WASHINGTON (CNN) - Call it the political Battle of the Potomac: today is primary day in Virginia, Maryland, and the District of Columbia - an unaccustomed star turn for a region defined by national politics but rarely courted by presidential hopefuls.
Coming off of his clean sweep of Hillary Clinton in the five Democratic contests this weekend, Barack Obama will be aiming for a political hat trick Tuesday. The area is home to large populations of African-Americans, affluent and well-educated voters – all voting blocs that have turned out at the polls in huge numbers for Obama so far this year. And Virginia allows independents – who have also gone for the Illinois senator by significant margins this cycle – to vote the state's Democrat contest.
In short: today's Potomac Primary seems demographically tailor-made for the Illinois senator.
Yesterday, Clinton downplayed Obama's weekend victories. And in conference calls and campaign memos, her team was still looking past the miserable month of February, which has so far delivered a string of losses, the revelation of short-term fund-raising headaches, and a headline-grabbing leadership shuffle. March 4 seems to feature some friendlier demographic terrain, at least, with a significant union and blue collar voting electorate in Ohio, and a heavy Latino presence in Texas – though the fact that both states allow independents to participate in the Democratic contest makes for a potential wild card.
(Still, the CNN delegate count – at least for the next few hours - gives the edge to Clinton: 1,148 to 1,121 over Obama due to her support from superdelegates).
On the Republican side, John McCain may be, statistically, the likely GOP winner - although he lost two contests this past weekend. The Arizona senator lost to underdog Mike Huckabee Saturday - by double digits in the Kansas caucuses, and in a squeaker in Louisiana. Even his lone victory came with a question mark, since 13 percent of the votes in the Washington state caucuses weren't counted – a decision Huckabee is challenging.
McCain may find some solace in results along the Chesapeake today, but the conservative unrest apparent in the weekend's Republican results would seem to raise major questions about his viability in the general election.
– CNN Deputy Political Director Paul Steinhauser
WASHINGTON (CNN) - Barack Obama won two battles with a Clinton yesterday.
He pulled out a victory over Democratic presidential rival Hillary Clinton in the Maine caucuses, a result that defied the most recent polling. And he beat out former President Bill Clinton in a slightly less snowy contest: the Grammy Awards.
Obama's win in the spoken word category for the audio book version of his book "The Audacity of Hope" - his second Grammy - ties him with President Clinton, who's also won two. Hillary Clinton has also taken top honors in that category, for "It Takes a Village."
The latest CNN count now finds Clinton holds a narrow 27-delegate lead over Obama, 1,148 to 1,121, ahead of Tuesday's votes in Maryland, Virginia and Washington, D.C. - but there are enough delegates at stake in tomorrow's Potomac primary to shift the balance.
(Obama has won 986 delegates in voting so far this year - compared to 924 for Clinton - but she maintains a lead thanks to greater support among "superdelegates," an elite group of almost 800 Democratic Party officials and leaders who also will cast votes at the nomination convention this summer. CNN Political Research Director Robert Yoon and CNN Polling Director Keating Holland will lay out the latest in the hunt for delegates in a new story later today at http://www.CNNPolitics.com)
Meanwhile, Republican Mike Huckabee's campaign - fresh off of two stunning weekend wins - is "exploring all available legal options regarding the dubious final results" in the one state the former Arkansas governor didn't come out on top, Washington State. (Hours earlier, Huckabee had complained to reporters that the vote in Louisiana was "a weird deal" and "kind of cooked" in favor of John McCain. He ended up taking the top prize in that state's GOP primary, 43 to 42 percent over likely Republican nominee McCain - though that won't mean he gets the delegates at stake, because he failed to meet the 50 percent threshold required under state party rules.)
Weekend results aside, the GOP nomination may be just about out of statistical reach for the former governor - but reports of his campaign's demise may have been greatly exaggerated.
– CNN Associate Political Editor Rebecca Sinderbrand
WASHINGTON (CNN) - Yesterday, the first day of this year's Conservative Political Action Conference, was about the movement's present and future. Today, it's all about the past, as President Bush makes his first – and final – visit to the conference as commander-in-chief.
President Bush was absent from last year's CPAC gathering in more ways than one. Not only did the president himself not make an appearance – his would-be successors barely mentioned his name. (For the record: a year ago, the five major GOP presidential candidates mentioned the current White House occupant roughly half a dozen times between them, mostly in passing. Ronald Reagan's name came up more than four times as often.)
The president's speech early this morning is a valedictory – the conservative version of his final State of the Union address. It's his account for the history books, with a focus on how he has been the movement's standard-bearer on tax cuts, stem cells and national security – and a familiar, defiant apologia of his administration's Iraq war policy: "We refused to yield when the going got tough. And when the history of our actions is written, it will show that we were right."
As for the race to succeed him: Mitt Romney is out - but the candidate who may gain the most from his exit isn't Mike Huckabee (the beneficiary of a sudden endorsement from a James Dobson) or even John McCain (whose path to the Republican nomination now seems secure). That distinction actually goes to Barack Obama, who no longer has to compete with McCain for independents in suddenly-competitive primary states like Virginia, Texas and Ohio, where independent voters are eligible to vote in upcoming Democratic contests.
WASHINGTON (CNN) - Looking back, last year’s Conservative Political Action Conference presidential straw poll provided a pretty good preview of the Republican race so far. The contest is a reliably headline-grabbing test of the conservative base’s preferred candidates -– and with hundreds of activists gathered in Washington for the final CPAC vote before the primary season, Mitt Romney’s team poured thousands of dollars into the event. Scores of Romney volunteers sporting identical campaign T-shirts, bused in at the campaign’s expense, stumped hard in the halls of the Omni Shoreham.
In the end, his campaign bankrolled one of the most ambitious and well-funded grassroots efforts in CPAC straw poll history -– only to come away with just 21 percent of the vote, and a costly, underwhelming victory over runner-up Rudy Giuliani, who essentially spent nothing at all. (When both first- and second-place votes were weighed, Romney did even worse - coming in third behind both Giuliani and Newt Gingrich.)
Mike Huckabee was a sentimental hit at the 2007 conference, drawing an enthusiastic reception from the conservative crowd –- then, as now, battling the idea that his relatively low-profile, cash-poor campaign was doomed from the start. ("My dear friends,” he said, “may I say to you that if celebrity and money are the criteria to be President of the United States, then Paris Hilton might be our next president.")
Finally, John McCain, who tended to avoid the annual gathering, was in the midst of a campaign to thaw his frosty relationship with many of the conservative power brokers in attendance. Last year, he weighed a last-minute CPAC appearance - before a rumored logistical showdown with organizers short-circuited the plan.
Today –- fresh off his strong Super Tuesday showing - McCain’s speaking on the first day of this year’s CPAC, just a few hours after Romney. Huckabee and Ron Paul will also address the conference - along with the man they’re trying to replace, President Bush.
Hillary Clinton’s team might have raised eyebrows yesterday as they tried to tag Barack Obama as the new “establishment candidate” – but as news of her campaign’s shrinking war chest continues to mount, it may be growing just a bit easier to imagine her in the role of Democratic underdog. Today, she stumps in newly-competitive Virginia, where Obama has dispatched his South Carolina turnout squad in advance of next Tuesday’s vote. Meanwhile, Obama continues to mine for delegates in red state territory with a stop in Nebraska, where Democrats weigh in this weekend.
The race goes on...
NEW YORK (CNN) - Months ago, “Super Tuesday” was supposed to be the finish line in the race for the Democratic and Republican presidential nominations. With the dust still settling, it looks more like the halfway point for Democrats – and the Republican contest may not have entered the home stretch either.
Most of the candidates have reason to wake up with smiles on their faces this morning. John McCain, who won California and New York, cemented his status as the GOP frontrunner; Mike Huckabee swept four Southern states on a shoestring budget; Hillary Clinton strung together wins from the Northeast to the South and capped it off with a win in California; Barack Obama walked away with more than a dozen wins. Only Mitt Romney found little consolation in last night’s results.
For full coverage of the biggest primary night in U.S. history, check out the CNN Political Ticker and CNNPolitics.com.
Here’s a few highlights from the night that was:
How Clinton and McCain won California
Obama runs strong in caucus states
Democrats shatter turnout records
Huckabee: Don’t count me out
Bill Schneider: How trends played out nationally
NEW YORK (CNN) – Super Tuesday’s here, and with it the mandatory – and competing - lowball predictions from the deadlocked Democratic field.
First came the memo from Barack Obama’s campaign manager David Plouffe, which highlighted the senator’s worst recent poll showing in every Super Tuesday state, and made conservative delegate projections that seemed to bear little relation to the last-minute poll numbers pouring in from February 5 states.
But that bid to lower expectations was dwarfed by the afternoon conference call with Hillary Clinton campaign advisers Howard Wolfson and Mark Penn, who tried to dismiss today’s results altogether - along with those of the contests to follow in March and April – hours before polls opened, pointing instead to relative readiness for convention fights.
Over to a race with a clear frontrunner: John McCain faced a negative radio spot from Republican rival Mitt Romney yesterday – and launched a last-minute TV attack ad in return.
Romney’s spot aired during Rush Limbaugh’s show, in a bid to reach listeners as disaffected with the Arizona senator as the talk show host himself. Limbaugh faced a hard sell of his own yesterday, in the form of a personal letter testifying to McCain’s conservative bona fides, from none other than former GOP presidential candidate Robert Dole.
At the start of the race, the Super Tuesday contests figured to be the likely finish line. Now, February 5 feels more like the half-way mark – and today a grueling marathon. West Virginia’s GOP convention will wrap up sometime this afternoon, but official results won’t start pouring in until American Samoa’s Democratic caucuses end at 6:30 p.m. ET, and keep coming until California’s polls close at 11 p.m. ET (although the outcome in that race may not be known until well after midnight).
NEW YORK (CNN) - The weather, oddly enough, may be the most dependable element of the primary day equation heading into Super Tuesday: so far this year, mostly-localized, turnout-dampening storms have reliably hit on Election Day – and tomorrow is looking likely to fit that pattern, with miserable winter weather predicted to reach areas of some primary states from Illinois to Alabama. Another predictable primary eve arrival: the barrage of negative campaign e-mails flooding our inboxes - this time from Barack Obama's team, slamming Hillary Clinton on everything from health care mandates to the Iraq war.
(Some other pre-vote developments were a bit more unexpected. In a stunning display of confidence, or hubris - we’ll tell you which on February 6 - the Obama campaign unloaded a chunk of its $32 million January haul on a Super Bowl ad buys last night, airing local spots in states voting February 5-12.)
Weather aside, there's just one remotely safe guess as the week begins: short of an unprecedented last-minute shift - and this year, we’re not ruling anything out - neither of the Democratic candidates is likely to emerge from tomorrow's vote with the ability to claim a decisive advantage.
Granted, some of the polls in our rearview mirrors today may not be quite as close as they appear. The narrowing margin between the two Democratic frontrunners in most California surveys would mean a lot more if Clinton didn’t have a double-digit lead among votes cast via early balloting – meaning Obama would have to boast a record-breaking turnout operation just to keep that race close.
Of course, this year it’s not about states - it’s about reaching the nomination, one district and delegate at a time. Today, Hillary Clinton is looking to nail down her advantage in the Northeast, with stops in Connecticut, Massachusetts and a national town hall hosted live from New York City. Obama is spending the day taking her on on her home turf, with stops of his own in Connecticut and Massachusetts, and a Meadowlands rally in the shadow of the Big Apple.
On the Republican side, Mitt Romney isn’t ready to concede John McCain’s inevitability just yet. The former Massachusetts governor’s recent ad buys may be in the low range (for him). And for the third week in a row, he hasn’t pulled the trigger on any hard-hitting contrast spots. But post-Florida, Romney has picked up a few high-profile base-pleasing nods as the anybody-but-McCain forces coalesce around him, with Sean Hannity, Laura Ingraham and Rick Santorum rallying to his side. Some recent California polls show the GOP race there tightening to a virtual dead heat. And the Maine caucuses may not make for much momentum, but it looks like Romney will pull in another 18 delegates in that state – meaning he and McCain are still, technically, just about neck-and-neck in the all-important delegate count ahead of Tuesday’s contests.
Schneider: The bottom line
The audience response at last night’s debate was the same as that of Democrats across the country: they’re happy with their choice this year, but they don’t want to have to make it.
I thought overall Barack Obama’s position was still that of the challenger, and Hillary Clinton was effectively the incumbent. He needed to peel votes away from her - and he did make some progress on the Iraq issue. But how many Democrats are still so concerned about the war than about anything else?
Six months ago, being right on Iraq would have been enough. Now? I’m not so sure. It took a while for the issue to take center stage last night, and that’s no accident: other concerns have come to the forefront.
The debate doesn’t kill momentum for either one. But does it help build any? Obama’s strong showing could very well help him. But how much - enough to overtake Clinton? I just didn’t see that.
To the extent that the debate was a draw, it helps Clinton.
Why? Because holding his own wasn’t enough. Obama’s task was to make the case that there were huge differences between them. Just holding his own and looking presidential was not enough: He had to convince Democrats who like Clinton that there’s a reason she shouldn’t be the party’s nominee.
In all, it was an unhelpful debate. They minimized their differences. Last night’s showdown will rally Democrats, no question – but won’t help them make a decision. The biggest applause line of the evening came for the idea of the two of them together on the same ticket.
– CNN Senior Political Analyst Bill Schneider
SIMI VALLEY, California (CNN) - Mike Huckabee, I think, stood out in this debate as the one who made sense, talked as ordinary people do, and rose above politics. They may have scored. He connected.
And that’s a problem for Romney, who would like to become the alternative to John McCain among conservatives who oppose the Arizona senator. But he has very tough competition from Huckabee, who’s forcing people to re-think his run at a time when he was supposed to be out of the game.
But this has always been the way he’s worked: Romney uses money to stay competitive. Huckabee has debates.
I don’t think McCain made many gains – and I think he may have caused people to re-think the race. I don’t think this was his strongest night, not because he was under attack, but because he wasn’t a straight talker. He sounded very much like a typical politician. He was aiming a lot of attacks at Romney – some of which, like the charge that he had set a strict timetable for Iraq withdrawal, seemed very questionable.
A couple of Romney’s answers were quite good, particularly when he struck back at McCain over the Iraq timetables issue. I don’t think he did himself any harm. But to the extent that Huckabee may have made any gains from his performance, Romney’s got bigger worries out of tonight than the Arizona senator.
All in all: Huckabee gained ground, McCain probably lost ground, and Romney didn’t help or hurt himself – although he did effectively defend himself. McCain sounded petty – and that’s not the McCain voters know and like.
WASHINGTON (CNN) - Some observers view the current Democratic contest as a dizzying multi-state brawl.
If only it were that simple.
Take New York City. Recent surveys have shown Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton in a stiff fight for the Big Apple - whose huge numbers of young people, educated professionals and black voters have formed the Illinois senator’s base in each of the presidential contests to date.
If we are to believe the New York polls, if Obama simply holds on to his current standings - and fails to gain a single vote in the week ahead - he’d still capture, at a bare minimum, at least a third of the state’s pledged delegates. Not a bad haul in a state that’s supposed to serve as a Clinton firewall.
(Another Clinton bloc being eyed by the Obama team this week: Hispanic voters. Yesterday, his campaign released a brand new Spanish-language spot that featured Ted Kennedy’s image, and a new appeal based on a shared outsider status. "We know what it feels like being used as a scapegoat just because of our origin and last name,” says the announcer in the radio ad, which will run in California and Arizona. “And no one understands this better than Barack Obama.")
So in a presidential contest that’s rapidly turning into a district-by-district delegate hunt, Clinton’s Florida win - which resulted in zero delegates – might not be quite the springboard to Super Tuesday she’d hoped. (One more slightly uncomfortable thought for the Clinton team to ponder: if the Florida fight hadn’t been the Democratic story of the evening, the Obama campaign’s late-night revelation that it had decided to jettison tends of thousands in additional Rezko cash might have gotten just a bit more play.)
A dwindling Republican field meets tonight in what could potentially turn into a John McCain-Mike Huckabee tag team bout with Florida runner-up Mitt Romney.
The McCain campaign pulled its tough anti-Romney social issues robo-call late yesterday – but the former governor’s concession speech last night managed to work in just enough veiled anti-McCain references to keep the duo’s relations somewhere on the emotional spectrum between strong dislike and pure distilled hatred.
Fresh off his Florida win, McCain is now surveying a fresh Super Tuesday landscape, with Rudy Giuliani – whose concession last night, possibly his last of the race, was interrupted mid-speech by Romney’s - as a motivated new campaign surrogate.