Barak Obama is on a roll for the Democratic nomination, while the "Stop McCain" movement also is gathering strength for the Republicans.
After last week's Super Tuesday results (as well as this weekend's contests for both parties around the nation), Obama clearly has the momentum for Democrats, even if the party machinery's "super delegates" appear to be favoring Clinton 2-1 and give her still a slim lead in the delegate count.
A couple of things struck me as interesting over the last week.
First, Obama's success in Idaho. Let's face it, Idaho doesn't exactly have a national reputation that would make you think an African-American would have much of a chance here. In truth, come November, if he's the nominee, he won't. This state will vote Republican in the presidential race no matter who the GOP candidate is.
But Obama was the first serious presidential candidate since Frank Church in 1976 to visit the state. He knew that every delegate to the national convention may count, and he wanted as many from Idaho as he could get. By the time the state convention ends later this year, he could have almost all of the 23 delegates Idaho will send to the national convention. People around the country are going to have to start rethinking their impression of Idaho as a redneck state.
Surprisingly, only two of the Boise area television stations carried Obama's speech live. When you consider he filled Taco Bell arena on 72 hours notice, it was a major event. Only Channel 6 carried the speech in its entirety. Channel 7 broke into it for commercials and self-promotions. KIVI treated it like the major news event it was, while KTVB treated it like entertainment. Somehow, we weren't surprised that the Fox affiliate didn't carry the speech live.
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For the Democrats, turnout at last week's caucuses was huge, one of the best in years, in large part because it meant something. By the time the GOP holds its delegate-selection primary in May, their race may be over.
It looks like Clinton and Obama are going to go down to the wire before someone earns a majority, possibly even going to the convention with both of them close but not enough votes from the elections and caucuses to win outright, leaving it in the hands of the party machinery's super delegates. If Clinton wins that way, I think they'll hand the election to McCain. Her "negatives" are too high. I know a lot of Democrats who've told me they could live with McCain but can't see themselves voting for Clinton. Obama, on the other hand, has them fired up. Of course, this is only Idaho, but I'm reading and hearing similar things around the country. Obama is the Democrat's best chance to maintain and broaden its current power base.
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Meanwhile, the Republican race is a train wreck waiting to happen. Huckabee has almost no chance, short of his belief in "miracles," to win the nomination, but he's become the standard-bearer for the party's "stop McCain" movement.
The Republican Party is, in general, a conservative group these days (although there were times in U.S. history when it was the liberal party).
There is more than one type of Republican. Some are moderates who lean toward middle-of-the-road mainstream America. McCain is in that group and that's why he has a decent chance to win in November.
But there also is the radical wing of the party, for which the party has become better known. This is composed of the radical conservative and religious right. It represents about one-third of the party, but over the last 20 years has tended to influence its policies and candidates more than its numbers suggest it should have. But these are people with loud voices so they get heard over the muted background noise of the majority of Republicans.
They also are important to GOP success in close elections, which most presidential elections since Reagan have been. Bush used them and then laughed at them behind their back, leaving them furious -- with a justified sense of betrayal. If they turn against McCain in November, and don't vote, the Democrats will have an excellent chance to win.
What McCain is showing, however, is that the radical right of the party has limits, and that its leaders (Limbaugh, Coulter, et. al.), have little or no influence beyond those who already agree with them. They're looking like angry road kill right now, something that delights Democrats and doesn't exactly disappoint the more mainstream Republicans.
Whether McCain wins or loses in November, this could very well become a watershed election for the Republican Party. Even if McCain loses in November, if he can break the stranglehold of the radical right on his own party, the GOP may emerge stronger than ever in the long run, because they won't be forced into embarrassing radical policies that turn off the swing voters in this country.
In the late 1950s and early 1960s, Hubert Humphrey purged the Democratic party of its radical Dixicrats, which had been like a millstone around the party's neck. It allowed the party to move forward, instead of anchoring it to radical policies that had become unacceptable to mainstream voters.
To be honest, I think McCain needs to stop catering to the radical elements of his party and do the same thing. He needs to bring the party forward, stressing the GOP standards of strong national security, less government, and fiscal accountability in Washington, D.C. The more the party caters to "church" issues, the more difficult it becomes to focus on the real issues that impact most Americans -- their pocketbook and sense of security -- and the more likely they are to drive the key middle-of-the-road swing voters away from their ranks.
If the GOP were to return to power, strongly, the radical right could probably get a few, but only a very few, of their policies enacted (because even in the GOP, you can give lip service to those positions but when push comes to shove, cooler heads will prevail). But they won't get anything if their party isn't in power.
Huckabee and the "stop McCain" movement in the GOP are not only cutting their own throats right now, but they may be slicing into the main arteries of the party overall. McCain is the GOP's best chance to return to power.