With wins in South Carolina and Nevada, Senators John McCain (R-Arizona) and Hillary Clinton (D-New York), have earned tentative front runner status in their parties’ respective presidential nomination processes. But with bigger challenges ahead in South Carolina for the Democrats and Florida for the Republicans, not to mention Super Tuesday on the horizon, it’s still anyone’s game.
Pundits are describing McCain’s Jan. 19 win in South Carolina as crucial for his campaign’s chances after a hard fought loss to Mitt Romney in the Michigan primary. Senator McCain has a lot of history in the Palmetto State where his 2000 campaign for the Republican nomination was derailed by George W. Bush. That contest saw the circulation of a series of vicious rumours; including one suggesting that McCain’s adopted daughter Bridget was a love child conceived out of wedlock.
The South Carolina primary is especially important for Republicans as conservative, evangelical voters are emblematic of the party’s base. In every primary since 1980 the voters of South Carolina have chosen the eventual Republican nominee; a fact that McCain was quick to point out during post-primary interviews.
For Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee, who won the Iowa caucus largely from support of the so called ‘values voters,’ the loss in South Carolina could be crippling. It was the last state before Super Tuesday, when 20 states go to the polls simultaneously on Feb. 5, that he was expected to do well in – cutting the legs out from any momentum he might have generated. Likewise, for former Senator Fred Thompson, who has yet to take any State primary or caucus and who has banked on appealing to southern Republicans, this latest defeat may have doomed his campaign.
Of course, McCain could still be tripped up in Florida on Jan. 29, which Giuliani, who has largely ignored the earlier primary states, has called his ‘firewall’ state. A Real Clear Politics (RCP) poll of polls shows McCain 2.9 points ahead, but a recent Insider Advantage poll gives Giuliani the lead.
There’s also former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romeny, who has won the less important contests in Wyoming, Michigan and Nevada. Technically, he’s carried more states than any of the other Republican candidates and has almost double McCain’s delegate count. However, RCP shows him polling at 15.3 per cent nationally as compared to McCain’s 28.6 per cent, leaving him poorly positioned for Super Tuesday.
On the Democratic side, Hillary Clinton took the Nevada caucus Jan. 19, despite endorsements for Barrack Obama from the important culinary workers union. This could give her some momentum going into the South Carolina primary, on Jan. 26, where the RCP poll of polls gives Obama a 10.5 point lead.
Even if she loses South Carolina, which is the last Democratic primary before Feb. 5, her campaign is expected to do well on Super Tuesday. Her status as the national front runner, polling at 41.3 per cent (RCP) as compared to Obama’s 33.4 per cent (RCP), helps to ensure this. Of course, a big Obama win in South Carolina might give him some national momentum and shift those poll numbers.
Senator Clinton can also count on the Democratic Party’s super delegates; the governors, state chairs, and even Bill Clinton, who get an automatic vote. The 842 super delegates, who form 40 per cent of the nominating block, tend to reflect the Democratic establishment where Clinton’s support has always been strongest.
Former Senator John Edwards, who has yet to win any state primary and who has consistently polled third nationally, absolutely needs to win his home state of South Carolina. Pundits say that if his brand of economic populism and Southern charm can’t carry the Palmetto state then it probably won’t fly on Super Tuesday.