Last night was an absolutely historic night. Senator Clinton pulled off a huge upset (and yes, a comeback) and Senator McCain brought himself back from the brink. Clinton's victory nearly rivals Obama's Iowa win in its political impact. Leading up to last night, many in the press were predicting that Democratic leaders would be pressuring Clinton to leave the race this morning following a double-digit loss. I predicted the opposite:
The other view sees the makings of a comeback in her newfound passion, her attacks on Obama, and the pile-on feel of her critics and competitors. I'm afraid I see the latter and predict that tomorrow night, the talk will be of another "Comeback Kid" in New Hampshire.
Now, she is again the frontrunner. The Republican race is more wide-open than ever, with McCain holding a slight edge.
That's the story that's being written today. Here's one that isn't.
It just became much more likely that Mayor Mike Bloomberg will run for president.
The conventional wisdom has been that Bloomberg would run if the parties nominated if one or two things happened: polarization or buyer's remorse. In the first case, the parties nominate two divisive candidates who appeal primarily to the far left and far right. In the second scenario, both races are settled so early that the public grows tired of the nominees and starts looking for a new option.
Most people agree that if Senator Obama wins the nomination (and to a lesser extent, John McCain), there is much less room for Bloomberg. Obama's campaign is built around the themes of hope, change, and unity; bringing the country together to face our common challenges. Though he is not running as a centrist by any measure, his theme is one targeted directly at the independents and moderate Republicans who might be open to a Bloomberg candidacy.
A victory by Obama last night would have only furthered the huge tidal wave he was riding and made it very likely that he would win the nomination. I no longer think that's likely (more on that in the next post) and Hillary Clinton is precisely the type of candidate that Bloomberg wants to run against. But the buyer's remorse scenario is even more important and also, I believe, dead wrong.
Last night's victories means that this campaign has a long way to go. It's entirely possible that much will still be up in the air after Super Tuesday in early February. There are 3 viable candidates on the Democratic side and possibly 4 for the Republicans. This means many more critical debates, newsworthy polls, and a phenomenal amount of argument about strategy and the horse race. With interest in the campaign so high, many likable candidates, and dramatic story lines, there's no opening for a third party.
I see it differently. The unsettled campaign means that things are about to get much less friendly. There is little room to remain above the fray in an increasingly tense and likely bitter battle. We've already seen this from Clinton and the Obama camp has said it's time to respond. The candidates will become much more aggressive and strident. And above all else, our television sets are about to be flooded with attack ads from all sides, including special interests. With the huge number of contests ahead, the campaigns will be forced to rely on advertising like never before.
In the end, voters will grow disenchanted with the candidates and frustrated with the process. A protracted, negative campaign that ends with Senator Clinton as the nominee is exactly the scenario that could lead to a Bloomberg run. If Obama had won last night decisively, the chances were less than 10% that he would. Today, I think there's a 50% chance Bloomberg will run.
Up next: more on the Democrat and Republican races