For months now I’ve been joking that the Democratic nomination would all come down to Washington, postulating an unlikely scenario in which the candidates come out of Super Duper Tuesday in a two-way (or even three-way) tie, and the nation looking to WA caucus goers to set the momentum heading into the next leg of the campaign. Well whaddaya know… many a truth is said in jest.
And so why aren’t I more excited?
I guess, it’s because unlike much of the campaign thus far, there isn’t really a lot of suspense about what’s going to happen on Saturday. Obama’s been kicking ass in the caucus states, and he’s likely to repeat that success both here and in Nebraska, while his overwhelming support amongst black voters should serve him well in the Louisiana primary. Then comes another caucus in Maine on Sunday, followed by another good day for Obama on Tuesday as Maryland, D.C. and Virginia voters go to the polls, and almost surely extend his delegate lead. Then on the 19th we get a caucus in Hawaii and a primary in Wisconsin… two more contests that seem to favor Obama.
Yup, it’s all downhill for Obama in February, until he slams headfirst into the Ohio and Texas primaries on March 4, and their 389 delegates, and then Pennsylvania’s 188 delegates on April 22, leaving us with one of three scenarios. Either Obama picks up enough speed and delegates throughout February to lead him to some big upset victories in delegate rich states, and eventually the nomination, or Clinton retakes a delegate lead she never relinquishes. Which brings us back to Washington.
The challenge for Obama supporters is not simply to win this Saturday but to win big, which in a caucus scenario requires both turnout and persuasion. Washington state has been home to a lot of Edwards supporters and a lot of fence sitters, both of which currently describe me, and thus there are a lot of voters still up for grabs. I’m slightly leaning toward Obama for purely pragmatic reasons (I think he’d do better for down-ticket candidates) but on Saturday afternoon the Clinton folks in my precinct will have every opportunity to convince me. And if there’s an opportunity to convince somebody like me — a guy who usually has a strong opinion on pretty much everything — I’m guessing the situation is a lot more fluid than most people imagine. For Obama to have a chance of smashing through Clinton’s structural advantages in the big states, he’s going to have to win convincingly in February. And that all starts Saturday afternoon in Washington. I don’t believe Clinton can win WA, but if she makes it close, that’s more than good enough.
Which brings us to that third scenario, which no, I didn’t forget, and explains why I’m feeling a bit more anxious than excited this morning. There is now the very real likelihood that Obama does well in February, does okay, but not great, in the big states, and heads into the August convention with a small lead in pledged delegates, but not enough to overcome Clinton’s superdelegate advantage. I know “real” journalists are drooling over the possibility of a brokered convention, but this could be disastrous for the Democrats. If superdelegates and/or disputed delegates from Michigan and Florida end up determining the nomination contrary to the ultimate choice made by voters at the caucuses and polls, there could be a crisis of legitimacy that could damage Democratic prospects up and down the ballot. (A Clinton/Obama ticket would be the obvious solution, and a killer combination for November.)
How likely is this scenario? Certainly no more likely than the situation we’re in now. Which makes Saturday’s caucus all the more important.
So you rabid Obama supporters (yeah, I’m talkin’ to you Howie), it’s time to put up or shut up. You better kick ass on Saturday, or prepare to deal with the consequences.