Tomorrow, the Democratic primary race will finally be over. Or, I should say, the primaries themselves will be over. At long last, everyone will have voted, unless (Democratic) life is discovered on Mars in the next few days.
The possibility of Martian primaries aside, though, it looks like Wednesday morning is going to be decisive for Barack Obama, no matter who wins the remaining two primaries the night before in Montana and South Dakota. And even though it has seemed like and endless campaign so far (mostly because it has been), we will wake up Wednesday only halfway through the election. Counting days, this Wednesday is the exact midpoint between the frozen vote in Iowa and the November election. That's a stunning thought. We're only half done.
But rather than a Vince Lombardi halftime pep talk about giving 110% in the second half, I'd like to review where we've been so far. And since this will be my final "picks" article for 2008 (Montana and South Dakota picks at the very end), each state's name will link back to my picks for that state. Some I got horribly wrong, some I called with uncanny accuracy, but all around, for both the Republican and Democratic races, I predicted between seven-in-ten and three-fourths of them right. For the first time I've ever tried this experiment, I consider those pretty good stats. Especially since my goal was only to do better than the 50-50 result you'd get flipping a coin.
Anyway, let's take a trip down memory lane to the dim and distant past of five months ago. As I said, it seems longer, but Iowa kicked off the process right after the New Year's Day hangovers had faded, and we're only in early June now. Concentrating only on the Democratic side, here's a timeline of how we got to where we are today.
Polls predict Edwards, Obama, Clinton. Obama begins his march by defeating expectations and pulling out a win. Edwards places second, an amazing performance for someone the media completely and utterly ignored (with the exception of the infamous haircut). But even placing second here does not break through the media blackout, and Edwards continues to be ignored in the mainstream media. First calls for Clinton to drop out of the race. Clinton vows to keep fighting.
Polls predict Obama will beat Hillary handily, with Edwards a distant third. Calls for Hillary to get out of the race become shrill. Hillary chokes up (she didn't "cry" and there weren't "tears on her face," but that's the way the story is played in the media) right before the primary, and she shocks the heck out of all the pollsters, pundits, and other political purveyors of prognostication (myself included) by winning the state handily. It's the Comeback Kid all over again. Calls for her to exit the race fall silent. I write a "mea culpa" story which apologizes for blowing it so spectacularly, and vow never to underestimate Hillary again. Few others in the media follow my lead, and instead blame the pollsters.
For the first time, Nevada moves up into the "front four" states. Also for the first time, they try a caucus instead of a primary. This means that (unlike Iowa) the voters don't really know what to expect. Back and forth battles rage over how many polling places will there be, and caucus sites inside casinos. Polling is almost non-existent in the state. I call it Obama, Edwards, Clinton, and my average tanks as I get all three wrong. Clinton wins the state, Obama places second, Edwards a distant third. Obama wins more delegates than Clinton, but it's all about winning states, right? At least that's how the media reports it.
Michigan also votes in here somewhere, but obviously it's never going to count for anything, so I and many others ignore it.
Also a newcomer to the front four, South Carolina was added due to its high percentage of African-American voters. Polling showed Clinton with surprisingly strong support among blacks up until the last few days before the primary. Her Martin Luther King / Lyndon Baines Johnson comment destroys this support, and blacks vote overwhelmingly (80%) for Obama, giving him the victory. Bill Clinton denigrates his victory, pointing out that Jesse Jackson also won South Carolina, which dooms Clinton support among black voters everywhere to the teens (and even single digits) for the remainder of the race. Florida votes, but again, nobody pays much attention, since they'll be stripped of delegates at the convention for breaking the rules and voting early. Edwards places a dismal third in the state he was born in, and surprises everyone by dropping out of the race before "Super Tuesday." Or should I say...
[Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Georgia, Idaho, Illinois, Kansas, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Missouri, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Utah]
Also a first for this election cycle, over twenty states (the list is slightly different for Democrats and Republicans) shove to the front of the line, in the earliest allowable date for primaries under party rules (after the front four). Pundits call it a "national primary." The sheer size of the operation favors the big-money candidates from both parties, and many expect Clinton and Romney to dominate the day, possibly emerging as the all-but-official nominee of their respective parties.
What happens, in fact, is closer to chaos theory. Huckabee, on the Republican side, does astonishingly well in the South. McCain does well in big states (California, New York, New Jersey, New York, Florida) which all but guarantees him the nomination (due to the Republican winner-take-all system of delegate allocation). Huckabee nips at his heels for a few more weeks, but eventually withdraws.
On the Democratic side, results are mixed. Obama picks up wins in 13 states, to Clinton's nine. Obama's biggest upset for the night is probably Missouri. New Mexico takes days and days to count their vote fully, and Clinton eventually ekes out a victory. But Hillary points out (not for the last time) that she won the biggest prizes of the night -- California, New York, Massachusetts, and New Jersey. The only "big" state Obama wins is Illinois, his home state. Clinton leads in superdelegates, but Barack continues to lead in pledged delegates. So we have two "frontrunners."
Unfortunately for her, the Clinton campaign bet their money on cleaning up here, and just walking away with it. And they seem not to have a "Plan B" for what to do next.
Obama begins his best run of the contest, and takes all five contests handily. Hillary Clinton's team seems to regard caucuses as "beneath them" somehow, and mostly ignores the rest of February. To her peril.
Also known as "Chesapeake Tuesday," "Beltway Tuesday," and "Potomac Tuesday." Two states and the District of Columbia try out their own experiment with primary date location, by holding a "regional primary." Candidates can reach all three from the DC television market, which is an innovation other states might want to consider emulating in 2012.
Barack continues his run of victories, and sweeps all three. Virginia is a key state for the fall, and his winning there shows he can get southern white voters to support him.
Democrats abroad also go for Obama, meaning he has now won nine contests in a row since Super Tuesday. He continues to build his lead among pledged delegates and now leads in total delegates (neither of which Clinton will overtake for the remainder of the race), and Obama starts edging toward her lead in superdelegates, as more and more of them flock to his banner.
Obama wins both, finishing his run of winning 11 straight contests against Clinton. It looks more and more like he will wind up with a majority of states won for the whole contest. Calls return for Hillary to drop out of the race. Clinton vows to soldier on.
Even Bill Clinton admits before the voting that Hillary needs both Texas and Ohio wins to stay in the race. For the first time, I predict that "this will be my final 'picks' column," as I saw Obama winning Texas and making Bill's prediction come true. I end the column with my prediction that "Hillary Clinton graciously quits the race by this time next week."
But this is not to be. Hillary runs her "3:00 A.M." ad, and begins pointing out that McCain would be an acceptable president but Obama would not. Her campaign freely admits that this is the "kitchen sink strategy" (as in "throw everything at him but the...").
Polling shows she has a healthy lead in Ohio, but that Texas is going to be close. This is exactly what happens. Barack wins Vermont, whose results are published first, allowing his supporters to claim 12 contests won in a row. But that's the best news out of the night for Obama. Hillary wins Ohio and Rhode Island handily, and ekes out a win in the Texas primary. But wait! It's a "primacaucus" where a primary and a caucus are held on the same day (they do everything big down in Texas). Obama wins the caucus, and winds up with more pledged delegates from the state than Hillary Clinton. Both sides begin arguing the arcane numbers game, and what these respective numbers really mean. This will continue ad nauseum for the rest of the race. But Hillary dusts off the "Comeback Kid" slogan, and marches on. "Obama can't win a big state" becomes her rallying cry. Calls for her to get out of the race are muted, and die down for the time being.
On the Republican side, McCain wraps up the magic number of delegates, Huckabee finally drops out of the race, and I stop predicting Republican contests. My final numbers for the Republican race are 37 right out of 50 called, for a total of 74%.
No polling exists, as there are more prairie dogs in Wyoming than Democrats. I call the state for Obama, solely on the fact that it's a caucus state. Obama wins.
Obama wins by a large margin, surprising no one. This begins the "big gap" in the campaign calendar, as the next primary is six weeks over the horizon. Hillary Clinton continues her kitchen-sink style campaign kung fu, alienating many people who previously either supported her or, at the very least, gave her the benefit of the doubt. Calls for her to withdraw return, and begin to grow. The math is not good for Clinton, no matter how she adds the numbers up.
After six weeks, Obama now has more pledged delegates than Clinton, more total delegates than Clinton, and is closing fast on her lead among superdelegates. But it's been a bruising six weeks, and Obama is slated to lose today.
Pennsylvania is Clinton country, and the only question is how large her margin will be here. Calls are heard for her to drop out of the race if she doesn't get at least a double-digit win here. She manages over nine points, and is helped out by rounding, so as the returns roll in, the mainstream media reports it as a 10-point victory. Clinton vows she's got momentum and will continue.
I wrap up my "call the outcome of the race" contest. Still no winner yet.
The mainstream media ignore Guam, as all the political reporters were refused expense accounts for a vacation in the sun. Obama ekes out a victory.
Going in to this contest, polls favor Clinton in Indiana and Obama (heavily) in North Carolina. North Carolina turns out as everyone expects, with a big victory for Obama. Clinton, who has called Indiana the "tie-breaker" between Pennsylvania and North Carolina, is called upon to quit the race if she doesn't win Indiana. She barely squeaks by with a two-point win here, which is not enough to quell the calls for her to exit the race. She vows to continue on to West Virginia. Charitable voices say: "Well, she wants to exit on a strong point, and so she'll quit after she wins West Virginia." But the road goes on forever...
Hillary wins West Virginia in a landslide, surprising no one. I am taken to task for my use of the word "hillbilly" and promptly apologize. The news media goes into a frenzy of "Obama can't get white people to vote for him," conveniently forgetting all the other states where white people voted for him in droves. Hillary feeds the flames of this fire.
But Obama steals Clinton's thunder by surpassing her in superdelegates. He is now ahead in pledged delegates, superdelegates, total delegates, and states won. Calls for Hillary to drop out become loud and insistent. Hillary vows to stay in it to the end.
Again, surprising nobody, Obama wins handily in Oregon, and Clinton trounces him in Kentucky. The media again bang the "white voters won't vote for Barack" drum, conveniently ignoring all those white people in Oregon who just handed the state to Obama.
Hillary pushes hard on her "more people voted for me than him" theme, but at this point even the people calling for her to get out of the race are beginning to ignore her. Hillary vows to fight on to the end.
The Democratic rules committee meets, and divvys up the Michigan and Florida delegates, but penalizes them by only giving them a half vote each at the convention. This doesn't change the outcome a bit, but it does mean Obama will need about 20-25 more superdelegates to cross the finish line. Luckily for him, he's been picking them up since Super Tuesday at a rate of about five to every one Clinton picks up, so this won't be a problem. A new "magic number" is set for the victor to reach.
Clinton, as expected, wins big time in Puerto Rico. But Obama pulls to within 50 delegates of claiming victory. Halfhearted calls for Clinton to get out. Clinton vows to fight on after the end, but by now almost nobody is listening.
My Montana and South Dakota "picks"
Which brings us to (drumroll, please)... the last Democratic primaries of 2008! Yes, this is positively the last time we'll play this game until 2012.
The polls are scarce, and all over the place. I'm going to guess that both Montana and South Dakota will go for Obama, but South Dakota will be close. Clinton has been campaigning and running ads, but Obama has a strong ally in Tom Daschle on his side in the state.
I ask the question for the last time: Those are my picks, what are yours?
Now, I could get zero, one, or two of those right. So here are the final numbers for the year, depending on how I do tomorrow night. Thanks to all for sticking with this column through the last five months of playing this game, And no, I haven't forgotten -- the winner of the "predict the race's outcome" contest will be announced when it happens.
[0 for 2]
Total correct 2008 Democratic picks: 42 for 60 -- 70%
Total correct 2008 Republican picks: 37 for 50 -- 74%
Total overall correct picks: 79 for 110 -- 72%.
[1 for 2]
Total correct 2008 Democratic picks: 43 for 60 -- 72%
Total correct 2008 Republican picks: 37 for 50 -- 74%
Total overall correct picks: 80 for 110 -- 73%.
[2 for 2]
Total correct 2008 Democratic picks: 44 for 60 -- 73%
Total correct 2008 Republican picks: 37 for 50 -- 74%
Total overall correct 2008 picks: 81 for 110 -- 74%.
Chris Weigant blogs at: ChrisWeigant.com