Opinion by Matthew Dowd, ABC News Political Contributor
Wow! Five primaries and caucuses combined so far for both parties, and five different winners.
Whether the voters are totally conscious of it, they are telling all of us that they want this primary process to continue for a while longer, and that the stakes of this election are too high to shut the process down quickly at the beginning like in years past.
So today we stand with no solid momentum garnered on either side and no real front runner. Though being the front runner these days doesn’t seem to be the greatest position to be in. I think all candidates are going to be fighting over the mantle of "underdog".
New Hampshire again showed its tendency to buck the perceived trends –- on both sides the winner of the Iowa caucus lost in New Hampshire.
So on to Michigan for the Republicans. And Michigan could truly be the most competitive state thus far in their primary battle.
McCain beat President Bush there in 2000, even after Bush won South Carolina, so McCain has to be given an edge. Mitt Romney was born and grew up there, and his beloved father, George, was a very popular Governor in the sixties so he should be favored. And Mike Huckabee is popular among religious conservatives, right to life voters and homeschoolers, all of who are a big constituency in Michigan.
Having been born in Detroit, and gone to public school in Michigan and still having family there, it’s exciting times for many voters including some of my brothers and sisters. And because of the hits the Michigan economy has taken over the last few years due to troubles in the domestic auto industry, expect the economy and taxes to dominate the discussion.
Now on to something all of us need to consider.
In the last 30 years, presidential nomination campaigns have been fought over and covered based on knockout blows in winning a few states, and then pushing everyone else out of the race. Today that may no longer be the best way to look at this race on both sides.
We all should begin considering that delegate counts is gaining in importance. And as we begin to look at those counts and what could happen, just eyeing the first place finishers may be losing sight of key dynamics.
Let’s look at where things stand today:
For the Democrats it is a long way to a nominee being chosen, but today Hillary Clinton is ahead on delegates, with Obama second and with John Edwards picking up delegates along the way though in third.
So as the nomination heads to Nevada, and South Carolina, and then Super Tuesday, who finishes second and in what state will be crucial in a delegate determined battle. As well as watching who nails down superdelegates along the way is something to keep in mind because the large number of them in the Democratic race.
And for the Republicans, right now it looks like Huckabee is ahead on the delegate count, with Romney second, and McCain third!
A very different dynamic then if we merely look at wins and losses thus far. And in delegate math McCain was hurt by the fact New Hampshire Republicans had few delegates at stake on January 8th.
Again, if this becomes about delegate math, then watching various place finishes in each state will become key.
In the first two weeks of these campaigns, the only thing consistent is how inconsistent the various results have been. And surprises have become the norm. We should all expect more along the way.