Well, here we are again: facing a blank page, days away from hugely important elections, fully realizing that you, dear reader, know exactly what happened. But we do not! And yet file we must, and so we jump once more into the abyss, gleefully predicting things that will be proven or disproven in real time. Such is the life of a print journalist.
On the Democratic side, we’ve already made it abundantly clear that we think Hillary Clinton basically has the nomination wrapped up, even as Bernie Sanders continues to close the gap in national polls. The reasons are myriad, but it really comes down to a weird quirk in the donkeys’ primary process. Instead of letting all of the necessary delegates be apportioned through state primaries and caucuses (as the Republicans do), the Dems have created a block of “superdelegates”—a group of 712 party insiders who can back whomever they wish. Clinton has done a typically expert job of courting these folks, and at this writing has 449 pledged superdelegates (Sanders has 19). And so, even though they both had the same number of earned delegates going into the South Carolina primary, in reality Clinton had an effective lead of 430 delegates (the first candidate to amass 2,382 delegates will clinch the nomination).
Yes, these superdelegates can change their minds, and if Bernie managed to carry South Carolina, and also won the majority of available delegates on Super Tuesday, you would definitely see a sizable increase in his superdelegate count. But we are absolutely certain that did not happen. Hillary’s performance in the Nevada caucus showed that her popularity with black and Latino voters matched the pre-caucus polling, and we would bet real money that she easily carried South Carolina (editor’s note: She received 73.5 percent of the vote), as well as the majority of Super Tuesday states (including Virginia). And if that’s true, then it’s basically all over but the shouting.
On the Republican side, however, we are far less certain of the outcome. There’s no doubt that Donald Trump had a commanding position going in, having won three of the first four contests (New Hampshire, South Carolina and Nevada) by wide margins. But not since Barry Goldwater’s 1964 run has a frontrunner for the nomination of a major party been so hated by the power brokers within that party, and there’s no doubt that panicked GOP bigwigs are going to do everything in their power to, at the very least, try to deny him the 1,237 delegates he needs to win outright. This would result in a brokered convention, where the insiders would be able to push a more palatable alternative.
The problem is that Trump’s main competitor, Marco Rubio, had not won a single contest going into Super Tuesday, and only had a meager 16 delegates to Trump’s 82. Yes, he finally took the fight to Trump in last week’s feisty Republican debate, but was it enough to push the needle?
As for Virginia, we are cautiously predicting a Trump victory (a pre-election Monmouth University survey had him capturing 41 percent of likely Republican voters). But who knows? The combination of fallout from the Republican Party of Virginia’s now-abandoned “loyalty oath” and a late Rubio surge might have pushed him out of first place, but we doubt it.
And so, at this point, the smart money is on a Clinton-Trump presidential race, which is perhaps the single craziest thing we’ve ever written. Until we actually have to write the words “President Trump,” that is.
Odd Dominion is an unabashedly liberal, twice-monthly op-ed column covering Virginia politics.
Updated March 3 at 9am with a reference to donkeys rather than elephants.