- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Amid the dizzying delegate count and the never-ending political spin, consider one question that may matter most in the fall: How did the swing states vote?

A handful of states in the country’s mid-section Colorado, Minnesota, Missouri and New Mexico offer clues for the general election.

Each has seen some of the closest contests of the last two general elections. Super Tuesday gave almost every candidate a claim they can win in the most critical November races.

On the Democrats’ side, Hillary Rodham Clinton won Missouri, while Barack Obama won Minnesota and was leading in Colorado.

For Republicans, Mitt Romney was ahead in Colorado and won Minnesota; John McCain and Mike Huckabee were in a close race in Missouri.

“Those are crucial general election battlegrounds,” said Anthony Corrado, a government professor at Colby College in Maine. “When a candidate can say `I can win in the states that we need to win in November,’ that says a lot about electability.”

Electability is always a critical selling-point, if not the entire point.

Now the race becomes a drawn-out delegate hunt, especially for Clinton and Obama. More and more, the argument becomes who is best suited to win come November.

McCain, with victories in at least seven states, took a big step toward rolling up the nomination. His rivals vowed to keep fighting.

These primary results don’t guarantee anything for Election Day itself. After all, Tuesday’s voters were the party stalwarts, not the November electorate.

But with strategists searching exit polls, turnout numbers and post-election bounces for any way to gain ground, the swing states may carry more weight.

“To the extent that there are independents coming out and voting, that says something,” said Democratic pollster Mark Mellman.

Independents were allowed to vote in Democratic primaries or caucuses in Missouri and Minnesota, as well as hard-fought states such as California and Tennessee.

In Arizona, a swing state in 2000, McCain easily won his home state’s voters. Democrats were leaning toward Clinton.

Exit polls offered a closer look at the results. Self-described moderates in Missouri about half of Democratic voters went more heavily for Clinton, while liberals went for Obama. The trend was similar in Arizona and New Mexico.

On the Republican side, self-described moderates and independents in Missouri went more strongly for McCain. Independents made up about a quarter of the vote, and about a third went for McCain, with less than a fifth for Huckabee.

Campaigns wasted no time. A Clinton e-mail with talking points, mistakenly sent to the press, celebrated wins in traditionally Republican states of Oklahoma and Tennessee.

“For months, the Obama campaign has been spinning that they have a monopoly on red states; tonight we showed that they don’t,” read the “Oklahoma/Tennessee talking points. “With these first two victories, Hillary Clinton has demonstrated that she can compete and win in red states.”

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