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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Some Super Tuesday Story Lines

As you get ready to follow tonight’s election results (unless you’ve decided to get a good night’s sleep and just read it about it tomorrow), there are some media “story lines” to look for as the evening progresses, which may have as much impact on the nomination races as the actual results. I’ve compiled a handful of these after spending far too much time watching and reading the pre-Super Tuesday analysis on the networks and in the papers and blogs.
1) Turnout: early network coverage of Super Tuesday usually features some characterization of turnout, particularly on the Democratic side, where past 2008 primaries and caucuses have shown record turnouts in every state. Keep in mind, however, that (1) a lot of today’s primary states have heavy early/absentee voting (viz. California, where half the total vote may be cast that way), which means that official turnout estimates will be more reliable than anecdotal evidence of long lines or high percentages of voters showing up at a given precinct; and (2) the states holding caucuses obviously won’t know anything about turnout til the events themselves.
2) Exit Polls Show This or That: Given the confusion we’ve seen earlier this year over leaked exit polls, “early” exit polls, “adjusted” exit polls, and so forth, it’s a good time to read Mark Blumenthal’s timely primer on exit polls, posted today. Mark is mainly talking about the “horse-race” aspect of exit polls, which badly burned news networks have gotten more cautious about. But you can still expect promiscuous use of exit poll data to analyze voter demographics, which will affect several of the story lines discussed below.
3) Expectations: As I said yesterday, political media types love expectations games like a wino loves zinfadel-in-a-box. At present, the prevailing expecations line on the Democratic side is a close outcome in terms of delegates and state “wins,” though there’s a bit of a trend towards an expectation that Obama will win at least one or two of the big states where polls have been tightening (e.g., CT, MA, NJ, AZ or CA). If HRC wins the close states, she may be adjudged the “winner” despite a lot of talk that a “tie” benefits Obama in the long run. On the Republican side, the prevailing expectation is that John McCain will all but wrap up the nomination tonight. Anything Mitt Romney can do to place that conclusion in doubt will be considered a “win,” even if it’s a stay of execution. BTW, one of the guaranteed cliches you’ll hear if McCain does well is: “It’s Mardi Gras for John McCain, and tomorrow, Mitt Romney will face an Ash Wednesday.” Count on it.
4) Racial/Ethnic/Gender/Partisan Voting Patterns: Two big continuing story lines in the Democratic contest have been the “racialization” of voters (e.g., Obama’s getting increasingly large percentages of the African-American vote, but a declining percentage of the white vote), and HRC’s advantage among Latino and female voters. At present, the fact that Obama is likely to win several primaries and caucuses (e.g., KS, AK, MN, and WA) in heavily white states may get attention, or the talking heads may instead focus on relatively low Obama tallies among white voters in the South (AL, AR, and GA). The struggle for Latinos will dominate coverage of NM, AZ and most of all CA. And as always, evidence in any one state that HRC has won because of very strong showing among women will get significant attention. In both parties, expect some analysis of how candidates are doing with independents and partisans; there’s a lot of media interest in the idea that Obama and McCain have special appeal to indies, and//or are weak with partisans. Keep in mind, BTW, that although you’ll be hearing about “open” and “closed” primaries that invite or reject independents from participation, some states have EZ re-registration rules that make participation by indies in “closed” primaries possible.
5) “Tune In Tomorrow”: Though political media truly hate irresolute results, and demand thumbsucking total analysis before signing off at night, there are some things we are just unlikely to know tonight. I did an extended discussion yesterday of the situation in CA, where a slow count and a vast number of absentee ballots may make choosing a winner impossible tonight, unless the exit polls show a big winner. A buch of too-close-to-call races could lead the punditry to either call it a night, or impose a meanng on what they know. That would certainly play into the Obama-wins-ties story line on the Democratic side, or the Romney Death Watch story line on the GOP side.
There are other story lines that may develop, some of them subsidiary, such as the impact of various Kennedy endorsements on the Democrats or the crisis of anti-McCain talk-radio conservatives among Republicans. And as always, there could be an event that surprises everyone.

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