“Well in final results, a beagle won the best in show at the Westminster Dog Show for the first time in sixty years”. It was 2am on MSNBC, and the news-anchor was wrapping up the coverage of the Potomac primaries with a crew of commentator regulars – Pat Buchanan, Lisa Caputo, a coupla others – and there was an element of desperation in the air, like junkies sofa diving for change. This was the last in the rolling thunder of primaries that have preoccupied a fair section of the country since Iowa (the correct midwestern pronunciation incidentally is as if you’ve just been kicked in the shin – Ouaah) in early January.

From today there’s nearly a full month with only a couple of minor skirmishes until the last big one – Texas, Ohio, and a coupla smaller states – on March 4. Not only that, but both contests seem to have all but collapsed – at least in terms of raw votes. McCain has obviously won on the Republican side, and Obama is only slightly less commanding for the Democrats. You can hear the wistfulness as the brains trusters tried to leverage some sort of oppositionality out of the Republican race, as Huckabee went down with a disappointing zero for three result.

He was never likely to take Maryland or DC – though on the GOP side no-one won DC, the primary turn-out in this area of a half million people was a grand total of 4,000 votes – but the north-south cultural border is pretty much that of Maryland-Virginia (yes, yes the Mason-Dixon line is north of this) and a Huckabee win in Virginia was on the cards. In the end he lost 41% to 50%. More money might have given him another 5 or 6%, but the Washington suburban sprawl pretty much did for him.

There are more theories about why Huckabee is staying in the race than the man himself used to have chins. He’s claiming that he’s still in with a chance, if McCain fails to cross the magic 1,191 before the convention, and that then anything might happen. With McCain currently on 789, and needing 398 more delegates, he could get most of those from the winner-take-all Ohio primary (161 delegates), and a fair slice of the weirdo-proportional-mixed-crazed Texas primary (228 delegates).

Is he hoping that McCain won’t make it and that – with the support of Romney’s delegates – he could perform a convention September surprise? Is he using it as an angle for a VP slot? Is he keeping the religious conservative base together? Is he building an audience for his band, Capitol Offence? Does he have nothing better to do? All of these theories are being floated, and they’re probably all true. He may even be doing it to help the GOP – keeping them in the news by giving a simulation of oppositionality.

The last of these theories is backed up by the degree to which McCain swung his guns around last night and trained them on Obama, giving a long sledge about the nature of hope. “I know about hope” the crusty old Duracell codger said, moving around the Alexandria Holiday Inn Hotel Ballroom, “hope is when you have nothing left save your faith in your fellow men and your country. It’s not a series of platitudes” – you young whippersnapper, he may as well have added. So this is the angle as it emerges – the real deal versus the flimflam guy, the greatest generation (or tail-end thereof) versus Gen X?

Whether it will play remains to be seen. I suspect the country will treat McCain like the fifty-year employee, the lunch, the gold watch and then forget he ever existed by late afternoon. But like everyone, he’s assumed that Hillary is pretty much through.

There was a brief flurry of excitement last night when it looked like Hillary was taking Maryland 65 to 35 – until it was realised that the results were one precinct. When the full quota came in it was the same crushing vote as everywhere – 60 to 37 for Obama in Maryland, 62-27 in Virginia and 75-24 in DC. The results have given Obama a lead even when the Hillary slanted superdelegates are factored in, Obama leading 1,210 to 1,188. Nor is there any reason to believe that Texas or Ohio will offer Hillary a reprieve. Hitherto it was thought that the working class vote in Ohio and the Hispanics in Texas would swing it, but Obama is running commanding leads in both groups – indeed in every conceivable demographic except for white Democrat women over 50. That’s enough if she wants to start a book group or staff a Waffle House, but it ain’t enough of a base for anything else.

But the first and last rule of politics – never underestimate the Clintons. What will she do now? She has three weeks to re-orient her campaign for a last push, and one can only assume that this will get very, very nasty. Does she have info she could “swift-boat” Barry Obama with? Did he do more than smoke a bit of weed during those Hawaiian years? The beltway to a brick we’ll find out in the next weeks. The Clinton psychology seems to be pure folie-a-deux – they are the progressive movement, they have the right to take it to the brink for the greater good, and they can always reel the party and the public back in, no matter how bitter it gets. Trying to re-seat the Michigan and Florida delegates would be the atom bomb. Would they use it? They’d use it as a light to read by, if they needed to.

But it may be all too late – the polls are showing that the presidential vote would split 52-44 Obama/McCain, and 48-46 Hillary/McCain – and the superdelegates cannot but pay heed to that. I would bet a new poll of the latter after Texas will show them swinging behind Obama big time, but Hillary will still take it to the Convention. Good news for politics junkies who will otherwise be reduced to handicapping prize vegetable showings at State Fairs (or the Libertarian Convention as it’s otherwise known) but whether it will help or destroy the Democrat bid is known only to that God bloke that Huckabee reckons is going to deliver him the nomination.

Peter Fray

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