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Super Tuesday vote to narrow field

Davis Rhorer, Jr. | Tuesday, February 5, 2008

The remaining candidates competing for the Democratic and Republican presidential nominations will face their biggest hurdle yet in today’s Super Tuesday primary and caucus elections.

The previous primaries and caucuses this election season have sent delegates to numerous candidates on both sides of the political arena, failing to identify one “stand out” contender. With such close races, the elections today in 24 states could be a turning point for candidates seeking the nominations.

“This is the closest we’ve ever been to a national primary” David Campbell, a Notre Dame political science professor, said Saturday.

Notre Dame political science professor Peri Arnold echoed those sentiments. This year’s Super Tuesday elections, so named because of the large number of primaries and caucuses held, marks the largest number of states ever to distribute delegates in a single day in the approximately 30 years the United States has used the primary and caucus system, he said.

“We haven’t had an open race in a long time” Arnold said, referring to the absence of a “favorite choice” for the nomination in both the Democratic and Republican parties. Campbell said President George W. Bush’s very low popularity level is a reason behind the current presidential race’s competitiveness.

“Winning early has not worked well [in this election]” Campbell said.

He emphasized the potential shifts in popularity that have already forced some previously well-known candidates out of the race.

Arnold emphasized his surprise at the resiliency of the Republican Party, especially considering Bush’s low popularity.

“[This race] shouldn’t be competitive,” Arnold said. “All things would point to a victory for the opposition.”

While both Campbell and Arnold acknowledged the diverse group of candidates competing, Saint Mary’s history professor Amanda Littauer elaborated on this aspect.

She questioned the media’s emphasis on Hillary Clinton’s sexuality and Barack Obama’s race.

“I think it is an empirical and political mistake to reduce the current rivalry between Clinton and Obama to ‘sex versus race’,” Littauer said Monday.

Littauer focused on a recent survey conducted by CNN where reporters asked black women in South Carolina which factor, race or sex, was a more important influence on their votes.

“I would like to hear more from both candidates about … time-tested Democratic issues” Littauer said, suggesting that undue emphasis was being placed on superficial qualities rather than the real issues at hand, such as education, healthcare, welfare, immigration and poverty.

She echoed the angry sentiments of some South Carolina women who stated that black women could vote based solely on issues just as white men could.

“The Obama-Clinton divide seems more determined by generation than by race or sex,” Littauer said, citing the captivation many younger voters have with Obama while older voters tend to trust Clinton’s expertise.

Diversity has also been an issue among the Republican candidates.

“The religiously observant are clustering together,” Campbell said, referencing the large support Mormon candidate Mitt Romney has received from Protestant and Evangelical religious groups.

Littauer said the relatively moderate campaign of John McCain, who has not relied heavily on the “religious right” and the support of conservative media and talk shows like other candidates have in the past.

While Campbell said it would be likely that the nominees of both parties would be known by the end of the day, Arnold took a more cautious view.

“The Democrats are very closely tied in the margin of error,” Arnold said, indicating that both Clinton and Obama still had good chances of winning the nomination after Tuesday.

Arnold also recognized the proportional distribution of delegates in most Democratic primaries, meaning both candidates could walk away from some states with support.

He said there was a greater chance the Republican nominee would be known, especially due to John McCain’s perceived popularity in the Western and larger states and the “winner takes all” delegate distribution policy adopted by Republican primaries.