Super Tuesday makes it clear that the Republicans are separated by ideology, the Democrats by identity. It's also now clear that Republicans have a frontrunner while the Democratic winner is anything but clear.
Let's start with the Republicans. John McCain now has almost half the delegates needed to win -- twice as many as Mitt Romney, three times as many as Mike Huckabee. McCain won contests across the country, though primarily in states like New York, Illinois and California that will be very hard for any Republican to carry in November.
John McCain may or may not be the liberal in conservative clothes that talk radio has been demonizing. But the myth that Super Tuesday dispelled is that Mike Huckabee is a spoiler for Mitt Romney. Yes, Huckabee's hold on the evangelical vote did win him essential Southern contests (one of them - the West Virginia caucus - with actual help from McCain and Ron Paul on the second ballot). But conservatives must now recognize that Huckabee voters do not see Romney as an alternative. McCain's opponents on radio and the blogosphere could not have been more vitriolic (and perhaps correct) in warning that McCain would destroy the Reagan coalition. But even with that warning, Huckabee voters stuck with their man. Indeed, Huckabee had a better night than Romney, leading the former Arkansas governor to note, "It may be a two-man race, but if it is -- I'm the second man."
Does Huckabee think he can catch McCain? Ohio's March 4 primary will deliver the former minister a rich trove of evangelicals, among others, right here in our community. But Ohio will also let independents vote. McCain proved on Super Tuesday, as he had previously in Florida, that he can win Republican-only contests. But he does even better among independents.
What Huckabee's strength in the South does show is that he would be a strong running mate for McCain. Both of them loathe Romney but like each other; McCain spoke glowingly about Huckabee as the Super Tuesday results poured in. And Huckabee might well relish running with a man like himself who frequently breaks from conservative orthodoxy, and who might not run again in 2012.
Where does that leave Romney? His supporters on radio and the Internet may yet sway strongly conservative. But the former Massachusetts governor -- who on Super Tuesday won only his own state of Massachusetts, heavily-Mormon Utah, Colorado and some caucuses, while losing two crucial states, Missouri and California -- will now have to decide how much more of his own money he wants to invest. Romney once joked that his wife set a spending limit. We'll see if he was kidding.
For Democrats, Super Tuesday played out the politics of identity that opponents blame on the Clintons. The New York senator continued to do best among women, although Obama closed that gap somewhat. Hillary Clinton also drew older voters, who are the most reliable voters. The crucial divide remains between Hispanics and African Americans. Obama started the race with many blacks wary of his relative youth, inexperience and exotic background. He stressed unity rather than victimization, and supporters say that made him suspect among some old-guard civil rights leaders.
Clinton supporters like Billy Shaheen, Bob Kerrey, Andrew Cuomo, Andrew Young and Robert Johnson drew repeated attention to Obama's race, often in the most offensive terms. Super Tuesday indicates that this solidified black support for Obama, but also cemented Hispanic opposition. Since Hispanics now outnumber blacks, and since Hillary Clinton may correctly assume that blacks will return to her in the general election, this could well prove a winning strategy.
However, due to the way Democrats divide delegates proportionately rather than winner-take-all, Super Tuesday decided nothing. Even Senator Clinton's "super delegates" (party leaders and others) could yet change their minds. So the Democrats are a long way from choosing a candidate, and from uniting their party.