John McCain survived Super Tuesday with a comfortable delegate lead after wins in the key winner take all states (NY, CT, MO, and AZ), even though he lost the southern states to Mike Huckabee and the caucus states to Mitt Romney.
But there is no rest for the weary this week and Thursday, McCain faces perhaps his toughest audience of the election cycle – the Conservative Political Action Committee (CPAC) conference in Washington.
Last year, McCain was the only declared candidate to turn down an invitation to speak to the group. This year he cannot afford to skip it.
Can McCain assure the skeptical crowd that he is one of them?
CPAC founder David Keene has been quite vocal in his criticism of McCain on campaign finance reform, immigration, global warming and the Bush tax cuts. This speech isn't just about the people in the room – McCain needs to convince the conservative wing of the Republican Party that he can unite the party in the general election against an enthusiastic (Fired up and ready to go?) Democratic Party.
But with nearly 60 percent of the delegates he needs to win the nomination, does McCain even need to win over the CPAC crowd?
These are not voters who will vote for Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama, but it would make things a lot smoother for McCain if he could get the seal of approval from the conservative wing of the party, if only to counter and possibly quiet down his critics on talk radio and cable.
ABC News' Polling Director Gary Langer looked at the exit polling data from Super Tuesday and found that McCain's chief challenge remains expanding his support to the conservative core of the GOP, particularly "very"conservative voters.
"Can and will the party be energized behind its nominee if he's inadequate or barely adequate to the base?" Langer asks.
Conservative voters went for Romney yesterday (39-32-23 over McCain and Huckabee) but a glimpse at McCain's home turf shows the significant challenge he is facing.
"AZ conservatives went 43-40, Romney-McCain - close, but this is the home state. And "very conservatives" went 53-22 for Romney in AZ. This also played out on the issue of immigration, which ranked as high as the economy in AZ; immigration voters went to Romney."
McCain senior advisor Charlie Black told reporters today that the CPAC speech will be an opportunity for McCain to talk to his fellow conservatives about the issues on which they agree – which sounds quite similar to the rhetoric/spin from the Giuilani campaign right before the NRA convention.
Black said that McCain has been uniting the party and the speech won't be anything new.
"It's not going to be much different from what you hear him say everyday," Black said.
Last March TIME Magazine wrote that there was a time when McCain "seemed the most natural heir to Reagan" and noted that it was Reagan who first introduced McCain to a conservative audience at CPAC in 1974. McCain and two other former Vietnam POWs were in attendance at the event and spotlighted by Reagan.
McCain's speech is sandwiched in between Mitt Romney's at 12:15 pm ET and Ron Paul's at 4:30 pm ET.
ABC News' John Berman reports that Romney advisers are pointing out that McCain is getting resistance from the Republican base and in some states, Huckabee helped Romney by taking away McCain voters.
Meanwhile in the other race, the ABC News delegate estimate puts Clinton ahead of Obama by 98 delegates overall. Clinton has an estimated 1038 delegates, which is 51 percent of the delegates required to secure the nomination, and Obama has 940 but there are still 163 delegates left to be allocated.
That lead may not be enough to bring in a flood of campaign cash over the next few days, something the Clinton needs as it becomes clear that this race will go on for several more weeks.
ABC News' Kate Snow reports that Clinton senior staff have voluntarily agreed to work without pay for this month in order to save money. This comes after the Senator herself said she loaned her campaign $5 million dollar from her own personal money. That loan came in the same month that her opponent raked in a mind-blowing $32 million.
The Democratic race looks like it could come down to the wire – which is exciting for political reporters and students of history but may be causing some anxiety over at the DNC headquarters.
In an interview with NY1, DNC Chairman Howard Dean said Tuesday he doesn't want the Clinton-Obama race continuing into the party's convention in Denver, saying the Democratic presidential hopefuls should "make some kind of an arrangement" if neither has enough delegates to win the nomination.
DEAN: "The idea that we can afford to have a big fight at the convention and then win the race in the next eight weeks, I think, is not a good scenario. So, after the primaries are over, the last primary is June 8th in Puerto Rico - Puerto Rico I think, there may be another state with there - and after that if we don't have a nominee, I think we will have a nominee sometime in the middle of March or April. But if we don't, then we're going to have to get the candidates together and make some kind of an arrangement. Because I don't think we can afford to have a brokered convention, that would not be good news for either party."
On the campaign trail. . .
-- 3:00 pm ET: Addresses Conservative Political Action Conference, Washington, DC
-- Campaigns in Kansas
-- 12:15 pm ET: Addresses Conservative Political Action Conference, Washington, DC
-- 7:15 pm ET: Address the Baltimore Republican Lincoln Day Dinner, Baltimore, MD
-- 4:30 pm ET: Addresses Conservative Political Action Conference, Washington, DC
As for the Democrats. . .
-- 10:45 am ET: Attends event with voters, New Orleans, LA
-- 12:20 pm ET: Tours New Orleans, LA
-- 6:00 pm ET: Attends rally with voters, Omaha, NE
-- 2:00 pm ET: Attends rally with voters, Arlington, VA
-- 7:30 pm ET: Attends event with voters, Portland, ME
At the White House. . .
-- 8:20 am ET: Delivers statement to voters at National Prayer Breakfast, Washington, DC
-- 10:40 am ET: Delivers statement to voters on Pending Presidential Nominations, Washington, DC
-- 3:00 pm ET: Delivers statement on Helping America's Youth, Washington, DC
POLITICAL NEWS STORIES AT ABCNEWS.COM
ABC News' Jennifer Parker Reports: McCain's Problem on the Right LINK
ABC News' Gary Langer Reports: The Challenges Ahead: Polls Point to Candidates' Future Hurdles LINK
ABC News' Melinda Arons Reports: Don't Tell Mama, Clinton-ites For Obama LINK
ABC News' Russell Goldman Reports: Dumbocracy: Hundreds Try to Vote on the Wrong Day LINK
ABC News' Kate Snow and Teddy Davis Report: Clinton Load Campaign $5 Million LINK
ABC News' Jennifer Duck Reports: Duck! Bush Jokes About Cheney's Bad Aim LINK
ABC News' Jennifer Parker Reports: Clinton Wins Delegate-Rich States; Obama Takes Most States LINK
ABC News' Emily Friedman Reports: McCain Wins California, Huckabee Gets Boost LINK
ABC News' Gary Langer Reports: McCain Soars; Democrats Sharply Divide LINK
ABC News' Teddy Davis Reports: Is Cash-Strapped Clinton Tapping Own Money? LINK
ABC News' John Berman, Ursula Fahy and Matt Stuart Report: Romney Not Dead Yet LINK
ABC News' Jake Tapper Reports: Hillary Si! Obama No! – Que? LINK
ABC News' Karen Travers Reports: In Tight '08 Contest, the Race Is on for Delegates LINK
ABC News' Jake Tapper Reports: Huckabee Wins Big in South, Challenges for Conservative Vote LINK
ABC News' Jake Tapper Reports: The Rush Effect LINK
ABC News' Lee Dye Reports: Why Negative Campaigns Sometimes Win LINK
ABC News' Ron Claiborne and Gary Langer Report: McCain Weakness Among Conservatives Shows in Arizona LINK
ABC News' Z. Byron Wolf Reports: Ron Paul – Looking Forward to Texas LINK
ABC News' Jake Tapper Reports: HUGE Night LINK
POLITICAL VIDEO AT ABCNEWS.COM
George Recaps Super Tuesday
George Stephanopoulos reviews the candidates' battle for votes LINK
Female Voters Boost Clinton
Women emerge as the strongest vote in the Democratic primaries LINK
The GOP's Future
Sen. McCain emerges as the Republican front-runner after Super Tuesday LINK
Huckabee Surges Ahead
The former Arkansas governor discusses his strong Super Tuesday showing. LINK
Democrats Battle for Delegates
Sens. Clinton and Obama are neck and neck coming out of Super Tuesday LINK
Hasselback: Chelsea Didn't Call Me!
Elizabeth Hasselback was the only "View" host not to hear from Chelsea Clinton LINK