The madness of the primaries
The primaries make no sense. According to the rules, a candidate needs a majority of the available delegates to secure the nomination. But the press covers these races as if delegates don't matter at all. I was listening to NPR this week, and they were discussing the Republican race. They clearly considered McCain the leader and talked of Romney as if it would be an upset if he won. But Romney has far more pledged delegates, and is virtually tied with McCain in the next big state, Florida. Likewise, the media portrayed Nevada as a big win for Clinton, even though she and Obama received the same number of delegates. These are the same major media outlets that had just about buried her after Iowa, where she tied Obama for delegates.
So there seem to be two commodities at play here - the delegates, and much more importantly, it seems, that nebulous thing, momentum. Momentum certainly shouldn't be discounted. I think Giuliani is about to discover that a big lead before the primaries can evaporate pretty quickly if you lose it. But in a race like this, I think it's still too early to be talking of momentum as if that's all that matters.
There are many problems with our primary system - it's undemocratic (what's up with these ridiculous Democratic super delegates?), it doesn't accurately reflect our diverse population, but most importantly, I think, is that the major media outlets all but control the outcome. I believe this is where momentum becomes important. When the media anoints a front-runner or two coming out of New Hampshire, they sway opinions, just by the force and volume of their coverage. Supporters of other candidates get discouraged and either drop out or figure they'd better make their vote count and vote for one of the front-runners. Many pundits have already crowned Clinton and McCain. You'd never know that most of the delegates are still up for grabs if you only follow CNN or MSNBC, or even, sadly, NPR. And I guess the really sad thing is that they aren't in any practical sense. The media has succeeded in making John Edwards a marginal figure. Giuliani, who once led in national polls is running on fumes.
This all leads me to an article on CNN tonight. After all this coverage pushing one candidate over another without regard to delegate count, CNN drops this line - "The South Carolina primary is also the last time Democratic voters will weigh in with any significance before "Super Tuesday" February 5". The Florida primary is on January 29, and all the candidates are on the ballot. So do we suddenly not count because our delegates aren't going to be seated (supposedly)? When did delegates start to matter? I guess when we got in the way of the media's Super Tuesday coverage.