McCain defies the conservatives: From Rush Limbaugh to Tom DeLay, voices that once held sway over the Republican rank and file unloaded on John McCain over the last week, trying to use a conservative electorate in South Carolina to derail the Arizona senator’s quest for the Republican nomination. But though McCain failed to persuade many of the old Republican power brokers, he wrapped up the Republican establishment where it counted most, South Carolina. His win Saturday underscored how different McCain’s campaign has been this year compared with eight years ago, when a similar conservative assault effectively ended his campaign here and handed his party’s presidential nomination to George W. Bush. — The Washington Post 

Just don’t call him a frontrunner: Mr. McCain now has two big wins under his belt, with New Hampshire and now South Carolina. A winner is no longer an underdog, but underdog is such an essential part of Mr. McCain’s image that he seemed reluctant at a brief news conference here Sunday morning to embrace the mantle of front-runner. — Katharine Q. Seelye, The New York Times

He’s not there yet: Since 1980, every Republican presidential nominee has won South Carolina. This is the kind of rule Republicans would love to embrace in this topsy-turvy season to just to stop the motion sickness. But it’s too soon to call McCain the front-runner, especially since he still wasn’t able to win among rank and file Republicans (though exit polls show he only lost to Huckabee among this group by one point). — John Dickerson, Slate

Huckabee is hurting: Huckabee has the social conservative franchise. Mitt Romney has the economic franchise. McCain, and perhaps Rudy Giuliani, has national security. The man who can best cobble together two or three franchises — so far, McCain — will win the nomination. Which brings us back to Huckabee. In Georgia, the victor of Iowa — Jan. 3 seems so 2007 — is again likely to demonstrate his ability to fire up evangelicals. But it is Huckabee’s easy familiarity with the plight of working families that has given him broader possibilities. This is the fellow who said the next president should resemble the guy you work with, not the boss who laid you off.The Alanta Journal Constitution

Next stop, Florida: One state now stands between an elbow-to-elbow Republican field and the Feb. 5 voting sweepstakes that could clinch the party’s presidential nomination: Florida. John McCain’s hard-fought win Saturday in South Carolina, coupled with his come-from-behind victory in New Hampshire, puts him in an enviable position heading into another Southern state — and the nation’s fourth largest. — The Miami Herald


Why Obama can’t afford to lose: The structural problem for Obama is that losing the popular vote matters more to his message than it might to any mere garden-variety candidate. Whether campaigns are an accurate test of how candidates will perform in the White House is a debatable proposition, but Barack Obama asks us to judge him specifically on his ability to win elections. He promises to stir people and the country to epochal change by rallying an army for change, which means that for him, every election is a chance to show he can actually perform this trick by bringing voters to the polls. Each time he can’t, he undermines the central rationale of his pitch. — John Dickerson, Slate

A schism in the Dem party: At the end of the day, having called around to Democrats and reporters who were at other caucus sites, I’m pretty sure I witnessed one of the most extreme and ugly standoffs between Clinton and Obama supporters. But it’s still a window on the tensions in the Democratic Party as it faces a future in which its nominee will almost certainly be either African-American or female. And it’s unsettling. — Joan Walsh, Salon

Bill behaving badly: I don’t know who on this planet has the stature to go face-to-face with Bill Clinton and look him in the eye and tell him he behaved in a discreditable fashion. His wife? His buddy Vernon Jordan? Whoever it is, someone had better stop him. He campaigned against a fellow Democrat no differently than if Obama had been Newt Gingrich. — Michael Tomasky, The Guardian

Surely Edwards has the South sewn up? If politics were static, you would assume that Edwards would have the best profile for campaigning in the South; like Johnson, Carter and Bill Clinton, he is a native Southerner with a healthy drawl and a populist bent. But politics evolves as the generations pass, and America is not the country it was 24 years ago, when Geraldine Ferraro became the first woman on a major party ticket and Jesse Jackson first ran for president. A lot of Southerners, weary of economic and social divisions, seem eager to close one chapter of their history and open another, and no one should dismiss the idea that a black or female candidate could begin to reverse the party’s long retreat from the South. How South Carolinians and other Southerners engage in this Democratic campaign may tell us something not just about the candidates and their theories of the electorate but also about the New South itself. — Matt Bai, The New York Times Magazine

Peter Fray

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