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February 5, 2008

The Polls Are Open ...

Around the country, or at least in 24 states, the polls have opened on the largest primary date in American history. Both parties send two viable candidates to the polls, and the GOP arguably three, as almost half the country tries to pick the eventual nominee. And thanks to the structure of the Republican primaries, one candidate could score a knockout punch:

Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton made a raspy appeal for support yesterday in her race against Sen. Barack Obama, even as her aides warned that the Democratic presidential contest will probably drag on for months after today's Super Tuesday voting. Republican Mitt Romney, meanwhile, predicted he would "surprise" those who were expecting Sen. John McCain to be anointed as the GOP nominee in the busiest single day of primaries and caucuses in presidential nominating history.

"I am definitely the underdog," Romney declared during a final day of furious campaigning that included a hastily arranged trip to delegate-rich California.

With 24 states in play, the leading candidates in both parties scoured targeted states for votes in the hours before the polls were to open. McCain, after a year of unexpected twists that left his candidacy all but dead late last year, hoped to clinch the Republican nomination by carrying California and a swath of Northeastern states.

Democrats were bracing for a less decisive outcome. Advisers to Clinton (N.Y.), once the clear front-runner, were stoic as they envisioned a "lengthy process" that could continue for months, possibly through the Democratic National Convention in late August. Clinton officials also confirmed that she had raised about $13 million in January, compared with $32 million Obama raised in the same period.

The raspy appeal, as the Post puts it, comes from Hillary's moderate laryngitis. One might wonder how any of these candidates have a voice left after the constant stream of debates and stump speeches. None of them could afford to let up in the final days before Super Tuesday, and now that it has arrived, they still have to pursue votes in upcoming contests this weekend.

The Blogging Caesar at Election Projection believes that the structure of the Republican primaries plays in John McCain's favor. The states in which polls show him leading are mostly the winner-take-all states, such as New York, New Jersey, Arizona, and Missouri. He predicts that McCain will take between 60%-65% of all available delegates, which would make an upper limit of around 700 of the 1,081 up for grabs. Combined with the 100 or so that McCain already holds, this would probably be an insurmountable lead.

I don't think McCain will be quite that successful. He will win New York, New Jersey, and Arizona, but I think Missouri will be a tougher road to hoe. Romney may well take a majority in California, too. I think McCain gets a plurality of the delegates, perhaps as high as 50%. Romney will take 40%, and Huckabee will get 10%, all from the South. That still puts McCain in good position to win the nomination, but Romney won't get eliminated tonight -- and he will have some momentum as the conservatives continue to rally around him.

For the Democrats, I think the picture will continue to be clouded. All Democratic allocations are proportional today, so the primaries today should reflect the national polling. I predict a 55%-45% split in Hillary's favor, which will still leave it wide open for the next several weeks. In the end, the superdelegates will determine this race, and that means Hillary probably has the edge, the Kennedy endorsements notwithstanding.

I will caucus myself this evening, and I plan on live-blogging when I return. Keep watching here for running commentary, starting around 9 pm CT and ending when I fall asleep at the keyboard.


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