Covering the Front and Back Pages of the Newspaper
February 6, 2008
POLITICS: The GOP's Ash Wednesday
You can listen to my take on last night's results on NPR here (although I do wish they had spelled my name right).
The takeaway: you can't beat somebody with nobody, and while McCain didn't win the nomination last night, Mitt Romney lost it, and with him the last realistic obstacle to McCain, as the race as a practical matter resolves to McCain vs. Huckabee. Romney says he will fight on (they all say that, until they stop saying it) but he is reported to be taking a day off the trail to meet and take stock with his advisers. Maybe they will decide to throw one last Hail Mary pass over the next week (Louisiana, Washington and Kansas vote Saturday, Virginia, Maryland and DC next Tuesday), and Romney has the money to stay in the race, but there's just no purpose to be served by carrying the fight beyond that, especially if Romney thinks he has some future in the GOP.
Watching Romney's speech last night, I gotta say, he sure sounded like he was giving a concession speech. His family looked, and his crowd sounded, like this is the end. And he sounded like his heart wasn't in it - rushing his delivery, not stopping for applause lines. He didn't win the winner-take-all blue states, which broke big for McCain as he consolidated the support he had previously been siphoning away from Rudy Giuliani. (Ironically, other than their actual home states, the Northeast has gone for the Arizona Senator, while the Mountain states have gone for the Massachusetts Governor). And more damaging, Romney ran third in a lot of the southern or border-south red states, which broke for Huckabee. There are no bronze medals given out in a three-man race. Romney to the end was Mr. Caucus, winning mostly caucuses dominated by organization and money - and states where he already had deep roots - but never managing to win primaries where he had to appeal to voters wholesale who didn't start off giving him the benefit of every doubt.
Huckabee, by contrast, was wearing the Eli Manning "I can't believe I got this far" face. Whatever else may be said of the man, you just can't help being impressed with what he has accomplished in this race with no money, no staff, no name recognition, etc. And it sure seems like a lot of voters across the heartland of the GOP base looked at the choice between McCain and Romney, found neither inspiring and decided to just vote their hearts.
As for Hillary, she was wearing a smile that could cut glass; both Democratic candidates won enough to claim a mandate to stay in the race for a long time to come, and while a McCain-Huckabee race would involve two candidates with very little money, Hillary and Obama have the deep pockets to run a Yankees-Red Sox style pennant race.
Obama? Listening to his speech, I started wondering if the Secret Service is screening to protect him from specifics. Perhaps it's an allergy. But man, that guy is smooth. Maybe the Man from Hope and Change doesn't need to stand for anything in particular; he stands for whatever Change you Hope he can bring.
One of today's storylines has to be precisely why McCain won so many blue states and Obama won so many red states. In Obama's case it's partly because the moderates and the white people in those states are all Republicans, clearing the field for his coalition of college students, antiwar activists and African-Americans, and partly because Obama has an in with the 50-state-strategy Deaniacs, which is how you get an Obama organization in places like Idaho (and, perhaps as well, that in the Mountain West he did well in caucuses where people don't want to be seen voting against him). In McCain's case, I think deep-blue-state Republicans are more accustomed to compromising to get the most electable general election candidate.