Sunday, January 20, 2008

How the West Was Won, or Was It?

Go West, Democrats! The Nevada caucuses marked the first contest in the West, not to mention the first test in a state where diversity is a real factor. After a split decision in the first two contests and a national party power play rendering the Michigan Democratic results useless, this was the next round in what has become a tense intraparty rumble between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama. If the Dems aren't careful, this rivalry could degenerate into a truly disabling search and destroy mission -- leaving the "winner" wounded going into the general election and providing free ammo for the guns of Republican swift boats.

The turbulence was evident in both candidates' response to the Nevada outcome. Clinton said caucus voters, who came out in record numbers, gave her the nod because "They want somebody who's going to give them solutions, not just rhetoric." And Obama didn't even bother to congratulate Clinton in his statement -- he merely talked about how proud he was of his own campaign.

Perhaps Obama didn't congratulate Clinton because he doesn't believe he got beat -- and with good reason. Why? Well, its got to do with the assignment of state delegates in rural areas and a strange twist just reminiscent enough of 2000 to make me queasy. Despite Clinton's six point victory in the popular vote -- thanks in large part to women and Latinos, the latter of which supported her by a three to one margin -- state party rules actually give Obama a sliver of a lead in actual state delegates (13 to 12). While Nevada's national delegates won't be decided until April, it appears we're likely to have an electoral college-like result. And -- it could only happen in Vegas -- one precinct broke a tie by a draw of the cards; Clinton won, ironically enough, with the Queen of Hearts.

These delegate numbers become more and more important as this war of attrition progresses towards its rocky mountain conclusion at the party's convention in Denver. Could the convention actually be used to iron out the party's nomination, rather than merely putting icing on the cake of a fait accompli? It's a tantalizing thought. But in the meantime, the spin machines are in high gear, trying to assure their camp at least a rhetorical win and thus the all important claim to the "Big Mo" going into South Carolina.

As for John Edwards, he finished third with a wrenching, Dennis Kucinich-like four percent of the vote. He has vowed to fight on, riding a rich message despite his cash-poor campaign.

For John McCain, the win in South Carolina was sweet vindication after the vicious statewide smear campaign that stopped him cold in 2000. Plus, he was quick to point out that the Republican candidate who wins South Carolina typically wins the nomination. Tell that to Mitt Romney, who took Nevada gold.

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