Friday, January 18, 2008

Obama's Narrowing Path to the Nomination

On the eve of the Nevada Democratic caucuses, I see one of three scenarios playing out for Barack Obama.

Ideally, Obama wins Nevada. Even a slim margin of victory should give him enough momentum to steamroll over Clinton in South Carolina. Those two back-to-back wins should then generate enough positive media coverage to make him competitive in Florida, maybe even enough to win. With two or three solid wins under Obama's belt (remember, he's the underdog in Nevada and Florida), he'll be virtually unstoppable come "Tsunami Tuesday" (Feb. 5th) when 24 states, representing over half of the convention delegates, vote in their primaries. In this scenario, whatever John Edwards does would be largely irrelevant. Barack Obama should coast to the nomination.

If Clinton's lead in the current Nevada polls holds up (current RCP avg. = +3.7), Obama will come in a close second, and his candidacy will be teetering. With a strong performance on CNN's Tuesday night debate, he should be able to pull off a decisive victory in South Carolina. As the presumed SC frontrunner, though, he won't gain much traction from that win, and he would likely lose the Florida primary. However, an embarrassing defeat on his home turf might—might!—cause John Edwards to rethink his political calculus, finally drop out of the race and perhaps endorse Obama in the name of their mutual change agenda. Even if Edwards doesn't endorse Obama, polls show that Edwards voters would swing overwhelmingly to Obama. That may tilt some of the Feb. 5th states (maybe Florida as well!) to Obama and finally create that unstoppable juggernaut we've all been waiting for.

Scenario #3: Clinton trounces Obama in Nevada. In this case, Obama will bide his time, but it will probably be game, set, match. "Welcome to the White House, President John McCain."

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