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On the presidency

Super Tuesday didn't settle the race in either party. It did set up an exciting homestretch.

February 07, 2008

Super Tuesday wasn't all that super for supporters of the presidential candidates who hoped the contests in 24 states would identify a nominee in each party. But just as nobody really won, nobody really lost either. Well, almost nobody. Sorry, Gov. Romney.

Mike Huckabee is playing the spoiler in the Republican race, splitting the hard-core conservative vote with Mitt Romney and letting John McCain run away with the moderates -- and, quite possibly, with the party's nomination. Still, it's hard to imagine that Huckabee, who surprised analysts by winning not only his home state of Arkansas but West Virginia, Alabama, Georgia and Tennessee, really thinks that he has much of a chance of becoming the Republican front-runner. Though he's popular in the Bible Belt, he's an afterthought in larger states north of the Mason-Dixon line. That means he probably has a different reason for staying in the race: to burnish his credentials as McCain's running mate.

Romney's victories were in small states: Utah, Minnesota, Montana, Colorado, North Dakota and Alaska. He also took his home state of Massachusetts, but it's doubtful whether he could carry the majority-Democratic state in November. Romney was a moderate governor but has reinvented himself as the kind of red-meat conservative right-wing radio hosts adore; the problem with this strategy is that it turns off many of the party faithful who prefer a man of conviction. It also doesn't help with Chamber of Commerce conservatives that he oversaw the nation's first experiment with mandatory universal healthcare, which the Wall Street Journal likes to deride as "Hillarycare."

What's more, the sniping between Romney and McCain has become so heated that it would be surprising if the two men could reconcile. Huckabee is strong in Southern states and with the religious right, two areas of weakness for McCain. Strategically, he's a logical choice as running mate. So it's probably all or nothing for Romney, and unless he can pick up some large states soon, he's going to be spending a lot more time with his family come June.

For Democrats, the race is as exciting as the Republicans' is dispiriting, but the calculus is a lot trickier. Barack Obama should be cheered by his success among affluent white voters and young people. Hillary Rodham Clinton can celebrate her popularity with Latinos, an advantage that may prove decisive when Texas holds its primary on March 4. For the moment, however, Obama has money and a favorable calendar: Upcoming states such as Washington, Louisiana, Virginia and Maryland all have great potential. This one promises to be a nail-biter for some time to come.

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