Huckabee's Last Stand
by Todd Beeton, Fri Feb 08, 2008 at 01:38:25 PM EST
What often goes unmentioned about Tuesday's Virginia primary is that it is an open primary. As I wrote a week ago, some Republicans, assuming McCain would have sealed the deal on Tuesday, were planning to vote in the Democratic primary in order to help Hillary Clinton secure the nomination (working under the assumption that she'd be the easier Democrat to beat.) But the fact is, Virginia is very much being contested on the Republican side.
From First Read:
While everyone is proclaiming McCain the presumptive nominee after Romney's exit, the GOP race still isn't over. And do remember that McCain has never been a good front-runner -- he has always seemed to trip up when in that position. Huckabee is still in the race, and his last stand is Virginia. He may not say it, but it's pretty obvious when one looks at the potential Republican electorate. Should many indies and moderate Republicans decide their vote is better spent in the Dem primary, then Huckabee's passionate evangelical supporters could be enough to keep things close.
So not only may McCain's base (independents and moderates) sit the Republican primary out and vote Democratic, but with Romney's exit, the conservative anti-McCain vote has but one option: Huckabee. Interestingly, Survey USA was in the field when Romney bowed out and released the results from the small 1-day sample (237 LVs, Feb. 12, MOE +/- 6.5%) they had collected prior to Romney's exit. The results show McCain with 45% and Romney and Huckabee splitting 42% of the vote. But things aren't quite as dire for McCain or likely to be as close a call as First Read suggests, for McCain actually wins 41% of the conservative vote (which makes up 62% of the expected Republican primary turnout.) Assuming this is close to accurate (note that the poll does have a very high MOE since it's such a small sample) Tuesday shouldn't even be close for McCain, although, always the superstitious one, McCain isn't taking any chances, airing three ads in Virginia in advance of Tuesday's vote.
As for the impact on the Democratic primary, I don't expect there to be much of a spoiler effect by cross-over voters. In Survey USA's final Democratic poll of Virginia (588 LVs, Feb. 7-8, MOE +/- 4.1%,) Clinton wins 40% of both Republicans and Democrats. Her poor performance among independents against Obama could be mitigated by a lower than expected turnout of independents in the Democratic primary (in favor of what is a somewhat competitive Republican primary,) but for the most part, her campaigning in Virginia yesterday and then again tomorrow when she appears in front of the VA Democratic Party's Jefferson Jackson dinner (Obama will be there too,) is about minimizing losses and maximizing delegates in a contest she is expected to lose by double digits.
By the looks of a new Survey USA poll out of Maryland (737 LVs, Feb. 7-8, MOE +/- 3.7%), which also votes on Tuesday, a similar dynamic appears to be developing there. Clinton likely won't be too terribly damaged by losses in Virginia and Maryland (even if they are by double digits) since they're expected, but Clinton had better hope she can avoid a new Obama juggernaut narrative if he sweeps the contests this weekend and on Tuesday. Chris Bowers has a good post about the state of the upcoming contests and sums up what Clinton needs to do over the next few days:
Obviously, Obama looks really good over the next five days, where 360 pledged delegates are at stake, total. The goal for Clinton, I think, is to limit the damage by winning a state or two (possibly Maine or Virginia?), and keeping Obama's pledged delegate lead under 100, thus giving her the perception of an "overall" delegate lead. Currently, my latest pledged delegate count is Obama 896, Clinton 878, with 18 delegates still outstanding form Super Tuesday. In order to take a pledged delegate lead of 100 or more, Obama needs 230 of the 378 pledged delegates floating around between now and Tuesday. Unless he scores a 2-1 blowout in Washington, I doubt he will win quite that many.