Wednesday, June 11, 2008

2008 Primary and Caucus Grades, Part Three

Wednesday brings us to the third grouping of primary and caucus states to dissect. Yesterday's collection of states improved upon the Super Tuesday heavy group of states reviewed on Monday based in large part on the presence of Iowa and some quirky scheduling decisions in some states (notably the weekend primary in Louisiana--Then again the home of Mardi Gras in the US certainly couldn't vote on Fat Tuesday/Super Tuesday, so they waited until the weekend after.). Today, FHQ travels back in time to look at the delegate selection events in states from New Hampshire in the east to Montana and Nevada in the west. In reality, we'll just continue ambling through an alphabetical look at the states.

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)?
If a state moved (or did not) and/or was influential in deciding the nominees in each part, the state's grade will be higher.

2004 Date/contest type: 3-2-04/primary
2008 Date/contest type: 2-5-08/primary
Dem. Influence: The northeast primary states (with the exceptions of Connecticut and Vermont) were a Clinton stronghold in 2008. Her Massachusetts win got a bit more press than it maybe normally would on a day with over 20 contests because of the Ted Kennedy endorsement of Obama prior to Super Tuesday.
GOP Influence: This one had home state alert written all over it as soon as Mitt Romney entered the race for the GOP nomination. Moving on.
Contest Company: Super Tuesday
Grade: B-
Comments: One of the last states to move in the lead up to the 2008 primary season (November of 2007), Massachusetts played what FHQ refers to as the "Keeping Up with the Super Tuesdays" strategy. The Bay state, like California and New York, moved from Super Tuesday 2004 to Super Tuesday 2008. Typically that means no move at all, but in a year when the momentum was behind the idea of holding a delegate selection event on February 5, it meant frontloading and moving up a month.

2004 Date/contest type: 2-7-04/primary
2008 Date/contest type: 1-15-08/primary
Dem. Influence: I've read something about this contest somewhere. I just can't remember where I saw it or what it was about. It seems like someone wasn't on the ballot because the Michigan contest broke Democratic Party rules. Does that ring a bell with anyone?
GOP Influence: This was a partial favorite son state for Romney and really only had the effect of keeping the former Massachusetts governor alive until Super Tuesday. The contest did count (immediately) for the GOP, though with a penalty of half the state's delegation.
Contest Company: Stand-alone contest
Grade: F
Comments: Michigan falls even lower than Florida simply because not only did the state's January 15 primary lead to the debacle the Democratic Party finally solved on May 31, but because, the state did not have any real effect on the Republican nomination either. The ballot issue on the Democratic side pushed this one over the edge.

2004 Date/contest type: 3-2-04/caucus
2008 Date/contest type: 2-5-08/caucus
Dem. Influence: Caucus means Obama. Haven't you ever heard that old expression?
GOP Influence: Caucus means...oh this is the GOP, so uh, Romney.
Contest Company: Super Tuesday
Grade: B+
Comments: The Land of 10,000 Lakes was another of the "Keeping Up with the Super Tuesdays" states. But Minnesota had the fortune of having held a caucus, which proved a beneficial system of delegate selection to the Obama (and Romney) campaign(s).

2004 Date/contest type: 3-9-04/primary
2008 Date/contest type: 3-11-08/primary
Dem. Influence: A large African American turnout made this one less exciting than a stand-alone contest might otherwise have been. This one was a near certainty for Obama even after Clinton's wins in Texas and Ohio a week earlier.
GOP Influence: A week late and a dollar short. Mississippi had the honor of being the first contest after McCain wrapped up the Republican nomination. That hurt.
Contest Company: Stand-alone contest
Grade: C-
Comments: Standing in place had one positive effect for the Magnolia state: the three southern states that held contests on the same date as Mississippi in 2004 abandon ship leaving Mississippi all by its lonesome on March 11. Sadly, that date was a week too late or the contest was not competitive enough for the state to have been meaningful.

2004 Date/contest type: 2-3-04/primary
2008 Date/contest type: 2-5-08/primary
Dem. Influence: A tight contest but one that got lost among many of the bigger delegate prizes of the day. Early February in 2004 was better than in 2008 for Missouri.
GOP Influence: Missouri was further evidence of McCain's dominance in winner-take-all states on Super Tuesday. The Arizona senator won by 2 points with 33% of the vote and got all 58 of the state's delegates.
Contest Company: Super Tuesday
Grade: C+
Comments: The Show-Me state held still after 2004 and watched as the field around them on February 5 got bigger and bigger and bigger. Bellwether that it is though, Missouri correctly tapped both Obama and McCain as the winners on Super Tuesday.

2004 Date/contest type: 6-8-04/primary (Dem.)
2008 Date/contest type: 2-5-08/caucus (GOP)--6-3-08/primary (Dem.)
Dem. Influence: Montana helped bring up the rear and in the process put Obama over the top in the delegate count. Being decisive helps.
GOP Influence: The state GOP in Montana opted for an early caucus and as a result got lost in among the bigger states of the day. McCain did well enough in the winner-take-all states that he could cede the caucus states of the day to Romney.
Contest Company: Super Tuesday (GOP)--South Dakota (Dem.)
Grade: B
Comments: Montana was invisible on the Republican side on Super Tuesday but decisive for the Democrats. Being last is good when you can be the state that "decides" the nomination.

2004 Date/contest type: 5-11-04/primary
2008 Date/contest type: 2-9-08/caucus (Dem.)--5-13-08/primary (GOP)
Dem. Influence: The Democrats in Nebraska opted to hold a first-ever caucus and ended up helping start an Obama streak of wins and continue his streak of caucus dominance.
GOP Influence: Ho hum. Another post-Ohio/Texas contest that ceded attention to the Democrats. This one didn't even have a delegate-allocating, Democratic contest on the same day.
Contest Company: Kansas, Louisiana and Washington (Dem.)--Stand-alone contest (GOP)
Grade: C+
Comments: Nebraska gets that early caucus boost on the Democratic side, but the meaningless GOP contest and the fact that the Democrats could have gained much more by staying in place and holding a primary on the same day as West Virginia both hurt.

2004 Date/contest type: 2-14-04/caucus (Dem.)
2008 Date/contest type: 1-19-08/caucus
Dem. Influence: Iowa was one thing, but Nevada was the point that Obama's caucus prowess was truly revealed. He lost the popular vote, but won the delegate battle. This will be one that Clinton supporters will point to when they make the case against caucuses in the future.
GOP Influence: The GOP meanwhile was focused on South Carolina. Romney won the caucus going away, but against a field that was focused further east.
Contest Company: South Carolina (GOP)
Grade: B
Comments: Nevada did well in its new, favored position among the Democratic contests. No Nevada contest on the presidential level (in the primary phase) had ever been so meaningful. On the GOP side? Well, here's hoping South Carolina doesn't hold a contest on the same day in 2012.

New Hampshire:
2004 Date/contest type: 1-27-04/caucus (Dem.)
2008 Date/contest type: 1-8-08/caucus (Dem.)--2-3-08/caucus (GOP)
Dem. Influence: Clinton's win was foreshadowing of the back and forth nature of the Obama/Clinton race. A struggle that was abated only by the late February Obama streak.
GOP Influence: McCain solidified himself as the new front-runner for the GOP nomination. Enough said.
Contest Company: Stand-alone contests
Grade: A
Comments: Maybe the Clintons made a mistake by not re-settling in New Hampshire following their eight years in the White House. With Clinton bouncing back from her Iowa third place finish and McCain doing likewise from his summer 2007 swoon, New Hampshire is the home of political comebacks on the presidential level. Comebacks aside, being first (or almost first) is a plus, just as it is in Iowa.

New Jersey:
2004 Date/contest type: 6-8-04/primary
2008 Date/contest type: 2-5-08/primary
Dem. Influence: The result was closer than one would have thought, given that a New Yorker was running. Clinton's presence on the ballot, though, meant the focus would be somewhere other than New Jersey on Super Tuesday.
GOP Influence
: McCain's win moved Huckabee into "believe in miracles not math" mode. It was the beginning of the end for the former Arkansas governor in demographically hostile territory (save western Virginia).
Contest Company: Super Tuesday
Grade: F
Comments: Stay in June and be forgotten or move and be overshadowed by bigger states on Super Tuesday. That was the dilemma that faced the New Jersey state government in the lead up to 2008. They chose the latter (twice) in an effort to at least have a say in who the nominees would be. Hindsight being what it is, though, it is easy to say this, but New Jersey messed up twice; first moving away from their traditional first week in June primary date (when they would have been the biggest draw over Montana and South Dakota) and then moving again from the final week in February (when the Garden state would have been the only game in town) to Super Tuesday (when they weren't). There have been several "what ifs" about states that moved their delegate selection events for 2008. Political science colleagues and fellow bloggers, Matthew Shugart ( and Steven Taylor ( have examined the moves in California and Alabama, respectively. None of the frontloaders for 2008 match New Jersey though. Sick of being last and having no say in who either party's nominees were, legislators in New Jersey acted to move the state's 2008 primary to February 26. That was an open week ahead of the contests in Ohio, Rhode Island, Texas and Vermont. As more and more states moved to February 5, signaling an earlier end to the nomination contests (and, hey, if you take the most recent nomination campaigns as a guide, then you can't fault the thought process), New Jersey opted to move again in order to have at least some say in who the nominees of the parties would be. In the process of course, the state moved away from what would have been two advantageous dates; dates that would have granted New Jersey a much larger influence than what they got on Super Tuesday. But the Garden state is well positioned for 2012 should the process revert to form then.

New Jersey ended things on a low note, but this is a group of states that did pretty well by moving (or not moving) their primaries or caucuses. Of course, early states like Nevada and New Hampshire averaged out states like Michigan and New Jersey where moves backfired and cost each influence over the process.

Up next: New Mexico through South Carolina.

Recent Posts:
The Electoral College Map (6/11/08)

The What If Primary: Louisiana Politics Goes National

2008 Primary and Caucus Grades, Part Two


Robert said...

I believe that someone brought up the idea that a McCain victory could lead to a disaster for "real" Republicans. That idea was not accepted by the group, but it looks like Stuart Rothenberg haas a similar opinion.

Josh Putnam said...

Here's that link from Rob.