The Race After Tuesday

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Wednesday, February 6, 2008

NOT SO long ago, it seemed all but certain that Feb. 5 would mark the end of the presidential primary campaigns in both parties. Not so fast, it turns out. Even after the final delegates are allocated, the Democratic race seems certain to outlast yesterday's tsunami of votes. Indeed, the slugfest between Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton and Sen. Barack Obama could go on for weeks, if not months. The Republican contest is closer to a decision, mostly because the GOP's delegate selection rules tend to award more to the winner than the Democrats' proportional arrangement. Sen. John McCain appears poised to secure the nomination with a win in California and at least eight other states. The surprising resilience of former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee in winning five states only served to highlight the weakness of former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney.

Mr. McCain's emergence as the dominant candidate in the Republican field has generated an outcry from some of the party's conservative stalwarts; Rush Limbaugh says a McCain nomination would destroy the Republican Party. We think Mr. McCain, with his moderate views on immigration, his realism about global warming and his willingness to speak out on issues such as torture, would save the party from some of its worst and most self-destructive instincts. Still, Mr. Huckabee's unexpected string of victories underscored the degree to which self-described conservatives remain wary of the Arizona senator. In contrast, independents and self-styled moderates broke heavily in Mr. McCain's direction, a trend that would work in his favor in November should he secure the nomination. As for Mr. Romney, the evening's harvest proved disappointing and possibly lethal. Exit polls showed that Mr. McCain actually bested Mr. Romney among voters who put the economy, Mr. Romney's supposed strength, at the forefront.

The Democratic contests were a Rubik's Cube of results whose final meaning will become clear only when the delegates are tallied. With California cementing a series of wins across the country, Ms. Clinton can claim a slight advantage. One striking feature of the voting was Ms. Clinton's support among Hispanics, a key voting bloc; in California, where Latinos accounted for nearly one-third of voters, exit polls indicated that Ms. Clinton received two-thirds of the Hispanic vote. Ms. Clinton enjoyed an important advantage among female voters, who account for well over half of the Democratic electorate. Mr. Obama posted huge leads among African Americans and improved showings among white men, winning more than 4 in 10 white male voters in Georgia, the largest Southern state voting yesterday, and more than half of white male voters in Massachusetts, despite Ms. Clinton's victory there.

The continuation of the contests in both parties is good news for voters, especially those in the Washington area, where all three jurisdictions will hold primaries next Tuesday. As it turns out, the states that rushed, lemming-like, to schedule their voting on Feb. 5, the earliest permissible day, weren't as smart as they thought. So many states held contests -- 22 on the Democratic side, 21 for Republicans -- that voters scarcely had the chance to see the contenders as they whizzed by. It turns out the post-Feb. 5 states will be anything but the irrelevant afterthought once feared.


© 2008 The Washington Post Company

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