Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Tonight’s Winners Might Actually Be Losers

The role of independent voters in tonight’s New Hampshire primary results may be more complex than many pundits recognize.

For example, many have already cited the John McCain factor, where a wave of independents voting for Obama could damage Sen. McCain’s victory chances. (Though John Fund thinks the Republican establishment is now lining up behind McCain.) But if Romney wins among the Republicans — yet loses to McCain overall — the former Massachusetts governor could declare victory.

Remember eight years ago when McCain won in New Hampshire, Michigan, and elsewhere. George W. Bush still won the majority of Republican votes. Bush played that card effectively as he marched towards the eventual GOP nomination.

So in other words, McCain could actually win with a small margin tonight, but Romney could effectively declare victory on the Republican front.

Hillary is in the same boat. She could get clobbered by Obama, due to surging independents voting for the Illinois senator. But she could still conceivably declare victory if she gets a plurality of Democratic votes. And that would be used to justify her staying in the race, probably until the bitter end, including the convention.

I wish I had a better handle on who exactly these independent voters are. I’ve always assumed that they lean liberal. But I’m not sure. There may be a larger-than-expected pool of disaffected Republicans and Democrats who are voting independent.

But what’s so interesting about New Hampshire this year is that it’s possible that the potential losers — namely Hillary and Mitt — could conceivably declare themselves winners on the basis of winning a plurality of their own party’s registered voters. And the potential winners — Obama and McCain — could find themselves scratching their heads tomorrow morning, wondering what exactly they have won.