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Commentary: Road to White House full of twists and turns

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  • Navarrette: Romney wins by being whoever voters want him to be
  • Navarrette: Republicans look like a model of civility compared to the Democrats
  • Navarrette: McCain wins South Carolina despite immigration stand
  • Navarrette: Team Clinton needs to learn lesson about suppressing voters
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By Ruben Navarrette Jr.
Special to CNN
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SAN DIEGO, California (CNN) -- Surveying the presidential campaign, here's the long and the short of it: If Republicans keep divvying up primaries, it's going to be a long road to the nominating convention. And Democrats have just witnessed what is perhaps the shortest truce in U.S. political history.

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Ruben Navarrette Jr. says the 2008 Presidential Election is unlike any you've ever seen.

The Republican contest is shaping up as a two-man race -- former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney vs Sen. John McCain of Arizona.

Romney has racked up victories in Wyoming, Michigan, and Nevada. His secret: Versatility. Whatever you want him to be, he'll be.

In Iowa and New Hampshire, Romney was the business leader who built a successful company and amassed a $200 million personal fortune. By the time he went home to Michigan, where he grew up and which has the nation's highest unemployment rate, he sounded like he was promising folks that he'd protect them from people like himself.

He told displaced autoworkers what they wanted to hear: that he'd fight to bring their jobs back to Michigan. In Nevada, Romney cast himself as someone who would get tough on illegal immigration. That was, according to exit polls, one of voters' top issues along with the economy. How ironic that -- in a state like Nevada, where hotels, restaurant and construction firms gobble up illegal immigrants like slot machines gobble up quarters -- without one, the other would probably be much worse.

McCain told voters in Michigan that those jobs were probably never coming back and that people had to accept that. Instead, the people gave McCain a beating. He was trying to get them to swallow bitter medicine, but they didn't have the appetite. Not after listening to Romney and gorging on cotton candy.

McCain won the primary in South Carolina, though -- despite the fact that illegal immigration is a big issue there, too, and that restrictionists and nativists have long treated McCain like a piñata for proposing illegal immigrants be given a path to legalization. Could it be the illegal immigration issue isn't quite the deal-breaker many people claim it is?

No matter how much the Republicans fight, they still look like a model of civility compared to the Democrats. And you thought things were going to be more congenial after Sen. Hillary Clinton of New York and Sen. Barack Obama of Illinois called a truce last week and promised to play nice.

Yeah, sure. The Democratic primary has become trench warfare. Clinton and her husband have double-teamed Obama in a fight that has been marked by racial innuendo and then made it seem as if he was the one playing the race card. Obama pushed back Monday night during the CNN debate in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, where he accused the Clintons of "fudging the truth." Things got personal in a hurry.

In Nevada, surrogates slugged it out. The Culinary Workers Union backed Obama, while the leaders of the state teachers union supported Clinton. A Spanish-language radio ad insisted Clinton and her supporters had insulted the Hispanic community by filing a lawsuit to stop Las Vegas casinos from allowing the culinary workers, most of whom are Hispanic, to cast ballots onsite. Bill Clinton insisted that neither he nor his wife had anything to do with the lawsuit, but he couldn't resist arguing the case.

Last week, a federal judge struck down the lawsuit and ordered the caucuses to proceed. That looked like a setback for Clinton.

But what do you know? Hillary Clinton won Nevada and exit polls showed her with a 2-1 advantage over Obama with Hispanic voters. Let that be a lesson to Team Clinton: Be careful. The vote you, or your supporters, try to suppress might be your own.

Stay tuned. The 2008 Presidential Election is unlike any you've ever seen. And we're just getting started.

Ruben Navarrette Jr. is a member of the editorial board of the San Diego Union-Tribune and a nationally syndicated columnist. You can read his column here.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the writer. E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

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