Starting Gate: Talking Points
Super Tuesday is now officially history and the ash-Wednesday hangovers are starting to set in. Political junkies will have plenty of time (at least a few days) to chew over the numbers and results and come up with some more brilliant and arcane ways in which to describe just what happened.
To most voters though, the answers are relatively clear: John McCain has firmly entrenched himself as the front-runner, if not the de facto nominee with a huge delegate lead over not one but two rivals who seem to split whatever McCain fails to win. And Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama are locked in a contest that is turning into a neighborhood-by-neighborhood, door-to-door hunt for individual delegates.
There will also be plenty for the candidates to talk about. McCain obviously won more states and far more delegates but both Mike Huckabee and Mitt Romney can point to some nice wins of their own, particularly in that they all came in traditional Republican states while McCain was victorious in Democratic-leaning states (although they were important, perhaps crucial general election states like Missouri).
Obama will point to the number of states and the geographical diversity he gathered into his column. He can also lay some measure of claim to the Edwards voters with his strong performance among white men. Clinton can point to the delegates she won and the strength she demonstrated in mega-states like California and talk about how she won the all-important Hispanic vote as a sign of her electability.
But it's doubtful many voters will be too interested in most of that talk. They, especially those in states that suddenly become as important as Iowa and New Hampshire, just might be more curious about what the candidates say on the stump, in interviews and in their television commercials. And, in some cases, what others are saying about the candidates.
Aside from that rather nasty turn in South Carolina, the message of Clinton and Obama have been remarkable consistent throughout this campaign. Read their stump speeches from early in the campaign and you're likely to hear the same themes sounded as you will tomorrow. And so far, it seems to be working. But with each state result, the field grows smaller and smaller. As they get into the red zone, will these campaigns be satisfied with three yards and a cloud of dust or will one of them throw for the end zone?
Consistency in the Republican race has been less common. Aside from Huckabee, the two other remaining major candidates have emphasized different themes at different times to mixed results. Lately, the discussion has taken on a rancorous edge over the true meaning of conservatism and it has played out over the airwaves, newsprint and the Internet.
Both candidates will be visiting the Conservative Political Action Conference later this week in Washington DC, a conference McCain skipped last year in a rather public manner. That would seem like an excellent chance at beginning to reconcile the differences between conservative activists and McCain – or open the wounds wider. Will the candidates and commentators seek a truce the likes of which we saw in the wake of the racial flap among Democrats after South Carolina? Or will we continue to hear more of the same? Those could be the most interesting talking points of all before the next votes are cast.
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