Setting the Table for 'Super Tuesday'

About 60 percent of the country's eligible voters will have the chance to participate Tuesday in a primary, caucus or convention. Will the results produce a clear front-runner from either party?

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RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. Good morning, I'm Renee Montagne. And this is the week that could be pivotal in the race for the White House. Twenty-four states will hold nominating contests tomorrow. On Super Tuesday half of the Democratic National Convention delegates are up for grabs, and more than 40 percent of the Republican delegates. Joining us now for a look ahead is NPR news analyst Cokie Roberts. Good Morning.

COKIE ROBERTS: Good morning, Renee.

MONTAGNE: Finally upon us, Super Tuesday. So starting with the Republicans, at least one poll over the weekend showed Senator John McCain pulling ahead. But his rivals aren't giving any ground.

ROBERTS: In the ABC Washington Post poll, he was leading Romney, his closest competitor, by 2-1. So that is quite a lead and quite a comeback. Now, Mitt Romney is not giving up and he's trying to get Mike Huckabee out of the race because he thinks that Huckabee is splitting conservatives with him. And Huckabee just got furious with that. I'm quoting here. "For him to suggest that I need to drop out of the race almost makes it sound like he thinks I'm some troubled company that he can buy and sell."

So Huckabee not getting out, Romney spending a lot of money and saying he's going to continue spending his own money, but McCain looking very good going into Super Tuesday.

MONTAGNE: And on the Democratic side, only two candidates, and they're running neck and neck. And they and their surrogates are out in force over the weekend.

ROBERTS: Right. Those surrogates - Bill Clinton was in black churches in Los Angeles, somewhat chastened from remarks recently. And then he went to watch the Super Bowl with Bill Richardson, the governor of New Mexico, former candidate for president, whose endorsement everyone is looking for, because they think he will be helpful with the Hispanic vote. But the Super Bowl was somewhat eclipsed by a rival event in Los Angeles at UCLA, where Caroline Kennedy, Barack Obama supporter Oprah Winfrey, and Maria Shriver, the first lady of California, appeared. And she said that if Barack Obama were a state, he'd be California. Let's listen.

Ms. MARIA SHRIVER: Diverse, open, smart, independent, bucks tradition, innovative, inspiring, dreamer, leader.

ROBERTS: So she had them fired up, as did Michelle Obama. No retiring violet there. So it's going to be a real fight for the Democrats tomorrow.

MONTAGNE: And I'm smiling. Nice adjectives for our state.

(Soundbite of laughter)

MONTAGNE: Those of us here in California. Okay, so even with all that excitement, isn't tomorrow's election about delegates?

ROBERTS: It is indeed, and it is going to be very complicated. Because most of these Democratic states have now decided to do delegates by proportional representation. So you get a percentage according to how much you won. So for instance, in California, where 370 delegates will be chosen tomorrow, 240 of them - 41 of them - are done by each district, and then another 129 are decided at the state level; and then there are those super delegates. So it could come down to Florida. Those delegates on the Democratic side are not supposed to be seated at the convention because the state broke the rules. But hey, if it gets that close, who knows what could happen with those Florida delegates.

MONTAGNE: Cokie, let's just spend a moment, a last moment, talking about a change in the issues in this campaign. The economy now first and foremost with voters on both sides, and more Americans feeling negative about the economy, and the country for that matter.

ROBERTS: Up ten points in the last three weeks, the economy is, as the number one issue that the voters are concerned about. And about 80 percent in the ABC poll saying the economy is not so good or poor. People already think we are already in a recession. And that stimulus package that the Congress is still working on this week, about two thirds already say they don't think it's going to work, and they don't have much faith in it, which raises some questions about the candidates who are saying I can reach across party lines. This is something that's been done across party lines, and nobody seems to have much faith in it.

MONTAGNE: NPR's news analyst Cokie Roberts, thanks very much.

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