U.S. Democratic nomination race prediction: it’s Hillary (or Obama)
Hillary Clinton’s impressive victory in the West Virginia primary this week raises some interesting questions. Is she once again a viable candidate? Why can’t Barack Obama close the deal? And, with such a polarized base, can either Democrat beat John McCain?
Clinton argues that the vote in sparsely-populated West Virginia, with only 28 delegates, is an indication of things to come. It may be a Hail Mary pass, but she does have a valid point: no Democrat has been elected president since 1916 without winning the Mountain State.
The thing is, bellwethers aren’t always foolproof (just ask Punxsutawney Phil). They arise out of our need to attach some sense of order to the universe, and when they’re examined like tea leaves by rotisserie-league political analysts, it’s easy to overestimate their importance.
A hundred years ago, the conventional wisdom was “as Maine goes, so goes the nation”. Although Maine’s demographics were not comparable to the rest of the country’s, the party that won the state’s September gubernatorial contest presaged the November presidential election 19 out of 26 times, from 1832 to 1932.
Then there was the maxim that no one could ever lose the New Hampshire primary and go on to be elected president. Bill Clinton put that one to rest in 1992, after placing behind Paul Tsongas.
A more offbeat presidential predictor depended upon the outcome of the Washington Redskins’ final home game before the general election. From 1936 to 2000, a win foretold success by the incumbent party, and a loss favoured the challenger. It worked until 2004, when the formula indicated a John Kerry victory.
The next test in the primary calendar is Kentucky, which votes next Tuesday and is leaning heavily towards Clinton. As far as foreshadowing, it should be noted that no Democrat has taken the White House without winning Kentucky since JFK in 1960.
So do bellwethers matter? Sure they do—they’re completely and totally accurate. At least, that is, until they’re not. Then it’s anyone’s guess.