Presidential race far from over for either party

With the campaign train now chugging into Michigan and Nevada, even the losers in yesterday's New Hampshire primary and last week's Iowa caucuses will hold onto advantages that mean the race for the nominations will continue into February.

"We always try to bring the curtain down too soon. I don't think its over in either party," says University of Virginia political scientist Larry Sabato.

Michigan holds its primary Tuesday, with Nevada's four days later, followed quickly by South Carolina and Florida. In that compressed schedule, New York Sen. Hillary Clinton benefits from a Democratic Party rule that awards convention delegates proportionately. That means she will win delegates even in states where the popular vote goes against her.

Romney retains huge financial and organizational advantages over his party rivals, and the support of much of the Republican Party's establishment. Former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, who has largely bypassed the early states to concentrate on Florida's Jan. 29 primary, could benefit from his party's winner-take-all delegate-allocation rules there and in the New York and New Jersey primaries on Feb. 5.

And former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, the Baptist minister who scored a resounding victory in Iowa last week, is so far the favorite in South Carolina, a heavily Southern Baptist state. A win in the Republican primary there on Jan. 19 could be a springboard for him in Florida 10 days later.

Romney, whose father was a governor of Michigan, holds a slight lead in polls taken there before his Iowa caucus loss to Huckabee. Even so, Michigan could be perilous to both candidates.

Clinton is largely unopposed in Michigan, which defied a Democratic Party rule by scheduling a January primary and has been penalized for it by losing its delegates to this summer's nominating convention.

Under Democratic Party pressure, Illinois Sen. Barack Obama and former North Carolina Sen. John Edwards agreed not to campaign in Michigan or to allow their names on the ballot. But Michigan voters can cast ballots for "uncommitted," and the campaigns for both men are urging their supporters to do just that.

"Hillary could lose by winning here" if her victory is less than overwhelming, says Ed Sarpolis of EPIC-MRA, a market-research firm that has polled the Republican field. Michigan's voters can cast their ballots in either party's primary, and Obama's huge popularity with younger voters and independents could swell the turnout with "uncommitted" votes.

Arizona Sen. John McCain followed his 2000 victory in New Hampshire with a win in Michigan and clearly hopes to do the same thing this time around.

Much of McCain's 2000 support came from independent voters and Democratic who crossed over to vote Republican because there was no Democratic primary that year. Democrats aren't very likely to jump parties this year, but independents and the state's Republican moderates could swing the outcome to McCain, who also has won endorsements from Detroit's two newspapers.

A loss in Michigan would embarrass both Clinton and Romney, but hardly knock them out of the race. It is generally thought that a Democratic nominee has a strong chance of winning the White House in November, and Clinton "will scrap for every [delegate's] vote," says the University of Virginia's Sabato.

Clinton's loss in Iowa, for example, still earned her 15 delegate votes at the convention to Obama's 16, and proportional allocation of delegates could easily hand her the nomination if she wins in big states that her campaign believes she has locked up. New Hampshire will send just 22 of 3,253 delegates to the Denver convention.

Romney also would be damaged by a loss in Michigan, but would have little reason to quit. "He has the money, and this is his one and only chance" to run, says Sabato.

Romney's best hope for a quick victory seems to be Nevada, which the parties awarded an early caucus date as a concession to the growing political importance of the Southwest. But most of the candidates have ignored the Silver State because of the difficulty of reaching its widely dispersed voters.

Romney's deep pockets have assured him plenty of advertising, and Nevada's large Mormon population will likely help assure a first-place win, says University of Nevada at Reno political scientist Eric Herzik. Likewise, Clinton's showy opposition in Senate hearings to a nuclear waste dump in Yucca Mountain, near Las Vegas, earned her a huge lead in early polls.

A Clinton loss to Obama or to Edwards, who has courted the state's big labor vote, "would be a collapse of support I can't imagine," adds Herzik. But the primary has generated little enthusiasm among the voters. And a victory for either Romney or Clinton could be devalued by turnout that may not top 50,000.

South Carolina's Republicans and Democrats will hold their primaries one week apart, and both could be pivotal.

Huckabee is widely expected to win the state. "Good night! A Baptist preacher in South Carolina""how's he going to do badly?" asks Clemson University political scientist J. David Woodward. Romney has been endorsed by the state's Republican leadership and some popular evangelicals, which could help him to a second- or third-place finish.

But Romney's Mormon religion won't play well in a state where half the Sunday churchgoers identify themselves as Southern Baptists, and his background as governor of a liberal northeastern state also will be suspect. "He isn't going to win, but he's going to keep his ship afloat," says Woodward.

The bigger battle in South Carolina will be among the Democrats, who will face a large African-American electorate for the first time. Clinton is clearly counting on that vote and has frequently dispatched former President Bill Clinton to South Carolina to court it. A Clemson poll conducted by Woodward before the Iowa caucuses showed the state's blacks""who accounted for more than half the vote in the last three Democratic primaries""tentatively supporting Clinton.

But that is likely to have changed with the Iowa vote, which showed Obama as a viable candidate, he says. "The latent Obama surge is going to be huge here," he adds.

That won't translate into a Democratic bump in Florida's Jan. 29 primary""the party also has withdrawn delegate votes from Florida as punishment for scheduling an early primary. But a victory in South Carolina could easily set up further southern victories for a Republican candidate, which could be bad news for Giuliani.

Giuliani has largely staked his campaign on Florida, so a loss there to Huckabee or Romney""if either one rolls into the state with the political winds at his back""would likely finish off the former mayor. But a Giuliani win in Florida would set him up for Feb. 5, when 23 states""including most of the Northeast""hold primaries.

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