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What does Super Tuesday mean? 

Democrats must ponder who can beat McCain

The political wonks are temporarily talked out and the chip bowls at the vote-watching parties have long been killed.

But what is there really to make of the results from this week's so-called super duper Tuesday results, which saw John McCain emerge as the clear front-runner to win the Republican nomination and Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton step forward as the torch carriers for long-simmering ethnic and class rivalries?

Here are some possible implications from all the numbers:

Democrats must ponder who can beat McCain

Republicans Mike Huckabee and Mitt Romney won't say that they're out of the race yet, but it looks that way. So Democrats in the states with upcoming primaries and caucuses are left to consider not just which candidate they like the best, but which is best positioned to beat McCain.

click to enlarge FACE OFF :  John McCain came out of California's presidential primary race as the clear frontrunner for the Republican nomination. Hillary Clinton came in first on the state level for Democrats, though Barack Obama got the most votes in San Luis Obispo County.
  • FACE OFF : John McCain came out of California's presidential primary race as the clear frontrunner for the Republican nomination. Hillary Clinton came in first on the state level for Democrats, though Barack Obama got the most votes in San Luis Obispo County.

# Based on the available polls, the answer would likely be Obama, whose stronger position with independents benefits him in national comparisons against McCain.

Cal Poly political science professor Michael Latner said he can foresee a scenario where the race isn't decided until this summer's political convention.

And then things could get funky. Although the so-called super delegates--nearly 800 Democratic political heavyweights and office holders who are free to choose any candidate--are traditionally thought of as establishment-leaning party stalwarts who are likely to lean toward Clinton, they might pause to think about whether she can beat McCain.

But Latner says he isn't convinced they'll do that math.

"You shouldn't forget that Democrats have an amazing capacity to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory," he said.

Conversely, he offered, they may do the math and assume that Clinton's foreign policy experience would be the better match against McCain's expertise in that area.

"I think McCain is the candidate that Democrats fear the most, whether it's Obama or Hillary," said Tom Bordonaro, leader of SLO County Republicans. "The reason is, he does reach out and is attractive to independents along with moderates, and his share of conservative Republicans."

But Bordonaro allowed that things might be easier for McCain if Democrats ultimately choose Clinton, because "Republicans hate Hillary so much."

Rob Bryn's day job is with the SLO County Sheriff's department, where he serves as spokesman. But he's also serving as campaign chair for a half dozen Central California counties, including SLO and Santa Barbara.

He was, he noted, a McCain supporter even when people considered the candidate to be down and out.

And he said that while McCain supporters had a sense that they were going to do well, Tuesday's results surprised even them.

"The polls have been wrong or underestimated us through this whole situation," he said. "It's just amazing to us. Every time you think that you're down, John just bounces back much stronger. People may want to make fun of him because he's 71. But try to keep up with him."

Future candidates are going to have to spend, and campaign, even earlier

click to enlarge 20080207061303_l.jpg

# Latner noted that polls showed Barack Obama surging in state polls in recent days. Yet Clinton still beat him handily in the popular vote in California in large part because so many people had already voted through absentee ballots.

In fact, SLO County results show that candidates who have long since dropped out of the race, such as Democrat John Edwards and Republican Rudy Giuliani, still drew sizeable numbers of votes. According to the results available at press time, Edwards had 7 percent and Giuliani had 5 percent locally.

Latner said the trend is only likely to accelerate until as many as half of the total ballots will be filed absentee in coming elections.

"It basically requires that candidates run two parallel campaigns," he said. "You've got to run a campaign that addresses absentee voters that begins basically when the Secretary of State first sends out the first set of absentee ballots."

They they've also got to be prepared to run another campaign aimed at peaking for traditional voters on Election Day. That means candidates will need even more money they spend now.

"You've got to dig in and you've got to start advertising. In the future, my guess is campaigns will be even more resource driven," Latner said.

The upshot, he said, is the country might be better served with a national primary.

It's still a hell of an election

Call it the post-election buzz, but virtually all the politicos talked to for this story were still popping over the prospects of the coming presidential election.

SLO Councilman Paul Brown is a Republican, but his Mother's Tavern hosted the local Barack Obama folks on primary eve.

"This has been the most exciting presidential campaign that I can remember in the last couple decades," he said. "From all the candidates, there seems to be this kind of newness, this freshness coming forward."

One local Democratic official agrees.

"It's the best year since 1960," said Stew Jenkins, recording secretary for SLO County Democrats. "We haven't had this much energy and this much commitment and this much entry to the process since then."

And he's not at all concerned about the prospect of the Democrats deciding their candidate at the convention itself. Such as process, he said, will produce a more seasoned candidate who can produce "a new message for this century."

Russ Genet is another excited Democrat. The Cal Poly and Cuesta astronomer hosted fundraisers for Obama.

He said he hasn't been this hopeful since the days of Bobby Kennedy, whose assassination he watched on television. "That was upsetting and kind of killed hope. I think Obama rekindled this hope of what's possible."

He foresees a scenario where Obama wins a multi-round process in the Democratic convention. But he also noted that he sees promise with all of the remaining candidates--even McCain.

"Whatever happens, this ought to be a lot more issue-oriented than it would have been," Genet said. "Less sound bites, more issues--and that's a good thing."

Managing Editor Patrick Howe can be reached at


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