It was over a year and a half ago that I wrote the first story suggesting that a move in the date of the Florida presidential primary, then just a rumor in Tallahassee, would likely shake up the entire presidential race.
Had the Republican-dominated Florida legislature not moved up the date of that state's primary, to precede the 23 Super Tuesday states by a week, the entire GOP and Democratic race for the presidency might have turned out radically different.
Certainly the change impacted the Democratic battle. National party leaders knew full well from the start that they would refuse to recognize the vote in Florida, where Hillary Clinton was a lock to win the contest (and, in fact, under Florida law, did win). Consider the impact Clinton's win in New Hampshire, combined with a huge victory in Florida, might have had on the Obama "train" to victory.
But Howard Dean and the Democratic National Committee were determined to put the days of Bill and Hillary Clinton into history's rearview mirror. The party brass knew darn well that denying Clinton her biggest and most likely early prize would turn things upside down. She was doomed before she started.
Now Clinton battles on, limping her way through Southern states that really no longer matter. She can't prevent her campaign's inevitable doomsday meeting with the deluge of uncommitted "super delegates," including the great "peacemaker" himself, Jimmy Carter. He will soon issue his edict from on high: Off with Hillary's head!
Barack Obama, barring unforeseen happenings, will be the hero of the new Democratic Party. The Kennedy family has been in great fear that they might lose their "Democratic royalty" title to a Clinton clan with two presidents in the family. Now the Kennedys can breathe easier.
Now what will happen? The answer is -- nobody knows. Nobody.
Some polls show the septuagenarian Sen. John McCain leading Obama, while others show it the other way around. Of course, national popular vote, taken as a collective whole, means nothing. It's a state-by-state race.
Looking to the key swing states, it's hard to tell whether the weight of eight years of George W. Bush, amplified by a fair amount of Bush-like rhetoric from McCain, will move voters in places like Ohio, Pennsylvania, Arkansas, Tennessee, North Carolina and other states to reject another four years of Republican rule.
There's another side to the equation. Will the so-called blue-collar voters, who stood in hard for Clinton, now accept Obama as someone who truly understands the issues they care about; as a fighter for their causes? Might the old war hero McCain somehow appeal to their supposed profile of being the "common" men and women? Will patriotism -- his and theirs -- make a love match to put him in the White House?
I have no idea. I have polled these races until I'm blue in the face. I'm proud to say our firm polled all but one contest (Democrat or Republican) with the correct winner. But that matters little now.
The one thing that is clear to me is that Hillary Clinton has been finished off by a Democratic establishment, long based in the Northeast, that never liked her husband very much anyway, and that couldn't stand the thought of her serving as president. They got their way, as they knew they would.
Now the question is whether the GOP establishment, also with roots in the Northeast, wants John McCain to be president. After all, they can't control him, and he's not a part of their "political club."
It might be that unless McCain relents and allows the GOP establishment's man Mitt Romney to run on the ticket as the vice-presidential running mate, that the party kingpins will sit this one out.
That would allow a President Barack Obama the chance to show everyone what real "change" looks like.
Who knows? It might be great. Or it might consist of the leadership of an idealistic former state legislator with a few years in the U.S. Senate, who has the guiding hand of the Kennedy/Kerry political operation truly running things with an invisible hand.
If so, Hillary Clinton might take a cue from Ted Kennedy, and come back to run again in four years against a Democratic incumbent, just as Kennedy did against President Jimmy Carter in 1978.
If that happens, Lord help the people who get in her way.
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