Thursday, June 12, 2008

2008 Primary and Caucus Grades, Part Four

Today FHQ takes you on a trip back in time to review the influence states from Vermont in the east to Oregon in the west, from North Dakota in the north to Texas in the south had on the the nomination races in 2008. Granted this is an alphabetical trip, so I can't really pick and choose. Well, I guess I already did. I choose to go through the state contests alphabetically.

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.

New Mexico:
2004 Date/contest type: 2-3-04/caucus (Dem.)
2008 Date/contest type: 2-5-08/caucus (Dem.)--6-3-08/primary (GOP)
Dem. Influence: New Mexico's Democratic contest stretched beyond Super Tuesday to be officially decided. When it was, the win provided Clinton with her only break from the Obama streak during February. Of course that news was blunted by the resignation of Patti Solis-Doyle (Clinton's original campaign manager) and Clinton's original loan to her campaign around the same time.
GOP Influence: I saw a lot more about Montana and South Dakota than I did about New Mexico's Republican primary.
Contest Company: Super Tuesday (Dem.)--South Dakota (GOP)
Grade: C-
Comments: New Mexico avoided being lost in the shuffle because ballot counting extended into the next week. However, while the Democratic primary didn't get lost among all those other Super Tuesday contests, but that news got filed away behind other news and Obama's streak. The GOP contest? Well, that one fell way after the point at which McCain had wrapped up the nomination, stuck in the background of the final Democratic contests.

New York:
2004 Date/contest type: 3-2-04/primary
2008 Date/contest type: 2-5-08/primary
Dem. Influence: Clinton played to her advantage on home turf. Much of the focus then was on other contests on a busy day.
GOP Influence: While Romney was busy winning caucuses, McCain was taking care of business in the winner-take-all states. If Obama built his delegate edge on caucus states, McCain used winner-take-all states similarly.
Contest Company: Super Tuesday
Grade: B+
Comments: Another "keeping up with the Super Tuesdays" state. New York is a big delegate "get" in both parties, but Clinton had the "home state" advantage in the Empire state and McCain took charge in yet another winner-take-all primary.

North Carolina:
2004 Date/contest type: 3-9-04/caucus (Dem.)
2008 Date/contest type: 5-6-08/primary
Dem. Influence: The Democratic primary mattered because Clinton's win in Pennsylvania two weeks earlier had cast doubt on Obama's inevitability and because the polls had closed to within the margin of error in the final days. Adding to that drama, North Carolina has been bandied about as a swing state in the fall with Obama at the top of the ticket.
GOP Influence: They had a contest? All I heard was how Obama won by a margin that was well behind where the polls had him in the state.
Contest Company: Indiana
Grade: A-
Comments: After holding primaries after the time during which the nominations had been settled for twenty years, the North Carolina legislature considered moving its primary, but the bill got stuck in committee and kept the Tarheel state primary in May. It didn't matter as the campaign stretched beyond March for the first time in nearly as many years.

North Dakota:
2004 Date/contest type: 2-3-04/caucus (Dem.)
2008 Date/contest type: 2-5-08/caucus
Dem. Influence: This one gets a caucus bump for Obama, but it was a forgotten contest on Super Tuesday.
GOP Influence: See above (and insert Romney's name).
Contest Company: Super Tuesday
Grade: C+
Comments: If it wasn't bad enough that North Dakota had considered changing the state's name to simply Dakota, the major candidates didn't pay them much mind either. Then again, North Dakota did hold its caucuses during Super Tuesday. They did get some attention during their late March state convention and received a caucus boost, but the Peace Garden state still didn't get much out of being where they were on Super Tuesday.

2004 Date/contest type: 3-2-04/primary
2008 Date/contest type: 3-4-08/primary
Dem. Influence: After Obama's streak of eleven victories, Ohio was a welcome and big victory for Clinton. That win along with Pennsylvania helped drive home her "swing state" electoral college argument. When that argument was first made it didn't actually make sense given the polls, but later came to be a vital part of her fading argument to the party's superdelegates.
GOP Influence: McCain sealed the deal with the knockout blow made up of Texas/Ohio. It is to the Arizona senator, what Montana was to Obama, the state that put him over the top.
Contest Company: Rhode Island, Texas, Vermont
Grade: A-
Comments: Ohio's legislature toyed with the notion of joining Florida on January 29, but ultimately held in place on March 4. That saved the state the headache of dealing with the Florida/Michigan problem and got the state a prominent position in the Democratic race and a close out spot in the GOP battle.

2004 Date/contest type: 2-3-04/primary
2008 Date/contest type: 2-5-08/primary
Dem. Influence: A big win for Clinton in terms of margin, but the regional ties to Arkansas had much to do with the former first lady's success there on Super Tuesday.
GOP Influence: Those same regional ties did not benefit the former Arkansas governor, as McCain took Oklahoma on Super Tuesday.
Contest Company: Super Tuesday
Grade: C
Comments: The Sooner state definitely did better by being earlier in 2004. A narrow Wes Clarke win then really hurt Edwards. In 2008, the rest of the crowd joined Oklahoma and rendered the state's primary much less influential.

2004 Date/contest type: 5-18-04/primary
2008 Date/contest type: 5-20-08/primary
Dem. Influence: Oregon pushed Obama over the top in terms of pledged delegates. He had a majority of those delegates after the Beaver state. It was a short trip from that milestone (and a valuable decision from the party's Rules and Bylaws Committee) to claiming the actual nomination two weeks later.
GOP Influence: Like so many contests after Ohio/Texas on March 4 when McCain claimed the mantle of presumptive nominee, Oregon just didn't mean as much with a competitive race on the other side. Down-ballot races in those same primaries took pre-eminence for the GOP.
Contest Company: Kentucky
Grade: C+
Comments: A milestone win on the Democratic side and a non-starter for the GOP made for mixed results for the primary in Oregon. There was a proposal to move the state's primary, but it didn't take. That "gridlock" made Oregon's primary meaningful if only because the Democratic contest obliged the Beaver state by lasting that long.

2004 Date/contest type: 4-27-04/primary
2008 Date/contest type: 4-22-08/primary
Dem. Influence: A six week slog that continued Clinton's resurgence, Pennsylvania was an instrumental piece of the primary season equation in the Democratic race.
GOP Influence: The commonwealth is a swing state, so McCain spent some time there, but didn't break a sweat worrying about Ron Paul or defiant Huckabee supporters. Perhaps I should refer to the Paul folks as defiant.
Contest Company: Stand-alone contests
Grade: A-
Comments: No state outside of Iowa got as much of a break as Pennsylvania. The layover between Mississippi's contest on March 11 and Pennsylvania's on April 22 could only be rivaled by the time between the last contest of 2004 and Iowa's caucuses in 2008 in this cycle. That's a fair amount of attention.

Rhode Island:
2004 Date/contest type: 3-2-04/primary
2008 Date/contest type: 3-4-08/primary
Dem. Influence: Rhode Island helped keep Clinton alive after the February Obama streak.
GOP Influence: Without a northeasterner in the race anymore, McCain only had to fend off Mike Huckabee (who was focused on Texas) in the Ocean state.
Contest Company: Ohio, Texas and Vermont
Grade: C
Comments: Along with Vermont, Rhode Island played the role of little brother to contests in Ohio and Texas on March 4. The Ocean state was a part of the Clinton run through the day's contests, though.

South Carolina:
2004 Date/contest type: 2-3-04/primary (Dem.)
2008 Date/contest type: 1-19-08/primary (GOP)--1-26-08/primary (Dem.)
Dem. Influence: The lead up to South Carolina began the Clinton's long (inadvertent) effort to estrange black voters. Both the former first lady and the former president's comments damaged the New York senator's chances of legitimately keeping that voting bloc competitive with Obama.
GOP Influence
: The gateway to the South is always an important contest and a role South Carolina's primary has filled on the GOP side since the 1990s. McCain's win in the Palmetto state (holding off Huckabee) made a big difference heading into Florida a week later. A Huckabee win there likely would have meant the former Arkansas governor would have been slightly more competitive in the Sunshine state. Instead he had to cede the state and shift his focus and limited resources to Super Tuesday contests.
Contest Company: Nevada (GOP)--Stand-alone (Dem.)
Grade: A
Comments: It is difficult to discount an early state and South Carolina fits that bill. All the woulda, coulda, shouldas spring forth from those early contests before momentum builds behind one candidate. That momentum could be felt in the GOP race through South Carolina, but was lacking on the Democratic side.

This group of states is littered with states with legislatures who considered frontloading moves, but ultimately didn't. The nature of the race in 2008 helped to make many of those states relevant in the presidential nomination decision-making process for the first time in a couple of decades. As I've maintained, those same states shouldn't stand idly by before 2012 waiting for 2008 to repeat itself. Without major reform, 2012 will mark a return to the way things were in the nomination game prior to this cycle. This group also benefited from New York, Ohio and Pennsylvania, several heavy hitters in the delegate game, being among its ranks.

Up next: South Dakota through Wyoming.

Recent Posts:
2008 Primary and Caucus Grades, Part Three

The Electoral College Map (6/11/08)

The What If Primary: Louisiana Politics Goes National

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