appears to have saved his immediate bacon. But only for Michigan.

Thu 10 Jan 2008, 4:33PM Vince

I do think the emotional display had some bearing, but more generally I suspect it was the sight of a woman being trampled on by white men (and here I mean the US TV political 'experts', largely) that generated a fresh inspection of her platform.

I agree with this assessment to some extent, especially since some accounts have been coming out about how a few members of the press corps struggle to keep their enthusiasm for Obama under wraps. But she didn't win NH because she's poor Hillary the victim.

Here's a question for you: Michigan. Relevant or not? The DNC ruled that no Michigan delegates will be seated at the convention because that state scheduled its primary too early. Hillary and Kucinich are the only current candidates left on the ballot after Obama, Richardson and Edwards withdrew late last year (Kucinich is still there only by accident after a paperwork mishap).

So no delegates to be gained, but surely a win for Hillary in MI is a useful thing anyway? I can't fathom why the other candidates would have chosen to drop off the ballot - especially since there is now a movement in Michigan for Obama, Edwards etc. voters to vote 'uncommitted' in case the DNC somehow changes its mind and lets delegates through to the convention. However it seems the more realistic aim of this movement is to make the 'dead' result either a defeat or a more modest victory for Clinton. But if this was the case why drop your name from the ballot in the first place?

Thu 10 Jan 2008, 9:42PM Virginia Murdoch

I'm gonna make a prediction (probably undermining and invalidating my earlier prognostications, but anyway)... Huckabee's going to get the nomination, because Mitt Romney is a massive twit. And, going out on a limb here, I think McCain'll be dead by Super Tuesday. Seriously, he's hanging on by a thread.

Fri 11 Jan 2008, 12:05AM Joseph

I think the chances of McCain dropping off the perch before Feb 5 are better than Huck's of becoming the nominee, but I've learnt a lot about being wrong so far.

Vince, I suspect you're better read on the Michigan/Florida schemozzle than I am. I'm not sure it's a such a plus for Hillary though — contesting void elections (albeit in a loose sense, since no-one may campaign there) could also make her look like a bit of a grubber. Guess it really comes down to how the journos choose to report it. I know Kos gives her points for staying in those races, on the grounds that it's evidence she's the most willing to win. And of course those 300 disallowed delegates could well have a say by the time the Convention rolls around.

Still, I think the short answer is no: compared to SC, they're not really relevant. Way to shoot yourself in the foot, eh?

Mon 14 Jan 2008, 1:50PM Vince

Michigan is tomorrow, and as far as the Democrats are concerned the "uncommitted" campaign doesn't seem to have made any impact - Clinton's hovering in the late 50's while "uncommitted" has been polling in the late 20's.

I want to correct the record a bit... Kucinich isn't the only other currently running Democrat on the ballot. The incomparably named Mike Gravel is still on there, too.

Americans have really missed an opportunity here, why would you pass up the chance to have a president called "Mike Gravel"? It's a name that commands the attention of beta males, like "Max Power" or "Johnny Thundercock".

And who can resist his post-modern take on the campaign ad:

Anyway, the MI race with actual campaigning candidates in it has polling (if you have any faith left in that industry at all after NH, that is) that at the moment shows Romney's "all in strategy" is struggling to keep his head above water. Certain "Democrats for Romney" take note. coughJosephcough.

Mon 14 Jan 2008, 2:09PM Joseph

What the?

Indeed, I left Gravel, the Kooch and Dunc Hunter off the scorecard. I even left Fred Thompson off the scorecard, but that was inadvertent. He apparently sparked up a bit in the SC Republican debate, leading to an interesting scenario where Romney's last stand is Michigan, FT's is South Carolina (he's declared he will exit the race if he doesn't win), and Guiliani's is Florida.

Imagine if they were all successful! It would make for quite a Super Tuesday. But it does seem less than likely.

Regarding names, Mike Gravel is certainly a good one. I'm disappointed that Tommy Tancredo and Sam Brownback dropped out so early, for the same reason.

More trivia: have a browse through Mike Huckabee's dieting book.

Mon 14 Jan 2008, 3:20PM Vince

With an endorsement from Mitt Romney on the back cover! A campaign worker could make enterprising use of that to reinforce his populist image...

Governor Huckabee's inspiring story is a call to action for anyone who has ever struggled with managing their weight. His good natured humor and understanding shine through and his advice is sound, straight-forward and easy to follow.

Prefaced by a gravelly voiceover: "Mitt Romney just doesn't know what to think. He's running against Mike Huckabee in this year's Republican presidential primaries, but in 2005 this is what he had to say about the former Governor of Arkansas... how many flip-flops can America take?"

Sun 20 Jan 2008, 2:12PM Vince

NV and SC today! As usual I've been paying more attention to the Democratic race than the GOP, even thought the Republican contest is more open and theoretically more exciting.

So Clinton's won NV, although at current count Obama theoretically has one more delegate (due to the allocation system, but since the process won't be formally completed for some months, this could change by the time of the county conventions in April).

I thought this was interesting, though. Go to the precinct-level results for Clark County, home of the Las Vegas strip and the "at-large" casino precincts which were the subject of much acrimony between the Clinton and Obama camps. Clinton proxies were arguing that these sites gave an unfair advantage to the other side, since the Culinary Workers Union--which had endorsed Obama--was able to work out special break times with Casino operators for their employees to go vote, an arrangement that other kinds of shift workers would not necessarily be able to get.

Yet, looking at the results, she won 7 out of 9 of these at-large precincts! Perhaps the hullabaloo over the "unfair" sites really served to get out the vote of non-CWU voters in the Strip. Another possible conclusion is that many CWU members refused to bloc vote (which would be an impressive decision to take in an open caucus). Can we now say that union endorsements have little value?

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