Friday, January 25, 2008

Super Tuesday and the Magic 8 Ball

Are you ready for Tribulation Tuesday? February 5th, 2008, will be a day when the grand theatre of politics in our American republic goes onstage in a gala of electoral bloodletting, the likes of which have never been seen before. On that day, some 70 million registered voters in 24 states, including Georgia, will hold primary or caucus votes in which more than 2700 delegates, or 41 percent of the Republican delegates and 52% of the Democratic delegates, will be awarded. When the dust settles, there will either be clear leaders for the candidacies of both parties or the picture of the race will be even muddier than it is now.

If you think the Presidential campaign has already gone on forever, it is important to realize that, to date, less than 2% of the delegates available, nationwide, have been awarded. February 5th, or Super Tuesday, has become a critical point in the presidential wars simply because of the number of delegates up for grabs. This process of lumping primaries together began in 1984 when three Super Tuesdays were created and, along the way, these propelled Walter Mondale to his party’s nomination. Before the 1984 race, primaries were spread out, relatively evenly, throughout the campaign season. Yet many pundits believed that this formula gave the early primaries (traditionally Iowa and New Hampshire) too much influence on the outcome of the race. In 1984, many states, especially Southern states, began moving their primaries to earlier dates. Southern States began this rush toward February because they wanted to play a bigger role in picking the president. The “Southern impact” became evident in 1992 when a little-known governor of Arkansas, after getting drubbed in the early primaries, picked up enough momentum to win the White House by winning big in several southern states in ‘92’s Super Tuesday. That governor was Bill Clinton. By this year, Tsunami Tuesday has grown to such an enormous point that both the Democratic and Republican parties began stripping states of delegates if they tried to move their primary to a date before February fifth.

When the results are in Tuesday night or Wednesday morning, the question becomes, did this shoot-out serve its purpose? Will the results be so clear that they will allow us to crown a presumptive nominee in both parties so the “real” candidates can focus their time and money on winning in November? After all, isn’t that what Tribulation Tuesday is about? Many campaigns, such as Huckabee’s, are in financial trouble, others such as Edwards and Giuliani, are fading from contention, and some like Kucinich and Ron Paul were putting from the rough from the beginning. So shouldn’t the remaining electorate, and the rest of us playing the home version, know who the top dogs by February 6th?

My Magic Eight-Ball says, “No. Not necessarily.” On the Democratic side, at least, even though 1700 of the 2,025 delegates needed to win the nomination will be up for grabs on the fifth, matters may get even more confusing. The first fly in the soup for the Democratic candidates are the “super-delegates.” Super-delegates are elected officials of the Democratic party and members of the Democratic National Committee who, according to the Associated Press, 90% of whom will go to the national convention as uncommitted delegates. This means there are nearly 800 super-delegates, over one-third of the total needed for nomination, whose vote is not tied to the popular vote.[1]
The second bit of confusion for the Democrats may come from the fact that, while the Republican primaries are typically “winner-take-all” affairs, the Democratic events award delegates in a proportional manner based on rules that differ from state to state. As veteran Washington reporter Dave Helling explains:

Virtually all 24 states have adopted intensely detailed — and different — rules for awarding delegates. The rules are so dense, in fact, that few observers agree on how many convention delegates will be picked that day. . . . For the most part, Democrats will allocate delegates proportionately, based on primary votes for candidates who meet a 15 percent "viability" threshold.[2]

So, every Democratic contender who garners more than 15% of the vote should get delegates. As a result, instead of scoring big electoral wins from states like Georgia, the pot will be split. This process will not allow a candidate, even if they win every state, but by a close margin, to take a commanding lead. The inevitable result will be a quagmire turning the race into a long drawn-out campaign that may not be settled until the Democratic National Convention.

The Republicans have clearer rules, but aren’t necessarily in much better shape. While the results of Tsunami Tuesday may thin the field, unless McCain or Romney (or a real February surprise like Ron Paul) score a spectacular number of victories, two or three viable candidates will still emerge on Wednesday the sixth to continue the battle.

While this will make for grand political theatre and enormous revenue for sellers of advertising space; does the American public have the attention span to continue to be vigilant over the political process during such a long brutal campaign? This kind of political warfare is not as appealing, to some, as a season of American Idol or Survivor, yet some voters would prefer the campaign boiled down into an event they could Tivo™ and just phone in a vote at their leisure.

Long, grueling, and dirty presidential political campaigns were the norm in this country before the electronic media distilled the political game into a battle of image creation and thirty –second sound bites. Will Americans remain interested and invested in this political reality show until November? Or, like the problems faced by network television, will the millions of other entertainment choices out there begging for our attention win out?

Whatever the results, Tribulation Tuesday should provide an interesting exercise in the workings of our American republic. This is a time to not just cast our vote; but to pay careful attention to how the system works, or fails, to represent us. If you are weeping on Wednesday, it will probably be because you weren’t paying attention to the way the game was being played.

[1] Olemacher, Stephen. “Super Tuesday Won’t Decide Nominations.” Associated Press. , 24 January, 2008.
[1] Helling, Dave. “Super Tuesday Might Be Super-Confusing.” McClatchy Newspapers. 21 January, 2008.

Posted by Dr. B. Keith Murphy

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