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The race among the states to have earlier contests in order to share in the attention the press and politicians lavish on Iowa and New Hampshire has given us Super Tuesday, or, as the more breathless are calling Feb. 5, Tsunami Tuesday.
In a campaign scheduler’s nightmare, 22 states will hold Democratic primaries; 21, Republican.
While some are calling it a “national primary,” the short time frame — just a week after the Florida primary — and the sheer geographical spread mean no candidate can campaign effectively in all or even most of those states. The states with few delegates are ignored — precisely Iowa and New Hampshire’s argument for keeping the status quo — while the candidates target delegate-rich states like California, New York, Illinois, New Jersey and Missouri.
The race has a certain clarity now that Rudolph Giuliani and John Edwards have bowed out, leaving only two really viable candidates on each side, Democrats Hillary Rodham Clinton and Barack Obama and Republicans John McCain and Mitt Romney, with this year’s surprise performer, Republican Mike Huckabee, fading into also-ran status. He won the Iowa caucuses but hasn’t won anything since.
The race should have even more clarity after Tuesday. At stake are 86 percent of the Republican delegates needed to nominate and 83 percent of the Democratic.
McCain, with wins in New Hampshire, South Carolina and Florida and two big endorsements from Giuliani and California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, has the momentum going in. Romney has the money to keep on going regardless of the outcome, but Tuesday will tell him whether he should.
Polls show Clinton leading in all but two of the states — Illinois, Obama’s home, and Georgia. Clinton has the advantage of name recognition and familiarity, but Obama, a novice at national campaigns, has proved a resilient and capable candidate and this past week picked up a huge endorsement from Sen. Edward Kennedy.
After Tuesday, McCain may be close to locking up the nomination. Political analysts believe that if the Democratic contest drags on it will be to Obama’s advantage because he wears better than Clinton and her husband, the former president.
The real problem with having Super Tuesday so early is, well, it’s so early. The parties’ nominating conventions are not until late August and early September, leaving seven months to exhaust the candidates’ energy and the voters’ attention. There really has to be a better way.