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The Meaning of Super Tuesday

A Commentary By Douglas E. Schoen

Thursday, February 07, 2008

The Republican Party has effectively chosen its nominee. That nominee is John McCain. With his victory in the Super Tuesday primaries, it has become very clear that McCain has emerged as the leader of the Republican race. The commentators have come to understand this, but they have not fully discussed what needs to be done to unify the Republican Party.

John McCain has two choices if he is going to unify the party; both difficult. First and most importantly, he must gain the right-wing’s support of his candidacy. Currently, with commentators such as Ann Coulter, Sean Hannity and Rush Limbaugh who say that they will never accept John McCain, it is clear that co-opting them is critically important. At the same time, it is improbable that John McCain can win with the support of only mainstream Republicans and conservatives. I believe he needs to reach out across the isle much more compellingly to the Restless and Anxious Moderates in order to have a chance to win the general election.

That brings us to the next question: who will be his vice president? I don’t believe Mike Huckabee has a chance. He will possibly play a role in any McCain administration that is formed, but I think that given his extreme position on social issues, it will be virtually impossible for Huckabee to appeal to the voters in the center. McCain and his advisers will recognize this, and thus, he will most likely not pick Governor Huckabee as his running mate. Mitt Romney, by his failure to win more than Massachusetts and a few small caucuses, demonstrated why it is doubtful he will be on the ticket. McCain may, as a compromise, choose Governor Charlie Christ of Florida, whose endorsement was so helpful a few weeks ago, but that remains very much in question. One of the other possibilities is for McCain to reach across the isle and pick a Democrat, or alternatively, someone with a military background or someone who is outside of the political system.

For the Democrats, the race is much less clarified and certain. Both Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama have challenges they must face going forward. For Clinton, she has held a strong appeal to core Democratic voters, which manifested itself in her victories in California and the New England area. With Obama’s success in winning caucuses and primaries in smaller red states across the Midwest and the North-Central United States, Clinton clearly needs to broaden her appeal while emphasizing the core Democrat issues, especially related to the economy, which exit polls showed brought her victory on Tuesday.

For Obama, he has an equally great or greater challenge. While he won more primaries and caucuses and about the same number of delegates, he nonetheless was not able to broaden his constituency to core Democratic audiences beyond African Americans and more upscale whites who supported his candidacy in large numbers. Obama has been operating at a high level of abstraction in his campaign and needs to emphasize the core lunch-bucket economic issues that working class and middle class voters who have been supporting Hillary Clinton in large numbers find most compelling. With the possibility of an economic downturn growing, discussion of the economy, the stimulus plan and an overall economic policy is critical to Obama’s success going forward.

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