Missing in 2008: a front-runner
Romney's Michigan win deepened GOP uncertainty before crucial upcoming contests.
Washington and chicago
The most elusive commodity so far in the 2008 presidential sweepstakes is momentum. In both parties, the opening contests have been won by different candidates, creating lots of "comeback kids" but little ability to claim the mantle of front-runner.Skip to next paragraph
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Mitt Romney's decisive victory in the Michigan primary Tuesday may have been the most successful "do or die" performance of the season, to date. Having lost the first two major contests, Iowa and New Hampshire, the former Massachusetts governor almost certainly had to win his native state of Michigan to appear viable heading into Nevada and South Carolina (both this Saturday) and Florida (Jan. 29).
Now, the Republican field is murkier than ever. Not only are Iowa winner Mike Huckabee and New Hampshire winner John McCain still in the hunt, locked in stiff competition for South Carolina, Rudolph Giuliani also must still be considered viable. By saving his fire for the big-delegate states – first Florida, then the 22 Super Tuesday contests on Feb. 5 – the former New York mayor was counting on disarray in the early contests, and that has borne out.
At this point, the GOP race shifts from an effort to appear inevitable, to one of amassing delegates to win the nomination. It's no longer clear that a consensus nominee will emerge even after Super Tuesday.
"It's a race about arithmetic," says Jack Pitney, a government professor at Claremont McKenna College in Claremont, Calif. "For many years, the assumption about the nomination contest was that one candidate would jump out to lead and everyone else would fall, like a checkmate in a game of chess. But now it's a counting game, not a chess game."
So far, Mr. Romney leads with 42 delegates, followed by Mr. Huckabee (32) and Mr. McCain (13). In the Democratic field, Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York leads with 187 delegates, followed by Sen. Barack Obama of Illinois (89) and former Sen. John Edwards of North Carolina (50). But wins in big-delegate states by any of the candidates could render those early totals meaningless. California alone offers 441 delegates to the Democrats and 173 to the Republicans. To win the nomination, a Democrat needs 2,025 delegates and a Republican needs 1,191.