On the GOP side, where the afternoon chatter had to do with whether McCain could possibly fend off the Romney turnout machine in a state where both had spent enormous amounts of time, effort and money, the results were instantaneously clear. Fox News Channel called the race for McCain at about 8:10 - ten minutes after the polls officially closed.
McCain's margin of victory - 13,000 votes - led to a 37% to 32% win over Romney. In the arcane language of big-time politics that is called: Convincing.
McCain and Romney will campaign in Michigan (whose primary is next Tuesday) where a McCain win in Romney's home state would inflict a potentially fatal wound. If Romney wins in Michigan he gets his first significant win (not counting the county caucuses in Wyoming last Saturday) and will recharge his campaign going into the South Carolina primary on Saturday the 19th.
But that is actually good news for Republicans. Having five more-or-less viable candidates as the process proceeds is, no matter how counterintuitive it sounds, good for party unity. If I am a fan of Fred Thompson (for whom I am a paid consultant) and my guy doesn't make it out of South Carolina I will still have three or four other choices.
As the process continues and the field winnows, there is a feeling that my candidate had a fair shot and I'll get in behind the eventual nominee.
The danger for the Democrats is this: When there are only two major contenders and they both stay in the race for a long time, support for each sets in and hardens into a very, very difficult bloc to crack apart.
The 1976 Reagan and Ford factions on the GOP side have never reconciled. If you were in Iowa last week, you would still have seen evidence of the rift between the Ford moderates and the Reagan conservatives like geologic scars on the political landscape.
If Hillary and Barack continue to whack each other through the February 5th Über-Tuesday primaries, past March 4 and into the Summer, the Democrats will have a very difficult time reconciling in time for next November's Presidential election.
They will hoot and cheer for the nominee at their convention in Colorado, but for slightly less than half of the delegates, their hearts won't really be in it.
Thus, endeth the lesson.
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