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Super Tuesday Preview: What Will Be Determined

ROBERT SIEGEL, Host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.

MICHELE NORRIS, Host:

And I'm Michele Norris.

The closest thing the U.S. has ever had to a national primary takes place tomorrow. Voters in 24 states will be choosing presidential nominees for both the Democrats and the Republicans. Given the way delegates are allotted, we know that the Democratic contest between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama will not be decided tomorrow. We'll have reports from both their campaigns in just a few minutes.

On the Republican side, John McCain may be on the verge of accomplishing something nobody thought was possible just a few months ago - winning his party's nomination.

NPR's national political correspondent Mara Liasson is with us to talk about the Republican race. And Mara, as we look toward tomorrow, how do things stand?

MARA LIASSON: Well, John McCain has a very big lead in the national polls. He has also a very big lead in New York, New Jersey and Connecticut - those are states where Rudy Giuliani once was strong and as we know, Giuliani has endorsed him. Mike Huckabee, who's still in the race has - very strong in the southern states like Georgia, Alabama, Arkansas and Tennessee. And, of course, he's aiming all of his fire at Mitt Romney, who still is in the race. However, California, where the polls are pretty close - that has where Romney's been spending most of his time.

Although a lot of Republicans are wondering, why isn't Mitt Romney spending money like he really means it? In other words, not just seven figures on an ad buy, but 10, 20, $30 million plunked down on the table.

NORRIS: Mara, if you could just remind us why the Republican race can be wrapped up much quicker than the Democratic race? Again, at least that's the way it looks right now.

LIASSON: Yes, because they have winner-take-all primaries. And McCain not only has a big lead, but the structure of his party's primaries can magnify that lead. Because tomorrow, if he wins by one vote in New York or New Jersey or Connecticut, he gets all the delegates. And in that sense, if he does do that, the Republican Party will be finally reverting to form. It is an orderly party; it hasn't been so this year. But if he does wrap it up on Tuesday, he can turn his attention to trying to unify the party in figuring out how to reach out to conservatives while not losing his appeal to independents.

NORRIS: You know, this is moving so fast. We go to one contest, it seems like we automatically set our sights on the next one. But the sort of overarching narrative here seems to be this amazing comeback by John McCain.

LIASSON: There's no doubt about it. It's the most extraordinary story of the election. Nobody expected what happened including myself - and I'll order up my serving of crow here - but he was down to bare metal, he had to take out a loan, a bigger loan than any candidate has ever taken out. He needed an insurance policy on his life to get the loan. He still doesn't have a pollster to this day.

And, you know, there comes a time where every candidate has to kind of heave their campaign over the finish line just by a dint of their own force of will and personality. He certainly did that. And you know, we talked a lot about how Democrats have these historic candidates, and they do - first African-American and the first woman. But if McCain is nominated, it would be a real revolution in the Republican Party.

This is a candidate who doesn't have the support of the religious right establishment or the conservative establishment or the talk show hosts, and they are usually the building blocks of a Republican campaign, not the final obstacles to one. And it's been an amazing story.

NORRIS: Now, Mara, we want you to stay with us as we catch up first on these Democratic races. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Mara Liasson is a national political correspondent for NPR. Her reports can be heard regularly on NPR's award-winning newsmagazine programs Morning Edition and All Things Considered. Liasson provides extensive coverage of politics and policy from Washington, DC — focusing on the White House and Congress — and also reports on political trends beyond the Beltway.