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Memo: McCain 'De Facto' Nominee After Feb. 5

In an internal memo for Sen. John McCain's (R-Ariz.) presidential bid, campaign manager Rick Davis argued that his candidate stands in extremely strong position to rack up a decisive delegate victory over former governor Mitt Romney (Mass.) on Super Tuesday and, in doing so, lay claim to the GOP nomination.

"Senator McCain is tremendously well positioned to win the nomination of our party and will be the de facto nominee of the party following the February 5th Super Tuesday elections," writes Davis. "Governor Romney has a delegate problem the media will soon figure out."

The memo, a copy of which was obtained by The Fix, was distributed to McCain's national finance team this morning.

McCain's strength (and Romney's weakness), according to Davis, is centered on a series of "winner take all" states where whoever wins the popular vote is awarded all of the state's delegates. Second place in these states gets a candidate no delegates.

In the seven "winner take all" states set to vote next Tuesday -- New York, Missouri Arizona, New Jersey, Utah, Connecticut and Delaware -- McCain holds significant polling leads in five. No recent polling is available in Utah -- almost certainly a Romney state -- or Delaware, a likely McCain win.

Add up the delegates in the five states where McCain currently leads and he nets 279 of the 327 available delegates. Romney takes 33 for winning Utah. Delaware's 15 delegates remain a toss up, according to the McCain memo.

"Senator McCain's 20+ point leads in 'winner take all' states on Super Tuesday give him a tremendous advantage over Mitt Romney in the delegate race," writes Davis.

In states that award delegates either proportional to the total vote or to the winners of each congressional district, McCain also is in good shape, according to Davis.

In California, for example, where 170 delegates are at stake, Davis estimates that McCain will win 63 delegates to 44 for Romney, 22 for Giuliani and 19 for former governor Mike Huckabee (Ark.). In Georgia, the McCain campaign estimates that Huckabee will win the delegate fight with 21 followed by McCain at 12 and Romney at 10.

All told, the memo projects that McCain will walk away with 423 of the 1009 delegates up for grabs on Super Tuesday, while Romney is currently positioned to win only 143. Another 298 delegates are included in a toss up category.

As always with any sort of "internal" memo that is clearly intended for public consumption, the conclusions made by Davis should be taken cum grano salis.

Five days still remain before Super Tuesday and Romney's personal checkbook, which he has opened in order to fund ads in California and other Feb. 5 states, is a potential equalizer.

But, what the memo does speak to is the clear advantage that McCain carries today in the Feb. 5 battlegrounds, and the confidence that the current landscape has inspired within the Arizona Senator's ranks.

This election has taught us to draw no hard and fast conclusions about what will come next. That said, McCain is clearly in the pole position heading into Super Tuesday and has a chance -- and we emphasize that word "chance" -- to effectively close out the nomination with a dominating performance next Tuesday.

By Chris Cillizza  |  January 31, 2008; 1:00 PM ET
Categories:  Eye on 2008  
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Next: The McCain Impact on the Democrats


Note that the Electoral College functions exactly as intended: it denationalizes Presidential elections, turning them into a State-by-State campaign. It ensures that a winning candidate usually has to have majorities in some States in every region.

It also magnifies the importance of smaller and rural states as against the big coastal, metropolitan ones -- also something the Founders intended.

Primary systems should be as much like the national election as possible; they should be winner-take-all, they should all be open, and they should be closely grouped in time -- no more than two weeks in all.

That would marginalize the wingnuts (aka "activists") in both parties and force them towards the center.

We'd be spared the spectacle of candidates moving left or right to please the "base" (aka "activists", see "wingnuts") and then back towards the center in the real election to try and please the actual citizens of the US.

Posted by: joatsimeon | January 31, 2008 11:51 PM | Report abuse

blarg: "or the Democrats in California."

It was not too long ago that California was considered a safe REPUBLICAN state.

Posted by: Spectator2 | January 31, 2008 5:48 PM | Report abuse

blarg: "Spectator, how does the EC legitimize the winner of the election? It's possible to win the EC despite losing the popular vote. I don't call that very legitimate."

blarg: you don't call that very legitimate but the vast majority of the american people do, BECAUSE THAT'S HOW THE CONSTITUTION SAYS A PRESIDENT IS ELECTED. The very rare occurences of the candidate getting fewer votes but winning the EC have been deemed acceptable. That's why there was no rioting in the streets in 2000-2001.

I just can't understand why you'd rather have this country devolve into a banana republic with 10 or 15 candidates for president.

Posted by: Spectator2 | January 31, 2008 5:46 PM | Report abuse

E=MC2... "Energy is never created or destroyed" (Einstein) You would think our economist, Fed-friends and John McCain, busy printing the ever less valued US Dollars (DEBT=MONEY) would learn something from that simple equation, now would you?

Posted by: davidmwe | January 31, 2008 5:14 PM | Report abuse

I forgot to add people say McCain has his supporters, and independents & moderate dems. will support him but he won't get the Republican base. I disagree. He will have his R supporters, independents & moderate dems...but against Clinton or Obama and a VP choice like Tim Pawlenty or Mike Huckabee... the Republican base will also be energized leading McCain to victory in November!

Posted by: bryant_flier2006 | January 31, 2008 5:01 PM | Report abuse

Mark, a popular election doesn't require a Constitutional amendment. Each state can choose how to allocate their electoral votes. If enough states vote to award their electoral votes to the winner of the national popular election, we effectively have a popular election.

Spectator, how does the EC legitimize the winner of the election? It's possible to win the EC despite losing the popular vote. I don't call that very legitimate. I also don't see what's ridiculous about allowing voters to actually express their preferences for the candidates by IRV or another voting scheme. What's ridiculous is requiring voters to choose a candidate based on strategy and who they hate least, not who they actually want to win.

iyenori, this is from the link I posted before: "In 2004, candidates concentrated over two-thirds of their money and campaign visits in just five states; over 80% in nine states; and over 99% of their money in just 16 states." So you're wrong when you say that EC forces candidates to pay attention to a large number of states. Quite the opposite. There's no reason for the Republicans to campaign in Texas or the Democrats in California.

Posted by: Blarg | January 31, 2008 4:59 PM | Report abuse

Viewing the US map as a whole, I think McCain is virtually unstopable & will take this nomination fight. It will be tough, however. As states like Mass., Utah, oregon & Rhode Island will go Romney while states like Ga., Tenn., Arkansas, Miss. & Ky will likely be Huckabee. The delegates will likely be spread, but McCain will likely have over half & well enough to win the nomination!

Posted by: bryant_flier2006 | January 31, 2008 4:58 PM | Report abuse

Checking in: Blarg, I would repeat my comments about federalism and the role of the states, but I suspect you read them and are unimpressed with the framework that made a union by a compromise among them.

If the American people want to amend the Constitution to directly elect a President, I think somey con law scholars would say that the better alternative is to eliminate the presidency in favor of a parliamentary system.

Just some food for thought. I can probably cite at least one law review article that appears on line, somewhere.

wstander, Rick Davis has proven better at this stuff than the typical campaign shill.
That is why CC reports what he says. Proud
and I get Davis' email and have thought his
positions were consistently optimistic before the fact, but dead on when time passed.

Posted by: mark_in_austin | January 31, 2008 4:43 PM | Report abuse

Can somebody explain to me why it is newsworthy to know that the McCain campaign manager tells his finance committee that he thinks they will win the campaign? Is it because it was an "internal memo' that was "leaked " to the press and given voice by the press reporting it? If it is, either the press is stupid, and/or the public is as well. If, coming from the McCain campaign chairman it had said he thought McCain would lose, that would be be worth reporting as an "internal" memo that was leaked. As it is, not so much.

Posted by: wstander | January 31, 2008 4:23 PM | Report abuse

I'm with Spectator2. The present system limits the candidates in number while requiring attention to a large number of states. The main group short-changed consists of big cities in small states (e.g. Salt Lake City as compared with Sacramento), but you can't have everything.

Blarg's ideas about representing everyone via a system of second choices--I think that's what is meant, crudely speaking--seem to me too complicated for the ordinary voter. Americans understand straight choices and runoffs but not proportions; and what with all the self-serving local propositions, even a primary ballot is already complex enough, literally, to dishearten a Phi Beta Kappa.

Posted by: iyenori | January 31, 2008 4:18 PM | Report abuse

blarg: "If there are more than 2 candidates, then the one with the most votes wins."

that's the whole problem -- you'd have 3, 4, or 5 candidates in almost every election. You'd end up with presidents with 34 or even 26 percent of the vote.

and adding a runoff to the presidential election is just ridiculous. You'd be turning the presidential election into the race for governor of louisiana.

I don't think you understand the importance of legitimizing the winner of the presidential election. the EC does that.

Posted by: Spectator2 | January 31, 2008 4:00 PM | Report abuse

I don't see that as a problem. If there are only 2 candidates, one of them will get more than 50% of the vote. If there are more than 2 candidates, then the one with the most votes wins. If you want to ensure that someone gets 50%, use instant-runoff voting, so the last round only has 2 candidates. Easy enough.

The current system requires a majority of EC votes, but not a popular majority. Right now, it's possible for the winner of the popular vote to lose the election. I'd rather have someone win with a plurality than lose with a majority!

Posted by: Blarg | January 31, 2008 3:48 PM | Report abuse

blarg: one problem -- in addition to the one you raised -- is that electing presidents on a straight popular vote almost guarantees presidents elected with far less than 50 percent of the vote as well as, even worse, strictly regional presidents. That would be a complete disaster.

By requiring a majority of EC votes, the EC legitimizes presidents who get less than 50 percent or even less than their opponents as well. The American people accept this, and that is very important. Quite a masterstroke by the Framers.

Posted by: Spectator2 | January 31, 2008 3:22 PM | Report abuse

"Who would McCain select for VP? Huckabee?"

Maybe, though a lot of folks are predicting Gov Tim Pawlenty of MN. He's a national co-chair of McCain's campaign, stuck with him through the lean months, and is a good balance on a variety of issues. Pawlenty has been intractable on 'no new taxes' (though that could bite him in the backside due to infrastructure disrepair). Like Romney did in MA, fees have risen here, while taxes, theoretically, have not (property taxes went up, but the Gov doesn't have direct control over them). Pawlenty's latest initiatives in alt-energy research merge well with McCain's environmental position. Pawlenty gets along better with the relig right than McCain. One reason McCain might pick another over Pawlenty could be for geographic reasons and/or to attempt to solidify a swing state. Though I'm not sure if McCain would make that a primary consideration or not.

Posted by: bsimon | January 31, 2008 2:58 PM | Report abuse

I tend to doubt that conservatives would 'sit on their hands' if HRC is the Democratic nominee.

Posted by: jimd52 | January 31, 2008 2:50 PM | Report abuse

Who would McCain select for VP? Huckabee?

Posted by: rdklingus | January 31, 2008 2:46 PM | Report abuse

McCain's unstoppable with his cache of big endorsements and CW behind him. Romney's cash can't save him now.

Posted by: parkerfl | January 31, 2008 2:45 PM | Report abuse

Spectator, what was the problem with a national popular vote? I've heard the argument that a national popular vote would cause the candidates to focus entirely on densely-populated regions, ignoring states and rural areas. But that seems far better than candidates ignoring most of the country to campaign entirely in a few swing states.

Posted by: Blarg | January 31, 2008 2:44 PM | Report abuse

McCain camp errantly believes if HRC is the nominee, we will hold our nose and vote for him. Wrong, We detest both of them, and we are a lot more comfortable with detesting somebody from the opposite party than our own.

Posted by: vbhoomes | January 31, 2008 2:29 PM | Report abuse

I wrote a paper on the EC and the possible alternatives in college. My conclusion was that they all have flaws, and that the EC was the best of the flawed alternatives. But that was many many years ago. 8>D

Posted by: Spectator2 | January 31, 2008 2:14 PM | Report abuse

bsimon: I feel differently about electoral votes, in that I think the entire electoral vote system is terrible and should be abolished. Distributing EVs on a district-by-district basis is an especially bad idea; it turns the battle from swing states to gerrymandered swing districts. The presidential election should be decided entirely based on the popular vote.

But I don't mind deciding primaries based on delegate counts. The difference is that primaries take place over a period of months. And there are fewer pre-determined conclusions in primaries, so every state matters. My vote in Massachusetts matters on February 5, but it won't in November.

Posted by: Blarg | January 31, 2008 2:11 PM | Report abuse

I think that it is quite realistic to assume that McCain will be the Republican nominee. Contrary to what was written in a previous comment, I believe that McCain has a pretty good chance to become the next president (not with my vote, though)regardless whether Clinton or Obama emerge as the Democratic Party's candidate. One reason, perhaps the most important one, is that the mainstream media have not laid glove on McCain--he is regularly described as straight talker or associated with straight talk, as a genuine hero, authentic--and, most surprisingly, as moderate. Moderate in what respect?
See on this,

Posted by: bn1123 | January 31, 2008 2:11 PM | Report abuse

The gerrymandering issue is definitely a good point.

mark: I'm not so sure that low population states would be any worse off under the congressional district apportioning that bsimon described. The statewide winner would still get two extra electoral votes for that feat, so in states that only have one representative, you'd still effectively have a winner-take-all system. Of course, as a resident of a populous state, I always feel that voters in less populous states have an unreasonably large influence on presidential elections :)

Posted by: illinois2 | January 31, 2008 2:10 PM | Report abuse

McCain will have to get more than half of the delegates up for grabs on Super Tuesday in order for him to become the presumptive or de facto nominee. He currently has less than half of the delegates awarded so far, even if we give him Giuliani's one delegate (McCain 94, Romney 59, Huckabee 40, Paul 4). To get nominated, one must get one more than half. If no one has more than half of the delegates after Super Tuesday (more than half the states will have voted by then), the nomination would still be up for grabs and a brokered convention would still be a possibility.

Posted by: terrymitchell | January 31, 2008 2:06 PM | Report abuse

What a great time for Democrats, up against the man who wants to keep the Iraq war going forever and come up with some new wars too. And I'm sure that the opportunity to cut taxes on corporations will drive people to the polls in droves.

The debates were a riot .. McCain doesn't debate, he baits, interrupting and smirking like a freeper on live TV from his trailer. And the irony of Romney defending a statement that sounded dangerously congruent with the wishes of 70% of Americans.

Oh bring it own!

Posted by: chrisfox8 | January 31, 2008 2:04 PM | Report abuse

bhoomes, that HRC factor is a point. HRC is the only way the evangelicals come vote for your guy, for example.

Posted by: mark_in_austin | January 31, 2008 2:03 PM | Report abuse

bsimon, your point about WY is taken.

Small purple states are worthless in split electoral voting.

Posted by: mark_in_austin | January 31, 2008 2:00 PM | Report abuse

vbhoomes writes
"The dems will desert McCain and he will never get enough indenpendent votes to offest the lost of conservative votes"

Depends on whether HRC becomes the Dem nominee. Would not the distaste for HRC among the GOP base be enough incentive to hold their noses & vote McCAin? The question may be whether independents are inspired to participate & for whom they would rally (I still suspect McCain).

Posted by: bsimon | January 31, 2008 1:58 PM | Report abuse

Thanks to the winner take all,more than likely this senile old fool will be our nominee. But you cannot win an election without the base of (ask Ford, Dole)your party. Conservatives will stay home or vote for someone else thus denying McCain the WH. Mark: You don't start with IND's and try to work back to your base. Won't work. The dems will desert McCain and he will never get enough indenpendent votes to offest the lost of conservative votes.

Posted by: vbhoomes | January 31, 2008 1:55 PM | Report abuse

"WY becomes an afterthought in prez elections if its electoral votes are split."

WY already is an afterthought. Minimum # of electoral votes, reliably red voters. Who campaigns there in Pres races?

Posted by: bsimon | January 31, 2008 1:51 PM | Report abuse

melody, in re: your question about the keating investigation... It involved a corruption case from 1989 involving Charles Keating, former chairman of the Lincoln Savings and Loan association who donated money to several Senate campaigns.

Senators Glenn and McCain were found by The Senate Ethics Committee to have commited no improper activity. The case was dismissed against them.

The other three senators had acted improperly in interfering with the Federal Home Loan Banking Board's investigation.

McCain has since made ethics reform a key issue and has championed the cause despite outrage and criticism from many in the party.

Posted by: proudtobeGOP | January 31, 2008 1:51 PM | Report abuse

illinois: the good people of Calif will never go along with this when they see how it devalues their votes even more than they are already devalued vis-a-vis those of voters in other states.

Posted by: Spectator2 | January 31, 2008 1:49 PM | Report abuse

"I hope CA doesn't go ahead with plans to do it without some red states going along, though!"

I think TX is the only large state (in terms of EVs) that's reliably red. Most of the red states don't have large populations.

Posted by: bsimon | January 31, 2008 1:48 PM | Report abuse

If every state went to an electoral vote disturibution by district then you open the door to gerrymandering like we see with Congressional districts. Not that it isn't a bad idea per se it just can't be as simple as blanketly changing the system.

I personally think the electoral college is a good way to allow the smaller states to still have a say in who the president will be. Remember we don't live in a Democracy, we live in a Representative Republic. They are two very different things.

Posted by: AndyR3 | January 31, 2008 1:47 PM | Report abuse

bsimon, I think both ME and Nebraska. But
I favor the present system. bTW, using the ME system still would have given GWB the 2000

Call it a commitment to federalism: WY becomes an afterthought in prez elections if its electoral votes are split.

If the idea is to popularly elect the Prez by national vote count that makes all states afterthoughts. We are actually intended to be a federal union.

Posted by: mark_in_austin | January 31, 2008 1:46 PM | Report abuse

Electoral votes, as bsimon says, should be distributed by congressional district. I hope CA doesn't go ahead with plans to do it without some red states going along, though!

Posted by: illinois2 | January 31, 2008 1:42 PM | Report abuse

melody, google is your friend. Specifically, I think wikipedia has a comprehensive article on the Keating 5. Short answer, McCain made a poor decision to attend a meeting, but was not implicated in accepting bribes.

Posted by: bsimon | January 31, 2008 1:39 PM | Report abuse

jslotterback -

A crushing McC win on Super Tuesday, making him the "de facto" nominee, coupled with a clouded D race, would free Indies in TX and OH to vote D on Mar 4.

However, if the local action is on the R side, TX indies will still vote in the R Primary. In Austin, the local action is on the D side, so I would end up voting in the D primary if McC has it wrapped.

I do not know how that plays into same day predictions, however. It is problematical enough just trying to determine where the local action is, wherever you are.

Posted by: mark_in_austin | January 31, 2008 1:39 PM | Report abuse

blarg writes
"The winner-take-all system is designed to produce a frontrunner, not to represent the will of the people."

Do you feel the same, or different about how electoral votes are awarded?

I feel the same. I like the systems that award EVs or delegates by congressional district, with additional statewide votes/delegates reserved for the overall winner, in order to reward the candidate winning the most support. A couple states conduct primaries this way; I think only Maine distributes electoral votes this way.

Posted by: bsimon | January 31, 2008 1:37 PM | Report abuse

In one of the prior threads, there was a nasty couple of allegations laid at McCain's door including a reference to Keating Five Scandal. What was that, and was McCain involved in that? I seem to remember congress people going to jail, but not for what. Anyone recollect? And what is the tie in to McCain?

Posted by: melody | January 31, 2008 1:36 PM | Report abuse

CC, would you forget your odd fascination with Romney's money! It hasn't helped him win much so far, so why do you say it's a big factor? IT should be pretty clear so far that money and TV ads don't really do so much to win anymore.

Posted by: freedom41 | January 31, 2008 1:33 PM | Report abuse

CC is repeating CW when he says "Romney's personal checkbook, which he has opened in order to fund ads in California and other Feb. 5 states, is a potential equalizer."

According to some fairly smart folks, the new rule is that TV ads don't matter as much as they used to. Also, going on the air with the earliest and most ads doesn't count for nearly as much as it once did.

Campaigning this time has been so intense, long and geared toward retail politics that people -- especially in the early states -- form opinions that are difficult to alter by early and voluminous advertising.

Mr. Romney, who spent $2.4 million on TV ads in Iowa beginning last February, and outspent everybody by a factor of 10 in Florida, found that out.

Posted by: proudtobeGOP | January 31, 2008 1:28 PM | Report abuse

If the objective of your nominating process is to choose a nominee, winner-take-all primaries make sense. Proportional representation is a better representation of exactly how much support each candidate has in a given state at a specific time.

But that's what polling is for. A nomination process based on that could quite conceivably lead to a race going right to the convention and a nominee chosen without the input of primary voters. One could argue that a process whereby primary voters choose the nominee will produce worse Presidents, and have a case for that given our recent history. But if that's the kind of process we want, it has to be likely to produce a clear decision every time. The Republicans, with their greater number of winner-take-all primaries, have a process likelier to do that than the Democrats have.

Posted by: jbritt3 | January 31, 2008 1:27 PM | Report abuse

He has mainstream support, it would seem, but on the internet he is shunned, as they figures clearly show:

Sorry, but McCain has little chance against any Democratic candidates. Lastly, I feel this de-facto message is very premature.

Posted by: davidmwe | January 31, 2008 1:24 PM | Report abuse

Personally, I think everything in that memo, while fully intended to become public information, is very logical and accurate. There seems to be a growing sentiment of concern in the conservative base, who is very accustomed to selected a frontrunner and falling in behind. I think you will see big Super Tuesday wins for McCain who has momentum and who has a chance to win in November. Many Republicans will use this as an opportunity to come together as a party even despite individual differences, something they do well as a group.

My personal bias leaning liberal and specifically as a self-described Obamanian may be clouding my judgement, but I think McCain's gain may also be Obama's. In open states, similar to New Hampshire earlier in the process, there may be less of a need for centrist and right leaning independents to check McCain's name on election day. As McCain dominates the media coverage as the de facto frontrunner, wouldn't that give a wavering indenpendent in an open state reason to go Obama. Why waste your vote on the person who has locked up the race, when you could have a real impact on the other side?

Is that logical, or just wishful thinking an Obanatic.

Posted by: jslotterback | January 31, 2008 1:23 PM | Report abuse

Blarg, I was telling a GOP friend the same thing last night! The DNC way is more frustrating for those of us who want our respective candidates to emerge the winner sooner rather than later, but it ultimately makes every single Dem vote count. I think it's why we are able to ultimately coalesce around the nominee - whoever s/he may be.

Posted by: femalenick | January 31, 2008 1:21 PM | Report abuse

This morning, I was thinking about winner-take-all vs. proportional allocation of delegates. I came to the conclusion that proportional representation is much more fair.

The Republican contest is now a 3-way race between McCain, Romney, and Huckabee. If all states used proportional allocation of delegates, McCain probably wouldn't get a majority. He won Florida and SC with less than 40% of the vote. Even without Giuliani and Thompson, I don't expect him to get more than 50% in more than a few states. But with winner-take-all, Romney and Huckabee get no delegates, even if they together get more votes than McCain.

The winner-take-all system is designed to produce a frontrunner, not to represent the will of the people. Ideally there would be a system where voters could support more than one candidate. (Ranking, IRV, Condorcet counting, etc.) But with the current voting system, the Democratic method of allocating delegates proportionally is more fair than the winner-take-all method.

Posted by: Blarg | January 31, 2008 1:15 PM | Report abuse

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