By the beginning of February, both races for the presidential nomination might be effectively “tied.” In South Carolina, Barack Obama looks like a great bet to defeat Hillary Clinton, who reportedly is shifting her focus elsewhere. That would mean that the two will have evenly split the first four contested races (Iowa and S.C. for Obama; New Hampshire and Nevada for Clinton).
Meanwhile, a Mitt Romney win in Florida would “tie” him with John McCain at two wins apiece in the first five hotly contested races, with Huckabee the winner in one of them. A Romney victory in Florida is far from assured, of course, but his prospects aren’t bad because he has finally caught a few breaks. In South Carolina three candidates were vying for strong conservatives voters, while McCain had no real competition for the votes of moderate conservatives and moderates. Moreover, independents were allowed to participate in South Carolina.
In Florida, the Republican primary is closed. Moreover, Thompson is out of the race and Huckabee apparently may not campaign hard in the state. At the same, Rudy finally provides potentially stiff competition for McCain for the votes of “soft” and non-conservatives. Already, a Rasmussen poll, taken before Thompson withdrew and probably taking no account of the effects of Huckabee’s likely de-emphasis of Florida, shows Romney in first place, five percentage points ahead of McCain.
On the Democratic side, Clinton will still have the advantage even if she loses in South Carolina. She leads Obama by about eight percentage points nationally, and seems better positioned than he is in most of the big states that will vote on February 5. Her strength among Hispanic voters (so evident in Nevada) looks like the difference-maker.
But on the Republican side, a Romney win in Florida might leave us with a political race in true equipoise.
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