Primary dreams

First off, caveat emptor: The sell-by date on this particular edition of The Odd Dominion is so close, that it may well expire before you reach the end of the first paragraph. But we do so love the sport of reckless political prognostication, and thus feel irresistibly compelled to skate right up to the edge of the unknowable, rapidly mutating mess that is the presidential primary season and—after donning our campaign-button-bedecked Carnac the Magnificent turban—spit wildly into the abyss.

I’ve got your back: Virginia Governor Tim Kaine (left) sure would love it if on February 12 his state secured the presidential nomination for his buddy Barack Obama.

Now, Virginia has historically been a bit of an also-ran in the nominating process. The Commonwealth’s delegates have normally been apportioned early enough in the primary parade to solidify the frontrunner’s lead (as they did for John Kerry in 2004), but not so early that they made any significant difference to the eventual outcome. (How Virginia, the original breeding ground of American democracy, managed to end up sandwiched between the Virgin Islands and American Samoa on the voting calendar, we’ll never know.) But this year, it seems, the political stars have aligned to give Virginia voters an infinitesimal, improbable sliver of a hope that maybe, just maybe, their primary ballot on February 12 could actually mean something.

The reasons are myriad and complex, but what it really comes down to is this: The races, on both sides of the political divide, are relatively wide open, while a chaotic flurry of date shifting and one-upmanship among the early voting states has resulted in a compressed calendar that, although designed to pick a clear winner by February 5 (the so-called “Tsunami Tuesday,” when 22 states will participate in a political orgy of chad-punching and illicit exit polling), might very well end up producing the first hard-fought, long-running presidential primary battle in a generation.

O.K., we’re probably just fooling ourselves. In all likelihood, Barack Obama’s game-changing win in the Iowa Caucus, coupled with Hillary Clinton’s close-but-no-cigar (sorry, Bill!) third-place finish probably puts Obama on a glide path to the nomination. But should Hillary manage to win the New Hampshire primary, or if John Edwards parlays his strong second-place Iowa showing into a victory in New Hampshire or (more likely) his birth state of South Carolina, the chance of a state-by-state dogfight for delegates becomes a real possibility. And on the Republican side, the Huckabee-Romney-McCain Mexican standoff (sorry, Tancredo!) seems like it just might go on forever. And in both of those scenarios, Virginia, with its 103 Democratic and 63 Republican delegates, is uniquely positioned to play the unlikely role of kingmaker.

Here’s why: Due to the breakdown of primary-date decorum, several delegate-rich states that moved their contests ahead of national Committee-approved deadlines (such as Florida and Michigan) have been stripped of some or all of their delegates by the miffed party bosses. Thus, as it stands now, by the time Virginia’s February 12 primary rolls around, exactly 2,492 Democratic delegates (of a possible 4,046) and 1,538 Republican (of a possible 2,412) will have been selected—and they’ll be split between all of the viable candidates. Since a candidate needs a majority of their respective party’s delegates to secure the nomination, there’s a not-entirely-impossible chance that one or more of the presidential wannabes will be counting on Virginia’s fabled (and notoriously fickle) electoral love to put them over the top. (Or, conversely, stop their opponent’s coronation with a well-timed primary loss.)

Now, is any of this even remotely probable? Of course not. In fact, by the time you read this, Barack Obama has probably already won the New Hampshire primary by a huge margin, setting up the typical steamroller dynamic that has characterized every recent primary season in memory. But for the sake of political junkies everywhere (and especially for Governor Tim Kaine, who would like nothing better than to secure the nomination for his buddy Barack right before Valentine’s Day), we’re really hoping that, just this once, it all comes down to The Old Dominion.

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