Super Tuesday ’08: Races Still Too Close To Call In Biggest-Ever Primary And Caucus Day

Hillary Clinton and Mike Huckabee make last-minute TV appearances before 23 states open polls.

Now that we’re done with the Super Bowl, it’s on to Super Tuesday, when all of the presidential contenders are hoping for Giant-style upset victories to catapult them to the White House. With so many delegates at stake in nearly two dozen states, by Tuesday night we could finally find out which Democratic and Republican candidates will face off in November.

Unless we don’t. Thanks to an earlier-than-ever slate of primary elections, the closest presidential-nomination races on both sides in decades and arcane rules for choosing delegates that vary from party to party and state to state, there’s a chance that even the huge pool of delegates up for grabs on Tuesday might not decide things.

On Tuesday, in what is being billed as the biggest “national primary” in the country’s history, 22 states will hold Democratic primaries or caucuses — divvying up more than half the party’s total delegates between Senators Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama. Meanwhile, 21 states will hold Republican contests — with 41 percent of their party’s delegates at stake — in what is still marginally a three-person race, pitting front-runners Senator John McCain and former Governor Mitt Romney against the fading former Governor Mike Huckabee.

As if the endless cross country politicking weren’t enough, a couple of the presidential candidates made stops at late-night programs on Monday night to get in some last-minute plugs in advance of Super Tuesday. Clinton dropped by “The Late Show with David Letterman” to clarify once and for all what gig former President Bill Clinton would have in her administration.

“In my White House, we will know who wears the pantsuits,” Clinton told Letterman, who agreed with her campaign slogan, “Making change is hard,” he said, because he had once worked a cash register in high school and learned that “making change is more than a little hard, it’s virtually impossible.”

Clinton, who had a chance to talk about some serious issues, like affordable health care and the meltdown in the mortgage market, also copped to being a bit hoarse, though not just from her constant speechifying on the campaign trail. “Every New Yorker has a sore throat after last night,” Clinton said, referring to the exhilaration felt by New Yorkers after the Giants’ surprise win in the Super Bowl. Once the undisputed front-runner but now running nearly neck and neck with Obama, Clinton said she’s begun thinking of her campaign like the Giants’ last-minute victory. “I took a lot of heart from that, Dave,” she said. “The fourth quarter before Super Tuesday, you’ve got to keep going.”

Meanwhile, over at “Late Night with Conan O’Brien,” the broiling debate over who made Huckabee — which pits fellow talk-show hosts Stephen Colbert (of the legendary “Colbert Bump”) and comrade-in-arms Jon Stewart against self-proclaimed kingmaker O’Brien — dragged on Monday night. The three talking heads got into an extended brawl over their competing claims to thrusting Huckabee into the spotlight, ending with the candidate himself appearing in a pre-taped segment in which he made a plea to stop the violence.

Though nobody knows for sure, many pundits have predicted that McCain could come out of Tuesday’s scramble with the Republican nomination mostly locked up, while the battle between Obama and Clinton could stretch into the spring, maybe even summer.

In a first, the day’s events will be closely watched and reported on by MTV’s “Choose or Lose” army of Street Team ’08 volunteers from polling stations, caucuses, candidate rallies and everywhere young voters congregate in 23 states on Tuesday. The real-time, on-the-spot reports will be streamed live all day directly from correspondents’ video-equipped mobile phones to MTVNews.com and ChooseorLose.com, which will both host interactive maps that will notify users when the journalists are broadcasting live. Throughout the day, MTV will also regularly break into programming to air news featurettes excerpted from the live reports, and on ChooseorLose.com, the reporters will be blogging from every Super Tuesday state.

At stake on the Democratic side in Tuesday’s contests are 1,681 delegates to the Democratic National Convention, and because there are no winner-take-all contests and polls show the candidates in a near dead heat, it’s looking unlikely that either Clinton or Obama will emerge from the contest as the party’s undisputed front-runner.

As a result, both candidates barnstormed the country over the weekend. Clinton hit California, New Mexico and Arizona, where she paused to participate in the “MTV/MySpace Closing Arguments: A Presidential Super Dialogue.” Obama spent his weekend hitting New Mexico, Idaho and a number of Midwestern states and took part in the “Super Dialogue” from Minneapolis, Minnesota. The mega-contest has resulted in some of the biggest spending of the campaign to date, with Obama’s campaign running ads in 20 of the 22 contested states, while Clinton ran them in 12, including New York, according to USA Today.

At press time, Clinton has the lead in a number of the states where the most delegates are up for grabs, including New Jersey (127), where she has the support of the state’s governor and Senator Robert Menendez, as well as California (441), where Senator Dianne Feinstein and Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa are on her side. Meanwhile, Obama — who recently earned the first-ever endorsement from influential progressive group MoveOn.org in a presidential-nomination cycle — is leading in Georgia (103), Colorado (71), North Dakota (21) and Idaho (23), and running way ahead in his native Illinois (185). On Monday (February 4), polls showed the two are tied in Arizona and Missouri.

Though the Democratic nominee needs more than 2,025 of the available 4,049 delegates to secure the nomination, not all delegates are chosen during caucuses and primaries. Those contests determine four-fifths of the convention delegates, while 796 “superdelegates” — made up of elected officials, party insiders and governors — can choose to support whomever they want at the convention.

At press time, Clinton had 232 delegates and Obama trailed with 158, counting some of the superdelegates who have committed so far, according to CNN. Given the decision by former Senator John Edwards to suspend his campaign last week, the 62 delegates he collected during his run could prove pivotal if the race continues to be so tight.

Because the Democratic race is also so close, both leading candidates are running hard campaigns, even in states they are not likely to win, with the hope that they can still pick up enough delegates to help pad their totals and push them closer to the magic 2,025 number. While Clinton won the popular vote in the recent Nevada caucus, Obama ended up winning more delegates, nosing her out 13 to 12.

The Republican candidates need more than 1,191 of a possible 2,380 delegates to win their nomination, with 463 uncommitted delegates selected by the state party who are free to support whomever they choose. At press time, McCain is in the delegate lead with 97, followed by Romney with 74, Huckabee with 29 and Congressman Ron Paul pulling up the rear with six. Huckabee and Paul hoped to gain traction with young voters by participating remotely in Saturday’s “Super Dialogue.”

Most of the Republican races, including major ones in New York (101) and New Jersey (52), are winner-take-all. Given Thursday’s endorsement of McCain by former candidate and ex-New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, Romney — who will reportedly spend $7 million before Tuesday on TV ads — has all but conceded those races. Instead, he has focus on California (173), which awards delegates proportionately, but where McCain also just picked up a key endorsement from Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger. McCain has essentially conceded winner-take-all Utah (36) to Romney, a Mormon who is expected to win easily in that Mormon-heavy state. Romney has not focused on McCain’s home state of Arizona (53).

The full list of states holding both Republican and Democratic contests on Tuesday includes: Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Georgia, Illinois, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Missouri, New Jersey, New York, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Tennessee and Utah.

The Democratic-only states are Idaho, Kansas and New Mexico. Montana will hold a Republican-only caucus, and while West Virginia’s primaries aren’t until May, the Republicans are holding a convention on Tuesday.

If the race is not decided on Tuesday, the next battles are on Saturday, when Washington, Nebraska and Louisiana vote; Sunday in Maine; and February 12, when Maryland, Virginia and the District of Columbia get their chance.

[This story was originally published at 8:03 am E.T. on 2.04.2008]

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