After Monday night's brouhaha among the Democrats in South Carolina, the active candidates for the GOP nomination gathered in Florida last night to demonstrate the civility the party has to offer. With the margin between first and second in state polls tightening between McCain and Romney, you'd expect to see Giuliani come out swinging in an attempt to recapture the lead he once enjoyed in the state. At the very least you would expect to see him draw some contrasts between himself and the two candidates perceived to be ahead of him now. But that wasn't the case. If you were on stage last night you got the kid glove treatment from your opponents and an occasional one-liner from Mike Huckabee. If you weren't on the stage and your name was Hillary Clinton, you were met with some sharp criticism on everything from the war to being the epitome of the broken Washington Mitt Romney continues to talk about.
So if you tuned in expecting fireworks similar to those displayed on the Democratic side earlier in the week, you left disappointed and wondering what if any effect those 90 minutes would have on Tuesday's primary. One thing that was interesting was the return to the types of attacks on Clinton that dominated these Republican debates over the summer and into the fall when she was viewed as the presumptive Democratic nominee. Just as we saw McCain's name come up in the Democrats' debate as the heir to the GOP nomination, Clinton's was the name attached to the head of November's Democratic ticket. If anything, these types of discussions force primary voters (or at least the folks actually tuning in) to at least consider general election electability to some extent. The other thing it does is drive some of the inevitability arguments that pop up in the face of any primary/caucus victory.
Having said that, either a Romney or McCain victory in Florida doesn't fundamentally change the outlook of the race as February 5 approaches. If McCain wins, Romney still has his personal wealth to fall back on and Romney wins, McCain is still well-positioned in the states that are the prizes of Super Tuesday. Of course, should Romney win, McCain's poll numbers could change. But Romney's money as a factor won't change in the event that McCain pulls out another victory on Tuesday.
In other news, Dennis Kucinich is set to withdraw from the race for the Democratic nomination to protect his seat in Congress. And to think, he could have been out much sooner if Ohio had been successful in moving its primaries up to January 29 last fall.
The other issue that has arisen on the Democratic side is the four state pledge made by the candidates to protect the four states (IA, NH, NV and SC) which were exempted by the DNC to hold primaries ahead of February 5. DNC sanctions exist to penalize any state that jumps ahead of that point and any candidate who campaigns in such a state. Florida and Michigan both had their entire delegations stripped and because of the potential sanctions and the pledge to stay out of any violating state, the candidates have ignored Michigan and Florida. Well, until some of Obama's national cable ads were shown in Florida causing some to question whether the Clinton camp would jump into the fray and initiate some efforts in the state. Since Tuesday the Clinton folks have denied that they would break the pledge and campaign in Florida. But they did have the perfect opportunity to break that pledge in a state where Clinton has a commanding lead in the polls.
There is one follow up to the blog's last post. Yesterday came and went with no endorsement from influential South Carolina representative, Jim Clyburn. With Obama looking poised for victory there, there was no need (at least strategically) to endorse someone who isn't necessarily slated for the nomination. That, and the last time Obama looked assured of victory (in relation to the polls), Clinton scored a "huge upset" in New Hampshire. Just ask Al Gore how his endorsement of Howard Dean in 2004 worked out.
Polls close at 7pm tomorrow night in South Carolina and if you like to follow along with an interactive map at scvotes.org.
If you missed last night's tame affair from Florida, but are nonetheless a political junkie seeking your next fix, the video is still up over at MSNBC.