Among important stories about John Edwards' haircuts, Hillary Clinton's tipping habits, Mike Huckabee's band, and Rudy's impending/stirring comeback in Florida, the mainstream media seem to be missing a very important point about the primaries thus far. Shocking, I know.
With 1.5 exceptions (Nevada and the Hillary vs. no one Democratic non-primary in Michigan) the nominating contests thus far have shown significantly higher turnout on the Democratic side. While I'd strongly caution anyone from reading too much into this too soon, it's certainly interesting in light of a decade worth of Rove Era GOP "turnout machine" handjobbing in the media. They've long relied on the idea of a smaller yet far more reliable and committed base. It has reached Conventional Wisdom status. But I wonder if that confidence holds for 2008.
Consider, just for starters, that Barack Obama (295,091) got more votes in South Carolina than the top two GOP finishers combined (McCain and Huckabee, ~279,000). Look at the balance of participation thus far, bearing in mind that SC, IA, and NH are not exactly hotbeds of liberalism.
South Carolina (Total)
– Democrats: 530,322
– GOP: 442,918
– Margin: +87,404
– Democrats: 239,000 (state party estimates; individual votes not tallied)
– GOP: 118,691
– Margin: +120,309
New Hampshire (Total)
– Democrats: 284,104
– GOP: 233,381
– Margin: +50,723
Now, I wouldn't go to Vegas and bet my life savings ($32.10) on the general election based on these results. Primary turnout is so pitiful that drawing conclusions or extrapolating general election outcomes is quite tenuous. Less than 20% of Iowans participated in the Caucus, whereas nearly three times that amount will vote in November. So this does not mean "Slam Dunk Democratic victory assured." Neither is it irrelevant, however. It's not an accident that Republicans (and independents) don't feel as compelled to show up. It's an uninspiring field with no clear leader, and it shows.
I'm sure Chris Matthews understands this and factors it in to his incisive commentary at all times.