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Where Do Campaigns Go from Here?

STEVE INSKEEP, host:

It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. Good morning, I'm Steve Inskeep.

RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

And I'm Renee Montagne. If you're just joining us, here's a quick rundown on Super Tuesday. John McCain is closer to the Republican nomination. Democrats Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama traded victories, though Clinton won the biggest state.

The race goes on for both parties, which means that the campaigns no doubt are huddling today with their strategists to figure out where they go from here. We've called a couple of veteran strategists, and they're joining us on the line right now. Good morning, Republican Tucker Eskew.

Mr. TUCKER ESKEW (Republican Political Consultant): Good morning.

MONTAGNE: Good morning. You worked for President George W. Bush during his first term and also his reelection campaign. And Democrat Mark Mellman, good morning.

Mr. MARK MELLMAN (Democratic Political Consultant): Good morning, how are you?

MONTAGNE: And Mark Mellman is a consultant to the Democratic Congressional Leadership. Now, let's begin with you, Tucker Eskew. Despite Senator McCain's victories, there are many conservative Republicans who still are not probably so happy with the results.

Mr. ESKEW: Yeah. I think Senator McCain had a big night last night, but not quite big enough yet to wrap this up. He's got a job to do to consolidate our party. He's come a long way toward that, but last night was not the final part of that answer. He's still got some work to do.

MONTAGNE: Well, Mitt Romney had been hoping to turn this into a two-man race, but Mike Huckabee seems to have thwarted that, at least - so far, all the way through Super Tuesday.

Mr. ESKEW: Yeah, I think we don't have a one-on-one. We've got a one-on-one on one. And that does keep the picture less than clear. You have to congratulate all three of our candidates. They had some victories and - some more than others, certainly. And Governor Huckabee's is perhaps the biggest surprise. You look at those Southern and border states that he rather commandingly carried, and you see that in a region that's crucial to the base of the Republican Party and its success over the last 30 years, he's had some considerable success. And it's hard to envision our going ahead, Republicans, into the fall for victory without a real strong sense of momentum in the South and the border states.

MONTAGNE: And the South, of course, included those evangelical Christians that Mike Huckabee appeals to.

Mr. ESKEW: Absolutely. He's done quite well with those voters, and he's done well that all over the country. He hasn't yet stitched together a broad enough coalition to win outside that region in any convincing way. So, Senator McCain clearly has done more of that than any other and is to be commended for big wins in some big states, and that's critically important to success in November as well.

MONTAGNE: Let's talk about the Democrats now. Mark Mellman, it's all about delegates for the Democrats. Does that change the way that Senator Obama runs his campaign? Senator Clinton, both of them seem to be doing well with delegates.

Mr. MELLMAN: Well, that's right. Senator Clinton seems to have a delegate lead at the moment. And with our proportional representation system on the Democratic side, it's hard to make up with two evenly balanced candidates. But the reality is this is going to be a state-by-state, delegate-by-delegate slog through the end of the primary season and beyond. The superdelegates are going to play a role here, too.

MONTAGNE: And that gets to the question of the next important contest for the Democrats, where - is there - at what point might Senator Obama or Senator Clinton lock up the nomination? Certainly, if not Super Tuesday, when?

Mr. MELLMAN: Well, honestly, I think neither of them is going to be able to really lock up the nomination until after the primary process is over. There's going to be a set of primaries coming up that tend to favor Senator Obama, those are taking place in places like Virginia and Maryland, Washington, D.C. Then there are going to be a set toward the very end of the process - like Texas, and then Ohio and Pennsylvania - that tend to favor Senator Clinton.

So I think we're not going to know this Democratic nominee until after the primary process is over, and, as I say, perhaps not even till later than that because we have a large number of superdelegates, unpledged delegates, elected officials around the country. And they may be, in the end, the one who decides this nomination.

MONTAGNE: And Tucker Eskew, on the Republican side, John McCain looks pretty good this morning. Does that mean he's got it locked up?

Mr. ESKEW: Yeah, I - look, Mark's made a very good point. The Democrat contest goes on for a good while longer because of their proportional allocation of delegates. It feels, on our side, where we do have largely winner-take-all primaries, the Republicans are still proportioning their affection. Senator McCain has come a long way. You certainly look at where he was in 2000 with some of the base voters.

You look at where he is today, but there are nagging questions he has to answer. And I think he - you know, last night in a speech where he reached out and was gracious and very deliberately and emphatically showed both of his opponents - in an upcoming speech to the Conservative Conference here in Washington in a few days, he has opportunities to extend that into a series of issue-based reasons for rallying conservatives around his cause. He has not completed that job. I think he's made strides toward it. And that's a sign of how our race is likely to consolidate and become clearer sooner than the Democrats, and that gives us an opportunity during that period to bind up the party. And that's what I think we'll do. I don't think it's done yet for Senator McCain, but he's so close. He's very close here and he made some strides toward it last night.

MONTAGNE: Lots more to talk about with both of you. But thank you very much for this morning.

Mr. MELLMAN: Thanks much.

Mr. ESKEW: Thank you.

MONTAGNE: Republican Tucker Eskew, who worked for President George W. Bush during his first term and his reelection. Also, Democrat Mark Mellman. He's a consultant to the Democratic Congressional Leadership. 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.