“If you are Mitt Romney you can’t say this is a good night.”
“Well, if you’re Mitt Romney you’ve entrenched your vote among conservatives …”
“Nooooo – if you’re Mitt Romney you can say you’ve got good hair – that’s all you can say.”
– MSNBC exchange last night.

It tore across the heart of the country, ripping up everything in its path – no, it wasn’t the Mike Huckabee express, it was a brace of tornados that the rest of the country barely noticed until all the votes had been counted. When the Super Tuesday storm died down, the death toll of the real storm was 50.

I’m not the type to point to every weird weather episode as evidence of climate change – but an increasing number of Americans are, and that includes the insurance companies. Millions of homes across the west’s tornado alley and on the Gulf coast are uninsurable, effectively destroying their value. If anything was likely to remind Americans of the last eight years of torpor and failure, it’s this perfect storm, the economy meeting the environment, your sub-prime mortgage home you can’t afford the payments on suddenly being unsellable because no one wants to buy a future pile of matchwood.

The increasing perception that the environment is getting up and walking around the joint in great big boots has undoubtedly been great for McCain, who’s been the only Republican to really campaign on the issue – although of course he’s talked about it a lot more in states with open primaries rather than in the hardcore GOP-only zones. Huckabee has also been leaning on the Biblical notion of stewardship of God’s earth to carve a furrow between the evangelicals and a policy they regarded as communism not so long ago.

Only Mitt Romney is giving out that guffawing Chamber of Commerce rhetoric (“Hey – it’s global warming! Why should we pay for it all?”), constructing the environment as an add-on, a position as 80s nostalgic as big floppy hair and an interesting Peter Carey novel. That isn’t the only reason why Mitt tripped – he pretty much screwed up on everything, and Huckabee’s relentless southern barnstorming wore the foundations away.

McCain has so far picked up 613 delegates, with Romney on 270 and Huckabee on 190. McCain seems to have been pretty sure it would fall out that way, which is why he spent so much time campaigning in Romney’s home state Massachusetts, hoping to land the killer blow. Mitt won that 41 to 30%, but all the pundits have begun the deathwatch. There’s not a chance he’d get the VP slot – there’d be a McCain-Noam Chomsky ticket before that happened. Indeed, McCain’s in a hell of a dilemma VP-wise, since any choice that might blunt Obamappeal – Condoleeza Rice has been spoken of (though she has such a Bush taint that may be hype) – would simply drive the evangelicals further away. But a McCain-Huckabee ticket would put a man who believes angels guide bullets to their targets, one icy-path-shattered hip away from the nuclear button.

Really I was hoping Romney would get the nomination, because a Clinton/Obama v Romney stoush would be like a grudge match between a real person and a piece of whitebait on a string. If McCain can knock Romney out early, he can start attacking the Democrats and the race will come right in. Unless Huckabee scarfs up Romney’s delegates in toto, and really lays a number on him from the Right.

For the Democrats, Obama’s performance was very much in the tornado mode, as a glance at the results show. With the exception of her home state, Clinton’s victories were all in the 50-60% range. Obama’s numbers by contrast were huge, hitting high sixties and seventies in states as diverse as Georgia, Minnesota and Kansas.

The results clearly demonstrate that white Democrats will get behind him – though whether the swinging voters he needs in the mid-west will follow remains to be seen – and Camp Obama is also claiming that they have a lot more scope for fundraising over the next months, saying that Hillary Clinton has tapped out the $2000 maximum on her supporters, while Obama’s crowd have been giving in hundred and fifties here and there. Indeed news has just come in that Clinton has put $5 mill of her own cash in (as a “loan”) to her campaign, and staff are working for no salary (Bill, it should be noted, has earnt $40 million from speeches over the past few years. Working without pay is like running a garage sale for the Ceaucescus).

The Democrat race is going to go on and on – Hillary wasn’t being cute when she tipped her hat to American Samoa in her speech last night. A plurality could easily come down to primaries in Puerto Rico or the currently underway Democrats Abroad primary – although if it gets that close the Convention will be a very ugly fight about credentials, voting irregularities etc etc. That’s routine convention behaviour, and not enough to cause a serious rift in the party – unless Clinton, or realistically the Clintons, try to get the Florida and Michigan delegates seated.

Both states were stripped of their delegates for moving their primaries to earlier than Super Tuesday, and all candidates agreed not to campaign in those states. Then on the eve of a South Carolina primary she knew she was going to lose, Hillary started making noises about “ohhhhh it’s terrible that all these people are going to be unrepresented” and then bent the rules by flying to Flordia for a “victory” party on the night of the dead primary.

If the Clintons made a real effort to seat these delegates, it will sour the entire run. If they manage to seat them, it would plunge the party into crisis. Are the Clintons that crazed that they would put the party through that. Why that’d be as crazy as … as … swapping your second term effectiveness for an executive chair BJ, or sending a 6000-page health care bill to Congress, scorning all tactical advice.

And on we roll to two triple headers – Louisiana, Nebraka and Maine on Saturday, and the beltway triple – Maryland, Virginia and DC – on Tuesday.

Forget snatching it from the jaws … parties like the Democrats can pull defeat from the oesophagus of victory.

Peter Fray

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