Monday, February 11, 2008

Huckabee's Fuzzy Math

Here's the line that former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee's campaign is feeding the Washington Post as to why he has not dropped out of the presidential race:

Huckabee's campaign says he is not hurting McCain by staying in, but instead keeping media attention focused on the GOP race instead of the Democratic contest.

"Because MH is who he is, he will continue to campaign as he always has, in an honorable and honest way. He will draw distinctions, he will debate and debate hard, but he will always be civil and decent,"wrote Huckabee chairman Ed Rollins and campaign manager Chip Saltsman in a memo to supporters. "Even many McCain supporters have told us that they appreciate the constructive role that Governor Huckabee can play in the months to come, because a vigorous discussion will keep all the media 'oxygen' from migrating over to the Democratic contest."

Don't buy anything Ed Rollins says. And don't believe for a minute that Huckabee is staying in because he actually expects to win enough delegates before the Republican convention to steal the nomination from Sen. John McCain. As the Post notes, "Huckabee aides don't expect to carry any of the states in tomorrow's primaries, and those losses make it closer to mathematically impossible for Huckabee to win the GOP nomination."

The real reason Huckabee fights on is because, wink, wink, he knows that a brokered convention could still flow from the confluence of (a) a low turn-out in the remaining primaries by lacksadaisacal McCain supporters who mistakenly think their candidate already has the nomination sewn up, (b) evangelistic zeal of Huckabee voters who refuse to lose, and -- the most critical element of all for Huckabee's strategy -- (c) conservatives who may not like Huckabee as a candidate, but will vote for him nonetheless in order to deny McCain the delegate count he needs for the nomination.

It is not far-fetched to say that Huckabee's efforts just might produce a brokered convention. In order to win the prize, McCain needs 1,191 delegates. According to RealClearPolitics.com, he has garnered 724 delegates thus far (not counting Louisiana and Washington, where the delegate apportionment is not final). Adding up the primaries that remain, there appear to be 996 delegates (including those from Louisiana and Washington) who are still up for grabs. McCain must have 467, or 46.88% of those remaining delegates, to be nominated. And significantly, the vast majority of the primaries that are left (including Kentucky's) award delegates proportionally, so McCain will not have that many winner-take-all states left to pad his lead.

Given that McCain has cracked the 46.88% level of support in only a small number of the Republican primaries held thus far, and his current average standing in national polls is just at 49%, Huckabee and Ron Paul could conceivably, between them, deny McCain the requisite number of remaining delegates he needs to win on the first ballot at the convention. That outcome could make Huckabee (or former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney) the king-maker.

If Huckabee plays it right, he might be able to force McCain to name him as McCain's running mate in exchange for Huckabee's delegates. Or in the second or a later round of voting, Huckabee might form an unholy alliance with Romney's delegates and enough frustrated McCain delegates to obtain the nomination for Huckabee or another candidate who is not McCain.

Of course, Romney could follow the same strategy, but he is not likely to have the heart for it. For one thing, Romney has suspended his campaign, essentially conceding defeat to McCain. Moreover, if the brokered convention scenario does occur, Huckabee undoubtedly will have many more delegates than Romney come convention time.

That is why Huckabee stays in the race. The businessman Romney may have been better at math when he made his money in the private sector. But the preacher Huckabee knows that the numbers for McCain don't quite add up, at least not yet, and it may not require a miracle to produce a brokered convention at which the anti-McCain forces could prevail after all.

No comments: