Salena Zito

Super Tuesday -- the closest thing to a national primary this country has ever had -- may go down as one of our democracy’s greatest elections.

It finished off Mitt Romney, crowned John McCain and ensured that Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama would be fighting for delegates all the way to the convention floor.

Now the races in both parties are being driven not by issues but by the personalities of the candidates and the perceptions of the public and the media. As their campaigns head down the stretch, it's going to be one heck of a road trip. The prospects for each:

The Democrats

Barack Obama has the money (he raised $3 million on Super Tuesday alone), the momentum (he won more states that same day) and the movement of change (just go to an Obama speech -- you’ll understand). You’d think that would be enough to clinch the nomination.

Not quite.

Hillary Clinton is stumbling, yet she never falls. Her money is scarce (she had to lend her campaign $5 million). Her best campaign asset, Bill Clinton, has been noticeably absent lately since South Carolina (too many angry Bill videos on YouTube).

And the primary calendar created by then-Democratic National Committee Chairman Terry McAuliffe to benefit her has become her nemesis (the remaining primaries are either heavy on black voters or are state caucuses, both of which benefit Obama).

Tuesday’s “Potomac Primary” is made up of Maryland, Virginia and the District of Columbia. More than likely, Barack will win in D.C., thanks to the black and upscale suburban votes; expect good results for him in Maryland, too.

Virginia is an open primary, which benefits Obama, but a winning scenario there can be written for either candidate. The following week Democrats hold a primary in maverick Wisconsin, an open primary and a challenge for Clinton.

That leaves two critical dates for her:

On March 4 are the huge Texas and Ohio primaries, both of which Clinton should excel in -- Texas because of its large Hispanic vote, Ohio because of its lunch-pail Democrats, though large black populations in Ohio’s cities could prove problematic for her.

That sets the stage for Pennsylvania on April 22. It will be “Rocky Revisited,” a fight-to-the-death between two giants. Democrat strategist Mark Siegel says a win in Pennsylvania could produce a "huge gust of momentum" that "could create a credible psychological claim to the nomination, especially if the previous delegate count was inconclusive.”

The Republicans

The road trip for Republicans has been just as driven by personalities and perceptions.


Salena Zito

Salena Zito is a political analyst, reporter and columnist.