NEW YORK -- There is no fatter Tuesday in the race for the presidential nominations.
An unprecedented nationwide crush of voting will impose a super-sized measure of electoral reality on the presidential field on Tuesday, with a wild coast-to-coast primary set to anoint clear favorites -- and award all-important convention delegates -- to the remaining contenders.
The day (and late, late night) could all-but crown a Republican nominee, with Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., hoping to sweep enough winner-take-all states (in addition to bigger-than-big California) to leave him with an overwhelming advantage over former governor Mitt Romney, R-Mass., and former governor Mike Huckabee, R-Ark.
On the Democratic side, Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, D-N.Y., and Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., fight a round that will go to the judges' scorecards: They are poised to split delegates in contests across the country, given party rules that award delegates based on vote percentages.
Clinton called the day ahead "both intriguing and somewhat mystifying," saying on ABC's "Good Morning America" on Tuesday that "we're all kind of guessing about what it's going to mean, because it's never happened before."
"Right now I am ahead in both the popular vote and in delegates; I hope I stay there," Clinton said. "With two wars abroad and a looming recession, people need a president who's ready on day one to be commander in chief and to turn the economy around. We also need a candidate who will be able to win in November."
Countered Obama, also on "GMA": "We're seeing that the American people are understanding, unless we change how things work in Washington -- reduce the power of special interests and get our economy back on track -- that a lot of people are going to be hurting."
Behind the spin and expectations-setting are the raw, intimidating numbers: 43 races in 24 states and one territory, for a total of 23 Democratic contests and 21 for the Republicans. In a single day's voting, Democrats will award 1,681 convention delegates (87 percent of the total needed to clinch the nomination), while Republicans have 1,038 delegates at stake (83 percent of the way to the magic number), making for one electorally obese Fat Tuesday.
In an odd quirk, the top five candidates are all voters themselves on Tuesday: All live in Feb. 5 states, and are hoping for some hometown love.
On a stormy day through much of the country, brace for election results to roll in like the Giants' defensive line, starting with the close of West Virginia's Republican convention at 12:30 pm ET and finishing (maybe) with Alaska's poll closing at midnight ET.
Georgia's polls close at 7 pm ET, and the first big hour to set your clock for is 8 pm, when 10 states (including Connecticut, Massachusetts, Missouri, New Jersey, and Tennessee) cut off voting.
The biggest prizes will force us to wait a bit longer: New York's polls close at 9 pm, and California's at 11 pm ET -- though results from the Golden State aren't likely to be tabulated until Wednesday morning or later.
It could be California that determines winners and losers -- and don't wait up for the results unless you absolutely have to. "A record number of California voters is expected to cast ballots in today's presidential primary, fueled by excitement over tight and highly anticipated races on both the Democratic and Republican sides," John Wildermuth and Zachary Coile write in the San Francisco Chronicle.