How we got where we are:
Every Republican candidate's strategy failed. Including John McCain's. Remember his original strategy: run as the party's heir apparent and bank on the benevolent neutrality of the Bush White House (obtained by the emotional reconciliation of John Weaver and Karl Rove) to raise large sums of money. This failed spectacularly at the end of June 2007, and the McCain campaign had to reboot. Its strategy: keep the candidate in the field and hope that other candidates would screw up and that external events would strengthen McCain's appeal. I have always been wary of campaign strategies of which one essential step is, "The other guy screws up." In McCain's case there were many steps, not just one. He was like the safecracker who must tackle an unfamiliar safe and must get one tumbler after another to fall in place. But for McCain it looks like all the tumblers fell into place.
And, the Dems:
Every Democratic candidate's strategy has failed or is failing. Hillary Clinton hoped to wrap this up with back-to-back victories in Iowa and New Hampshire. No such luck: She lost Iowa and came within a few tears of losing New Hampshire. Barack Obama hoped to sweep to victory by bringing young voters into the process and pitched his appeal not just to black voters but to a broader electorate that goes beyond the usual Democratic primary constituencies. He has had some success—he clearly expanded the pool of caucusgoers in Iowa and the primary electorate in South Carolina. But he's also seen himself defined by Bill and Hillary Clinton as a candidate appealing mostly to black voters, and while his percentages among blacks first in South Carolina and then nationally rose sharply in December and January, Clinton carried Latinos and Jews by more than 2-to-1 margins in Nevada and Florida. That's significant for California, which votes February 5 and where Latinos and Jews outnumber blacks by a ratio of 5 to 2.
Click over for more Barone wisdom, like why he believes McCain became the rallying point for security conservatives.