Leading Candidates Are Leading Losers

Friday, 01 Feb 2008 08:55 AM

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More voters are voting against the perceived Republican front-runners than are voting for them — a sure way to win a primary and lose an election.

If it’s any consolation to conservatives, the same is happening with the Democrats’ two top vote-getters.

Four entries with losing track records are ahead of the rest of the field in the horse race, but not where it counts — with enough voters to elect a president.

That story has been unfolding throughout this pre-convention season. With predictable tunnel vision, the masscomm is missing or deliberately ignoring it.

During the six contests so far, the pattern appears in crystal clarity in New Hampshire, South Carolina, and Florida. In those three key states, only once did a candidate of either party receive more than half the votes cast in his own primary.

The two caucus states, Iowa and Nevada, are difficult to compute because Democrats there report the number of delegates chosen, whereas Republicans count actual votes cast for candidates. In Michigan, there was a only a GOP primary. Even so, the same trend was discernable in all six states.

Here’s a more-insightful way to look at primary election returns: Forget the horse-race analogy. Tallying who received how many votes and picking “the winner” is an illusion.

Granted, it determines how a state’s delegates to the national nominating convention are allotted, and that varies widely from state to state. But the country is in the process of electing a president in November, which is not the same thing as nominating the two parties’ eventual candidates.

Parties can nominate whomever they wish, if all they want to do is make a statement. If they want to choose a president, it must be someone who can get elected by voters at large, not just one block of party faithful.

So, look instead at where votes in the primaries are not going.

That’s how to measure where voters — rather than candidates — actually stand.

Here's another way: Don’t measure results in only one party’s primaries.

For reliable clues on how voters will behave in the November general election, look at results in both parties’ primaries as a whole.

With that in mind, let’s see how the current two “leading” candidates in each party fared in the three key primaries:

New Hampshire

Combining voters in both the Democratic and Republican primaries, 78.7 percent cast ballots for candidates other than Hillary Rodham Clinton, 80 percent for candidates other than Barack Hussein Obama, 83.2 percent for candidates other than John McCain, and 85.7 percent for candidates other than Mitt Romney.

South Carolina

Combining the voters in both the Democratic and Republican primaries, , 85.6 percent cast ballots for candidates other than Clinton, 69.8 percent for candidates other than Obama, 84.9 percent for candidates other than McCain, and 93 percent for candidates other than Romney. (It was in the Democratic primary here that 44.6 percent of voters went for candidates other than Obama, his solitary moment with a majority vote.)

Florida

Combining voters in both the Democratic and Republican primaries, 77.8 percent cast ballots for candidates other than Clinton, 85.3 percent for candidates other than Obama, 82.1 percent for candidates other than McCain, and 84.6 percent for candidates other than Romney.

Here’s where it gets fun. What do you find when you combine all the voters casting ballots in New Hampshire, South Carolina, and Florida? That’s more like it will be in the general election, one large pool of voters of all stripes.

Combining voters in the Democratic and Republican primaries in all three states, 79.3 percent cast ballots for candidates other than Clinton, 81.9 percent for candidates other than Obama, 82.7 percent for candidates other than McCain, and 86.2 percent for candidates other than Romney.

The message that voters, Democrats and Republicans (and independents where they could enter the mix), are sending is rather obvious. By considerable margins, most of them clearly do not like those four candidates. The majority undeniably prefer to scatter their votes among all the others on the ballot.

All that could change during Super Tuesday, Feb. 5, when 16 states hold primaries: Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Connecticut, Delaware, Georgia, Illinois, Massachusetts, Missouri, New Jersey, New York, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Utah and West Virginia (GOP), and eight others hold caucuses: Alaska, Colorado, Idaho (Democratic), Kansas (Democratic), Minnesota, Montana (GOP), New Mexico (Democratic), and North Dakota.

For voters’ moods to change, the front-runners will, themselves, have to undergo considerable change. That may be happening already.

In Wednesday’s GOP debate, masscomm’s most-recent favorite, McCain, exhibited a quarrelsome, testy, smirking streak of insecurity. Romney managed to match him point by point while never losing his self-control. And Mike Huckabee, of whom the media wise ones have now tired and written off, came across as the soul of good-natured reasonableness.

Will any of that make a difference on Super Tuesday?

By contrast, in Thursday’s Democratic debate the change taking place was that Clinton and Obama appeared more alike than at odds on positions and tactics, more cooing than snarling.

How long will that last and how can it tip the balance from Democratic voters’ demonstrated non-support of both to overwhelming support of just one?

Both parties may find themselves with nominating conventions (Aug. 25-28 for Democrats and Sept. 1-4 for Republicans) where most of the delegates have a sour taste in their mouths for whoever is “ahead.”

If delegates feel that way about the candidates, can the electorate be far behind? There you have what could be the makings of a brokered convention, in which deals are cut for delegate votes once pledged to this or that candidate.

Or, if the electorate is fed up enough with this unseemly mess, there may even be hope for an open convention, in which a fresh start is made with nomination of a new, or possibly a revived, candidate.

Chances of that happening with the Democrats are slim to none. Prospects are somewhat brighter with the Republicans.

Don’t hold your breath, though. The masscomm have so far been setting the agenda and calling the tune for both parties. They are not noted for giving up their power gracefully.

John L. Perry, a prize-winning newspaper editor and writer who served on White House staffs of two presidents, is a regular columnist for NewsMax.com.

Read John Perry's columns here.

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