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After Super Tuesday, Sen. John McCain (Ariz.) has every right to declare himself the Republican presidential frontrunner, but he has miles to go in getting himself and his party in shape to face his Democratic opponent.
One measure of his task is that more than 14.6 million Democrats went to the polls on Tuesday and only 9 million Republicans — indicating a vast enthusiasm gap between the parties.
McCain polls reasonably well against both Sens. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.) and Barack Obama (D-Ill.), but they have a sagging economy and a massive national desire for change going for them in addition to the energetic desire among Democrats to get the White House back.
Which Democrat will win is anybody’s guess. Clinton held a 79-delegate lead over Obama, 1,012-933, according to RealClearPolitics.com’s tally on Wednesday, but both are a long way from the 2,025 needed to wrap up the Democratic nomination.
By my count, Clinton outpolled Obama in the popular vote on Super Tuesday by fewer than 100,000 votes nationwide — 7,348,102 for her and 7,277,687 for him. In all the primaries up to now, excluding Michigan, where he was not on the ballot, she leads with 8,463,780 votes to his 8,263,662.
It’s next to a dead heat, and upcoming events in Louisiana, Washington state, Maryland, Virginia and the District of Columbia definitely favor him. It will be almost a month before she’s back on safer territory in Texas and Ohio on March 4.
Clinton can claim it as a success that she stopped what was perceived to be a surge to Obama by winning in California, New Jersey and Sen. Edward Kennedy’s Massachusetts on Tuesday, but he won more states, 13 to her 8.
Clinton aides say that the Massachusetts victory was especially sweet, following on Kennedy’s endorsement of Obama. “We wanted to sock him in the nose,” one aide said.
Going forward, I’d say that demographics still favor her. There simply are more voters in her base — women, non-college graduates, whites and lower-income Americans and self-declared Democrats — than there are in his base among African-Americans, the well-off and well-educated, and independents.
In California, for instance, women made up 55 percent of the electorate and she carried them, 59 percent to 34 percent, according to exit polls. The two tied among males. Obama carried white males, 52-34, but her lead among white women gave her a narrow overall lead among whites. And she carried Hispanics by 69 percent to 29 percent.
On the other hand, demographics isn’t everything. Obama has poetry going for him — freshness, the themes of hope, change and renewal — against her more prosaic assets, including policy expertise and the loyalty of organization politicians.
Meantime, McCain is in a much more advantageous position among Republicans — and some GOP pros are urging that he take advantage of his position to put the wobbly party back in shape to compete in the general election.