South Carolina Clarifies GOP Race

John McCain's narrow but significant victory over Mike Huckabee in South Carolina yesterday has helped to clarify the GOP presidential race.

With returns from 93 precincts counted, McCain won about 33 percent of the vote and Huckabee had about 30 percent. Fred Thompson was in third place with 16 percent, after saying he needed a strong showing to sustain his candidacy.

Another Republican, California Rep. Duncan Hunter, dropped out even before the votes were tallied. McCain won 19 of the state's GOP delegates, and Huckabee won 5. McCain called his victory evidence that his campaign "can carry right through" Florida into the giant round of caucuses and primaries on Feb. 5.
"I know it's not easy," he told The Associated Press, "and we've got a long way to go." South Carolina was where McCain's presidential prospects died eight years ago, and he savored the victory this time. "It just took us awhile, that's all," he said in the interview. "Eight years is not a long time."
Duncan Hunter has already dropped out soon to be followed by a non-viable Fred Thompson. And if Mike Huckabee can't win in South Carolina, where can he win?

This leaves Romney and Giuliani to seriously challenge John McCain for the nomination. Rudy is banking his entire campaign on a win in Florida. Recent polls have him close to McCain. But the question is how much if any bounce McCain will get by winning South Carolina? The Arizona senator got a huge bump out by winning New Hampshire - something he's not likely to duplicate in Florida. But even a 3-5 point boost in Florida as a result of his South Carolina win will probably give the state to him.

Romney meanwhile won the uncontested Nevada primary handily with Ron Paul finishing second. They were the only candidates who bothered to compete there. However, Mitt finished a distant forurth in South Carolina. This after his win in Michigan on Tuesday. It is clear that Romney got not much of a bounce as a result of his winning the primary for what was one of his home states.

Now it's on to Florida for the January 29 showdown. Can anyone derail the McCain express? Romney has the money to saturate the air waves with ads between now and then. And some polls have Romney a close third.

But with Giuliani fighting tooth and nail, it will probably come down to McCain and Rudy. And while Rudy has a shot, it seems unlikely at this point that he can be the man who halts McCain's momentum and makes this a race through Super Tuesday on February 5.