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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

The Winnowing Continues

With less than a week to go until Super Tuesday, the presidential field continues to dwindle, and the low odds of some sort of brokered convention on either side have dropped considerably.
Sen. Edwards’ departure from the campaign won’t have a dramatic effect, but since he might have picked up a scattering of delegates next week, it hastens the day when one of the survivors will be able to nail down the nomination. If, however, Edwards chooses to endorse Obama, he could shift the dynamics of the campaign towards a referendum on Hillary Clinton as opposed to an audition of Barack Obama.
Matt Compton, a native North Carolinian, will post some retrospective thoughts about Sen. Edwards’ campaign shortly, and I may add a few notes later on about what we’ve learned from his message and political strategy.
On the Republican side, the McCain win in Florida and its nature, combined with an endorsement from Rudy Giuliani and the consignment of the Huckabee campaign to life support, have brought the Arizonan to the very brink of “inevitability.” The only remaining question is how much energy and money Mitt Romney can bring to a last-ditch effort to beat McCain in enough February 5 states to give anti-McCain conservatives hope they can deny him the nomination.
In that connection, as always, I looked at the National Review site to gauge the temperature of conservative opinion-leaders towards McCain. Are they prepared for a savage insurgency? Is Romney, with his own weaknesses, a suitable vehicle for that task?
Sure enough, the magazine has a symposium up today assessing the damage and weighing next steps. Nobody’s threatening to take a dive in November. Noted McCain-disparager Hugh Hewitt is the most combative, comparing McCain to Nixon (not a compliment, despite Hewitt’s past service as director of the Nixon Library), and demanding that conservatives (among whom, he says, McCain can never be numbered) rally around Romney to the bitter end. Several commentors gamely recommend various panders McCain could offer to reassure them. Mona Charon publicly expresses the private fear of many conservatives that McCain doesn’t think he needs them. And a couple of participants mock McCain’s apparent belief that invoking the name of Ronald Reagan on every available occasion will bring conservatives around.
What I find most surprising about this discussion, and others like it, is that conservatives seem less worried about McCain as a president than McCain as a candidate. They are especially alarmed about a McCain-Obama matchup. This is in sharp contrast to what I am generally hearing from Democrats, many of whom are terrified by McCain’s general election poll standing, and are particularly worried that a McCain-Obama contest would provide an unfavorable comparison of Obama’s short resume with McCain’s unique ability to pose as an experienced insider with outsider credentials.
All of this speculation on both sides will prove academic if HRC wins the nomination; a Clinton-McCain contest would likely become a 2004-style partisan slugfest in which McCain struggles to overcome his party’s low popularity while HRC struggles to overcome her high personal negatives, with turnout probably mattering more than persuasion. And lest we forget, there’s always the possibility that Mitt Romney will mount an ideologically driven comeback that will either deny McCain an easy nomination or force him to say and do things that will reduce his general-election appeal.
We’ll obviously know a lot more in six days.

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