'Mac is Back'

 

CHARLESTON, S.C.--That's what the crowd is chanting here at the Citadel's Holliday Alumni Center. It's what they chanted in New Hampshire, too.

It happens to be true.

According to network projections, McCain just won South Carolina, 33-30, fending off a forceful challenge from former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee. Eight years after the Palmetto State derailed his first presidential bid, McCain is now the odds-on favorite to win the Republican nomination.

Seven-figure ad buy starts tomorrow in Florida; he'll spend the next few days shuttling from the Sunshine State to fundraising events. 

For a sneak peek at what's next--at least in my humble opinion--here's what I wrote earlier about McCain "after South Carolina":

If McCain wins South Carolina tonight, he will probably win the Republican nomination.

There, I said it. 

Before you flood my inbox with hate mail, let's examine the evidence. After South Carolina, the Republican race moves to Florida on Jan. 29. Who's out front there? McCain, who leapt to the lead immediately after winning New Hampshire. He hasn't let go, even after losing Michigan to Mitt Romney. A month ago he polled at 10 percent; now he's up to 23. If the Palmetto State proves that New Hampshire wasn't a fluke, expect those numbers to climb higher--meaning that at that point it'll be up to Giuliani and Romney, both of whom need wins in the Sunshine State to stay viable, to knock the new frontrunner off his pedestal. If they fail, the Arizona senator will close out the first round of nominating contests with the wind at his back. I'm guessing that his (already sizable) 9.5 percent lead in the national polls will grow--and with only one week between Florida and Feb. 5, Republican voters spread across 21 states won't have a whole lot of time to change their minds (or have their minds changed by rival candidates). If McCain wins South Carolina, he'll probably clinch the nomination by the time the polls close on Super-Duper Tuesday.

Reckless, I know. This is not to say McCain won't face challenges--the field will narrow, foes will consolidate around another candidate and upcoming contests don't allow Independents, McCain's not-so-secret weapon, to participate.

But I'm in a maverick mood.

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