The weather in the Cheesehead state is in single digits today as Democrats and Republicans go to the polls for the final primary of the month. Polls close at 8pm local time, 9pm ET. The stakes: Pretty damn high.
The Democrats have just finished a week of the most brutal campaigning since South Carolina. Hillary Clinton has tested a series of negative attacks on Obama, from the piecemeal—Social Security, health care, his Illinois Senate record—to a dark, larger narrative. That narrative could be summed up as "Obama is a lightweight speech-maker for hire who won't debate the issues and doesn't even write his own stuff." The Deval Patrick scandal might be one of those cluster bombs that screws up everything we know about a presidential race; it might backfire on Clinton, since Obama's trading lines with a political ally is far, far different than Joe Biden stealing lines from a British Labour leader.
Those aren't the only factors that could screw up Obama's chances. Cold weather had an early impact on turnout in Madison, the liberal enclave where he needs to win big. Some talk radio jocks suggested that Republicans (it's an open primary, and they can vote in either race) vote for Hillary, since polls show her losing the state to McCain in November. But it would take one hell of a mind-meld to reverse the trend we saw in Virginia's open primary: Republicans and independents voting for Obama because they, uh, like him. In 2004 (when there was no GOP race), 38 percent of Democratic primary voters were non-Democrats. It'll be lower this time, but those voters will give Obama a cushion.
Here are the exits from 2004: Here's a map of how the state voted. If Dade Dane (I had a map in front of me and still mistyped this) County (Madison) turnout is light (125,363 voted in 2004), it's bad for Obama. If Brown County (Green Bay) turnout is high (26,542 voted in 2004), it's good for Clinton.
The Republican race is harder to handicap simply because so many Republicans will pass on the race to stay home or to mess with the Democrats. But early exit polls suggest Huckabee is doing worse among groups he overperformed in back in Virginia, like talk radio voters.
We've got a Democratic caucus in Hawaii and a Republican primary in Washington (supplementing the Feb. 9 caucus), and results won't come in until 1 a.m. and 11 p.m. respectively, so thread away.
The Democrats (74 delegates)—I'm expecting Obama to win by 7 or 8 points.
The Republicans (40 delegates)—McCain should win by about 15 points.
Hawaii (20 delegates)
Obama's a native and the state's as wired for him as the rest of the caucus states. It's also one of the wealthiest (median income $49,820) and most liberal (Kucinich got 31 percent in 2004 and carried Maui) states that's voted so far. The only things that could put Hillary over the top would be an Asian anti-Obama vote (as occured in California) or the old Daniel Inouye machine turning out thousands of votes for her. I'd be surprised if they could stop Obama. He wins by 15 points or more.
Washington (19 delegates)
McCain will win.
UPDATE 6:45: Early Wisconsin exits (with more than two hours til polls close) look good for Obama. Twenty-seven percent of voters are independents, and Obama is winning them about 2-1. Clinton would need to win Democrats by about 10 points to overcome that advantage. One sort of promising result: 70 percent say free trade costs Americans jobs. Down from 74 percent last time!
UPDATE 6:53: Clinton will take the stage for her last speech of the day at… 8:30 p.m. ET. If she thought she could win Wisconsin, she'd wait. (Neither candidate is spending election night in Wisconsin.)
UPDATE 7:04: Nine percent of Democratic voters were Republicans, pushing the non-Democrat turnout in the Obama-Clinton race to 38 percent: Exactly what it was when a coalition of working class whites and blacks edged Kerry past Edwards in 2004. In the GOP race 20 percent of voters were independent and 9 percent were Democrats, which must be good for McCain.
UPDATE 8:13: CBS releases most of the early exits in a shameless bid for traffic. OK, I'll play. Obama is winning every region of the state except the conservative northwest, and carrying white voters by 7 points (losing white Democrats by 4).
UPDATE 8:58: Mickey Kaus is wrong. It was a backlash to overt sexism, a great ground operation (including the legendary Michael Whouley, who won Iowa for Kerry in 2004), Edwards spoiling the anti-Hillary vote, and a year of organization that won New Hampshire for Hillary. If she loses tonight, she… loses tonight.
UPDATE 9:00: The networks call for McCain. Final exit polls have Obama winning men by 26 points and women by 2 points. He wins going away tonight.
UPDATE 9:10: So, how did Plagiarismgate play? Obama… won voters who decided in the last week by 12 points. He lost voters who decided today by 2 points.
UPDATE 9:18: Exits have McCain winning by barely 15 points and Ron Paul dragging at around 4 percent.
UPDATE 10:02: In Obama's victory speech: "If you work in America, you should not be poor."
UPDATE 10:37: The exit polls are looking final, and the late-deciding vote broke this way: Voters who moved in the last week went for Obama by 34 points, voters who moved in the last three days went by 8 for Obama, and voters who decided today went for Clinton by 2. So, does that indicate a swing from the plagiarism scandal? Maybe not. In this last round of primaries election-day deciders have always broken for Clinton compared to last-week deciders. In Maryland Obama won last week voters by 34, last three days voters by 24… and Clinton won election day voters by 7 points. In other words they broke even more strongly in a state where the last day of news was good for Obama than they broke in Wisconsin, where Obama decisively lost the last news cycle. All three network broadcasts led with the plagiarism story last night.
UPDATE 11:06: As usual, Ron Paul is getting his best results in small, rural counties. Seven percent in Adams, Burnett, Calumet. Eight percent in Iron. Nine percent in Richland and Vernon. Twelve percent in Crawford. But in the exits he only breaks into double digits among voters dissatisfied with a McCain or Huck nomination.
UPDATE 11:33: The talking heads keep talking about Obama's "15 point" victory. It's going to be closer to 18 points. The outstanding counties are basically all Obama counties. More than 20 percent needs to be counted in both Dane and Milwaukee, both going huge for him. What makes this impressive? The single best pre-election poll for Obama showed him winning by 13.
UPDATE 12:16: In 2004, when there was no Republican race in Wisconsin, 828,364 people voted in the Democratic primary. Tonight more than a million people will have voted in the Democratic primary and less than 400,000 will have voted in the GOP primary. I'm increasingly thinking that Republicans handed McCain the nomination knowing that a Republican won't win this year. It's like a gold watch, except that it will explode after everyone else leaves the room.