The future, Conan? Looking past Feb. 5

With all the talk about the Democratic race stretching on beyond Super Tuesday, I think it’s instructive to actually look at the calendar to see what lies ahead after February 5.

On February 9, Louisiana (56 delegates) and the mighty U.S. Virgin Islands (3 delegates) have primaries, and Nebraska (24) and Washington (78) have caucuses. The next day, February 10, Maine (24) has its caucuses. Then comes the “Beltway Primary” two days later, as D.C. (15), Maryland (70) and Virginia (83) all vote on February 12. So that’s 353 delegates at stake in eight primaries and caucuses over the course of a week.

After that, things get a bit more chronologically sparse. One week after Beltway Tuesday, Wisconsin (74) has a primary and Hawaii (20) has caucuses, both on February 19. Then we get two weeks off before the potentially decisive primaries on March 4 — the original Super Tuesday — in Texas (193), Ohio (141), Rhode Island (21) and Vermont (15).

It seems pretty likely that the race will effectively be decided either on Beltway Tuesday or on Old Super Tuesday (a.k.a. Longhorn/Buckeye Tuesday). But if it still remains competitve, the calendar then starts to get really weird.

The great Democratic state of Wyoming (12) is all by itself with caucuses on March 8. Only a dozen delegates, but oh, the momentum! (Just ask Mitt Romney! Oh wait…) That will be followed by the Mississippi primary (33) on March 11.

And then.. nothing! For over a month!

The next vote is on April 22, when Pennsylvania (158) holds a primary. If the race is still going at that point, residents of the Keystone State will get to find out what it’s like to be Iowa and New Hampshire: they will become the center of the political world from March 11 until April 22. Who’d have thunk it?

Leaving aside the primary in Guam (3) on May 3, there will effectively be another two-week break before voters in Indiana (72) and North Carolina (115) go to the polls on May 6. If they’re still battling by then, I imagine Hillary and Barack would both visit South Bend, causing me to become extremely jealous. Next comes West Virginia (28) on May 13, then Kentucky (51) and Oregon (52) on May 20. Wrapping things up are Puerto Rico (55) on June 1, and South Dakota (15) and Montana (16) on June 3. (All of the May and June races are primaries, not caucuses.)

In my judgment (which, I remind you, is always, always, always, always, always wrong), Super Tuesday is likely to produce one of two scenarios in the overarching campaign storyline. Either: 1) Hillary wins enough states — close delegate counts notwithstanding — that she re-emerges as a "near-inevitable" candidate, and the Beltway Primary a week later comes to be seen as "Obama’s last stand." Or: 2) Obama wins enough states that the commentariat continues to regard the race as legitimately close, and conventional wisdom will rapidly coalesce around the idea that March 4 is the new Big Important Day When Everything Will Be Decided. In other words, Old Super Tuesday is the new Super Tuesday!

But what if the race is still in flux when all the March 4 votes are counted? Some math is necessary here: according to the Green Papers, there are a total of 4,049 delegates (not counting Florida and Michigan), of which 3,253 are "pledged" and 796 are unpledged superdelegates. A total of 2,208 delegates are needed to secure the nomination. By my count, 2,643 pledged delegates will have been awarded through March 5, while 610 will still be outstanding. So, to secure the nomination with pledged delegates alone, a candidate would need to have won roughly 84% of the pledged delegates awarded between January 3 and March 4. Obviously, with a proportional-allocation system, that’s not going to happen.

However, let’s say the pledged delegate count when March 5 dawns looks something like Clinton 1,600, Obama 1,000. Hillary would still be a good 600+ short of clinching the nomination with her pledged delegates alone, but the fickle superdelegates would have begun flocking to her in droves (she’s already got 186 of ’em) and the pressure on Obama to drop out would become enormous. Game over — maybe not mathematically, but for all practical intents and purposes. Same deal, methinks, if it’s around 1,500 to 1,100.

On the other hand, what if it’s more like Clinton 1,400, Obama 1,200? That’s a bit more interesting. Or how about Clinton 1,350, Obama 1,250? Now we’re talking. Nobody’s going to hound Barack out of the race with numbers like that. Hillary will get some more superdelegate commitments, but so will he, and suddenly, everyone will start focusing on the all-important April and May primaries in Pennsylvania, Indiana, North Carolina, Kentucky and Oregon. Imagine.

Of course, if we get to that point, it will already have become impossible for either candidate to clinch the nomination with pledged delegates alone. And proportional delegate allocation means that those April, May and June states will only be able to nudge the delegate race a little bit in one direction or the other, not dramatically alter it, let alone end it. Basically, it’ll be a battle to get as many delegates firmly in your corner as you can, while also starting the pre-convention posturing and politicking, lobbying the undeclared superdelegates and fighting over those Michigan and Florida delegate slates.

In the unlikely event that the race remains undecided to the bitter end, it’ll be three very long months between the South Dakota and Montana primaries on June 3 and the first day of the convention in Denver on August 25.

(Information via NPR and Wikipedia.)

17 Responses to “The future, Conan? Looking past Feb. 5”

  1. a.j. says:

    Y’know, no one’s mentioned that Super Tuesday is also Mardi Gras. Just what this country needs: Drunk people voting.

  2. Joe Loy says:

    You have learned Well, young padawan :}.

    “Y’know, no one’s mentioned that Super Tuesday is also Mardi Gras.”

    Actually, a.j., I believe that Alabama did mutter something about that. :>

    “Just what this country needs: Drunk people voting.”

    a.j., as the Wag stated longlong ago, the people of Nebraska will continue to vote Dry as long as they can still Stagger to the polls. ;}

  3. Brian Foster says:

    In my judgment (which, I remind you, is always, always, always, always, always wrong)

    In all fairness, Brendan, I feel it would be a disservice not to remind you that shortly after I made this comment, in which I predicted — accurately, it would appear :) — that Romney was this year’s Howard Dean, and that some left-for-dead candidate would rise from the ashes to claim the GOP nomination, you responded that my “somebody else” was named John McCain, and it appears you were correct on that.

    As for the likelihood of a brokered Dem convention —

    I can’t believe I haven’t seen more discussion of this, but surely it cannot have escaped general notice that this year’s campaign is bearing incredibly eerily uncannily close resemblance to another presidential election that took place within our lifetimes. Consider:

    In both the current election and the other one, a maverick senator from a western state banked his campaign on the respect and high marks he received from moderates and independents as well as the press, even as he had trouble with his own party’s base. He started out slow, in part because he refused to tell people what they wanted to hear (i.e., not catering to King Corn in Iowa), but as his unwavering principles and straight talk permeated the campaign discourse and after the initial small-state contests, he began to shore up support in larger states that then translated into victories in more traditional Republican strongholds, other candidates dropped out one by one, and in the final round of primaries he secured decisive victories that left him with enough delegates to cruise to the convention as his party’s unlikely, but undisputed, standard bearer.

    Meanwhile, on the Dem side, the parallels are not quite as airtight, but close — the race was supposed to be dominated by three party insiders (here, a former VP / former presidential candidate, a former VP candidate and a former “co-president”; in the earlier election, a popular governor, an incumbent VP and a former VP) instead got turned upside-down by two unexpected developments — first, one of the three insiders in each election chose not to run (here, the former VP / former presidential candidate; in the earlier election, the popular governor), and second, the arrival of a relatively inexperienced (just a few years served in Congress) “outsider” candidate, short on legislative accomplishment but long on inspiring oratory and soaring rhetoric — a minority candidate who energized new voters and captured the attention of a nation, perhaps out of proportion to his actual success in the polls and early nominating contests. When one of the two remaining “insiders” suspended his campaign, that left the young fresh minority candidate and the remaining party insider to battle it out all the way to a brokered convention.

    Yes, my friends — the 2008 presidential election already happened. In 2006. On television. On The West Wing.

    Vinick was McCain, obviously. (The writers admitted that at the time.) Santos is Obama. Russell is Hillary. Hoynes is Edwards. Baker is Gore. Butler is Huckabee. Walken is Thompson. (It’s unclear precisely who Rudy and Romney were, as the rest of the GOP field was not really mentioned on the show.)

    So, assuming this uncanny similarity can be used to make predictions, what can we expect? First, for the GOP:

    McCain will eventually secure the nomination, but he won’t have it locked up on Super Tuesday. It will drag on for a while, as Huckabee (not Romney) continues to wage a strong challenge from the religious right, but McCain will eventually get the delegates he needs.

    He’ll first consider asking Huckabee to be his VP nominee, but Huckabee will preemptively decline, citing irreconcilable differences on immigration.

    McCain will realize that he needs a geographically diverse governor who can help shore up the base — a traditional conservative strong with both the religious bloc and the fiscal/economic bloc within the GOP. He will find that social conservative, fiscally bona fide midwestern governor —

    Welcome to the ticket, Mitch Daniels (R-IN).

    As for the Dems:

    Hillary and Obama will enter the convention with neither one having a lock on the nomination. The convention will deadlock on the first ballot. Hillary, in her arrogance, will try to buy off Obama with the VP spot, but Obama will refuse.

    At this point, the show’s parallel would call for Hillary offering the VP spot to Gore in exchange for his support at the convention, and for Gore to turn her down and instead offer himself as a compromise candidate to the delegates. This has some appeal, of course, but I think it’s more likely that Baker’s actual positional doppelganger will play that role. Thus, I expect that after the convention deadlocks, Hillary will ask PA governor Ed Rendell to join her as VP, but he will instead throw his hat in the ring. The second ballot will go to Rendell in a plurality, but not enough to nominate him.

    Unnamed party elders (Dean? Kerry? Gore?) will begin to put pressure on Obama to drop out and endorse either Hillary or Rendell so the third ballot will be decisive. He’s given the chance to speak to the convention to announce his withdrawal and endorsement. But instead he gives a rousing speech that reminds everyone of how they fell in love with him in the first place, and Obama wins a small majority of the delegates on the third ballot.

    Who does Obama pick for VP? Hillary’s a non-starter for him, and Rendell will take himself out of consideration just as quickly as he put himself in. Obama will realize that as much as he thinks change is the needed ingredient, he’s up against a vastly more experienced and credentialed ticket in McCain-Daniels, so he turns to someone with the foreign policy cred and overall resume he needs to balance his vision with some real-world practicality.

    Welcome to the ticket, Wesley Clark.

    So there you have it — Obama-Clark v. McCain-Daniels.

    McCain comes out of the conventions with a huge lead thanks to the shenanigans at the Dem convention denying Obama a clear platform from which to launch his campaign. If life continues to imitate the show, then the only way Obama can win is if Wesley Clark dies on Election Day, because had it not been for actor John Spencer’s death, the writers planned to have Vinick win the election. Thus, so will McCain eke out a narrow victory, unless the cruel hand of fate takes Clark from Obama, in which case it will offer him the presidency as a consolation prize.

  4. David K. says:

    There is something wrong, when in a blog post this long, there is a COMMENT thats even longer…

  5. Sean says:

    Poor Virginia and Virgin Islands. I know virginity’s just another state of being and it’s okay to wait for the right somebody… but seriously, it’s been since the Age of Exploration! They should just make a pact and help each other with their little problem.

  6. Brendan Loy says:


    I’m not sure a pact is a good idea, though. The girl always finds out about the pact after the guy, who was originally just trying to bed her, has in fact fallen in love with her — and then she becomes convinced his feelings aren’t genuine, and it causes all kinds of problems. At least, that’s what 1,294 Hollywood movies have taught me.

  7. B. Minich says:

    Wow – not only do I now live in Maryland, a state that will count for something, but my old state, Pennsylvania, may count for something! I don’t think Pennsylvanians are going to be used to this – it will all be quite new to them. After all, this is a state that took the “big” step of moving the primary . . . from May to April! Nice work there, mates!

  8. Condor says:

    “He will find that social conservative, fiscally bona fide midwestern governor —

    Welcome to the ticket, Mitch Daniels (R-IN).”


  9. Condor says:

    I here, today, promise to pay Brian Foster the contents of my bank account in the event that Mitch Daniels, the man who last time I checked had a 37% approval rating in Indiana, and who as director of the White House Budget Office called an estimate of $400 billion for the Iraq war “very, very high” is on the Republican ticket this fall.

  10. Angrier and Angrier says:

    Mitch Daniels:

    1 – No one knows who this guy is outside of Indiana and the Beltway.

    2 – He’s got a personality that makes Dick Cheney look like Lawrence Welk.

    3 – He’s incompetent

    4 – He’s ugly

    5 – He brings nothing to a McCain ticket that would satisfy the base

    6 – Oh, and he’s a friggin’ BUSHIE!!!! McCain may pay the Bushies lip service, but there’s no way in hell he is going to have one as his VP.

  11. Brian Foster says:


    I’m not quite sure how you missed it, but my entire post was tongue-in-cheek. I might have missed someone (VT governor Douglas, perhaps, or possibly MO governor Blunt), but I believe that Mitch Daniels is the only current non-Western Republican governor who comes anywhere close to doing for McCain what WV governor Sullivan did for Vinick, and that was the highly artificial and unrealistic set of criteria to which I bound myself for that post.

    That said, if McCain actually does end up picking Daniels, I will happily accept all of your assets. Thanks.

  12. Brian Foster says:

    Oh, that was also a response to A&A. Except for the bank account part. (Although I’ll accept any offering of tribute from A&A as well, if he’d like to make one.)

  13. Condor says:

    My bad on that one, Brian. I have a Mitch Daniels radar which hones in on Mitch Daniels sentences regardless of the Mitch Daniels context.

  14. Condor says:

    By the way, it’s extremely hard to pull of political satire on a message board in this political climate.

  15. Condor says:

    “pull off”

  16. Ed says:

    BL- if there is a chance for a brokered convention, my guess is the Dems would rightly reduce the magic number of delegates necessary to win, proportionally reflective of the fact that FL and MI failed to sit any (non-super)delegations.

    Of course, they could do the truly evil thing and sit those delegations. But I’d be interested in knowing what percentage of the delegates are affected, and what the new magic nom number would be.

  17. Anonymous says:

    check out the vid and comment