19 January 2008

McCain toughs out win in South Carolina

It was - as predicted for much of the past week - a nip-and-tuck race on a long night, but John McCain pulled out a win tonight in South Carolina.

And so the state that killed off his candidacy eight years ago has propelled him to the top of the Republican

Much like eight years ago, McCain had to fend off push polling and other dirty-tricks politics in the state, as well as a hoard of evangelical voters, to pull off the win in South Carolina.

Exit polls showed that 59% of those who braved awful weather in the Palmetto state Saturday to cast a vote in the GOP race described themselves as evangelical Christians.

The exit polls showed that group went for former preacher Mike Huckabee 40-27 over McCain.

So McCain will head to Florida as a the front runner, if only nominally.

Mitt Romney has won three states - Montana, Nevada and most notably Michigan -
and will lead the delegate race at the end of the day today.

Mike Huckabee has won only one state, but he too is ahead of McCain in the delegate count.

Huckabee lost in a state where a majority of GOP voters were evangelicals,
and is fourth in the polling in Florida. But Huckabee could find himself the only social conservative in Florida, while fiscal conservatives Romney, McCain and Rudy Giuliani pound on one another. If that's enough to propel him to the top in Florida, he lives on. If not, he likely doesn't.

The big thing going for McCain is his victories in two high-profile states - New Hampshire and South Carolina. After all, as we were told 10,000 times by the media this week, the eventual GOP candidate has won South Carolina in each race since 1980.

The conventional wisdom tomorrow morning will be that McCain is the front runner and that he will solidify that status if he wins in Florida.

That sounds about right.

But I think Romney's is still in very good shape even if he doesn't finish well in Florida.

South Carolina should spell the end for Fred Thompson, who really needed to come up better than the mid-teens to keep going.

Should he depart, his absence could make some difference in Florida, where he's polling in the high single digits.

Thompson, most believe, would back McCain if he gets out. Other's say he would do McCain more good to stay in and take away some of the conservative votes in central Florida.

Of course, Rudy Giuliani could win the winner-take-all Florida race, which would return the chaos to a GOP race which seems, tonight at least, to be clarifying itself at least a little.

My guess is - barring an embarrassment for Giuliani in Florida - there will be three viable candidates on Tsunami Tuesday - McCain, Romney and Giuliani.

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