From Chuck Todd, Mark Murray, and Domenico Montanaro
*** The Nevada expectations game: Yesterday, we noted that both Huckabee and McCain were predicting wins in tomorrow's South Carolina contest. But that's hardly the case for the Dems in Nevada. In the Obama camp's statement on the federal judge upholding the caucus sites on the Vegas Strip, they said the Clinton folks "enjoyed a 25-point lead two months ago and have much of the party establishment in their camp. So, despite their inherent advantages, we are pleased this should be a close and competitive contest." In their statement, the Clintons said, "The Obama campaign has been clear in its belief that whoever wins the culinary union endorsement will win Nevada. [Did they ever say that?] We will leave it up to the people of Nevada to make that decision." Why are both sides setting expectations that they might lose? Because no one -- and we mean no one -- knows what will happen on Saturday.
*** Carolina in ny mind: Turning to tomorrow's South Carolina GOP primary, our new MSNBC/McClatchy/Mason-Dixon poll has McCain leading Huckabee by just two points, 27%-25%, which is a bit closer than other recent SC surveys have shown. Romney comes in third at 15%, and Thompson is fourth at 13%. Meanwhile, on the Dem side, the poll has Obama with a nine-point lead over Clinton, 40%-31%. Just asking: With Obama way out in front of Clinton with African-American voters (56%-25%), but trailing both Clinton and Edwards among whites (39%-28%-20%), is South Carolina at least one contest where Edwards still being in the race actually helps Obama? It sure looks like Clinton and Edwards are splitting the white vote…
*** Feb. 5 is only the beginning? For those weary journos and politicos who somehow thought their Valentine's Day would be the start of a two-week vacation to recover from the primary season, think again. The odds of either nomination being settled on February 5 are getting more remote. In conversations with the major Democratic campaigns, the assumption is -- barring some bizarre game-changing moment -- that maybe 100 delegates will separate Clinton and Obama, with Edwards garnering enough delegates to play kingmaker. On the GOP side, until one candidate proves they can win three primaries in a row, it's looking more likely that at least four viable candidates will compete on February 5, making a regional delegate wash (Rudy in the Northeast, McCain and Romney splitting the West and Midwest and Huck in the South) very likely. Indeed, per a new National Journal Insiders poll, 60% of Dem insiders and 60% of GOP insiders believe that their parties won't have a de facto nominee once the Feb. 5 ballots are counted.
*** Here comes March Madness: All this means February 12 -- we'll call it Chesapeake Tuesday -- featuring Maryland, Virginia and D.C. will matter, so will the historically interesting Wisconsin primary on Feb. 19 (Washington State is that day too...), with the potential culmination on March 4 when two of the last big states finally weigh in: Texas and Ohio. Forget February 5; we're on to March delegate madness. We're warning now so you can start pacing yourselves. Special attention to campaign schedulers: A couple of rest days after Tsunami Tuesday would be nice. After all, this isn't a sprint to February 5, but a delegate marathon...
*** The Bubba factor: Here we are, three weeks into the primary voting season and there still isn't a consensus about whether Bill Clinton is an asset or not. He gets media "on the couch" coverage today about his temper in the New York Times, which should feed the amateur psychologist chattering class cocktail circuit for the weekend. The Washington Post also weighs in on Bill's role. What's been interesting is that the former president seems to be able to make news more frequently than his candidate wife. And while many believe his news making has been a distraction, he does seem to command attention and can get negative messaging out better than Hillary. By the way, how come no one has acknowledged just how difficult it is to do what Obama is doing and that's be on the small side of a 2-on-1 game. Billary vs. Obama, not the fairest of fights, is it? Then again, as the basketball player Obama knows very well, a ball-hog can sometimes mess up a 2-on-1 fast break.
*** Mitt's fit: Speaking of tempers, Mitt Romney -- a.k.a. Mr. Smiley -- let his show a bit yesterday. The moment could be a double-edged sword for him. On the one hand, the semantics he was attempting regarding lobbyist involvement in his campaign was ludicrous. But for a candidate that seems to never show emotion, the fiery moment may have showed a toughness and a human side that many Romney partisans believed was missing. And it's not like two of Romney's chief rivals (McCain and Rudy) have never let their tempers get the best of them.
*** On the trail: On the Dem side, Clinton holds an economic roundtable in Las Vegas and then hits rallies in Elko, Reno, and Henderson; Edwards has an event at his headquarters in Las Vegas before traveling to Oklahoma City; and Obama holds town halls in Elko and Henderson and a rally in Las Vegas. On the GOP side, Huckabee holds rallies in Aiken, Greenville, Spartanburg, and Rock Hill; McCain has rallies in Florence, Myrtle Beach, Hilton Head, and Charleston (at the USS Yorktown); Paul is in Charleston, where he has a rally and a media avail; and Thompson is in Seneca, Pickens, Spartanburg, and Greenville. And where's Romney? He's in Nevada -- a clear sign he'd rather focus on that state's caucuses on Saturday than the SC primary. And Rudy? He still in Florida.
Countdown to Nevada and SC GOP primary: 1 day
Countdown to SC Dem primary: 8 days
Countdown to Florida: 11 days
Countdown to Tsunami Tuesday: 18 days
Countdown to Election Day 2008: 291 days
Countdown to Inauguration Day 2009: 368 days