Unlike Jesse Jackson with his epochal primary and caucus victories in the 1980s, Obama is not a protest candidate dissed and dismissed by party insiders, but a mainstream contender with a plausible route to the nomination and the White House. ~Walter Shapiro

You mean Carol Mosley-Braun wasn’t a contender?  Her seventeen voters will be devastated to hear that.

What is Obama’s “plausible route” to the nomination?  Forget about winning it all for a minute.  How does he win any of the primaries, much less enough of them to wrap up the whole thing?  People say these things about Obama being a serious contender, as if wishes were election outcomes, but they never provide the explanation for how Obama might plausibly become the next Democratic nominee.  Where is he going to win?  Maybe he wins in New Hampshire, or maybe he gets a Howard Dean-respectable (but disappointing) second place and it goes downhill from there.  Years from now, people will tell of how they were there in the winter of ‘06 when Obama first came to New Hampshire and how nothing he did later could stir up the kind of sheer spontaneous interest that first visit generated.  This might be because he is not actually that interesting.  He is a politician of conventional liberal views perfectly suited to his party and his original constituents in northeastern Illinois, and he has impressive rhetorical skills and a telegenic personality.  That’s all.  He has not come to lead you, the Democrats, to the Promised Land.   

I see no realistic scenario in which he wins in Iowa, which is a virtual lock for Vilsack, or Nevada, which some see as Edwards’ likely stomping grounds, and I assume that South Carolina will probably also be Edwards’ for the taking.  (These assessments start to run contrary to my assumption that losing VP candidates never win their party’s presidential nomination, but right now Edwards has many advantages, including a message, that Obama does not have.)  After that, the primary calendar in February looks fairly grim for Obama: Delaware (Biden’s home state), Missouri, D.C., Tennessee, Virginia, Wisconsin, Arizona, Hawaii and Idaho.  Maybe Hawaiians will go for their “native son,” but most the rest of these, save Wisconsin and D.C., form a roll call of states where left-liberals fear to tread.  He probably wins D.C. and gets few delegates for his trouble.  Wisconsin would have gone to Feingold, had he decided to run, and could fall to Obama, but it is hardly certain.  (And yes, I know that it is somewhat ridiculous to be talking about these things a year in advance.)  Therefore, he stands a good chance of being fifth or sixth in the delegate count (behind, say, Clinton, Edwards, Biden, Clark, and Vilsack) at the end of February, which is not where he would need to be if he were going to win it all.  If Obama is going to win the whole shooting match, he has to pull off victories in three of the first four votes.  That is what he needs to convince people that he is a serious candidate, even if it would take fewer victories to secure frontrunner status for someone else, because he is so inexperienced and unprepared for what he is about to undertake.   

States with major metropolitan areas that would probably be most favourable to Obama don’t begin coming up until at least Super Tuesday when Massachusetts and New York roll around, and as it stands now he has to wait until March 18 for Illinois’ primary.  There are attempts in the works to move Illinois to early February, but failing that Obama’s presumed natural base of support in this state may end up doing him little good if he cannot survive until that vote.  California deceptively waits at the end on June 10 like a mirage for the man dying in the desert, offering the illusory hope that it might rescue a failing campaign at the very end of the primaries.  The nomination will have been wrapped up by then, as it always, always is.  The new calendar has ensured that the nominee will be known even sooner than in previous contests.  The other big hitters will keep going through Super Tuesday for the sake of form, but it is fair to assume that whoever gets the early lead wins.  Someone like Vilsack winning it all is looking less implausible by the day, while Obama’s implausible candidacy just gets harder and harder to take.