The GOP race post Super Tuesday: McCain is the earliest presumptive nominee in modern history

Once John McCain won Florida on January 29th, it became obvious that he was marching towards his party's nomination. With Rudy Giuliani dropping out and endorsing him and John McCain's momentum seemingly unstoppable, it was only a matter of days before he wrapped this up.

And indeed, the results of Super Tuesday leave almost no doubt that John McCain will be the Republican nominee. The most recent gives John McCain 689 delegates, Mike Huckabee 156 and Mitt Romney 133. I had explained before the contest that Romney had to stay close in the delegate count, and that involved winning the key states of Georgia and Missouri -- he won neither. He also needed to win California, less for the delegate count than for the symbol. He lagged 8 points behind.

Now, as his campaign is happy to point out, McCain needs about 400 more delegates to get to a majority. Both Huckabee and Romney need to win more than a 1,000, in other words sweep almost all the delegates that are remaining. What they could potentially do, if they both stay in the race and continue to be competitive, is get enough delegates to prevent McCain from getting those 400. But if the results in the coming states are anything like those of Tuesday -- and there really is little reason to believe that they would not be -- McCain will have no trouble reaching 1,191.

It is not so much that McCain sweeped the states that were in play, but which ones he did. McCain benefited from the strategy devised by the Giuliani campaign to make the states in which Rudy was (supposed to be) strong winner-take-all. Of the states that awarded all of their delegates to the winner, McCain won almost all of them: New York (101), New Jersey (52), Connecticut (30), Arizona (50), Delaware (18). And what must have been most frustrating for McCain's opponents, he won Missouri by only 1% but got all of the state's 58 delegates.

Compare this to Romney's delegate situation. The differences in delegate allocation rules really left him no chance whatsoever on Tuesday, in what is a very unfair system. All states should certainly roughly adopt the same counting rules -- imagine if the Democratic party in New York gave its delegate winner-take-all and Illinois gave them proportionally? Well, that is exactly what happened on Tuesday. The primary state that allocated its delegates the most proportionally was... Massachusetts, where McCain took 18 delegates. Many of the caucus states that Romney won decisively also allocated proportionally.

Romney was entirely shut out in states he did well in, for example Arizona, Missouri or the Tri-State Area. In places like New York, he got 17% more than Mike Huckabee but they both got zero delegates. But the most unfortunate development for the Romney campaign came from California. Romney got 34% of the vote there, which is a respectable showing. But the delegates are allocated by districts in California, with 3 delegates for the winner of each of the 53 districts. Romney appears to only have won 2 of those, making the delegate count a painful 164 McCain to 6 Romney. And this in a state that McCain won by only 8%! This result alone guaranteed that McCain pulled widely ahead in the delegate count.

Mike Huckabee, meanwhile, had an unexpectedly good night on Tuesday. The race had been portrayed as a two-man contest, but Huckabee reminded us that he was still in the game early on by winning West Virginia's 18 delegates (in a backroom deal with John McCain). He then convincingly won Tennessee, Georgia, Arkansas and Alabama, proving his strength among evangelicals and Southern voters.

This only makes more obvious how much South Carolina was ideal ground for Huckabee, and his failure to deliver there what he did with stunning ease Tuesday night is really what allowed McCain to take off. And it speaks volume of just how much Fred Thompson's being in the race hurt Huckabee.

The McCain camp is not particularly worried about the former Arkansas Governor. For one, Huckabee has had nothing but kind words for McCain over the past month. Second, Mike Huckabee's appeal is proving limited, as the candidate is not appealing to conservative voters outside of the South and the Midwest. Third, the conservative establishment distrusts Huckabee as much (if not more) than they do McCain and they are unlikely to rally around him the way they were trying to rally around Mitt Romney.

Romney and Huckabee have both vowed to press on, the former apparently making plans all the way to March 4th. So John McCain has to keep an eye on the primary, and try to accumulate delegates to reach a majority -- he is up with ads in Maryland, for example. But he also has an eye on the general election, and will prepare shots against the Democrats.

McCain is still distrusted by many conservatives, and is now doing an extensive outreach effort to leaders, talk-show hosts, to convince them that he can be relied on. This Politico story is a good recap of the strategy employed by his campaign, which uses surrogates to contact its targets and then gets John McCain himself on the phone. Today, McCain will speak at the Conservative Political Action Conference, an influential group that McCain had snubbed last year.

McCain is one of the earliest presumptive nominees out of a contested primary in modern history. He will have more time than anyone else before him to mend the fences with those who distrust him and then still have time to focus on Democrats and move to the center in preparation for the general election. Whether he succeeds depends on how much animosity there really is against him, as well as on his VP pick.

But he can't complain for a lack of time. Especially considering that Clinton and Obama will still be fighting it out while McCain starts positioning himself for the fall.


  • Taniel, the GOP system for producing a nominee is very fair. It respects the rights of the state parties to decide how they want to allocate their delegates, instead of enforcing some top-down system--in other words, it follows the principles of (dare I say it) a federal republican system. Since that happens to be the GOP's philosophy of choice, as espoused by their name, I find nothing wrong with it.

    If you're going to slam the GOP system as unfair, I would like to call your attention to your pre-Super Tuesday post on how Obama could tie or beat Clinton in Tennessee delegates, despite losing the statewide vote substantially. Is that system really a democratic one? Say what you will about the GOP...at least they're consistent with their name.

    Frankly, though, I think both systems are fair. Each may express a different philosophy of how candidates should be chosen, but that's fine, since the parties clearly disagree on so much else. The rules for each system were set out well in advance, so everyone knew the standards by which delegates would be allocated and what they would have to do. You can certainly make a case, as I do, for that being considered "fair."

    By Anonymous Mr. Rational, At 07 February, 2008 12:56  

  • Romney withdraws. Check out the story on any major newssite. Apparently McCain will have an even easier time positioning himself than we thought.

    By Anonymous Mr. Rational, At 07 February, 2008 13:45  

  • Now that Romney is gone and McCain has only Huck to kick around, there will be even greater pressure on young Obama to step aside and let Billary take the helm for the Dems -- you just watch!

    By Anonymous Lady Luck, At 07 February, 2008 13:50  

  • I don't think there will be pressure on Obama to step down. There will be pressure on both of them, but I expect both Democrat candidates to press on till at least March. Three weeks won't be that big a deal. The Democrats don't want the uncertainty to last till August, but being a month behind McCain won't matter given how long it is till November.

    It'll be interesting what Huckabee does now. He can step aside leaving the remaining races between McCain and Paul or press on and try to be the conservative alternative. I'm expecting the former.

    By Anonymous Asmo, At 07 February, 2008 14:07  

  • Huck has no Money. Its over.

    I think he is just bucking for a good job with McCain. And he will drop next Wed :->.

    I mean wth, its only 6 days. Maybe he can sweep the next 4-5 states and claim that he finished 2nd.

    But IMHO, Huck will drop then. Why spend 3 more weeks in a lost cause?

    Very possible with Romney dropping out today.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, At 07 February, 2008 14:43  

  • Now that Romney is gone and McCain has only Huck to kick around, there will be even greater pressure on young Obama to step aside and let Billary take the helm for the Dems

    No chance. From what Im hearing, its the other way around.

    It seems that the Demos. want in on the Obama Money machine. Just look how much he is raising, totally OUTSIDE normal Demo. doners.

    Literally millions of small doners.

    Add the normal Demo Doners, and the Bloddy Demos. could come to the party in Nov. with a billion in cash.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, At 07 February, 2008 14:46  

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