Super Tuesday is such a monumental moment on the 2008 political calendar that the big day’s voting actually voting began when it was still just ordinary Monday in America.
And the first ballots weren’t even cast on U.S. soil.
As part of the Democrats Abroad primary, voters went to the polls in Jakarta, Indonesia–where Super Tuesday arrived a full twelve hours earlier than it did in the U.S. — and voted for a native son. Illinois Senator Barack Obama, who spent a portion of his childhood in the city, won 75 percent of the vote to 25 percent for New York Senator Hillary Clinton.
The Democratic Party treats its expatriate branch as a state – with 11 delegates to this summer’s national convention in Denver – and its round-the-world voting is just one piece of the giant puzzle of delegate selection that will begin to be put together on Super Tuesday.
Twenty-two states, American Samoa and Democrats Abroad will hold Democratic primaries and caucuses today. They’ll select more than 1,600 delegates to the party’s national convention in Denver.
Twenty-one states will hold Republican primaries and caucuses today. They’ll select roughly 1,000 delegates to the party’s national convention in the Twin Cities.
This is the busiest day of presidential nominating contests in American political history. And one thing is certain: The campaigns of Democrats Obama and Clinton and Republicans John McCain, Mitt Romney, Mike Huckabee and Ron Paul are all looking to spin some kind of “win” out of the results.
It is entirely possible that every one of these candidates –including Paul, the anti-war libertarian who has traveled to Alaska and poured considerable resources into a targeted attempt to prevail in that state’s Republican caucuses – could win somewhere.
So how can anyone cut through all the spin?
Here are ten tips for sorting Super Tuesday facts from fiction:
1. Remember what the expectations were going into today’s voting. Super Tuesday was supposed to “seal the deal” for Democrat Clinton. Barely a week ago, she was still far ahead in the polls nationally and in most of the key Super Tuesday states except Obama’s Illinois. If Clinton does not finish the day at least marginally ahead of Obama in key states won and delegates totals, it’ll be a setback for the former First Lady. Similarly, McCain has been pegged as the Republican to beat. If his chief rival, Romney, wins more key states – especially California, where he has been surging in late polling – and more delegates, McCain’s standing will suffer. Conservative commentator Pat Buchanan is right when he says that, “If Romney wins California, it’s the comeback story of the night.”
2. Delegates matter. While the states may break in a variety of directions, the delegate totals don’t lie. The first caucuses in Iowa and the first primary in New Hampshire awarded only handfuls of delegates; they really were about momentum. Super Tuesday is different. By the time today’s primaries and caucuses are finished, 52 percent of Democratic convention delegates will have been selected; on the Republican side, the figure is 41 percent. So it is fair to look at the raw numbers. The races are competitive enough so that no one will “close the deal” today. But it is imaginable that a particular candidate – especially McCain on the Republican side — could emerge as prohibitive favorite. On the Democratic side, if Clinton has a very good day, the combination of the fresh delegates she wins on Super Tuesday with her advantage among so-called “super delegates” (elected officials and party leaders who are assured places at the convention) could give her enough of a “cushion” to survive later losses to Obama and still prevail.