Feb. 5 Primaries to Pose A Super Test of Strategy
Tuesday, January 15, 2008
After the trench warfare of Iowa and New Hampshire and the upcoming skirmishes in a handful of states, a very different battle awaits the presidential candidates on Feb. 5: the biggest and most challenging single day in a recent campaign for a party nomination.
Democrats will hold contests in 22 states and one territory, with 1,681 delegates at stake. On that day alone, 52 percent of all pledged delegates will be awarded, compared with the 4 percent that will have been allocated in the four opening competitions of the year. Republicans have scheduled contests in 21 states for Feb. 5, known as Super Tuesday, with 975 delegates at stake. Those delegates make up 41 percent of the total available, according to the Republican National Committee.
No campaign, no matter how flush with money, can afford full-scale operations in that many states. By one estimate, the cost of a standard run of television advertising in each of the states for a week would be about $35 million.
"We've always had a mega-Tuesday, but it's gotten larger and a lot more complex," said Donna Brazile, who managed Democrat Al Gore's presidential campaign in 2000.
She said candidates must figure out how to introduce themselves to voters who have paid only limited attention to the campaign, as opposed to those in Iowa and New Hampshire. Beyond that, they must decide which states to compete for aggressively. Finally, she said, candidates will have to know how to pick up delegates even in states in which a challenger has the upper hand.
That puts a premium on the careful allocation of resources, including a candidate's time, television ads, targeted phone banks and grass-roots mobilization. "Will there be TV? It's likely," said one strategist for Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss strategy more freely. "But the more effective use of our time is communicating with folks we think are going to turn out and do it in a more personal, grass-roots way."
Clinton and her two main Democratic competitors -- Sen. Barack Obama (Ill.) and former senator John Edwards (N.C.) -- are approaching Feb. 5 in strikingly different ways than the Republicans are. In part, that is because the rules for allocating delegates are different, with Republicans holding many contests. In a lot of the Republican competitions, the winner of a state or a congressional district is awarded all delegates. For Democrats, delegates are distributed proportionally on the basis of the votes for each candidate.
That means that if Edwards remains a force through Feb. 5 and wins 15 percent of the vote in most contests, Clinton and Obama will need enormous margins to rack up a significant advantage in delegates.
But more than rules have influenced how Democrats and Republicans are approaching Super Tuesday. The Republican race is so unsettled that it is not clear which candidates will be viable in three weeks. That is why today's Michigan primary, Saturday's contest in South Carolina and the Jan. 29 primary in Florida are so critical.
"The plan of every candidate is to be riding on a wave of momentum," said Steve Schmidt, a senior campaign adviser to Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.). "The momentum is what carries you through on February 5."
"The dilemma, with the exception obviously of Romney, is that none of us have the resources to go set up organizations in these states," said Ed Rollins, senior adviser to former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee, referring to former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney. "It's a slingshot. You hope to do well" in states before Feb. 5 "and have some momentum."
Former New York mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani was the one Republican who had a clear strategy geared toward Super Tuesday. His goal was to sweep winner-take-all primaries in Connecticut, Delaware, New Jersey and New York and emerge with a sizable advantage in the battle for delegates.