Last night finally brought some clarity to the Republican presidential campaign. You can't understate the significance of John McCain winning in South Carolina, particularly when you consider this was the state where his campaign imploded in 2000. Much remains to be decided, but if you had to pick a pony is this race, it's hard to look anywhere other than McCain.
McCain broke through the psychological ceiling, winning a southern primary in the conservative heartland, a state that always picks the eventual nominee. A tight contest doesn't detract from the headlines, nor the pundit's digestions- McCain is now the frontrunner.
Looking ahead, the next contest is pivotal. Florida is the last state before Super Tuesday, should McCain win there, his momentum will be unstoppable. The last batch of Florida polls have already given McCain a slight edge (RCP average: McCain 23%, Guiliani 20%, Romney 18%, Huckabee 17%). Common sense dictates a bounce for McCain coming out of South Carolina, the trends are positive. Guiliani's misguided strategy has focused on Florida, deciding 5th and 6th place finishes in the first contests don't matter- they clearly do and his Florida firewall has eroded over the last few weeks. Too early to say how Florida will vote, but all things considered, you have to like McCain's chances.
We are already seeing positive movement towards McCain in the national polls, where he now enjoys a full 10% lead over his closest rival. Couple this overall support with Super Tuesday states, and the frontrunner moniker seems justified. McCain has moved well ahead in the biggest state, California, a full 10 point lead. McCain is competitive in Guiliani's backyard, polling well in other southern states, looking strong in the southwest. Win Florida, and these numbers only get better, the idea of a brokered convention much less likely. At the moment, fluidity aside, it's clearly a John McCain world.