Monday, June 9, 2008

2008 Primary and Caucus Grades, Part One

Now that primary season is complete the movement (or non-movement) of state delegate selection events as compared to 2004 can be assessed a little better. By their nature, the nomination races in 2008 were a different animal than was the race Democratic race in 2004. Both parties had contested nominations and the Democratic race remained competitive to the final contest. On both counts, the opportunity for a state to influence the 2008 process was divergent from the same chance in 2004.

The question of the day: Did states make the right moves (or non-moves) in preparation for the 2008 cycle? During this week, FHQ will take a look at all 50 states (10 states a day in alphabetical order) and determine to what extent their individual frontloading (or lack thereof) influenced the races for the Democratic and Republican nominations. There were contests outside of the fifty states. However, they won't be considered here. The mere fact that Democrats Abroad or Guam were mentioned warrants a grade of A in their cases.

The basic grading criteria are as follows:
1) Did the state move between 2004 and 2008?
2) Did the state change contest types (caucus to primary or vice versa)?
3) Did the state's contest influence the Democratic/Republican nomination in any significant way?
4) Was the state's contest one among many (ie: on Super Tuesday) or by itself (ie: Pennsylvania)?
Of the ten states (plus the District of Columbia) covered in today's post, nine held contests on February 5.

2004 Date/contest type: 6-1-04/primary
2008 Date/contest type: 2-5-08/primary
Dem. Influence: Alabama was among the states that gave Obama a vote of confidence on Super Tuesday. But the state moved from the first week in June to have a voice in who the nominee(s) would be. They did, but Alabama got lost in the shuffle on Super Tuesday. We could be talking a bit about Alabama now as a state that put Obama over the top in addition to Montana and South Dakota.
GOP Influence: Mike Huckabee got a solid post-Iowa victory to go along with a string of other wins on Super Tuesday. Would that support have gone to McCain or Romney in Huckabee's absence? That's a good question. Romney played the role of GOP Obama that day, doing well in most of the caucuses. Huckabee was a regional candidate for the most part and Alabama's move helped sustain him until the first week in March.
Contest Company: Super Tuesday
Grade: C+
Comments: More influential on the GOP side than on the Democratic side. The move to February made the state consequential in both nominations for the first time since 1988.

2004 Date/contest type: 3-20-04/caucus
2008 Date/contest type: 2-5-08/caucus
Dem. Influence: Any state that was a part of the Super Tuesday caucus revelation for Obama gets high marks, whether intentional or not. Democrats in the Great Frontier opted for the earliest allowable date and became a decisive part of the delegate margin that Obama used to finally wrap up the Democratic nomination.
GOP Influence: Again, Romney was a quiet caucus success on Super Tuesday, but no one heard about it because he was getting trounced in all those winner-take-all states the same day by McCain.
Contest Company: Super Tuesday
Grade: B
Comments: The move paid off in that Alaska was among the states that were decisive in both nominations. The one month jump from 2004 to 2008 helped that, but being a far away caucus on a day packed with delegate-rich states, put both parties in the state behind the eight ball.

2004 Date/contest type: 2-3-04/primary
2008 Date/contest type: 2-5-08/primary
Dem. Influence: A comfortable win for Clinton and a state that didn't seem to get too much by way of mentions on Super Tuesday.
GOP Influence: None.
Contest Company: Super Tuesday
Grade: D
Comments: Being a home state of one of the major candidates on a day when there are only so many places a candidate can visit will get you relegated to bypass status in a heartbeat. For the Republicans, that was the case. For the Dems, it was, along with California, evidence of Obama's potential problem among Hispanic voters.

2004 Date/contest type: 5-18-04/primary
2008 Date/contest type: 2-5-08/primary
Dem. Influence: None (see Arizona for McCain. The same was true for Clinton in this one.).
GOP Influence: None (Huckabee's favorite son status pushed him to an easy victory.)
Contest Company: Super Tuesday
Grade: D-
Comments: Of all the states that jumped, Arkansas' gamble worked out almost worst of any state not named Florida or Michigan. Favorite sons and daughters doomed the contest as soon as Huckabee won Iowa (if not before). And they're already talking of a return to May for 2012.

2004 Date/contest type: 3-2-04/primary
2008 Date/contest type: 2-5-08/primary
Dem. Influence: Once Obama jumped to a lead on Super Tuesday (measured by the number of states won), California proved a big win and delegate boost for Clinton.
GOP Influence: McCain's Florida win the week before really carried over into Super Tuesday and California was certainly evidence of that.
Contest Company: Super Tuesday
Grade: A-
Comments: The Golden State could probably go on any date, but has insisted upon being ahead of the nomination decisive point since 1996. That goal was achieved again during 2008. What if California held its primary last week, where it had traditionally been in the post-reform era up until 1996? Clinton would have been deprived of an early and important victory that may have forced her hand earlier than June 7. McCain likely would have gone on to take the nomination, but he too may have been made to wait until Mississippi during the second week of March or until Pennsylvania in April to have formally wrapped up the nomination. That would have been a precarious month for McCain.

2004 Date/contest type: 4-13-04/caucus
2008 Date/contest type: 2-5-08/caucus
Dem. Influence: Like Alaska, another caucus state that bolstered Obama's delegate lead; one that lasted into the waning days of the nomination race.
GOP Influence: Romney did well in the caucuses. Enough said. This one was lost among the shuffle of other, larger delegate gems on a busy day.
Contest Company: Super Tuesday
Grade: B+
Comments: It may be that these caucuses didn't truly find their influence until after the fact, when people began to put all the pieces together. In a retrospective examination, that's a good thing though. Colorado jumped into the window decisiveness and was fairly influential on the Democratic side (in the end) while being an also-ran for the GOP candidates.

2004 Date/contest type: 3-2-04/primary
2008 Date/contest type: 2-5-08/primary
Dem. Influence: An aberration on Super Tuesday for Obama. It was the only northeast primary state that went for Obama until Vermont a month later (Maine, the weekend after Super Tuesday also gave the nod to Obama.). In that respect the Constitution state got several mentions in the press coverage during the evening of Super Tuesday.
GOP Influence: Another winner-take-all state that McCain took. The Arizona senator dominated among the winner-take-all states on Super Tuesday.
Contest Company: Super Tuesday
Grade: C-
Comments: This was a small primary jump and a small state that didn't get too much from the candidates in the way of attention; especially on a day when over 20 states held contests.

2004 Date/contest type: 2-3-04/primary
2008 Date/contest type: 2-5-08/primary
Dem. Influence: Obama won, so correctly picking the nominee has to mean something, right?
GOP Influence: McCain won, so correctly picking the nominee has to mean something, right?
Contest Company: Super Tuesday
Grade: D-
Comments: Delaware was like Connecticut, but further South. On such a crowded day, the First state didn't stand a chance. They were on essentially the same date in 2004, but with far fewer states, and certainly didn't gain anything by competing on an even more crowded date.

District of Columbia:
2004 Date/contest type: 2-14-04/caucus
2008 Date/contest type: 2-12-08/primary
Dem. Influence: This one was a foregone conclusion for Obama, but the DC primary was part of the post-Super Tuesday streak that Obama ran up before Ohio/Texas on March 4.
GOP Influence: You're kidding, no?
Contest Company: One third of the Potomac Primary (w/MD and VA)
Grade: C
Comments: The District made the move from caucus (with advisory primary) to primary, but they've held advisory primaries as early as early January before. DC isn't going to get too much attention, but was smart to coordinate with Maryland and Virginia a subregional primary that was a valuable part of Obama's sweep through the later 3/4ths of February.

2004 Date/contest type: 3-9-04/primary
2008 Date/contest type: 1-29-08/primary
Dem. Influence: Florida's influence was in extending the chaos of the Democratic race into the last week of contests.
GOP Influence
: McCain's win in the Sunshine state catapulted him into Super Tuesday and to the nomination.
Contest Company: Stand-alone contest
Grade: C
Comments: Florida is a study in extremes in the 2008 nomination battles in both parties. Very influential in the GOP race and very influential in the Democratic race (just not in a positive way). An A for the GOP effort and an F for the Democrats averages out to a C. The Florida legislature's gamble paid off. Well, it is Republican controlled after all. Maybe I should bump the grade up because of that.

2004 Date/contest type: 3-2-04/primary
2008 Date/contest type: 2-5-08/primary
Dem. Influence: Other than being the first state called for Obama on Super Tuesday, the Peach state was lost in the shuffle then and in the grand scheme of the nomination battle.
GOP Influence: This was another of Huckabee's post-Iowa wins that kept him going. McCain had jumped in the polls after Florida, but that support proved fleeting. Georgia going for Huckabee was indicative of the problems McCain would have (and still has) to clear up with Christian conservatives.
Contest Company: Super Tuesday
Grade: C
Comments: Georgia is like Alabama without as big a jump from 2004 to 2008. Obama won based on a heavy black turnout and Huckabee emerged as a victorious regional candidate.

On the whole, low marks for a group of states that gravitated towards February 5. Those gambles didn't really pay off other than keeping or putting states in a position to be a decisive part of the nominations. All were a part of it, but few proved very influential.

Up next: Hawaii through Maryland.

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