Sunday, February 28, 2016

It's Official Now

As expected, Hillary Clinton scored a resounding victory over Bernie Sanders in yesterday's South Carolina primary.

And, as I have observed in recent weeks, the winner of the South Carolina Democrat and Republican primaries almost always goes on to win the nomination for president.

If you're looking for a political bellwether, at least at this stage of a presidential campaign, it's hard to find one that is better than South Carolina.

Thus, it is likely that we now know who will be the major parties' standard bearers in the fall — but, of course, we really didn't need South Carolina for that, did we? I mean, didn't we already know it would be Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton?

And, indeed, those are the candidates who won the endorsements of South Carolina's voters.

Mathematically, of course, neither Trump nor Clinton has anywhere near enough committed delegates to be absolutely assured of nomination, but both can take a giant step forward in that regard a couple of days from now when 10 states vote on "Super Tuesday." There will also be one state caucus in each party.

Polls show Trump and Clinton leading in most of them. If those polls prove to be accurate, historically speaking, it's a done deal, and that will spare voters in the remaining primaries the onslaught of media attention and advertising to which the earlier primary and caucus participants have been subjected. For the folks who vote later in the political calendar, I'm sure that will be cause for much rejoicing.

But is that really a good thing?

The only matters left will be the formality of the votes at the conventions and the selections of the nominees' running mates.

The selection of a running mate, of course, is always regarded as the first presidential–level decision a presumptive nonincumbent nominee must make. It is rarely as consequential as it is made to seem, but there certainly have been times, particularly when there was no incumbent in the race, when the choice of a running mate has made a difference.

In 2008, for example, John McCain's selection of Sarah Palin was panned while Barack Obama's choice of Joe Biden was seen as being presidential. Polls remained close until the economic implosion, but the choice of Biden did seem to give the Democrats a boost.

Twenty years earlier, the whole thing seemed to be unimportant to voters. George H.W. Bush's choice of Dan Quayle could not compete with the stature of Michael Dukakis' choice, Lloyd Bentsen, but that did not seem to matter to voters. For the only time since World War II, voters voted for the same party for a third straight time, largely because the majority of voters wanted a third term for term–limited Ronald Reagan.

Speculation about the running mates can be pretty intense when there is so much time to fill. There is usually little else about which political writers care to write in the time they must fill before the convention, and everything in the process becomes magnified. You know what they say about idle hands ...

The earlier the nomination battle is decided, the longer the speculation about running mates is apt to be.

That is why it may be best for everyone, including the candidates, if the nominations are still undetermined for awhile.

But there are problems with that, too. If a campaign goes on until the end of the primary calendar, as it did in 2008, it leaves less time for the nominee to make the choice — and increases the likelihood that a mistake will be made.

So it may be that the fact that the likely nominees are known at this stage will be beneficial. At least they can begin vetting vice–presidential prospects before whittling it to a short list that can be paraded before the media at the appropriate time.

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