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Analysis: McCain clear leader; split decision may help Obama

  • Story Highlights
  • Sen. John McCain scores victories from coast to coast, including California
  • McCain's delegate lead after Super Tuesday may make it difficult for rivals to catch up
  • Sen. Hillary Clinton wins big states, but Sen. Barack Obama carries more states
  • Long primary fight may help Obama in showdown with Clinton, analyst says
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(CNN) -- Super Tuesday positioned Sen. John McCain as the clear Republican front-runner, while a split decision in the Democratic race may eventually help Sen. Barack Obama, according to CNN's political analysts.

McCain extended his lead in the GOP race with impressive coast-to-coast wins from New York to California, while former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee carried states in the South. Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney won seven races, including his home state of Massachusetts.

"I think we did achieve clarity. John McCain will be the Republican nominee," CNN analyst Jeffrey Toobin said. "Mike Huckabee did better than a lot expected. If you look at the delegates, there is no way either Huckabee or Romney can catch up. I think we did learn that much."

The Arizona Republican has more than a 300-delegate lead over his nearest rival, Romney, but he wasn't able to capture enough delegates to place a definitive lock on the nomination.

"We had two front-runners who couldn't put it away tonight," said David Gergen, a CNN senior political analyst. "A lot of people thought John McCain would be able to put it away. He simply did not do that." See how CNN's analysts view the GOP race »

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Gergen added that McCain "hasn't made the sale, hasn't closed the case with conservatives. I still think, because he can divide and conquer, he is likely to win the nomination." Video Watch an analysis of how conservatives voted »

According to exit polls, conservatives preferred Romney to McCain -- 38 percent to 31 percent -- with 24 percent choosing Huckabee. Conservatives made up 63 percent of the Republican primary voters.

McCain was the clear favorite among GOP voters who identified themselves as moderates and liberals, winning 54 percent and 56 percent of those groups, respectively. Moderates made up 27 percent of Republican primary voters, and 10 percent said they were liberals.

Romney, who tried to rally conservatives disenchanted with McCain, may have been the big loser Tuesday, said Gloria Borger, also a CNN senior political analyst.

"This is not a great showing for Mitt Romney. Obviously Huckabee has upstaged him. Huckabee upstaged him in the South. Huckabee upstaged him in every way," Borger said.

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The Republicans now turn their attention to the Louisiana primary and Kansas caucuses Saturday and the primaries in Virginia, Maryland and the District of Columbia next Tuesday.

Super Tuesday settled little in the Democratic race. When the polls opened, Sen. Hillary Clinton and Obama were neck and neck, and at the end of the day, they remained so. Video Watch why the Democrats have a tough race ahead »

Clinton scored significant wins Tuesday in eight states -- including California, New York and Massachusetts -- and won more delegates. View which states Clinton and Obama won »

"I think you have to say winning California for Hillary Clinton is the tone setter for the evening. Imagine if Hillary Clinton had lost California," Borger said.

But Obama won more states, 13, and leads Clinton in pledged delegates, according to CNN calculations. Obama also counted Missouri, a national bellwether state, among his victories, and the Illinois Democrat has been on a fundraising tear. In January, he raised $32 million, his campaign reported.

"Heading into the next states ... Barack Obama has a money advantage," Borger said. "And now Hillary Clinton wants to debate every single week because she doesn't have the money to compete with him for paid media. I think we'll be seeing a lot more Obama and Hillary Clinton one-on-one."

The Democratic campaigns now turn their attention to the Louisiana primary and Nebraska and Washington caucuses Saturday, the Maine caucuses Sunday and the so-called Potomac primaries in Virginia, Maryland and the District of Columbia next Tuesday.

The candidates also have circled February 19 when Wisconsin holds its primary, March 4 when voters in Ohio, Rhode Island, Texas and Vermont head to the polls, and April 22 in Pennsylvania.

While failing to win the biggest prizes of California and New York, Obama should see many positive trends in the Super Tuesday results as he battles Clinton, the presumptive nominee a few months ago.

"On the Democratic side, my sense is we're going into two, three weeks now which will probably favor Obama," Gergen said.

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"There is a sense the longer this goes on, the more it favors the challenger, the more it favors Barack Obama," he said.

"For the first time it becomes possible that neither Hillary Clinton nor Obama will go into a convention with enough votes to win. They may be short." E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

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