THE NOTE: Waiting for Mo

Rising out of the South Carolina mist, and shining over the Las Vegas lights, could it be that we see an old friend (sorely missing through these wild first three weeks of voting)?

Momentum -- we've missed you, and we'd love to see you back on this of all days, one year before you can smile with the knowledge that you helped inaugurate the next president of the United States. And yet . . . someone's still in your chair.

Sen. John McCain overcame his demons (gotta love victory as exorcism) and won narrowly yet decisively in South Carolina -- looking and feeling very much like a candidate of destiny in continuing one of the most remarkable political comebacks of this or any time.

"What's eight years among friends?" he asked late Saturday (and for once he wasn't trying to convince himself).

Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton overcame a big union endorsement (through textbook mastery of spin, she actually fashioned herself the underdog) to cruise past Sen. Barack Obama in Nevada -- surging her ahead of Obama in what remains dogfight of a Democratic contest.

"I guess this is how the West was won," she said (and she sort of WAS trying to convince herself).

But even clarity looks cloudy these days. In a measure of one of the many absurdities that mark this race, neither of the weekend's big winners appear to have the most delegates to show for their Saturday.

Both Clinton and McCain can make strong claims to front-running status. Yet both have paths ahead that are lined with obstacles that seem designed to keep Big Mo away for a while.

McCain's victory was sweet vindication for a candidate who was slimed out of the race in the very same state eight years ago -- it was a "healthy dose of poetic justice," per the Chicago Tribune's Jill Zuckman. LINK

But he needs more than a feel-good story. "In almost any other year, a victory like this -- particularly in a state with a history of backing the eventual Republican nominee -- would send the winner hurtling down the road toward the nomination," Adam Nagourney writes in The New York Times. "But perhaps not this year, and perhaps not this candidate." LINK

McCain, R-Ariz., will soon have to start winning in a winnowed field, in states where independents won't be able to help him. "The terrain from here is markedly different, starting Jan. 29 in Florida, where the Republican primary is open only to Republicans," Nagourney writes.

Clinton, D-N.Y., won the Democrats' only big prize between New Hampshire and South Carolina, giving her two in a row after Obama, D-Ill., won the first round. She and her husband were jubilant by the time they hit St. Louis Saturday night -- with an energetic speech before some 2,000 patient, frozen souls.

"Eleven days ago people were dancing on Hillary's grave -- we have another thing coming now," former President Bill Clinton said, per ABC's Eloise Harper.

But the Nevada results again showed her weakness among African-Americans, who will register their votes in large numbers for the first time just six days from now, when the Democrats get their turn in South Carolina.

"After yesterday's results in Nevada, the two are virtually tied," Susan Milligan writes in The Boston Globe. "The Democratic race still has no clear front-runner despite a front-loaded primary schedule that many believed could settle the nomination early." LINK

With the race clearly headed to Feb. 5, if not beyond, split decisions could give both Clinton and Obama plenty of room to run. "Party rules allow each to claim delegates in every state, even where they finish second," McClatchy's Stephen Thomma writes. "Both can stay in and slug it out coast to coast, perhaps for months." LINK

The Saturday Showdowns provide plenty of reasons for both big winners to celebrate -- but no reasons for anyone to get cocky. McCain and Clinton both triumphed in spite of (and, in part, because of) deep splits within their parties.

"A battle between opposing wings of the Republican Party made it a tight contest in South Carolina, where evangelicals and strong conservatives boosted former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee -- but not by enough to overcome Arizona Sen. John McCain's broad support from moderates and independents," ABC Polling Director Gary Langer writes. LINK

Langer continues: "There was another kind of division 2,200 miles to the west, in the Nevada Democratic caucuses: Black caucus-goers overwhelmingly supported Illinois Sen. Barack Obama over New York Sen. Hillary Clinton, 83 percent to 14 percent; Clinton won whites by 18 points, and Hispanics by an even broader ratio, more than 2-1."

Like she did in New Hampshire (and Obama hasn't done since Iowa), Clinton got her folks to show up. "Clinton won almost every casino site and dominated among women and Latino voters, while Obama drew overwhelming support from blacks -- a potential foreshadowing of how the contest could play out when almost two dozen states vote on Feb. 5," Shailagh Murray and Anne Kornblut write in The Washington Post. LINK

The "Nevada caucus turned Iowa on its head," J. Patrick Coolican and Michael Mishak write in the Las Vegas Sun. In Iowa, "Clinton hit her original goal but was deluged by the Obama turnout. Here, the turnout was nearly double the 60,000 forecast -- standing at 115,800 late Saturday. . . . Although the Clinton victory was decisive, especially with women, her victory among Hispanics was especially striking, beating Obama 2-1 with a demographic that comprised 15 percent of the voters." LINK

The fact that New Hampshire's winners won again on Saturday brings at least a smidge of sanity to the race; finally, someone can claim to have won more than one real contest. "Hillary Clinton's victory in the Nevada caucuses and John McCain's win in the South Carolina primary were close enough to keep the competition going on both sides," David Broder writes for The Washington Post. "But the winners gained significant advantages for the coming rounds." LINK

It puts all the pressure the race can muster on Obama. As he heads to an African-American church in Atlanta on Sunday, he knows he needs black voters to stand with him in South Carolina next weekend.

"Clinton's campaign continues to show a mastery of narrative by creating the perception that she -- who started out as a quasi-incumbent with $100 million in the bank -- was an oppressed underdog who had rallied to victory" in Nevada, Michael Tackett writes in the Chicago Tribune. "Now comes the most pressure Obama has faced as they head to South Carolina. A loss there would put his campaign in peril." LINK

Since New Hampshire, Obama has been outmaneuvered by Clinton, whose scattershot attacks have kept the campaign storylines on her terms. The question from here: which Obama do we get now?

"If Barack Obama thought his message of 'new politics' would carry him to victory without some retooling following his loss in New Hampshire, his popular-vote defeat in yesterday's Nevada caucuses might have convinced him otherwise," Peter Canellos writes in The Boston Globe. "By promising 'new politics,' Obama has staked a claim on the passions of Democratic voters hungry for the strongest possible repudiation of the Bush presidency. But there are signs that his cry for change may be sounding hollow or, worse, like a typical political slogan." LINK

"Obama now must decide whether to continue with the bruising exchanges that marked his greater willingness to criticize Clinton directly in Nevada, or return to the campaign style that stressed hopeful messages over direct criticism of his opponents," Newsday's Martin C. Evans writes. LINK

A final echo of Clinton's message in Nevada may leave Obama little choice but to change tactics: Clinton hits the Obama-as-visionary image in the new issue of The New Yorker: "You have to be prepared on Day One to basically wrest the power away in order to realize the goals and vision that you have for the country," she tells George Packer. LINK

Adds Clinton: "What we now know about how Dick Cheney basically controlled the information going to Bush means that we'll never really know how much responsibility Bush should be assumed to have taken with respect to serious decisions." Obama, meanwhile, describes being president as "having a vision for where the country needs to go . . . and then being able to mobilize and inspire the American people to get behind that agenda for change."

South Carolina also offers former senator John Edwards, D-N.C., what looks like his last chance to reemerge as a contender, and the race is slipping away from him -- fast. He disappeared into Kucinich-like territory in Nevada, with just 4 percent support in a state where his union support was supposed to mean something, and where he made an early push.

"This is one of those times that I hope the old saying, 'What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas,' turns out to be true," Edwards said Saturday night, ABC's Raelyn Johnson reports. "We'll see what happens." LINK

Indeed. And this is where his spending cap matters: He could have less than $20 million left to spend for the entire primary season -- up all the way to the convention -- while Clinton and Obama spend freely.

Among the Republicans, South Carolina will be remembered for winnowing the field. Not just Duncan Hunter, whose exit means precisely nothing to the race, but also Fred Thompson, who thundered through a rambling discourse that made him sound like a man who wanted to quit Saturday night, if only his wife would let him.

Per ABC's Christine Byun, a campaign official is pronouncing his status as "fluid." (The clock is running on how long it will take for him to flow back home. He delivered his speech long before the race was called, so the Thompson family could hit the sack early back home in Virginia. We're not making this up). LINK

Thompson's lasting impact on the race may have been the blow his presence dealt to former governor Mike Huckabee, R-Ark., who desperately needed a South Carolina victory.

Huckabee was gracious in defeat, but his praise of McCain felt faintly like an audition for a spot on his ticket. His harsh truth: If he can't win in South Carolina, with its evangelicals and (relatively) level playing field, where can he win? "Not getting a victory in this conservative state is a blow to his underdog hopes of winning the GOP nomination," Dan Balz writes in The Washington Post. LINK

"Honor will not get Huckabee the nomination," writes Time's Michael Scherer. "As the calendar flies by, the states get bigger and even more costly, putting his shoestring campaign under increasing pressure. And Huckabee is still struggling to appeal beyond his evangelical base. In two states now, Michigan and South Carolina, his message of economic populism has failed to make substantial inroads." LINK

Romney's decision to flee South Carolina at the end looks like a brilliant stroke -- he knew he couldn't win, but found a way to work himself up a positive storyline. He won Nevada by 40 points, and got to declare victory hours before McCain. " 'Landslide' is not a strong enough word for Mitt Romney's victory in Nevada's Republican caucuses Saturday," Molly Ball writes in the Las Vegas Review-Journal. LINK

But a few facts worth remembering: First, second place was occupied by Rep. Ron Paul, R-Texas; he was the only other Republican candidate to seriously campaign in Nevada. And Romney came in fourth -- behind Thompson -- in South Carolina.

He really did try -- very hard, actually -- to win South Carolina. "There was something about the former Massachusetts governor that turned off Palmetto State voters," Lee Bandy writes in The State, estimating Romney's efforts at costing $280,000 a week. "Among S.C. voters who told exit pollsters Saturday the main reason they voted for a candidate was because he 'says what he believes,' Romney finished last among the five candidates who actively campaigned here." LINK

The GOP race moves even further south, "to a new ground zero: Florida," Adam C. Smith reports in the St. Petersburg Times. "Now, the main event in Florida looks to be Romney vs. McCain." LINK

"Unlike in South Carolina, McCain-leaning independent voters can't participate in Florida's Jan. 29 primary, and the heavily Republican Cuban-American community, whose leaders are split among the candidates, looms as one of the biggest prizes," Beth Reinhard and Lesley Clark write in the Miami Herald. "McCain plans to kick off his Florida tour Monday at the landmark Versailles restaurant in Little Havana and then head to Jacksonville and Pensacola, where the Vietnam War hero can tap a large population of military retirees and their families." LINK

Former mayor Rudolph Giuliani, R-N.Y., has been waiting in Florida (even as firefighters seek to set his firewall on fire), and Rudy greeted his rivals with a rare direct tweak Saturday night. "John McCain voted with the Democrats against the tax cut twice. And Mitt Romney did not clearly support the Bush tax cuts," Giuliani said at The Villages retirement community on Saturday, ABC's Jan Simmonds reports. LINK

Back on the Democratic side -- what to make of Bill? His latest eruptions, blasting the caucus process and then claiming to witness voter intimidation just hours before the caucuses, mark the second straight time he has turned purple in public just before a big vote.

"Mark on your calendar Jan. 25 for an outburst by Bill Clinton somewhere in South Carolina," Slate's John Dickerson writes. "He has launched a tirade the day before each of his wife's victories in Nevada and New Hampshire, claiming the process was unfairly stacked against her. If this keeps up, he's going to require a stretcher by the last primary in Oregon come May." LINK

"Maybe this is their 'tell' -- they act all angry and flustered when they're holding a straight flush," ABC's Jake Tapper writes. LINK

The former president may have been speaking the truth, or he may have been out of line, but he's still connecting with crowds. He remains a particularly potent figure in the African-American community -- and look for him to be in South Carolina early and often as he seeks to redeem himself while helping his wife into the White House.

Both fields have only one competitive primary left before Super Tuesday takes things out of the control of local campaigning and leans everything on the broad strokes -- where TV advertising is the strongest weapon.

All that money the candidates hauled in, shattering fundraising records? They'll need it -- and then some -- now. "The top three Democrats and the five or so Republicans all find their bank accounts depleted just as the most expensive phase of the race is about to begin," David Kirkpatrick writes in The New York Times. "Strategists acknowledge they will have to make tough choices, especially since both parties face the prospect of prolonged nomination fights that could extend into the spring -- or beyond." LINK

Lots of televised spin on tap before your afternoon football break. (Who's more John McCain? Eli Manning -- playing tough road games and defying the skeptics who pronounce him toast -- or Brett Favre -- oldest man on the field but still at the top of his game, the sentimental choice looking for a last hurrah? And who's the race's Tom Brady? Handsome, fresh-faced Barack Obama, or seasoned, machine-running Hillary Clinton?)

Rudy Giuliani, who is running as a staunch fiscal conservative, said he thinks President Bush's short-term $150 billion tax rebate plan to stimulate the economy is a "good idea" worth pursuing in concept but avoided fully embracing the plan until more details are released. "If it stays where it is, it's a good idea. The devil here is in the details. We've got to see how it gets compromised out. ..I would err on the side of permanent tax cuts. Some of the short-term measures are necessary. Some of them can help. But you also have to couple that with some long-term tax cuts," he said on ABC's "This Week".

As the GOP fight moves to the delegate-rich state of Florida, where Giuliani has been camped out, the former mayor sought to undercut his rivals' record on taxes while playing up his record as New York mayor.

"I have the most experience in cutting taxes of anyone running and I've shown that it can work, that you can actually cut taxes and raise revenues which is what really you have to do now if you want to deal with the deficit by also reducing spending," he said.

Giuliani also defended his fiscal record against the Romney campaign's attack that he went to court in order to keep tax increases in place. "My record in tax cutting is so much better than anyone else," said Giuliani. "The reality is, I didn't cut all taxes….We accomplished 23 of them. Now with my new program in which we're recommending tax cuts, it will be the largest tax cut in American history."

Also on "This Week," House Ways and Means Chairman Rep. Charlie Rangel, D-N.Y., talked about the Bush economic stimulus package and some Democrats' concerns that the program would not include rebates to families who don't pay income taxes. "At the end of the day, I can assure you that the American people will not be disappointed, and there will be a bipartisan package ready," he said.

"The Republicans on the committee have shared with me that they're talking with (GOP House Leader Rep. John Boehner). So, I have never seen this type of solidarity."

Rangel called for Congressional oversight of sovereign wealth funds, foreign state-run funds that invests in U.S. companies. "Common sense and national security dictates that it has to be monitored."

Over on "Fox News Sunday," Romney, the Republican delegate leader, set his sights on John McCain. "I think if people want somebody who's been in Washington all their life and understands Washington's ways and has been part of the same for a quarter central, then John McCain will be their person," he said.

"If they want somebody instead who's been in the real economy over the last 25, 30 years, who understands why jobs come and why they go, and understand what it take to grow an economy, then I think I'll be their person."

Switching channels to CBS, the results from the Nevada Democratic caucuses were not good news for former Sen. Edwards as he prepares for the first-in-the-south Democratic presidential primary next Saturday. Edwards admitted his single digit performance was not what he'd hoped for. "I'm now in South Carolina. I got my butt kicked in Nevada," said Edwards.

Edwards needs a win but insists that even if he finishes behind Sens. Clinton and Obama in South Carolina he will remain in the race. "I have said over and over I am committed to this. My cause is not going away, I'm in it for the long haul," said Edwards when asked if he plans to go on to Super Tuesday even if he doesn't do well in South Carolina, the state where he was born.

The former senator made sure to tell "Face the Nation" moderator Bob Schieffer that he's not making excuses for his poor performances in New Hampshire and Nevada, while adding that Obama and Clinton have raised north of $100 million and have gotten "massive publicity."

Sen. Obama's chief strategist, David Axelrod debated Clinton communication director Howard Wolfson also on "Face" - and Axelrod made sure to point out that the Obama camp thinks they won the delegate battle in Nevada. "Senator Clinton was ahead by 25 points six or seven weeks ago in Nevada. She had most of the Democratic Party establishment with her. They ran a very negative campaign in the media on things that were a little bit outlandish. And yet we ended up with more delegates in Nevada than they, because we had a broader support and we did better in rural areas, in Reno, and in some of the places where Democrats are going to have to win in the fall in order to win the presidency," he said.

Wolfson shot back that the exit polls show that Senator Clinton won the rural areas of Nevada, not Obama. Wolfson said, "They can try to spin a six-point loss into whatever they want, but the fact is, Senator Clinton won a resounding victory. She won a resounding victory despite the fact that when the Obama campaign got the Culinary Workers endorsement, the Obama campaign suggested that this would be the margin of victory for them. It wasn't. We overcame that because we focused relentlessly on the issues that the people care about, most certainly the economy."

You can watch a recap of the Sunday shows on "This Week's Sunday Sound" by clicking HERE:

Also in the news:

Given the crush of other news, this isn't a terrible weekend for Obama to see Tony Rezko news break.

"For the first time, Democratic White House hopeful Barack Obama has surfaced in the federal corrupton case against his longtime campaign fund-raiser, Tony Rezko," a four-person team reports in the Chicago Sun-Times. "A source familiar with the case confirmed that Obama is the unnamed "political candidate" referred to in a section of the [court] document that accuses Rezko of orchestrating a scheme in which a firm hired to handle state teacher pension investments first had to pay $250,000 in 'sham' finder's fees. From that money, $10,000 was donated to Obama's successful run for the Senate in the name of a Rezko business associate, according to the court filing and the source." LINK

High-up caveats: "The Illinois senator isn't accused of any wrongdoing. And there's no evidence Obama knew contributions to his 2004 U.S. Senate campaign came from schemes Rezko is accused of orchestrating."

Abundance of caution: "Obama is giving charity more than $40,000 in past political contributions linked to . . . Rezko, who is facing federal corruption charges, his campaign said Saturday," per the AP's write-up. LINK

The Feb. 5-state newspaper endorsements are rolling in. Obama grabs the endorsement of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution -- he "has demonstrated an appeal across many of the lines that have divided America" LINK-- and the Sacramento Bee -- "a fresh face with a new approach and no old scores to settle." LINK

Clinton secures the backing of the Kansas City Star: "She is a woman of obvious intelligence with a strong commitment to reform on health care, taxes, energy, immigration, education and global warming." LINK

The Orland Sentinel backs McCain: "There is a clear choice when it comes to the most qualified." LINK

A trashy robocall from out in Nevada uses Obama's middle name. "In fact, Barack Hussein Obama has taken millions of dollars from federal lobbying firms . . . Wall Street . . . big oil, pharmaceutical companies." (Does this stuff seriously still work?) LINK

Gee, Mayor Michael Bloomberg, I-N.Y., sure knows when and how to give a speech that makes it seem like he's not interested in anything other than being mayor of New York.

"In politics, winning elections and protecting a party majority is more important than solving problems and so short-term pork invariably wins over long-term investing and special interests win over the rest of us," Bloomberg said Saturday in Los Angeles, "sounding every bit like the presidential candidate he denies he is," per the New York Daily News' Kathleen Lucadamo. LINK

Which just may have something to with this (sorry, John McCain). "Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger on Saturday put to rest months of speculation that he would shake up presidential politics by endorsing one of the candidates," Evan Halper writes in the Los Angeles Times. "Standing alongside Mayor Michael Bloomberg of New York City -- an Independent and a potential contender himself -- at a Los Angeles news conference, the Republican governor said he would not be getting involved in the race." Said Arnold: "It doesn't help me any, it doesn't help the state of California to endorse anybody." LINK

Those "Bush countdown" clocks now read 365. launches a special section on Sunday looking at President Bush's legacy, one year before he'll leave office. LINK

The kicker:

"It's never been about me. It's never even been about you." -- Fred Thompson, addressing baffled supporters in his pseudo-valedictory address, raising the question of who is has been about. Answer: "It's been about our country." LINK

"I think Obama's cute, so . . . I see why people are, just on a very superficial level, drawn to him." -- Meghan McCain, John McCain's 23-year-old daughter. LINK

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