Big Wins For Obama And Huckabee

Saturday was a big day for Barack Obama, as he won the Louisiana primary and the Nebraska and Washington caucuses. And it was a pretty big day for Mike Huckabee, who won the Louisiana primary and the Kansas caucuses, though he lost the Washington caucuses to John McCain.

But a look at the numbers shows that Obama's and Huckabee's successes were limited. Obama's 57-to-36 percent win in Louisiana looks pretty impressive. But remember that it comes in the state with the second-highest black percentage in 2000 (and probably still, despite the outmigration after Katrina). Louisiana's black proportion "alone or in combination with any other race" was 32.9 percent, compared with 29.5 percent in South Carolina and 29.2 percent in Georgia. This is a good omen for Obama's chances in Maryland, which has the largest black percentage of any state that was not in the Confederacy, and for the District of Columbia. It's less relevant for Wisconsin, Ohio, and Texas, which have lower black percentages. And in Texas's case, there's a much higher Latino percentage. The results by parish show Obama rolling up big margins in black-majority parishes, notably Orleans, while Clinton scores well in only one suburban parish, Livingston, east of Baton Rouge, which has the lowest black percentage in the state.

Obama's percentages in the caucuses were impressive indeed--2-to-1 margins in Nebraska and Washington State--but we have to remember that these are limited-turnout affairs. Only 38,670 votes were cast in the Nebraska caucuses, and according to the data I saw election night, more than 40 percent were cast in Omaha's Douglas County, which has the only significant black community in the state and also a fair number of upscale whites. By way of comparison, 71,572 votes were cast in Nebraska's 2004 presidential primary, held after the nomination was decided. And in 2006, there were 370,600 registered Democrats in Nebraska. Obama's big margin shows there's greater enthusiasm for him than for Clinton, but it doesn't establish how deep it goes.

In the Washington caucuses, the biggest Obama percentages came in central Seattle and the towns immediately east of Lake Washington--Bellevue, Redmond, etc. Which means that Obama showed his greatest strength in Nebraska and Washington in the neighborhoods of two of the nation's richest men, Warren Buffett and Bill Gates.

Mike Huckabee's showings were weaker than Obama's--and should be discounted, I think, because most people regard the race for the nomination as over and done. Huckabee's margin in the Louisiana primary was 43 to 42 percent. If you look at the parish results, you'll see that McCain carried metro New Orleans (Orleans, Jefferson, St. Bernard, St. Tammany) 48 to 30 percent, while losing the rest of the state. These four parishes cast 24 percent of the statewide Republican primary. I think this is relevant to the Texas primary. Metro Houston and the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex are likely to vote like metro New Orleans, or even more for McCain, in my judgment. And they cast not just one quarter of the state Republican primary vote but about one half. Add in Latinos (almost totally absent in Louisiana), and I think that an extrapolation from the Louisiana primary says that Huckabee loses the Texas primary.

Huckabee won a much larger percentage victory, 60 to 24, in the Kansas caucuses. But note how many people participated--19,516. That's 2.6 percent of registered Republicans in the state. Kansas has had some tough internecine Republican fighting over the past decade, between strong pro-life Republicans and those they call country club Republicans. We can see the vestiges of that fight in the county returns. Sedgwick County (Wichita), with a big pro-life contingent, voted 68 to 17 percent for Huckabee. In Johnson County (the affluent suburbs of Kansas City), where Republican primar voters have rejected pro-life Republicans in the primary or crossed over to Democrats and defeated them on Election Day, Huckabee's margin was reduced to 52 to 28 percent. But consider the number of caucusgoers: 3,295 in Sedgwick County, 4,702 in Johnson County. I chalk this up to pro-life enthusiasts who, having been defeated time and again, took this consequence-less caucus as an opportunity to throw a spear back at the other side.

The Washington caucuses evidently went 26 to 24 percent for McCain over Huckabee, although Huckabee disputes that (on what sounds initially like nontrivial grounds). One of my friends at Fox News was keeping up with the Seattle Times's blog on which people were posting about their caucus experiences. Most of them were Obama backers recounting the enthusiasm and ebullience of their fellow Obama voters. But one was a Republican. He found he was the only person who showed up at his caucus site.

I think the Republican results can be deeply discounted. Pretty much everyone knows McCain will win the nomination, so most of the people showing up are Huckabee enthusiasts or McCain haters (for the first time, Huckabee is getting more than the lowest single digits from nonevangelical/born-again Republicans). But if he can win the only genuine primary of the night, Louisiana, by just 1 point, he ain't going to be nominated.

Democrats continue to have a huge turnout advantage over Republicans--more than double the turnout in Louisiana. But this, unlike earlier primary turnout advantages, should probably be discounted. Democrats have a very close and lively contest, with the outcome by no means obvious. Republicans don't. Ergo, you shouldn't expect so many Republicans to show up for the primaries or (especially) the caucuses.

The Obama-Clinton race is a real contest, and the polls in Maryland and Virginia (no one seems to have bothered polling the District of Columbia) suggest that Tuesday will be a good night for Obama--a better night than Saturday, I think, given that most of his victories then were in thinly attended caucuses while these will be real primaries.

By Michael Barone