1.29.2008

How important is Florida's Democratic primary?

Hillary Clinton is doing what she can to make Florida matter. She is holding a rally tonight in Florida after the polls close (well at 7pm, so an hour before). The pledge forbids pre-election campaigning, but says nothing about celebrating results in the state. That also probably means that she will deliver a victory speech tonight, and the networks will probably cover it since they will be on air anyway covering the GOP race. The Clinton campaign also organized a conference call today to push coverage of Florida. Howard Wolfson, for example, emphasized that it was, "heartening and extraordinary to see record numbers of people coming out and saying that their preferences and their voices and their choices matter."

The Obama camp has been trying to dismiss Florida for weeks, arguing that the primary here is a beauty contest with no delegates. And they rolled out John Kerry today to argue against the Clinton spin: "As voters look to the meaning of the Florida primary, they’re not looking of this kind of tactic." But how much does it matter that the state has no delegates? The odds of the convention being brokered are still extremely low, for they requires results to stay close until the summer and John Edwards to get a lot of delegates. While delegates will not be added tonight, the winner of a primary contest is usually determined by how manages expectations and the flow of momentum the best. And until we get a better indication that delegates will matter, the fact of the matter is that Florida will be a welcome break after a few days of (very) bad news for the Clinton campaign.

If the importance of Florida is momentum rather than delegates, the question is whether Super Tuesday voters care about Florida not having delegates? And will they even know that it does not and will they understand why that could matter (which I am not even sure it does until we know that the convention is brokered)? Or will they just tune in to see that Clinton has won in one of the biggest states in the country against the entire field -- unlike Michigan?

The answers to these questions are very much up in the air. We don't know what impact Florida might have, and it depends on three things:

  • Margin: How much does Clinton win by? If she gets a big victory -- crossing 50% -- it is hard to ignore the fact that a majority of voters went for her. After all, her rival campaigns like to point out that most of the party is anti-Clinton. On the other hand, if Barack manages to keep it close it will serve as more evidence that Clinton is going down rapidly and that the Kennedy endorsement is playing out big in Obama's favor.
  • Turnout: How many voters go to the polls? Most estimations are that it will be more than a million, and remember that there is a controversial initiative on the ballot today on property taxes that has attracted a lot of spending and that could drive up turnout.
  • Media coverage: This is obviously the big question. Will the networks tonight and the press tomorrow cover this primary? This is where it gets tricky. It obviously depends on turnout and margins, but there is no question that the Democratic primary will be massively overshadowed by the GOP contest given how huge that one is. But that also means that the Democratic primary will get some coverage no matter what and if Clinton delivers a speech tonight it is likely to be covered.
One last thought on Florida: If Clinton loses the race (which would be a gigantic polling error next to which New Hampshire would look like it was spot-on), it could be a lot of fun to see the Obama campaign start arguing for why Florida matters and that turnout was big and see the Clinton campaign argue that this is a fight for delegates.

Meanwhile, Hillary Clinton got some more good news by grabbing an endorsement by Maxine Waters, an African-American representative from California who is considered one of the more left-of-center congresswoman in DC. Considering the building perception that Hillary is sinking among black voters and that nearly everyone who is endorsing over the past 3-4 days is going for Barack, this at least provides some comfort to the Clintons.

And Obama has received the endorsement of Kansas Governor Sibelius, who could be a big help in February 5th. I already covered and analyzed this on Sunday, when the first reports had emerged, but the media appears to be really covering it only now. Obama's goal on Super Tuesday is to do well in the interior states to hit Clinton's inability to win away from the coasts, so doing well in Kansas is an important part of his strategy.

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