Six in the evening and there are hours to go before the polls close in the West, but the Chicago Hyatt Regency is already filling with the crowd for the Obama Super Tuesday night.

This is the hottest ticket in the country, with lines in the snow outside, not simply of late roll-ups, these are people with tickets. The press list is 300 people oversubscribed – there are whole Chinese networks that can’t get in. Your correspondent got in as the handbag of an old Chicago leftie with the same regard for Obama as a Victorian AMWU organiser might have for Kevin Rudd, but who, like half the rest of the city, can’t bear not to be here.

There’s handshakes and backslapping, highfives. South Side political heavies peackocking around in three pieces, and skinny white northern kids in Antje Duvekot t-shirts dashing around hyperactively. There’s no point in staying – no place to plug in a laptop much less open it, and the press room is like some experiment with flabby, tired people in rumpled suits pressed under glass. Staff are laying down extra extension leads in the hall, but the TVs, hard to hear now, are going to be drowned under a sea of noise anytime now, and so I’ve reconvened the Crikey desk at a bar round the corner, with MSNBC on the TV, and a napkin under the martini.

The results just rolling in are from Georgia, the Eastern state which closed first, with NY and Joisey still to come in. Commentators on all networks have tried to keep the coverage an even split between Democrats and GOP races, but really, no-one can help drifting back to the Democrat race and to the big question, can he do it? Whether they support him or not, the sense of the man as a giant-killer is irresistible, and the figures coming out of Georgia seem to confirm that. He’s taking about 90% of the black vote – he was always going to, but that is a serious margin – and 45% of white men (and 36% of white women). The importance of that figure can’t be overstated, since it shows that, if Obama was the candidate, he could hold the white vote in the South.

If the Republicans have a prayer in November, it is by taking the white working class South – people with quite a lot of anger, not always finding the right target, to put it mildly. As commentators are noting across the networks, it is highly unlikely that a black candidate could have got that 10 years ago . That’s the optimistic interpretation anyway. A more cynical one would be that a tranche of southern whites couldn’t decide what they hated more – a chick or a black.

“Where you writing for?” says the guy beneath the baseball cap beside me. “Australia – Crikey!” he says in a Steve Irwin accent. The coincidence of his remark would be too complicated to explain, even if he wasnt slowly marinating in Bud. Who’s he backing? “Well I like McCain, I’m a navy guy, but I reckon I’m going for Obama” and this is as neat a miniature of how Americans are choosing between the candidates this year.

Meanwhile, in Team Republican, no-one knows what the frig is going on. The first results came in around the middle of the afternoon, with the Republican-only West Virginia contest selecting Mike Huckabee. The state is one of the very few states that runs a convention system, and McCain jammed Romney with a classic switcheroo on the second ballot, with McCain’s 15% of votes, switching to the Huck (who trailed Romney 41-33) to give him 52% to Romney’s 48 on the second ballot. Team Romney seem to have been totally blindsided by this move, given their boastful pre-Convention claims. “We have had the only organizational presence in West Virginia to speak of,” said advisor John McCutcheon. “It’s all Romney all the time.” Much good it did ya, schmucko.

Who knows what effect it is having – people in the know can understand that West Virginia is one of the only convention-based primaries in the country (and only selects half its delegates today, the rest in May), and thus a haven for organised tactical voting. Those oblivious to this – especially in California, which had another seven hours of voting time when the W.V. came out – might simply see the Romney lustre just that little bit more dimmed. The move wasn’t exactly transcendent political genius, which makes it all the more interesting that the Romney camp didn’t put out a pre-vote hedge press release warning that those dastardly McCain Washington insiders were about to pull a swift one. But the fact they didn’t might indicate one of the drawbacks of not being a rusted Washington professional like McCain. On the other hand, Pat Buchanan on Fox is arguing that the move will backfire for Huckabee in his presentation as a Washington outsider – though since no one really knows what Huckabee’s game is, it’s hard to tell.

Montana’s Republican primary also worked on a caucus system, its citizens accustomed to crouching in darkened spaces and muttering sinisterly about the government, and with 5% of the vote counted Romney is leading McCain 36 to 31, but that might just mean that three McCain supporters couldn’t start their truck because the Zionist Occupational Government raised fuel prices.

In Georgia, there’s more bad news for Romney, with Huckabee leading the pack, on an almost even three-way split. Huckabee was always going to do well in Georgia, but if he takes the state and a few others, it is going to be a huge headache for the GOP, since it will set up a platform for the fight to go all the way to the convention, delaying a Republican presidential push for months. Huckabee sees Romney, the claimed conservative as a shapeshifting idolator, due to his Mormonism and his flakiness, and wouldn’t care much between McCain and the Democrats, so he has no motive to call off the dogs.

For both sides, but particularly for the Democrats, a decisive result in this contest is not going to come in until we get the votes from the southwest, and particularly California, due to the Hispanic vote – around 30% in South Cal, and around 40% in Arizona. Hitherto strongly identified with the Clintons, and with rising tensions – or projected tensions – between black and Latino voters, Obama has nevertheless made big inroads due to his refusal to jump on the immigrant-bashing bandwagon, and also to the support of Ted Kennedy, whom Hispanics treat as a sort of pants-less, red nosed alcoholic God. If Obama can corral enough of that vote, then he will really have smashed Clinton’s plinth.

“Mitt Romey is brownish” says the MSNBC goon. He’s taking us thru the map in which Republican victories have been rendered in different shades of red, but the point holds more generally.

Results are coming in on 2 or 3% of the count from the southern states. For a while Clinton and Obama were neck and neck in Tennessee, cracker central, which really freaked people out – and speaking of which some dude’s trying to show people in this bar his a goddam drip he’s got implanted in his stomach, walking round the room lifting his t-shirt. Trouble is I’ve seen people do this before – it’s an implant to check stomach acid levels. “Mike! Get it outta here!” yells the bartender. He should be under observation but, but, but …

Anyway, Tennessee on 4% is pulling back to a 2/1 Clinton/Obama split, and she’s doing even better in Oklahoma. More interesting is that Obama’s holding her to a close vote in Connecticut and points north. Two weeks ago she could have expected a 5 or even 10% lead there. Alabama is being called for Huckabee. There were some results for Delaware that I missed, but really Delaware … who gives a rat’s?

“There’s less than zero percent in,” says Keith Oberman, “to quote the Elvis Costello song.” He’s said that three times.

So, on deadline, and with the limos crawling through the dark Chicago streets, pulling up at the Hyatt, is that Sean Combs, or just some rich guy in tan, there’s no clear result – except that Obama has won by not losing big, and Clinton is teetering on the edge of loss by not winning big.

And Romney is looking very brownish.

Peter Fray

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