Clear And Murkey

Gallup, which is running daily tracking polls now of the remaining presidential contenders, has released the latest poll which provides an interesting picture four and a half days before Super Tuesday.  For the Republicans, the picture gets clearer, but for Democrats, things only get more murky.

It is worth noting that we have finally reached the point in the campaign where national polling matters.  It may not be the best prognosticator for who will fare the best on Super Tuesday, but the alternative is finding data on the individual states in play next week, many of which lacking the necessary polling data to make an educated analysis.

For the Republicans, as I said before, the picture is most definitely clearing up.  Romney trails McCain by a fifteen point spread, and appears to be in contention more with Huckabee than the frontrunner.  Ron Paul, who once enjoyed national polling in the teens, has sunk to single digits.

As a result, it is looking very much like McCain is running away with this one and it’s not hard to see why.  He leads in the delegate hunt, has had media attention getting wins in three of the early states including the last one in Florida, and post game analysis of the debate last night seems to be fairly well mixed which should not be seen as a loss for McCain, but instead a missed opportunity on behalf of the Romney camp.

There’s still plenty of time left to campaign, but the picture looks grim for Romney as high profile endorsements from Rudy Giuliani and Arnold Schwarzenegger also have the added benefit of netting the Straight Talk Express lots of free press.

Unless Mitt can find a magic bullet that can turn these trends around, and to be fair his support is also on the upswing, just not as drastically as McCain’s, I think it’s reasonable to predict John McCain as the man who will come out on top on Super Tuesday, and if he doesn’t have it sinched up by then, he will shortly thereafter.

As for Democrats, the race continues to get closer.  Barack has successfully chipped Hillary’s lead down to a paltry four points, one of the narrowest margins I’ve seen thus far, and while his polling trends provided by Pollster aren’t quite as close, the overall direction is the same.

Thus, we see Obama riding some serious momentum, but still with ground to make up.

Two other things make this race make it continuingly difficult to read at this point.  The first is the lack of clarity as to where John Edwards’ supporters are going, a problem that could continue unless Edwards chooses to endorse a candidate between now and Tuesday.  Both camps have hoped to have the Edwards support would break in their favor, but the fact of the matter is, there are many different ways to break down that base of voters, and along those many lines you are going to find a lot of divisions that will break for either candidate.

An Edwards endorsement in either direction could provide more consistency to the break, but as of this time, it’s looking like a proportional split.

The other thing to think about is the debate tonight which provides the first time the top two Democratic challengers will face each other head to head in an openly formatted debate.  As I mentioned in my pre game analysis earlier this afternoon, a lot is going to ride on the strategy each candidate brings to the event, but this debate, more than any other, has the potential to swing momentum in either direction.

In either race there are still four more full days of campaigning, and barring a significant push in the polls as a result of either debate, that means big endorsements and ground game are going to be what gets this thing done.

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