After two dozen odd contests in the past week, the presidential race slows down markedly this week.
We have only Chesapeake Tuesday, three primaries in states and a pseudo-state — Virginia, Maryland (whose capital Annapolis is also the site of the U.S. Naval Academy), and the District of Columbia.
In those contests, in the wake of major gains by the candidates on Super-Duper Tuesday, polling indicates that Democrat Barack Obama and Republican John McCain have decided edges.
Before looking forward to tomorrow’s contests, let’s look back for a moment at the momentous week just past. First to the Republicans.
Given the frequent winner take all rules in Republican primaries, John McCain essentially wrapped up the Republican presidential nomination last Tuesday night with big wins in New York, New Jersey, and Illinois. But the truth is that he did it in California, which was not winner take all on a statewide basis, but merely winner take all by congressional district.
But when you win 50 out of 53 congressional districts, as McCain did over Romney — who spent millions of dollars in TV advertising in the Golden State, where right-wing operatives in the state GOP organization did their best to lock up a win for him by excluding independents from the primary — it may as well be winner take all on a statewide basis.
John McCain essentially won the Republican nomination with his near sweep of the delegates available in the California primary, in spite of far- right efforts to rig the primary for Mitt Romney by excluding independents.
McCain’s shattering win in California was a huge win for moderate Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger and his allies, a win which leaves the very vocal ultra-right faction of the Golden State on the outside looking in. After being essentially shut out in California, Romney, a numbers guy at the famous Bain & Company management consulting firm, realized he had no chance for the nomination and, notwithstanding the wailing from his far-right backers, that was that.
Mike Huckabee, who appears to be having the time of his life as one of those rare candidates who truly enjoys campaigning, is carrying on, of course. After doing extremely well in the South on Super-Duper Tuesday, he won two out of three contests on Semi-Super Saturday.
Yet, although he says he “majored in miracles instead of mathematics,” he knows full well that he has no chance of defeating McCain for the Republican presidential nomination.But that’s not why he’s running. If he were a real serious candidate for president, he wouldn’t be putting out blooper out-takes of his amusing “Conversations With Chuck” (Norris).
The truth is that Huck’s continued candidacy benefits both him and McCain. Huck gets more famous and influential as the Republican presidential runner-up. And Mac gets to deal with a guy he likes as the representative of the right wing. (As distinguished from the right-wing talkers and bloggers a la “Rushbo” who lost big time in this presidential casino.) This is what we call a “win-win.”
Now the Democrats.
After surging close to or perhaps into a lead in California, Barack Obama forced Bill and Hillary Clinton to spend far more personal time campaigning to defend their California primary redoubt. Meanwhile, as he left the Golden State to surrogates, Obama himself spent his time elsewhere, racking up wins and delegates that few would have forecast a few weeks ago, when he trailed by nearly 20 points in some national polls.
As a result, Obama emerged with a tiny edge on Super-Duper Tuesday, a set of contests that the Clintons’ longtime financial consigliere Terry McAuliffe, the very personable former Democratic national chairman, had set up as the coast-to-coast decider for the Clinton Restoration.
Over the weekend, as you’ve read here — with my real-time coverage and analysis — and elsewhere, Obama extended his slight edge in delegates won in primaries and caucuses.
Meanwhile, Hillary fired her longtime campaign manager, the first Latina to manage a major presidential campaign, Patty Solis Doyle, replacing her with her White House chief of staff, Maggie Williams.
Which is a problem for the Clintons in the long run, assuming that there is a long run. For Maggie Wiliams, for all her many positive attributes, harkens back to the not so good old days of the ’90s.
Williams is an intriguing figure, in some ways a liberal idealist who worked on children’s issues when she entered politics, and in her post-White House career headed up the big liberal PR outfit Fenton Communications.
However, in her White House days, she found herself caught up in the major fundraising controversies that dogged Bill and Hillary Clinton. She was a key gatekeeper who gave convicted influence peddler Johnny Chung regular access to the White House. It was through Williams that Chung was able to eat for free whenever he wanted in the White House Mess. It was Williams who arranged for Chung and his associates to attend the president’s radio addresses. One of those Chung friends was the CEO of China’s national oil company. It later emerged that some of the nearly $400,000 Chung contributed to the Democratic National Committee came from China’s intelligence service.
The ability to revisit these sorts of issues – not to mention dredge into Bill Clinton’s post-presidential business dealings and massive fundraising for the Clinton Library – is a major reason why John McCain and the Republicans are hoping that Maggie Williams can right the Good Ship Hillary and beat back the surging Barack Obama.
Obama, as I reported in real time over the weekend, swept the big and not so big contests on tap. He won every contest on offer — Washington, Nebraska, Louisiana, the Virgin Islands, and Maine — in landslide fashion and more. In Maine, Hillary was the favorite. In Washingon state, the last tracking poll showed Hillary in close striking distance. It didn’t matter. For the first time in this campaign since Iowa, Obama closed better than the last tracking polls suggested that he would.
Now we head into Chesapeake Tuesday, all primaries in which John McCain, not surprisingly, given the martial tradition of the region, has big leads. And so does Barack Obama.
The Clintons are working very hard to dislodge Obama and stop his momentum. Which I will be covering over the next two days.
Obama has taken the lead in delegates won in primaries and caucuses. He will work hard to extend that lead over Hillary this week and in next week’s contests in Hawaii as a native son candidate (he was born in Honolulu) and Wisconsin.