McCain's victory last night coupled with Guliani's support all but assures that he will be the Republican candidate for president in the fall. The race is now his to lose. Only a major misstep would allow Mitt Romney back into the picture. Next Tuesday (which is the official beginning of primary season) will see an end to the candidacy of Mitt Romney. He can go on, given his seemingly limitless personal funds, but there would be no practical reason to continue. He will campaign in the Super Tuesday states, but there is little chance that he can stop the McCain bandwagon. Along with the Guliani endorsement, and the continued campaign of Mike Huckabee (who continues to battle Romney for votes among evangelicals and extreme right wing of the party), Romney is at an extreme disadvantage. Most pundits are somewhat reluctant to say that the race is over, but trust me, it's over.
John Edwards ran a populist campaign in stark contrast to the more moderate positions he took in the '04 race. He ran against big business and special interests and scored a stunning second place showing in Iowa. His campaign ran out of steam after that as he became a footnote (as far as the public and press were concerned) in the historic race between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama. The big question is what happens to his voters now. Edwards was polling anywhere between 11-16%, so we'll give him 15% (it makes the math easier). There is a portion of his vote that is simply an anyone but the woman or the black guy vote. I would say that accounts for about 1/2 of his support nationally. Obama and Clinton will probably each get an immediate 5% bump (which include the portions of the "anyone but" group and the other Edwards supporters that are inclined to vote one way or the other. The remaining 5% will probably remain uncommitted until they get to the polls). That puts Hillary anywhere from 44-50% depending upon which poll you believe. That means that even if the majority of remaining Edwards supporters switch to Obama he still comes up short nationally.
Obama was definitely the beneficiary of Edwards remaining in the race. It allowed him to compete among white male voters with Hillary Clinton (She wins white females with a solid majority). With Edwards out of the race, his numbers will go up among white voters, but Hillary's gains are almost certain to outpace his. He was running fairly equally among white males with Hillary Clinton, with Edwards gaining a plurality of that demographic. With Edwards out of the race, the question becomes who will the white males vote for? It is at this point the million dollar question for the Obama campaign. Also Edwards' populist message may have also won him some votes among Hispanics. Clinton enjoys a huge advantage there and while Obama would have still lost that group (especially in California) by a wide margin, Edwards may have been able to blunt that advantage to a small degree.
Thursday's Democratic debate will allow Obama a chance to reach out to his largest audience yet. Most voters don't pay close attention to the candidates until they have to make a choice and given that 22 states will vote next Tuesday, it is probably safe to assume that there will be a larger audience for this debate than the previous ones. His problem is that debating one on one is not his strong suit. He is at his best with a large crowd, where his electric oratory skills and uplifting message are on full display. His ability to inspire a crowd is second to none among the candidates. However debates are much more about the details, in this Hillary Clinton is much more at home. I don't anticipate the debate providing him with much of a bump.
His best chance to win comes from the Clinton camp. If Bill Clinton makes another mistake, the press will harp on it. If the Clinton camp is seen as being too negative, it may swing some more voters to Obama. The Clinton campaign should have no reason to get involved in that kind of campaigning at this point. Her pollsters must be telling her that the race is hers to lose. Her campaign strategists should now begin to turn their attention to John McCain and George Bush. She should start trying to link those two in the minds of the voters as much as possible. Bill Clinton should remain in the background, limit his time with the press and begin to play the role of supportive spouse as opposed to de facto running mate (that transition seems to have begun already considering the fact that he was nowhere to be seen last night as Hillary claimed her victory in Florida). She will bring a less combative and more presidential demeanor to the debate on Thursday. As with McCain, the race is hers to lose.
The delegates are awarded proportionally in the Democratic primaries. They are also awarded by individual Congressional districts. This means that if you can keep your opponent below 60% and manage to get 30% of the votes the delegates are split equally (if there are an equal number of delegates, if there are an odd number, the winner of the district will get the extra delegate). Obama will be competitive enough in most of the districts to keep Hillary from building up a commanding lead in the delegate count. However as the race goes on (perhaps for another month) it will become more and more obvious that he cannot win. The question becomes whether Hillary will be able to accumulate enough delegates to secure the nomination before the convention. It may be close, but I believe that she will. At some point, Obama is going to have make a decision about whether he wants to go forward and perhaps cause a real fracture in the party or whether he will give in to the inevitable. Hillary started this campaign as the inevitable nominee and I believe that she is in that very same spot today.