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Searching for Winners

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By Howard Kurtz
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, February 6, 2008; 9:13 AM

It was, by any definition, a big night for John McCain. Any definition, that is, except that of the networks, where anchors and pundits harped all night on the fact that some conservatives just don't like the guy.

The man who got the positive buzz was Mike Huckabee, underestimated by journalists before Iowa and underestimated again heading into Super Tuesday, indeed all but marginalized in all the coverage of the McCain-Romney showdown. Huck did better than expected, and that's what the media love.

The Democratic contest was closer, especially in delegates, and therefore harder to handicap. But the lack of enthusiasm for Hillary Clinton was striking. If Barack Obama had won Massachusetts, there would have been plenty of clucking about the impact of his endorsement by Ted and Caroline Kennedy and how Obama was the new crown prince of Camelot. When Hillary won the state regardless, not so much. (Now the media swoon over the nod from Ted and Caroline seems as overblown as I've maintained it was. Journalists care about endorsements, and most voters don't.)

Here's how the bleary-eyed political writers are scoring it this morning:

LAT: "The crazy quilt of primary and caucus results gave Republicans a clear front-runner in Sen. John McCain, but no sign that his rivals, Mitt Romney and Mike Huckabee, would drop out soon and no sign of peace among the party's divided factions.

"Democrats who once thought their race would wrap up early instead face a potentially long duel between Sens. Barack Obama and Hillary Rodham Clinton, with votes divided not by ideology but, in many states, by race and ethnic group."

NYT: "The Republican and Democratic presidential contests began diverging Tuesday, leaving the Democrats facing a long and potentially divisive nomination battle and the Republicans closer to an opportunity to put aside deep internal divisions and rally around a nominee.

"On the Democratic side, Senators Hillary Rodham Clinton and Barack Obama seem likely to continue their state-by-state struggle, after a night of tit-for-tat division of states and delegates, though Mrs. Clinton claimed the formidable prize of California.

"But after months of disarray, Republicans seemed closer to coalescing around Senator John McCain of Arizona. As Mr. McCain logged victories in populous states, including California, and added more delegates to his count, he moved nearer his goal of wrapping up his competition with Mitt Romney of Massachusetts. A third Republican candidate, Mike Huckabee of Arkansas, underlined Mr. Romney's weakness by posting a series of victories, in a performance that highlighted the discomfort social conservatives have with the field."

Boston Globe: "Get ready for weeks -- if not months -- of a tightly fought Democratic presidential race, while last night's big winner on the GOP side, John McCain, could soon be sitting on the sidelines, secure in victory, trying hard to raise money and pull together a fractious Republican coalition.

"So far, the Democrats have dramatically outdrawn the Republicans at the polls and generated greater enthusiasm among their core constituencies, especially among women, minorities, and younger voters. A fierce, protracted contest between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama could sour the good feelings -- or energize the party even more, depending on how the candidates conduct themselves."

Chicago Tribune: "In the face of Obama's apparent surge in recent weeks, however, Clinton's claim to the coastal anchors of the Super Tuesday contest -- California and New York -- will add new impetus to her campaign heading into the primary elections still to come."

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