Super Tuesday Preview: What Will Be Determined On Super Tuesday, 24 states will have presidential primaries or caucuses. What happens will decide one or both parties' nominees — or maybe not. Michele Norris talks with Mara Liasson, who previews what's at stake in a most unpredictable year.

Super Tuesday Preview: What Will Be Determined

Super Tuesday Preview: What Will Be Determined

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On Super Tuesday, 24 states will have presidential primaries or caucuses. What happens will decide one or both parties' nominees — or maybe not. Michele Norris talks with Mara Liasson, who previews what's at stake in a most unpredictable year.

ROBERT SIEGEL, Host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.

MICHELE NORRIS, Host:

And I'm Michele Norris.

The closest thing the U.S. has ever had to a national primary takes place tomorrow. Voters in 24 states will be choosing presidential nominees for both the Democrats and the Republicans. Given the way delegates are allotted, we know that the Democratic contest between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama will not be decided tomorrow. We'll have reports from both their campaigns in just a few minutes.

On the Republican side, John McCain may be on the verge of accomplishing something nobody thought was possible just a few months ago - winning his party's nomination.

NPR's national political correspondent Mara Liasson is with us to talk about the Republican race. And Mara, as we look toward tomorrow, how do things stand?

MARA LIASSON: Well, John McCain has a very big lead in the national polls. He has also a very big lead in New York, New Jersey and Connecticut - those are states where Rudy Giuliani once was strong and as we know, Giuliani has endorsed him. Mike Huckabee, who's still in the race has - very strong in the southern states like Georgia, Alabama, Arkansas and Tennessee. And, of course, he's aiming all of his fire at Mitt Romney, who still is in the race. However, California, where the polls are pretty close - that has where Romney's been spending most of his time.

Although a lot of Republicans are wondering, why isn't Mitt Romney spending money like he really means it? In other words, not just seven figures on an ad buy, but 10, 20, $30 million plunked down on the table.

NORRIS: Mara, if you could just remind us why the Republican race can be wrapped up much quicker than the Democratic race? Again, at least that's the way it looks right now.

LIASSON: Yes, because they have winner-take-all primaries. And McCain not only has a big lead, but the structure of his party's primaries can magnify that lead. Because tomorrow, if he wins by one vote in New York or New Jersey or Connecticut, he gets all the delegates. And in that sense, if he does do that, the Republican Party will be finally reverting to form. It is an orderly party; it hasn't been so this year. But if he does wrap it up on Tuesday, he can turn his attention to trying to unify the party in figuring out how to reach out to conservatives while not losing his appeal to independents.

NORRIS: You know, this is moving so fast. We go to one contest, it seems like we automatically set our sights on the next one. But the sort of overarching narrative here seems to be this amazing comeback by John McCain.

LIASSON: There's no doubt about it. It's the most extraordinary story of the election. Nobody expected what happened including myself - and I'll order up my serving of crow here - but he was down to bare metal, he had to take out a loan, a bigger loan than any candidate has ever taken out. He needed an insurance policy on his life to get the loan. He still doesn't have a pollster to this day.

And, you know, there comes a time where every candidate has to kind of heave their campaign over the finish line just by a dint of their own force of will and personality. He certainly did that. And you know, we talked a lot about how Democrats have these historic candidates, and they do - first African-American and the first woman. But if McCain is nominated, it would be a real revolution in the Republican Party.

This is a candidate who doesn't have the support of the religious right establishment or the conservative establishment or the talk show hosts, and they are usually the building blocks of a Republican campaign, not the final obstacles to one. And it's been an amazing story.

NORRIS: Now, Mara, we want you to stay with us as we catch up first on these Democratic races.

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Candidates Make Last Appeals to Voters

Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) greets supporters during a campaign appearance at Sacred Heart University in Fairfield, Conn. on Jan. 3. Mario Tama/Getty Images hide caption

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Mario Tama/Getty Images

Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-NY) speaks during a roundtable discussion at Yale Child Study Center Feb. 4 in New Haven, Conn. Justin Sullivan/Getty Images hide caption

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Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

Supporters wait for the arrival of former Massachusetts Gov. and GOP hopeful Mitt Romney at the Pancake Pantry Feb. 4 in Nashville, Tenn. Joe Raedle/Getty Images hide caption

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Joe Raedle/Getty Images

Sen. Barack Obama (D-IL) greets supporters during a rally at the IZOD Center on Feb. 4 in East Rutherford, N.J. Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images hide caption

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Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Former Arkansas Gov. and GOP hopeful Mike Huckabee takes questions during the MTV/MySpace presidential forum on Feb. 2 in New York City. Scott Gries/Getty Images hide caption

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Scott Gries/Getty Images

Voters in 24 states were set to shake up the presidential primary map in both parties on "Super Tuesday," with Democrats Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton in a close fight and Republican John McCain hoping for a decisive victory over rival Mitt Romney.

More than half of the total Democratic delegates and about 40 percent of the GOP delegates are up for grabs.

Most opinion polls showed a tight Democratic race in many states. Among Republicans, Sen. McCain had solid leads in most of the big battleground states.

Competition is particularly fierce in delegate-rich states such as California, Illinois and New York. Eight of the 21 Republican contests are winner-takes-all affairs — in New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, Delaware, Missouri, Arizona, Utah and Montana.

McCain Turns to the Party's Base

On the Republican side, 71-year-old Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) has benefited from a changing political climate. The decline of violence in Iraq has persuaded some voters that McCain was right to support the troop surge, while others just see it as a less-pressing issue.

But McCain still has to win over conservative Republicans, who are alarmed by the same nonconformist streak that delights independents. McCain insists he can keep all the factions of the party together in the same big tent.

"We may have a disagreement on an issue or two. That's healthy. Wouldn't we be pretty boring if we agreed on everything?" he told Illinois Republicans at a recent dinner.

McCain has concentrated his campaigning in the Northeast, making stops in New Jersey, New York and Massachusetts.

Clinton Re-Emphasizing Softer Side

New York Sen. Hillary Clinton's recent campaign strategy has been to show voters more of her personality and try to reintroduce herself to the American public as a gentler figure — not necessarily someone who you would want to have beers with, but certainly someone who voters trust.

At a Super Bowl party in Minneapolis on Sunday, she talked about her efforts to define herself over the last month.

"I've been passionate about children's issues and women's issues and issues of justice, legal and economic, my entire life. And I think as the campaign went on, it became clear that I needed to demonstrate who I am as a total package. You know what I believe in, what I care about, why I do what I do, and I worked on that all year," she said.

After the Superbowl party in Minnesota, she returned to the Northeast for campaign stops in New Haven, Conn. at her alma mater, Yale, and in New York. Her husband and former President, Bill Clinton, campaigned on her behalf throughout California in Orange County, Sacramento, Stockton and San Francisco.

Romney Portrays Himself as Best Conservative Option

GOP rival and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney is hoping to win the votes of conservative Southerners who may have supported former Tennessee Sen. Fred Thompson or former New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani before they dropped out.

At a Nashville diner on Monday, he talked about his stance on immigration.

"Do you want a nominee who helped write McCain-Kennedy that gave amnesty to illegal aliens? No! Do you want a nominee instead who represents conservative principals and keep us inside the house that Ronald Reagan built?" he said.

But Nashville just one of many stops he made leading up to Super Tuesday, jetting between Tennessee, Georgia, Oklahoma, California and West Virginia.

Obama Looks Ahead to the November Election

On the Democratic side, Illinois Sen. Barack Obama campaigned in Connecticut. Recently, he has adopted a two-pronged strategy: first, to highlight the policy differences between him and rival Sen. Clinton on issues such as Iraq. Secondly, Obama talks about which candidate would do better against Republican front-runner McCain.

"I can offer a clear and clean break from the failed policies of George W. Bush. I won't have to explain my votes in the past," Obama said at a rally in Delaware — referring to Clinton's original support of the Iraq war.

Huckabee Stumps Throughout the South

One-quarter of the delegates at stake on Super Tuesday are in the South. Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee has been wooing the region's large number of evangelical voters, who helped him win the Iowa caucuses — his first and only win during the early voting contests.

But Huckabee has become more realistic as McCain and Romney's primary wins have mounted. After pumping up the crowd at the Chattanooga Convention Center, Huckabee told reporters that there are not a set number of delegates that he needs to win on Tuesday. The important part to focus on, he said, is that he is still in the game.

From NPR staff reports