The first of the primaries is on Thursday so I guess a few words in that direction are in order. On the Democratic side my judgment is perhaps too clouded by desire for me to be objective: I want John Edwards to win.
A few days ago CNN was polling the three candidates as essentially in a statistical dead heat. Unfortunately the Des Moines Register’s final poll has Barack Obama suddenly jumping way into the lead (Beaumont, Thomas, “New Iowa Poll: Obama Widens Lead Over Clinton,” 31 December 2007). From what I hear, a lot of the outcome will be determined by the weather: the support of Senators Obama and Clinton is heavily tilted toward first-time caucus-goers and if the weather is bad, many may in fact turn out not to have been the likely caucus-goers that poll models had them chalked up to be. Having a formidable segment of the old hands who are likely to turn out no matter what, Edwards wins if the weather if foul. And on such slender bases are great hopes built.
But after that, there just isn’t much upon which to base any hope for the Edwards candidacy. Maybe the knock-on effect of a win gives him a boost in subsequent states, but right now he is polling in every other state far behind Clinton and Obama. Even in his home state of South Carolina he is closer to the undecided number than neck-in-neck Clinton and Obama. In California he is polling 13 percent to Clinton’s 36 percent (“Election Guide 2008,” The New York Times). I imagine that after South Carolina it will at least be down to a two candidate race.
Why John Edwards? Because he is the most left-leaning of the three frontrunners. All three have their advantages and disadvantages, but I am bothered by how right-wing Hillary Clinton is on national security and I think that despite his four years as a Senator, Barack Obama just doesn’t get how vicious the right-wing machine is. I don’t think he is ready for the general campaign and I don’t think he is ready for the White House. I want someone who stakes out a good starting position for negotiation on legislation and is ready to unload on his opponents with both barrels. I’m not interested in bipartisanship. I think it is not necessarily the optimum political arrangement and I think it is a fools errand with today’s Republican party.
As for the Republicans, they’re all over the map. Huckabee’s polling up in Iowa and South Carolina; Romney in New Hampshire and Michigan; and Giuliani in Florida, Nevada, California and New York. Obviously Giuliani has the best states in his column from an electoral vote standpoint, but it won’t matter how well Giuliani will do in states that are going to deliver their electors to the Democrats. It’s possible that each could go to the convention with a few wins in their pocket and a number of pledged delegations. Even McCain could pull out New Hampshire and enter the convention in a plausible position.
In recent political history, the candidates have headed for the convention with a clear front-runner and the convention was just a formality to make it official. This time the Republicans could be in for a real convention battle of yore, complete with complex delegation maneuver and smoky backroom wheeling and dealing of the political fixers. The question then becomes, does a pitched convention battle add excitement and pathos to the Republican ticket, or does it make the Republicans look disorganized and weak. I, of course, hope for it because it would be an exciting turn of events.
As a brief coda, it occurred to me today that the nightmare match up from the standpoint of having to endure two months of general campaign, is Clinton-Romney. Just the thought of the two most Zen-negative-space candidates trading vacuous political truisms, trying to be everything to every constituency without actually revealing a stitch of substance that might commit either one to anything concrete is enough to make me despair of politics.