Today's Papers

Super Saturday

All the papers lead with results from yesterday’s presidential primaries—a crucial Republican battle in South Carolina and vicious fight in the Nevada Democratic caucus. The New York Times, the Washington Post, and the Los Angeles Times each splits its lead spot between twin stories on Sen. John McCain’s triumph in the South Carolina GOP primary and Sen. Hillary Clinton’s decisive victory over Sen. Barack Obama in Nevada.

John McCain won South Carolina with a narrow 3 percent edge over Mike Huckabee, the LAT reports. All the papers select the same McCain quote—a speech-opening allusion to his crushing defeat in South Carolina eight years ago (the NYT and LAT both refer to his victory as an “exorcism” of that bitter loss). Not only did McCain’s victory on Saturday wipe the 2000 slate clean, it “marked another comeback milestone in a campaign that had appeared all but terminal last summer, sunk in dismal poll numbers and bereft of cash,” the LAT observes. The NYT reviews the losing Republican candidates’ campaigning (Huckabee approached South Carolina “with a populist patter”; Romney “struggled” through his days there), and the WP is baffled by Fred Thompson’s evening remarks: “Normally laid-back, he thundered on for 10 minutes in language that seemed to point to a withdrawal statement. But he abruptly ended the speech with ‘God bless you!’ and walked off the stage.” Other than this perplexing speech, Thompson gave no indication that he’s leaving the race.

Hillary Rodham Clinton had 51 percent of the vote, compared with Barack Obama’s 45 percent and John Edwards’$2 4 percent in Nevada (again, the LAT has the numbers). But the papers quibble over whether Clinton’s Nevada victory was decisive. The WP reports, several paragraphs in, the Obama camp’s take on the night: that Nevada is a “shared victory” because Obama secured more national delegates than Clinton. The NYT brings this shared-victory analysis to the forefront without attributing it to the Obama campaign (the story’s deck headline reads, “Obama second, but takes one more delegate,” though the article offers no clear substantiation). The LAT does more homework, reporting that state party officials called Obama’s I-won-more-delegates line “erroneous.” The LAT, thus, takes a bolder stance, avoiding the murky delegate question altogether: Hillary “easily won,” “seizing the upper hand” in the campaign. All three stories note Clinton’s strong showings with women and Hispanic voters—”two constituencies she is counting on as the campaign heads toward a coast-to-coast showdown,” the NYT notes. In the shadows of the Hillary victory, the papers report that Mitt Romney handily won Nevada’s Republican caucus (a “non-binding straw poll,” the ever-detailed LAT explains). The WP says the win “kept alive a candidacy that was on life support,” while the NYT devotes a single sentence to the Romney result before resuming its Clinton analysis.

An array of post-primary news analysis makes its way onto the front pages, most of it rather predictable: South Carolina gives McCain momentum but isn’t singularly decisive, McCain still has to prove he can energize the Republican base, and Florida is now the showdown state. Analyses in both the NYT and LAT make the important observation that a significant amount of McCain’s support in South Carolina came from independents, not voters who identify themselves as Republicans. Providing insight into how an independent-magnet will fare with the Republican base, conservative Christian leader Gary Bauer tells the NYT: “On balance, in most states, to get the nomination you’ve got to do very well among registered Republicans, and that is going to become increasingly important as other candidates drop out of the race.”

Much more worth the read is a second front-page story on McCain in the WP, this one about his success at defusing attacks from “conservative voices.” Steady attacks from conservatives like Rush Limbaugh and Tom DeLay, “voices that once held sway over the Republican rank and file,” did not have the same derailing effect that they had when McCain lost South Carolina to George W. Bush in 2000. The intriguing piece compares McCain’s two South Carolina campaigns, revealing that this time the Arizona senator assembled his own collection of staunch conservatives who were “vociferous” in his defense.

In one of the few A1 spaces not devoted to election coverage, the NYT runs an arresting story on the popularity of Japanese “cell phone novels”—that’s right, entire books thumb-typed on cell phones. Most cell phone novels are the product of bored young commuters taking advantage of their unlimited data plans, and are composed in short, broken sentences with little plot or character development. Five of 2007’s 10 best-selling books in Japan were originally cell phone novels, a fact that has Japanese literary experts understandably alarmed; enthusiasts say the trend encourages nonwriters to write and nonreaders to read, and should be recognized as a serious genre.

The WP and LAT both turn colorful scenes of the record-breaking election night in Las Vegas into entertaining pieces: The WP interviews partying caucus-goers at the Wynn Las Vegas casino, and an inside LAT sidebar  tells the story of the Wynn caucus from the planning phase to the salon hairdressers tipping the final tally in Obama’s favor, 189-187.