Today's Papers

Super Indecisive

All the papers devote most of the space on their front pages to yesterday’s voting extravaganza, which involved contests in 24 states. On the Democratic side, Sen. Hillary Clinton won some of the biggest prizes of the night, including California, while Sen. Barack Obama ultimately won more states. No one is really quite sure about the final tally yet, but early results suggest Clinton won a slight edge in the 1,678 pledged delegates that were at stake yesterday, but no one expects the actual difference to be very significant. So, after the biggest primary day in history, the Democratic race “emerged as it was before: deadlocked,” says USA Today. Things were a bit clearer in the Republican race as Sen. John McCain won more states and will get by far the most delegates, thanks to his victories in the big-state primaries.

The Washington Postdevotes a separate front-page story to the big surprise of the night: Mike Huckabee. Although many had already written him off, Huckabee managed to win five Southern states and quickly muddled the Republican field once more. This turned into bad news for Mitt Romney, who won six states but failed to cement his position as the true conservative candidate. Huckabee’s victories “highlighted the discomfort social conservatives have with the field,” notes the New York Timesin a Page One analysis. Even though McCain became the clear Republican front-runner, there’s “no sign that his rivals … would drop out soon and no sign of peace among the party’s divided factions,” notes the Los Angeles Timesin its own front-page analysis. Assuming McCain does become the nominee, he “will have to spend time repairing relations with conservatives,” warns the Wall Street Journal.

Everyone points out that Clinton’s victories in “four of the five biggest prizes” (WP) helped ease fears that a late-breaking surge of support for Obama was going to cost the former first lady some states that had previously been thought of as easy wins. Particularly significant for the former first lady were her victories in Massachusetts, despite the fact that Obama had been endorsed by Sens. Edward Kennedy and John Kerry, and California, which showed her support among Latinos remains strong. Women and older voters also continued to be an important base of support for the New York senator. Obama continued to receive overwhelming support from black voters and did well with men, including a larger-than-expected number of white men in several states. The LAT says that Obama’s victories in several states with negligible minority populations once again showed that many white voters are willing to pick a black candidate. “They both have bragging rights,” Rep. Rahm Emanuel tells USAT. “Both won in every region of the country.”

After all the votes are counted, McCain will probably end up with about half of the 1,191 delegates he needs for the nomination. “Tonight, I think we must get used to the idea that we are the Republican Party front-runner,” McCain said last night. McCain will benefit from the fact that several of the states he won award all their delegates to the victor. The senator continues to do well with voters who cite the economy and Iraq as their main priorities, and among those who describe themselves as moderate.

Romney did well with those who see immigration as the top issue, as well as with those who describe themselves as conservatives. But he was hurt by the lack of support from white evangelicals, who mostly backed Huckabee. “The two of them are splitting the conservative vote, and as long as they continue to do so, John McCain can shoot right up the middle,” a Republican strategist tells the LAT. Overall, it was a bad night for Romney, whose dream of making this a two-man contest were shattered by Huckabee last night. “You know, over the past few days a lot of people have been trying to say that this is a two-man race,” Huckabee said. “Well, you know what? It is. And we’re in it!”

Even if McCain does manage to get enough delegates to win the nomination in the coming weeks, he will still have to get the support of conservatives if he expects to be competitive in November, notes the NYT. If McCain continues to win with support from moderates without appealing to conservatives, “I think it’s trouble for him down the road with uniting the party,” a political scientist tells USAT.  McCain could therefore end up benefiting from a drawn-out fight in the Democratic race because it would give him time to court the party’s conservative wing while the public focuses on the Obama-Clinton contests. The WSJ points out that McCain will have a big opportunity to appeal to conservatives when he appears before the Conservative Political Action Conference tomorrow. But he has to walk a fine line and not alienate independents and moderate Republicans while trying to get support from conservatives.

In other news, all the papers note that tornadoes struck Arkansas, Kentucky, Mississippi, and Tennessee yesterday and killed at least 27 people, according to early morning wire reports.

The NYT and LAT front, and everyone mentions, the Senate committee hearing that focused on national security threats. The LAT goes high with CIA Director Michael Hayden admitting publicly for the first time that at least three al-Qaida detainees had been subjected to water-boarding. Although the agency has not used the harsh interrogation technique since 2003, Hayden urged lawmakers not to outlaw the practice, noting it might be needed again in the future. The NYT focuses on the director of national intelligence warning lawmakers that al-Qaida seems to be growing stronger and has stepped up its efforts to recruit and train militants, including Westerners, to carry out attacks in the United States.

The WP and WSJ front yesterday’s stock market plunge that came after an important index that measures the nation’s service sector fell to its lowest level since the 2001 recession. The decline was much greater than most were expecting and renewed fears of a recession. The Dow Jones Industrial Average fell 2.9 percent, which was the steepest one-day decline in almost a year. “This is an indication for the first time that the bulk of the economy is contracting,” an economist tells the NYT. A similar service-sector index in Europe also fell and led to declines in their stock markets. Asian markets also fell today.

The WP’s Robert Samuelson urges voters to “look beyond the cheery or dreary economy of the moment” when choosing a presidential candidate. “We have a $14 trillion economy. The idea that presidents can control it lies between an exaggeration and an illusion.”