Friday, January 18, 2008

Saturday night fever

I'm basically off duty today, but I plan to write Sunday about the Nevada Democratic caucuses and the South Carolina Republican primary, both of which will render their verdicts on Saturday night. So, for now, just these thoughts about the feverish races in both venues:

Team Clinton's last-ditch attempt to suppress the vote in Nevada was swatted away by a federal judge yesterday, fittingly so. After hearing the complaints of the Clinton allies - about how it was supposedly unfair that members of the culinary workers union were being allowed to attend caucus meetings set up at the casinos, their place of employment - the judge made the obvious point that, in general, political parties should be allowed to devise their own rules of participation, without interference from the courts. That has been the federal judiciary's guiding principle for generations.

Indeed, the Nevada Democratic party - with the OK of the Democratic National Committee, and with the acquiesence of Hillary Clinton and all her rivals - had devised this set up, to encourage participation from the culinary workers who were working day shifts. But after the culinary workers endorsed Barack Obama last week, all of a sudden the Clinton camp (via its surrogate plaintiffs) decided to get litigious. And here's what the Clintons have earned for their trouble: a new radio ad from the culinary workers' parent union. Aimed at the largely Hispanic rank and file, it says in Spanish, "Hillary Clinton does not respect our people. Hillary Clinton supporters want to prevent people from voting in their workplace on Saturday. This is unforgivable. Hillary Clinton is shameless."

Hillary may well win the caucuses anyway; she has longstanding grassroots support. And it can be argued that Obama needs a victory more than she does; he needs to prove that he has some electoral clout with Hispanics (Nevada is the first voting state with a large Hispanic population), as he heads toward Feb 5, when a number of heavily-Hispanic states (notably California and New York) stage their Democratic primaries.

Meanwhile, on the Republican side, we'll all closely track those South Carolina results on Saturday night. Let me see if I've got this right:

Fred Thompson may be taken off life support, unless he isn't. John McCain may finish first (thanks to the defense-hawk voters and the military retirees), or maybe he doesn't, because Mike Huckabee is strong among the populous Christian conservatives, who presumably love his vow to bring the U.S. Constitution into line with "God's standards". Or maybe Huckabee stumbles (if he can't win in the evangelical heartland, where can he win?), and Mitt Rommey trumps him on economic populism with his vow to bring back the South Carolina textile industry (yeah, right), just like he vows to bring back the car industry in Detroit (yeah, right). Or maybe Romney tanks in South Carolina because he has diverted considerable resources to the largely uncontested Nevada Republican caucuses, where he's poised for an inconsequential win that he hopes to spin as Mitt-mentum on the road to Florida.

But somebody or other will come out of South Carolina in some kind of decent shape, presumably psyched up to head down south to Florida for a Jan. 29 showdown with Rudy Giuliani, who may finally have found a state where he draws more votes than Ron Paul.

Thus, a freeze frame of the stormy Republican race. But, as Mark Twain once said about New England weather, if you want to see it change, just wait a few minutes.