A Liberal Soldier?

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The Florida results are in. John McCain and Hillary Clinton have taken the last primary before the avalanche of votes on Super Tuesday in one week from today. What do today’s results tell us about what’s to come?

A few things. First, it looks increasingly likely that McCain and Mike Huckabee are preparing to run for the Whitehouse as a team. Despite tonight’s win, McCain still has a significant weakness: his bitter unpopularity with "conservatives" in the Republican Party. It was that weakness that Mitt Romney sought to exploit in the last 48 hours, by reminding voters at every occasion that McCain is a "liberal."

Huckabee, by contrast, has strong support from evangelicals across the South and South West of the country. They may not be exactly the same group that is drawn to Romney’s slick, big business appeal, but they are still an important voting block for the Republican primaries. And tonight’s exit polls show that evangelicals split their votes between Romney and Huckabee.

In his victory speech this evening, McCain gave special thanks to Huckabee for bringing "humour and grace" to the campaign. It’s looking more and more likely that Huckabee could become McCain’s running mate.

McCain also mentioned his "dear friend," Rudy Giuliani, but with Giuliani’s poor showing in today’s poll, his campaign has fizzled to a halt. There are reports tonight that Giuliani will withdraw from the race tomorrow, and endorse McCain. The Republican field has suddenly gone from ungraspably fluid, to a focused competition between Romney and McCain.

Second, the results have put the last nails in the coffin of John Edwards’s campaign. The actual votes from Florida do not mean much for the Democrats, because the party stripped Florida of its delegates when Florida moved its primary forward to January, breaking Democrat Party rules. But the fact that Edwards has now polled in the mid-teens, a distant third, in the last two contests means that it’s just a matter of time until he pulls the plug on his campaign. There is no longer any doubt that Democratic race is now between the front-runners, Clinton and Obama.

That contest is now fierce. In the last two days, Obama scored a crucial endorsement from Democrat elder, Senator Edward Kennedy, whose reputation among Hispanics, in particular, could be crucial to Obama’s performance in States like California, where Hispanics will make their voice heard for the first time in this primary season. Also of note was the presence of Kennedy’s niece, Caroline, at the endorsement. Caroline is JFK’s only surviving child. She’s a lawyer and writer, and there is now some speculation that she could be Obama’s running mate – which might counter Clinton’s appeal to women.

Third, the stronger McCain’s prospects get, the less likely it is that New York Mayor Mike Bloomberg will jump into the fray. New York City has been rife with speculation about whether and when Bloomberg will declare, but the consensus is that he won’t run against a moderate like McCain. That’s a shame, in a sense, because it would have made for fantastic political theatre.

Of course, the real test comes next Tuesday, when 22 States lodge their votes. Given how off-beat the opinion polls have been, anything could happen. But judging by tonight’s results, it looks more and more like the presidential election will be between John McCain and Hillary Clinton.

New Matilda

New Matilda is independent journalism at its finest. The site has been publishing intelligent coverage of Australian and international politics, media and culture since 2004.

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