||Bill Press is co-host of CNN's Crossfire. He is providing exclusive analysis to CNN allpolitics.com during the election season.|
Bill Press: In California, can McCain make the earth shake?
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- I'm bummed. After a month of surprises, ever since New Hampshire, this whole primary season suddenly seems to be running out of gas on both sides.
Take this week: Two days, two debates -- and, barring one more surprise on March 7 -- two party nominees.
On the Democratic side, it's definitely over. Bill Bradley's a great guy -- he just couldn't win any primaries. Not even one. Not even the beauty contest in Washington state, where he campaigned for six straight days. And Super Tuesday doesn't look any brighter.
Bradley, perhaps inadvertently, even signaled it was over in Wednesday night's debate. When asked what mistake in his life had taught him the most, he answered: "to believe that you never fail" -- not exactly a rallying cry for his remaining troops. Back to Stanford, Bill.
For Republicans, it looks like the party establishment's $70 million investment in George Bush is finally going to pay a dividend. Barring another McCain miracle, Dubya will wrap it up on Tuesday -- although due more to a string of gaffes by McCain than any campaign expertise on Bush's part.
And Democrats everywhere are breathing a sigh of relief. After Michigan, it looked like the Republican party might get smart and rally behind the most exciting candidate of either party since Bobby Kennedy, the only candidate who beats Al Gore in the polls and the only one who could steal Democratic and independent voters in November.
Fortunately, for Democrats, Republicans aren't that smart, after all. Given a winner, they'll go for a loser, every time. They did it in 1996, clearing the field for Bob Dole, simply because it was his turn. They're doing it again in 2000, paving the way for George Bush, simply because his name is, well, George Bush. It is great fun, watching Republicans shoot themselves in the foot.
For those of you, like me, who don't want to see this process end, there's only one hope: the political equivalent of a California earthquake on Super Tuesday.
California is always wacky, but this year, it's wackier than ever. Under new rules, adopted by initiative in 1994, votes in California's Republican primary will actually be counted twice: once, to decide the most popular candidate, in which all votes - Republican, Democrat and Independent - are tallied. A second time, to determine who wins all 162 votes to the Republican National Convention -- in which only Republican votes are valid.
The same confusion reigns in the Democratic primary, although with fewer complications, since Democrats assign their delegates proportionately, and not winner-take-all.
But, for Republicans, it's an electoral nightmare. And one of the reasons why, back when I was still Democratic State Chair of California, and before I got an honest job on CNN, I opposed the open primary initiative -- joined by Republican State Chair John Herrington. The only time we ever agreed, on anything!
California tracking polls show John McCain and George Bush running neck and neck in the popular vote, while Bush maintains a big lead among Republicans only. So, the outcome on Tuesday could very well be explosive: McCain wins California, but Bush gets all the delegates.
And that would be like dropping a nuclear bomb in the middle of the Republican primary. McCain vows he would contest that vote, if need be, all the way to Philadelphia. And we could end up with the first floor fight at a national convention since Robert Taft and Dwight Eisenhower in 1952. As political junkies, we should be so lucky.
It's all up to John McCain and the quirky voters of California. Please, don't end it so soon. Make the earth shake on March 7.