Politics & Policy

Fat Tuesday for McCain?

Predicting tonight.

There was once a saying in American politics: “As Maine goes, so goes the nation.” It dates back to the 19th century, when Maine elected its governor in September. For nearly a century, the winning party in the Pine Tree State’s gubernatorial race would more often than not go on to win the November presidential election.

These days, Maine’s vote bears no more predictive value for national political trends than does its lobster population. Mitt Romney’s victory in the state’s caucuses over the weekend came because he and Ron Paul were the only candidates who spent money to move caucus-goers there.

Today, as those celebrating Mardi Gras eat their last sweets, down their last pints, and smoke their last cigarettes before Lent begins, they may also turn on their TVs to learn that the Republican nominee for president may likely be Arizona senator John McCain.

Having won public pledges from 41 of Louisiana’s 47 national delegates, McCain now leads Romney in the delegate count, 138 to 92. Here is what to expect as Super Duper Fat Tuesday winds down:

7 P.M. [E.S.T.]

Georgia (72 delegates) will be the first state to close its polls, and one of the most competitive. Surveys point to a very close three-way race between McCain, Romney, and Mike Huckabee. The statewide winner will get 30 delegates, plus three for each congressional district he wins.

8 P.M.

This is McCain’s first of two big hours. Romney will win Massachusetts (43), but is likely to finish third in Alabama (48) and Tennessee (55). All three states divide their delegates proportionally.

Meanwhile, the winner-take all contests will break decisively in McCain’s favor. States where Rudy Giuliani was once favored — New Jersey (52), Connecticut (30), and Delaware (18) — are all expected to go to McCain. He also leads in Missouri (58) — the first winner-take-all state of the night to actually be competitive. Romney may finish third in Oklahoma (41), which gives most of its delegates to the statewide winner.

Finally, McCain is expected to crush Romney in Illinois, winning most of that state’s 70 delegates.

8:30 P.M.

Arkansas (34) will go for native son Mike Huckabee. Its delegates are divided proportionately.

9 P.M.

Ash Wednesday comes a few hours early for Romney: New York’s 101 delegates are expected to go to McCain, guaranteeing that he comes out far ahead for the night. Arizona will also award its 53 delegates to McCain.

10 P.M.

Romney will win big in Utah (36 delegates) — perhaps with as much as 80 percent of the vote.

11 P.M.

Romney could win the statewide race in California (173) and the 11 delegates that go with it. Of greatest importance will be where each candidate does well, since 159 delegates will be allocated based on the winners of the state’s 53 congressional districts. The ones with small Republican populations are worth three delegates apiece — just like the ones with huge Republican populations.

Romney can hope to keep up with McCain here or gain a few delegates on him — probably fewer than 20.

Caucus States

At various points in the evening, non-primary states will report the results of their caucuses and convention votes, awarding a total of 197 delegates. Alaska (29), North Dakota (26), Montana (25), Minnesota (41), and Colorado (46) will divide their delegates in caucuses, each in its own way. In Montana, about 2,000 party officeholders will vote to award all 25 of the state’s delegates, and McCain will likely come out on top. West Virginia (30) is holding its state convention, which will choose 18 delegates, with nine others to be chosen in a primary in May.

John McCain will likely win no fewer than 560 delegates today, for a total of 700. More likely, he will end the day with 900 delegates. Either way, the nomination may be his before long. The Republican race stopped being interesting when McCain pulled out his victory in Florida.

On the Democratic side, where nearly all delegates are either unpledged or awarded proportionally, the question is much more interesting. Democrats will also hold caucuses in Idaho, Kansas, New Mexico, and American Samoa in addition to the Republican states mentioned above (they do not have Super Tuesday contests in Montana or West Virginia).

Will supporters of John Edwards vote for Barack Obama? Or will Obama continue to struggle in the south? Exit polls in South Carolina and Florida showed him receiving roughly 80 percent of the black vote, but only 25 percent of the white vote. Outside the south — in states like California, where polling shows an extremely close race — can Obama re-create the Iowa miracle he produced when Democratic voters saw beyond race? Or will he fade on election day, as he did in New Hampshire?

After all of the focus on the once-cluttered Republican field, Democrats may turn out to be the ones in a bloody, drawn-out nomination battle that is only settled at the national convention.

 – David Freddoso is an NRO staff reporter.

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