In a topsy-turvy presidential campaign, with hundreds of millions of dollars already raised and a January jam-packed with key events as never before, candidates are challenging some traditional notions about the best path to the White House.Hillary Clinton looks more inevitable all the time. She's pulling so far out front that either Barack Obama or John Edwards will need a win in Iowa to slow the Clinton juggernaut. The Edwards campaign, though, unlike Obama's, would likely be finished with a poor showing in the Hawkeye State.
In races past, candidates typically spent most heavily in the early going on the Iowa caucuses and New Hampshire primary, then had time to shift resources to larger, later states if the nomination hadn't been sewed up yet.
This campaign season is shaping up differently, especially for Republicans, where two major candidates -- Rudy Giuliani and Fred Thompson -- are spending their budgets most heavily on Florida. That state's Jan. 29 primary has made it for the first time a potential kingmaker along with Iowa and New Hampshire. Among Republicans, Mitt Romney is also a big spender in Florida.
For Democrats, the growing dominance of Hillary Rodham Clinton, challenged by a struggling but well-financed Barack Obama, has led unprecedented millions to be poured into Iowa -- twice as much as into New Hampshire. Iowa's Jan. 3 caucus has taken on greater importance for Democrats than four or eight years ago because it is the single best chance for Mr. Obama and John Edwards to stop Mrs. Clinton. None of the Democratic candidates are active in Florida because the national party, angry at the state for moving its vote so early, has forbidden campaigning there.
The shape of the campaign emerges from a Wall Street Journal analysis of campaign spending reports released earlier this month. The Journal estimated spending in each state choosing a candidate in January by analyzing campaign filings and gathering data on television-advertising spending and staffing.
"The Democrats are being very much condensed and focused on Iowa, whereas Republicans are pursuing a less conventional strategy," says Evan Tracey, an analyst with TNS Media Intelligence/CMAG, a political media research firm. "Campaigns are having to make some tough choices as far as the states where they put their money."
Six states have primaries or caucuses for both parties in January -- Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina, Nevada, Michigan and Florida. A seventh, Wyoming, will select among Republicans. Then, on Feb. 5, California, New York, Illinois and other big states vote in what could be the campaign's decisive day.
The new schedule means voters in some large states may play a more central role in choosing the parties' candidates than in earlier years, when the stretched-out campaign meant the victor was often effectively decided before many big states voted.
The real fireworks are on the Republican side. Both Rudy Giuliani and Fred Thompson have placed major bets on the early vote in Florida, where both candidates hope a win will provide the momentum for victory on Super Tuesday, February 5th, 2008
After that day, we'll almost certainly know who'll be the Democratic nominee, although it's heads or tails on the GOP race at this point.
By the way, George Will defends the 2008 nomination process in his new essay at Newsweek. USA Today, on the other hand, suggests we need to reform presidential nominations, moving to regional primaries for 2012.