Editor's note: Seattle-based national political writer Ted Van Dyk is on a book tour and is occasionally reporting from the road.
I am still in Arizona and witnessing the buildup here to the Democratic and Republican contests next Tuesday, Feb. 5, when both parties' presidential nominees could be determined by primaries and caucuses in some 20 states.
Arizona Sen. John McCain will, of course, win the Republican matchup with former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney in his home state. It may not be all that one-sided here, however, as McCain is not that popular right now with Arizona Republicans. He has always been seen as an absentee senator, more interested in the national spotlight than in his constituents, and polls at one point last year showed a majority in his party opposing his reelection to the Senate. Romney will benefit from the fact that more Mormons live in Arizona than even in Utah.
Illinois Sen. Barack Obama drew a huge, cheering, overflow crowd to a rally in Phoenix last night – one of the largest such political events in Arizona history. Those attending the rally cut across all ethnic, gender, racial, and political lines. Many parents with young children were in evidence. Yet New York Sen. Hillary Clinton has organized the state thoroughly over many months and still is expected to win the Democratic contest Tuesday. If she does not, it will be a portent.
Expect tonight's nationally televised Obama-Clinton debate to be a rouser. The two clearly do not like each other. Each knows a decisive debate victory could make a big difference in Super Tuesday outcomes. Clinton has the most to gain. By winning or breaking even in the debate, she can arrest Obama's rise. You can be sure that both candidates will attempt to force mistakes by the other. Edwards footnote: Former North Carolina Sen. John Edwards dropped out of the Democratic race yesterday. But he "suspended" rather than ended his campaign, meaning that he still has the option of coming to his party's Denver national convention with his few pledged delegates and exercising leverage there. He left open yesterday the possibility of endorsing either Obama or Clinton. His decision on that front probably will hinge on how they stand coming out of Super Tuesday.