Despite being reduced in importance by penalties from both parties, the Florida primary on Tuesday was the straw that broke the camel’s back for both the Giuliani and Edwards campaigns. With Super Tuesday only a week away it seems precipitous for the number three contenders in both parties to suddenly give up the ghost, but after spending close to $100 million between them without achieving a single primary win, both campaigns ran out of money and had to weigh their priorities.
The looming question for both campaigns was whether they could do more good by holding out and trying to get as many delegates as they could on Super Tuesday and take them to the convention to have some influence – or use this opportunity to pick one of the frontrunners and throw their support behind that candidate to strengthen their position for the coming primaries.
Both campaigns chose to give up now for very much the same reasons, because the situations in the two parties were surprisingly similar.
In the Democratic Party you had two relatively idealistic populist progressives and a moderate party insider. You could even call Hillary a ‘Humphrey Democrat’. In that situation and with no primary wins, Edwards was never going to be able to catch up, and he was hurting Obama and wasting his time. Edwards did not endorse Obama immediately, but a timely endorsement after the one-on-one debate this week between Obama and Clinton seems quite likely. Clinton has a narrow edge in delegates and momentum right now, but with Edwards’ strong appeal to white working class voters, if he does endorse Obama he could push Obama into a real lead. Of course, Edwards’ supporters among the trial lawyers and unions are probably pushing him towards Clinton, but I’m betting that when it comes time to choose he’ll follow his conscience.
In the Republican Party you had two traditional Republicans splitting the vote of the old-line constituency and one self-styled conservative. It made sense for Giuliani to drop out now and throw his support to McCain to unify the votes of traditional Republicans who still make up more than half of the GOP. It was the best way to shut out the neocons and theocons and box Romney in before the critical votes on Super Tuesday. Giuliani’s withdrawal and rapid endorsement have likely cemented McCain’s lead and ought to carry him through to the nomination. As for Giuliani’s fate, despite the speculation of pundits, he seems an unlikely choice for McCain’s running mate. Maybe he’ll get the job that was made for him and end up as Attorney General under McCain.
The Republican situation is made a bit more interesting by the ongoing efforts of the two hardcore ideologues in the campaign. Rather than following Giuliani in admitting they have no chance and dropping out, both Mike Huckabee and Ron Paul are sticking by their guns at least through Super Tuesday and maybe all the way to the convention. Paul actually still has money to spend, for what that’s worth. With the field narrowing, it’s possible that between them, Paul and Huckabee could accumulate as many as 200 delegates before it’s all over. They may be holding out hope to influence the platform, or for a position as Vice President. Huckabee and Paul do share certain common interests. Both would likely support hard line religious planks in the platform and both are strongly anti-tax. Huckabee also has a reasonable shot as a vice presidential candidate because he would balance McCain out pretty well.
We’ve got debates for both parties coming up in the next couple of days. The Democratic debate should be a long awaited one-on-one bloodletting, but it could turn into some sort of disgusting lovefest, which would be a real disappointment. The Republican debate may be weird, with the two frontrunners hoping to slug it out, but at least some effort to give equal time to the two less mainstream candidates, both of whom have performed rather well in prior debates. Their presence may well throw the whole thing off-kilter and force McCain and Romney to address issues they would otherwise try to gloss over. It’s likely to be pretty chaotic.
In the end, I think Jon Stewart nails the direction the campaign is taking when he points out that it’s a very real possibility that with a final contest between McCain and Obama we could actually see an election with two nominees who you have to respect even if you don’t necessarily agree with them. It might help restore some confidence in our ability to use a mighty tool like democracy responsibly.