The tsunami has hereby been downgraded.
The wave of voting that will take place on Tuesday will be super, maybe even super-duper, and (if this primary season -- or this NFL postseason -- is any guide) it will crash through our assumptions and expectations.
But there's a flag on the play: Tuesday will not, in all likelihood, produce a Democratic nominee for president. (The Republicans are another story -- and it may not be a good story for former governor Mitt Romney; at least his heirs may feel differently, and he can fondly remember Maine.)
Those everybody-counts Democrats get exactly what they bargained for: Like a team that controls the ball but not the scoreboard, proportional delegate allocation means even a decisive win in overall voting (and in number of states won) doesn't guarantee any advantage at all in the delegate count.
Not that anyone looks like they're cruising toward anything (and keep that in mind, Patriots fans, as you settle into your easy chairs Sunday afternoon). That's just one of the reasons that Bobby Kennedy is getting more attention than the Lombardi Trophy, as the battle for California and for Latino voters begins to define the Democratic race.
The latest ABC News/Washington Post poll has a virtual tie heading into the single biggest voting day of the primary season: It's Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton 47, Sen. Barack Obama 43, "with supporters of the now-withdrawn John Edwards seemingly dividing about evenly between them," ABC polling director Gary Langer writes.
As for the Republicans, Sen. John McCain "has vaulted to a 2-1 advantage in the Republican race in this ABC News/Washington Post poll, continuing a remarkable surge that began with his New Hampshire and South Carolina victories," Langer writes.
It's McCain 48, Romney 24, yet McCain's "support is comparatively soft, especially in some core GOP groups," per Langer's write-up.
"McCain's big lead in this new national poll matches a wave of increasing support seen in state polls, which, coupled with the GOP's winner-take-all rules, gives him the opportunity to effectively wrap up the nomination with a strong showing Tuesday," Dan Balz and Jon Cohen write in The Washington Post.
"The Democratic contest is likely to keep going. . . . Clinton's four-percentage-point edge in the survey is about the same as it was three weeks ago and does not constitute a significant lead, given the poll's margin of sampling error."
The candidates and their surrogates are out in force; Los Angeles alone on Sunday features events headlined by former President Bill Clinton (maybe apologizing, maybe not) and Obama backers Oprah Winfrey and Caroline Kennedy, while Chelsea Clinton and Sen. John Kerry held dueling events Saturday in the Bay Area.
And the former president has an intriguing Super Bowl date on Sunday with Gov. Bill Richardson, D-N.M., the still-uncommitted former candidate whose support could provide a boost among Latinos.
The race is tighter than a Wes Welker timing pattern in the biggest state that votes on Tuesday: California. It's Clinton 36, Obama 34 in a new Field Poll.
"A startling surge of support for Barack Obama has catapulted the Illinois senator into a virtual tie with Hillary Rodham Clinton in California's Democratic presidential primary," John Wildermuth and Carla Marinucci write in the San Francisco Chronicle.
"Clinton, a longtime California favorite, saw her once-commanding lead slip to two percentage points, 36 to 34 percent, in the new survey. That's down from the New York senator's 12 percentage point lead in mid-January and a 25 percentage point margin over Obama in October."
The advantage can be erased with a touchdown just about everywhere: McClatchy/Mason-Dixon polls in regional bellwethers have Clinton's lead at six points in Missouri, seven in New Jersey, two in Arizona, and nine in California, while Obama has a six-point edge in Georgia.
"That regional taste of the 22 Democratic contests on Tuesday suggests that the two will carve up the country, each emerging with a big bloc of delegates and the nomination far from clear. Second-place finishers win delegates in Democratic primaries," McClatchy's Stephen Thomma writes.
Obama, D-Ill., has a lopsided 55-24 advantage in his home state, per the Chicago Tribune/WGN-TV poll.
Back on the trail . . . everybody's trying to stir the sleeping giant: The battle over Latino voters is dominating the closing days of the race, in California and elsewhere. Obama is touting his support of driver's licenses for undocumented immigrants -- a key point that won him La Opinion's endorsement.
On immigration, Obama tells ABC's David Muir: "My position has been very similar to John McCain's, who's may be the likely Republican nominee, and if he wants to try to parse out this one issue of driver's licenses, an issue of public safety, my response is that we have to solve the overall problem and this driver's license issue is a distraction."
Clinton, D-N.Y., is making a direct appeal to Latino voters as part of her closing argument, ABC's Kate Snow, Susan Kriskey, and Eloise Harper report. "I was so honored when Bobby Kennedy Jr. and Cesar Chavez's grandson decided to offer their support," Clinton said Saturday in Los Angeles.
"They wanted to speak out and make clear that what we need today is what Bobby's father and Cesar's grandfather knew had to be a part of policy and change. We need a doer. We need a fighter. We need a champion."
But will the real heir to the RFK legacy please stand up?
Clinton has an ad up featuring Robert F. Kennedy Jr. and Cesar L. Chavez. "Today, Hillary Clinton is the champion of the voiceless in our society," Kennedy says.
But RFK's widow, Ethel Kennedy, came out for Obama on Saturday. "Barack is so like Bobby," she wrote in a statement released by the Obama campaign.
The advantage among Latinos still appears to rest with Clinton: "Latino voters are poised to play a pivotal role in Tuesday's Democratic primaries, giving a likely boost to Hillary Clinton and frustrating the momentum enjoyed in the past week by Barack Obama, who is struggling to make himself known among a voter group that has been overwhelmingly supportive of his New York rival," Susan Milligan writes in The Boston Globe.
Milligan continues: "Voters and political officials say that Obama's failure to connect effectively with Latinos is driven less by historical tensions between black and Latino communities than by the fact that Latinos know and like Clinton and have had little contact with the Illinois senator. Still, it could cost Obama critical delegates in states with significant Latino communities, including California, Colorado, New Mexico, Arizona, New York, and New Jersey."
McCain leads by eight in the new California Field Poll, up 32-24-13-10 over Romney, Mike Huckabee, and Ron Paul. A new poll out in Illinois has McCain romping in the Land of Lincoln, up 43-20-15-4.
McCain also leads in all of the McClatchy/Mason-Dixon bellwethers: "Republican John McCain leads in all four corners of the country heading into a rush of primaries on Tuesday," per McClatchy's Thomma.
"With many Republican contests winner-take-all delegate bonanzas, the surveys suggest that McCain could emerge from Tuesday's vote with a commanding lead for the Republican nomination."
The Straight Talk Express is acting like it's on the move: "McCain said Saturday that he expects to be the nominee of his party as a cascade of Republican endorsements added to the sense that he is on the verge of knocking out former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney on Super Tuesday," Jill Zuckman, John McCormick, and Jason George write in the Chicago Tribune.
"McCain assumed a nominee's mantle as he crossed the South on Saturday, touting his high-profile endorsements and talking about how he will unify the Republican Party after Tuesday's de facto national primary."
Contrast that with this from Romney, who took time off the trail Saturday to attend the Utah funeral of Gordon Hinckley, the president of the Mormon Church. Per ABC's Matt Stuart, "Mitt Romney suggested Saturday that he might reduce his staff after Super Tuesday, saying he has 'a much larger staff' than may be required 'as you go on to these subsequent primaries.'
The former Massachusetts governor soon backtracked, insisting, 'We don't have any plans to change our staff size.' "
Romney is confident the race won't end on Tuesday: "Looking at the numbers of delegates and the numbers of states, I don't think somebody is going to walk away with the needed number, so I think this thing goes on well beyond Tuesday," he told reporters, per The New York Times' Michael Luo.
Saturday was a good day for Romney: He locked down Maine's 18 convention delegates, with a lopsided victory in the state's GOP caucuses that was helped by his Boston-based organization.
"Romney's win came just three days before Super Tuesday, when 24 states will hold caucuses or primaries," Kelley Bouchard writes in the Maine Sunday Telegram. Said Mark Ellis, chairman of the Maine Republican Party: "It could help him restore some of the momentum he had early on."
Ground-level organization has its limits in nationwide contests like we're preparing for on Tuesday. The campaign is quickly turning into an air war that would leave Tom and Eli with sore arms: Obama has run ads in 21 of the 22 states with Democratic primaries or caucuses Feb. 5; Clinton has advertised in 16 of them, per The New York Times' Adam Nagourney.
"After weeks in which the race in both parties has featured flashes of intense personal animosity, the candidates all seem to have decided that they need to introduce and define themselves for a broad swath of the country in positive terms, especially since the compressed calendar gives them no time for a second chance," Nagourney writes.
The battlefield is broad: "Illinois, Mr. Obama's home state, is the one place where neither Mrs. Clinton nor Mr. Obama is advertising. Of the five other states where Mrs. Clinton is not advertising, four -- Alaska, Colorado, Kansas and Minnesota -- have caucuses, the kind of competition that aides to both candidates believe gives an edge to Mr. Obama. In the fifth state, Georgia, Mr. Obama is looking to do well, in part because of the state's large black population."
As for those spouses . . . Michelle Obama wants us to know: She's no Bill Clinton. "Absolutely not," she tells ABC's Robin Roberts, on whether it's fair to compare the spouses of the two remaining Democratic candidates.
"I know who I am and I don't think there are many similarities in terms of how we approach [campaigning]. How we were raised how we think about the world. We're very different people, it doesn't make sense to compare and contrast."
The former president will NOT be writing a letter of apology to black churches in South Central Los Angeles, but he'll be there in person to speak his mind (carefully, we presume).
"The Clinton camp asked Rep. Diane Watson (D-Calif.) to clarify remarks she made in an interview with The Sleuth on Friday evening in which she said Clinton needed to 'renew his relationship with the South Central community' after turning off voters in her district with his racially tinged comments during the South Carolina primary campaign," The Washington Post's Mary Ann Akers writes.
"There will be no letter after all. She had mistakenly thought, she said, that Clinton would not be able to speak inside the churches on Sunday and, therefore, had asked him to put his thoughts in writing."
Somehow, for some reason, the campaign still has a center of gravity that's pretty close to Bill. "As Hillary Rodham Clinton and Barack Obama clash on multiple political fronts heading into Super Tuesday, William Jefferson Clinton's record as president has emerged as a key battleground," Peter Baker writes in The Washington Post.
"How Democrats define his legacy could determine which presidential candidate they choose: Hillary Clinton, to extend it, or Obama, to make a clean break from it."
"The Clinton camp has presented the former president's eight-year tenure as a modern-day era of good feelings when the United States stood tall in the world and took care of its people at home," Baker continues.
"At the same time, they have banked on the hope that most Americans, or at least most Democrats, have forgotten or forgiven what Bill Clinton's chief of staff Leon E. Panetta calls 'the dark side' of his presidency, the scandals and partisan battles that consumed so much of the 1990s. And they have pushed back against those, including Obama, who question the legacy."
It's another full-press presidential Sunday on the shows. Clinton and Romney sit down with ABC's George Stephanopoulos on "This Week."
On "Face the Nation," it's Obama and McCain. McCain and Clinton are on "Fox News Sunday," while CNN's "Late Edition" has Romney, Mike Huckabee, and maybe-again presidential candidate Ralph Nader.
As for sports omens, Clinton may be the Patriots (the "inevitable," experienced champions), but she's rooting for the Giants. Obama may be the Giants (your green underdogs, connecting at the right time), but he's rooting for the Patriots.
Like Clinton, Romney has a hometown team to root for. And the Super Bowl is coming to McCain's home state, but he'll be in Romney's backyard for a Super Bowl Sunday rally in Connecticut (where the Patriots almost moved to.)
Also in the news:
More on the ABC/Post poll: "Obama leads by 2-1 among African-Americans (including black women), by 10 points among men and by 12 points among independents. He's also ahead by 18 points among Democrats who describe themselves as 'very' liberal," Langer writes.
"But Clinton is maintaining her advantage in other groups; she leads Obama by 15 points among women and 23 points among white women. She has an 11-point lead among mainline Democrats, as opposed to independents; and is plus-11 among moderate and conservative Democrats, as opposed to liberals overall (among whom it's Obama plus-8)."
Add another front in the Clinton-Obama wars: guns. Clinton told reporters on her plane on Saturday that she is "not asking voters to take a leap of faith." "He has to speak to his own record, which has obviously changed over a relatively short period of time," Clinton said, responding particularly on the issue of gun control, per ABC's Eloise Harper.
"My understanding is that really within the space of four or five years, he's had several positions on a number of really challenging issues. You'll have to ask him why he has so rapidly changed position from year to year."
Poor timing for Mitt back in Mass.: "The subsidized insurance program at the heart of the state's healthcare initiative is expected to roughly double in size and expense over the next three years -- an unexpected level of growth that could cost state taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars or force the state to scale back its ambitions," Alice Dembner writes in The Boston Globe.
Poor timing for Obama just in general: The New York Times' Mike McIntire on Sunday writes up the backstory on a nuclear regulatory bill Obama has boasted of getting passed. "A close look at the path his legislation took tells a very different story," McIntire writes.
"While he initially fought to advance his bill, even holding up a presidential nomination to try to force a hearing on it, Mr. Obama eventually rewrote it to reflect changes sought by Senate Republicans, Exelon and nuclear regulators. The new bill removed language mandating prompt reporting and simply offered guidance to regulators, whom it charged with addressing the issue of unreported leaks."
And this connection might just come up: "Mr. Obama's chief political strategist, David Axelrod, has worked as a consultant to Exelon," the company whose leak at a nuclear plant made the issue intensely local for Obama.
"A spokeswoman for Exelon said Mr. Axelrod's company had helped an Exelon subsidiary, Commonwealth Edison, with communications strategy periodically since 2002, but had no involvement in the leak controversy or other nuclear issues. The Obama campaign said in written responses to questions that Mr. Obama 'never discussed this issue or this bill' with Mr. Axelrod."
As Obama mentions McCain on the trail, here comes another Mark Penn-gram: "If Sen. McCain is the nominee, Hillary is the one well-positioned to beat him," writes Penn, Clinton's chief strategist, per ABC's Jake Tapper. "Already well vetted, she is ready to stand up to Sen. McCain on national security and put together a winning coalition of voters that will take back the White House."
Tuesday's big prize -- California -- is "the whole enchilada," one Democratic strategist tells ABC's Kate Snow. "This complex political landscape is expensive to court in time and money, but with a heavy delegate count at stake, this primary has become a gold rush for votes that will reach a fever pitch by Super Tuesday," she writes.
The Los Angeles Times' Andrew Malcolm has details of a pro-Clinton push poll -- one that Camp Clinton won't say if it's behind.
"Someone who obviously favors Hillary Clinton is paying an unidentified company to spread this material phone call by phone call among independent voters, who can, according to California party rules, opt to vote in the Democratic but not the Republican primary on Feb. 5, when nearly two dozen states will choose a large chunk of the delegates to the parties' national conventions next summer," Malcolm writes.
And it just may be a late, late night out in the Golden State. "There was an awkward side effect to the scrappy campaign: Up to 20% of the votes could remain uncounted on election day, according to Secretary of State Debra Bowen," Catherine Decker writes in the Los Angeles Times.
"The result may be hundreds of thousands of ballots being slowly counted at a time when television and Internet viewers are expecting to see definitive results pop onto their screens."
Karl Rove takes a crack at turning Republican blues deep red again: "President Reagan's gifts to the Republican Party were ideas: growing the economy through tax cuts, limiting government's size, forcefully confronting totalitarian threats, making human rights a centerpiece of America's foreign policy, respecting unborn human life, empowering the individual with more freedom. Those ideas endure," Rove writes in his Newsweek column.
"They give Republicans a philosophical foundation on which to build. The Reagan coalition has a natural desire to stick together. Fiscal, defense and values conservatives have more in common with each other than with any major element of the Democratic Party's leadership."
The Atlantic's Joshua Green speculates (and that's all it is) that Al Gore could endorse Obama before Tuesday. "A well-connected Tennesseean told me two things today that got me thinking about this. The first is that Obama and Gore have been speaking regularly, about every two weeks or so.," Green writes.
"The second is that, despite this, and despite Tennessee's primary on Tuesday, Obama has not visited the state since June. It may be simply that he does not plan on competing there. Or it may be that he's been waiting for a special occasion."
If McCain prevails, he could make the campaign simpler, if nothing else: It could keep Mayor Michael Bloomberg, I-N.Y., on the sidelines, Keith B. Richburg writes in The Washington Post.
"All the research, the positioning and the careful planning seem to have been upended last week by events on the campaign trail that few predicted a few months ago," he writes. Veterans of past Bloomberg campaigns said McCain's unexpected ascendancy -- and the likelihood that the senator from Arizona could emerge from Tuesday's voting as the presumptive GOP nominee -- may have severely complicated Bloomberg's plans."
"What's that line? 'There's nothing happening here. These droids aren't the droids you're looking for.' " -- Mitt Romney, semi-robotically semi-misquoting "Star Wars," for no apparent reason.
"We probably won't be trying to call men between 18 and 34 to talk to them about Hillary's health care plan." -- Mather Martin, Northern California field director for the Hillary Clinton campaign, on the campaign's concession to the Super Bowl.
"If they had to go with a disaster that involves mass killing, why not something less real, like 'Deep Impact Tuesday' or 'Cloverfield Tuesday'? Or something farther removed like 'Hindenburg Tuesday,' 'Super Duper Antietam Tuesday,' or 'Mount Vesuvius Blow-Out Tuesday'?" -- Comedian Mo Rocca, running a contest on his AOL blog to knock "Tsunami Tuesday" out of the lexicon.
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