From Chuck Todd, Mark Murray, and Domenico Montanaro
*** McCain's Win: So are there lone front-runners in either party yet? The short answer is no. In the Republican field, McCain got a much-needed victory in South Carolina, thanks in part to a crowded primary ballot. We still don't know if he can win a one-on-one against someone perceived to be slightly more conservative. It is worth noting that McCain technically lost Republicans in South Carolina by one point, according to the exit poll. But the good news for McCain is that it may be a while until he is forced into a two-way. Next week, the dynamic is a true four-way race in Florida.
*** Looking ahead to Florida: Speaking of Florida, just who is the favorite there? Giuliani, who has taken up residence in the state but whose best finish so far has been a distant fourth in New Hampshire? McCain, who has two of the four most prominent wins to date (New Hampshire and South Carolina) but hasn't spent a lot of time campaigning in the state? Romney, who is the party's delegate leader and has a decent chunk of the Jeb Bush team? Or Huckabee, who is still in search of another win but may find himself all alone appealing to values conservatives in the state (which has A LOT of mega-churches) -- as the other three battle on the taxes and economic front?
*** A split decision? As for the Democrats, Clinton picked a much needed win, even though no one knew who exactly was going to turn out at Nevada's caucuses. Her campaign is now guaranteed a split of the first four states going into Tsunami Tuesday. Of course, after the results were processed and the delegate math was done, Nevada's inaugural caucus got a little bit of egg on its face when -- despite a fairly decisive win -- Clinton didn't win a majority of the delegates. Obama did. And while we have no plans on erasing Clinton's winning checkmark, Obama's apparent delegate win is a good reminder of how February 5 should be judged. A question we posed to a number of observers last night was: Will that winner be the candidate who wins the most states, the most raw vote, or the most delegates? The answer is pretty obvious: delegates.
*** Looking ahead to South Carolina: As for the next South Carolina battle, the pressure for a win moves from Clinton to Obama. If the Nevada exit poll results among blacks and whites is duplicated by Obama in South Carolina, the race might not be close. And, on paper, there's an argument that it shouldn't be. Then again, Clinton's chief ally -- her fired up husband -- is vowing to make the state competitive as he promises to go church-to-church and door-to-door in the state's black community, just like he went casino-to-casino in Nevada. Don't under estimate his belief that he personally turned things around in Nevada; that should give him carte blanche in South Carolina, right? The Clintons are now 2 for 2 as Bill has become the attack dog. And then there's John Edwards. If he fades like he did in Nevada, where does his vote go? Our last MSNBC-McClatchy poll indicated he shares similar demographic support groups with Clinton. It's going to be a fascinating week, with all the pressure now on Obama.
*** Hook, line, and sinker: You can say one thing about the Clinton campaign: They sure know how to play the expectations game. They now have back-to-back expectations wins. The first one, of course, was in New Hampshire, where everyone -- including them -- thought they would lose, even though the state had been always her firewall and she had been leading in the polls there before December. Nevada, though, was a bit of a different story: They (and also at least one Obama aide, who was captured on video) built Obama's first big union endorsement into a decisive advantage for the Illinois senator -- Clinton surrogates were saying on TV earlier in the day that those at-large caucus sites could equal to five points for Obama -- and the press ate it up. Yet those at-large/casino sites made up just 6% of the precincts, and Clinton ended up winning many of them (thanks to the support of so many other major labor groups). In fact, that CNN Vegas debate back in November, when the crowd booed Obama and Edwards, should have been a reminder to all of us that Clinton had a pretty solid advantage in Nevada, especially in Las Vegas. And she led in every Nevada poll except for one. Now we head into another contest where all the pressure is on Obama, not Clinton…
*** Just who is the underdog? Indeed, after her win yesterday, the Clinton campaign issued a memo, which said that Nevada "was a test of whether the voters would win out through a process that gave significant institutional advantages to Hillary's opponent." How Clinton -- with the backing of Emily's List, AFSCME, AFT, much of establishment Washington, and a former president -- was ever allowed to become the underdog is one of the more fascinating stories of this election cycle.
*** On the trail: Clinton attends worship service at Abyssinian Baptist Church in Harlem and later, as NBC's Andrea Mitchell reported yesterday, picks up an endorsement from the church's pastor, Calvin Butts; Edwards stumps in South Carolina, where among other things he participates in an MLK celebration at Zion Baptist Church in Columbia, SC; Giuliani holds five different rallies in Florida; Huckabee attends a BBQ party Chuck Norris throws for him at the Lone Wolf Ranch outside of Houston, TX; McCain, as of press time, is holding a media avail in Charleston, SC; Obama speaks at Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, GA before heading to a rally in Columbia, SC; and Romney is in Florida.
*** On the Sunday mornings shows: Per Hotline, Meet the Press has NBC's Tom Brokaw, Doris Kearns Goodwin, Newsweek's Jon Meacham, Peggy Noonan, and NPR's Michele Norris; Face the Nation has John Edwards and Obama chief strategist David Axelrod; This Week talks to Giuliani and Rep. Charlie Rangel; Fox News Sunday has Romney and Sen. Chuck Schumer; and Late Edition hosts Reps. James Clyburn and Carolyn Kilpatrick.
Countdown to SC Dem primary: 6 days
Countdown to Florida: 9 day
Countdown to Tsunami Tuesday: 16 days
Countdown to Election Day 2008: 289 days
Countdown to Inauguration Day 2009: 366 days