An already steaming race heats up. And it’s too hot for some. Republican “possible” Fred Thompson, the former senator of Tennessee, is getting out of the kitchen, which is possibly good news for Mike Huckabee with the two competing for similar constituents. Reports The New York Times: “Some Republicans suggested that Mr Huckabee came in second in South Carolina precisely because Mr Thompson had siphoned off much of his support, permitting Senator John McCain of Arizona to win.”

Things are certainly fiery in the Democrats. The Obama-Clinton CNN face-off on Monday night got pretty heated. (Oh yes, and John Edwards weighed in to ask: “Are there three people in this debate, not two?”) Meanwhile, CNN got caught in the cross-fire after publishing the story: “Gender or race: Black women voters face tough choices in South Carolina.” An e-mailer named Tiffany responded sarcastically: “Duh, I’m a black woman and here I am at the voting booth. Duh, since I’m illiterate I’ll pull down the lever for someone. Hm… Well, he black so I may vote for him… oh wait she a woman I may vote for her… What Ise gon’ do? Oh lordy!” Tiffany urged CNN to “pull this racist crap off” the Web site and to stop calling Hillary the “top female candidate.” Vote 1 Tiffany we say. Here’s what commentators are saying.

Economic woes = bad news for Republicans. When economic crises intervene, politicians are expected to do something or say something, and Democrats, because they can keep increasing the tab on their stimulus packages, often have more to say. Though Republicans are running to head the government, their antipathy to government intervention and regulation, based in part on philosophy and principle, in part on the need to psychically separately themselves from the other party and in part on the need to pander to their donors — closes off many avenues for amelioration. (Indeed, there’s even an interesting and non-academic debate about whether crises ought to be ameliorated — most stimulus plans tend to kick in too late — and the preference for monetary intervention over fiscal policy is hard to explain on the stump. — Marc Ambinder,

Why everyone’s ignoring Huckabee’s racism. But when real political racism rears its head, our easily upset media fall oddly silent. Can you guess why? Of course you can. Gov. Huckabee is the self-anointed candidate of the simple and traditional Christian folk who hate smart-ass, educated, big-city types, and if you dare to attack him for his vulgarity and stupidity and bigotry, he will accuse you of prejudice in return. What he hopes is that his neo-Confederate sickness will become subsumed into easy chatter about his recipes for fried squirrel and his other folksy populist themes. — Christopher Hitchens, Slate

Despite his actor credentials, Fred Thompson just never caught on. The former Tennessee senator and actor generated buzz last spring as word grew of his interest in seeking the White House, but he repeatedly delayed making his candidacy official. He finally threw his hat into the ring in September — on a night when his rivals were debating each other. But his candidacy never caught fire. He finished a very distant third in South Carolina on Saturday, the first primary in the South. He made a speech even before results were in that night hinting that he would not remain in the race much longer. Politico

How the Clintons’ race play cruelled Obama’s chances. Barack is no longer a crossover candidate who transcends race. The color-blind coalition he seemed to be assembling appears to be coming apart. His momentum is gone. The emotional movement that was Iowa has passed. The media are no longer smitten. And as African-Americans rally to him, Democratic women, a majority of the party, are rallying around Hillary … If Barack loses South Carolina, he is cooked, as the Clintonites have made him the favorite. Even if he carries South Carolina, it will be written off as black folks coming out for a native son. Folks will look instead at how well, or badly, he does among whites. If Hillary and Edwards crush him among white voters, the message will be that the Democratic Party will risk ruin if it nominates an African-American who has shown little appeal among whites and even less among Hispanics. For whites and Hispanics are the swing votes in presidential politics. In three weeks, Barack has been ghettoized. The crossover candidate, the great liberal hope, has become a Jesse Jackson, who is ceded the black vote and a few states, then given a speaking role at the convention, as the party moves on to the serious business of electing a president. — Patrick Buchanan, RealClearPolitics

What next? Where are the two parties’ races going from here? The Democrats seem headed toward more acrimonious division, while the Republicans seem headed toward something more like not entirely unacrimonious closure. Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama are now in a rock ’em, sock ’em battle. The astute liberal columnist Michael Tomasky characterizes Clinton’s victory as “downright ugly.” A push poll in Nevada four times identified Clinton’s opponent as “Barack Hussein Obama”—imagine the cries of bigotry that would ensue if a Republican had done that! — Michael Barone, US News

Debate Obama lets Oration Obama down. The paradox that is Barack Obama came into sharp, almost painful, focus tonight: He is, at once, one of the best television candidates in political history and one of the more underwhelming. Obama’s political star was launched when he delivered a dazzling address on national television at his party’s convention in 2004. His oratory was mesmerizing, his message inspiring, and his appearance and manner made him an instantly likable figure to millions of Americans. That Obama—Big Speech Obama—is tailor-made for television. But then there’s Debate Obama, a hesitant, stuttering, easily rattled and mostly unsmiling public performer who litters his platitudes and “uh’s” and misses countless opportunities to throw his opponents’ taunts back in their faces. Debate Obama unwittingly affirms Hillary Clinton’s suggestion that he lacks the seasoning to withstand the scrutiny of a fall campaign and leaves those who have only seen Big Speech Obama wondering, “Is this really the same guy?” — Steve Kornacki, The NY Observer

Meanwhile, check out the Washington Post‘s presidential candidates rundown which makes the whole primaries race look like the best reality TV show ever. Which is probably about right.

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey