MULLINGS/Rich Galen – As I was saying …


All right, Alexandrians, settle down. As I was saying at the end of Monday’s class: “I have to write MULLINGS three days a week. Chaos is my friend.”

As you know by now, Hillary Clinton won the Democratic primary and John McCain won the Republican primary in New Hampshire thus jumbling both the Republican and Democratic nomination pictures like your three-year-old tipping over the card table with that 2,000 piece jigsaw puzzle you’ve been working on since Christmas.

As the afternoon progressed it became ever-more-clear to big-time reporters (and big-time political hacks) that Sen. Barack Obama would cruise to an easy win over Clinton, and the real story would be whether McCain would be able to continue with a loss – even a close loss – to Mitt Romney.

The “Hillary-Will-Retool-Her-Campaign-Tomorrow” story dominated discussions on-and-off the air including insider reports that James Carville of Old Town and Paul Begala would immediately be brought in as unpaid Senior Advisors to get her faltering effort back on track.

Reporters were openly discussing the exact place, date and time that Hillary Clinton would announce the end of her bid for the Democratic nomination. To punctuate this, cable nets spent the day running the footage of Clinton showing her weakness by tearing up at a campaign stop juxtaposed with a strong and smiling Obama confidently addressing a massive campaign rally.

As the early returns began to come in, and Clinton clung to a small lead, really smart and experienced viewers were betting on exactly what time the Obama surge would be reflected in the tally placing him ahead for keeps in New Hampshire and probably in the nomination race overall.

The answer was: Never. When the actual voters went to the actual polls and the results were actually tallied Clinton collected just shy of 8,000 more than Obama leading to a 39% – 37% victory.

If this were a poll, that result would be called a technical tie. But as there are no “undecideds on election day” a two percentage point win is a TWO PERCENTAGE POINT WIN!

On the GOP side, where the afternoon chatter had to do with whether McCain could possibly fend off the Romney turnout machine in a state where both had spent enormous amounts of time, effort and money, the results were instantaneously clear. Fox News Channel called the race for McCain at about 8:10 – ten minutes after the polls officially closed.

McCain’s margin of victory – 13,000 votes – led to a 37% to 32% win over Romney. In the arcane language of big-time politics that is called: Convincing.

McCain and Romney will campaign in Michigan (whose primary is next Tuesday) where a McCain win in Romney’s home state would inflict a potentially fatal wound. If Romney wins in Michigan he gets his first significant win (not counting the county caucuses in Wyoming last Saturday) and will recharge his campaign going into the South Carolina primary on Saturday the 19th.

But that is actually good news for Republicans. Having five more-or-less viable candidates as the process proceeds is, no matter how counterintuitive it sounds, good for party unity. If I am a fan of Fred Thompson (for whom I am a paid consultant) and my guy doesn’t make it out of South Carolina I will still have three or four other choices.

As the process continues and the field winnows, there is a feeling that my candidate had a fair shot and I’ll get in behind the eventual nominee.

The danger for the Democrats is this: When there are only two major contenders and they both stay in the race for a long time, support for each sets in and hardens into a very, very difficult bloc to crack apart.

The 1976 Reagan and Ford factions on the GOP side have never reconciled. If you were in Iowa last week, you would still have seen evidence of the rift between the Ford moderates and the Reagan conservatives like geologic scars on the political landscape.

If Hillary and Barack continue to whack each other through the February 5th ber-Tuesday primaries, past March 4 and into the Summer, the Democrats will have a very difficult time reconciling in time for next November’s Presidential election.

They will hoot and cheer for the nominee at their convention in Colorado, but for slightly less than half of the delegates, their hearts won’t really be in it.

Thus, endeth the lesson.