Polls showed Democrats Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama running “neck and neck” heading into Super Tuesday, but Arizona Sen. John McCain dominated rival Republican Mitt Romney in most of the 24 states holding presidential primaries and caucuses. Romney still held a lead in delegate-rich California, however, as he and McCain held a cross-country debate over who is more conservative in the hours before the voting started. (USA Today)
What the commentators said
Super Tuesday will prove that McCain is a “survivor,” said John Ibbitson in the Toronto Globe and Mail. The former prisoner of war was written off last summer, but he hunkered down in New Hampshire and rebuilt his campaign, methodically working on his comeback. He looks certain to win so many delegates that by Wednesday “the race for the Republican nomination will be all but over.” But the “bad news is that many populist conservative leaders”—angry over his opposition to President Bush’s tax cuts, among other things—“appear ready to dynamite the party rather than rally around McCain.”
McCain’s fortunes will change if he manages to seal the nomination early, said David Freddoso in National Review Online. “After all of the focus on the once-cluttered Republican field, Democrats may turn out to be the ones in a bloody, drawn-out nomination battle that is only settled at the national convention.” McCain will be able to focus on surviving, again, in November.
The so-called straight talker might be able to get more conservatives on his side if he would just level with them, said Kathryn Jean Lopez, also in National Review Online. McCain doesn’t “listen to Rush Limbaugh,” and he relishes his fights with conservatives on issues such as immigration. Admit it, senator: Romney is the one who stands for “keeping the Republican party conservative on foreign policy, economics, and social issues.”
The “GOP's conservative wing represented vocally by Limbaugh” has itself to blame for its predicament, said Andrew Malcolm in the Los Angeles Times’ Top of the Ticket blog. “It dithered throughout 2007 awaiting the Second Coming of a Ronald Reagan, who would embody a perfect conservative fiscal, social and economic candidate.” But “Fred Thompson flamed out with his four-hour workdays," and Sam Brownback, Tommy Thompson, and Jim Gilmore "had the collective charisma of a corpse and got no political traction.”
“All the conservatives bellyaching about having to endure John McCain as their nominee have until the end of this calendar day to unite behind Mitt Romney,” said Mark Davis in The Dallas Morning News. The former Massachusetts governor “has been the only worthy heir apparent to the Reagan mantle since Fred Thompson properly took his leave after South Carolina.” But if McCain does as well as some believe he will on Super Tuesday, the Reagan era is officially over.