The South Carolina expectations are set, and McCain keeps a small Florida lead

Polls have opened in South Carolina, so it is time to review the state's final polls released this morning and last night. And let's start with Zogby's tracking poll that looked so puzzling yesterday:

  • Obama is back to a wide 41% to 26% lead, with Edwards at 19%. Yesterday, it had tightening to 38% for Obama, 25% for Clinton and 21% for Edwards, so it does look like Edwards is losing ground in his race to second.

  • SUSA's final survey shows similar results. Obama is up 43% to 30% -- a slight tightening, with Edwards higher than he has been at 24%. Obama gets 73% of the black vote, while Edwards and Clinton tieat 38%.

  • And then comes the ARG poll that is off what we have seen with other pollsters: Obama is down to a 39% to 36% lead, with Edwards at 22%. That's a 6% drop for Obama in one day at the expense of Edwards who picks up 10%. Not to hit ARG here, but don't forget they showed just as wild swings the night before South Carolina's GOP primary and it didn't really come to pass. Clinton's lead among whites is 45% to 33% for Edwards while Obama 'only' gets 61% among blacks.
The polls look to have stabilized after the flux they looked to be in yesterday. And this is important because it sets the expectations for tonight and will determine the media's coverage both before and after the results are announced. But the extent of the racial polarization means that a small change in the composition of the electorate could have huge repercussions on the results as a whole, so don't think some sort of surprise couldn't happen, especially when it comes to margins.

And with that, on to the Florida Republican primary where Zogby released its first tracking poll today:

  • McCain is up 31% to 28% for Romney with Giuliani far behind at 15% and Huckabee at 10%. Zogby tells us "it was a big one-day result yesterday for McCain," which raises the possibility that McCain is the beneficiary of Thursday's debate after all.
This is the third poll in a row that has McCain with a small lead and above the 30% threshold. I said two days ago that the test for him in Florida is whether he can get out of the 24-25% range in which he was stuck in most polls for a week and whether he could get a big enough plurality in this closed primary -- and he appears to be taking care of that worry. Romney better find a way to stop McCain in the next 3 days for McCain looks very strong already in February 5th states.

Speaking of Super Tuesday, we got a poll from Missouri today released by Rasmussen. This is one of the states that Obama is putting the most hope in:

  • Clinton leads 43% to 24% with Edwards at 18%, a disappointing showing for the Illinois Senator 10 days from the contest.
  • The GOP results are also interesting, as Huckabee gets 27% and McCain 26%, with Romney at 18% and Giuliani at 7%.
It does look like there is room for only one conservative alternative to McCain, and Huckabee and Romney are dividing up that electorate. If McCain wins Florida and sets himself up for 02/05 battles against Romney in some state (CA), Huckabee in others (the South) and Giuliani in the Northeast it's hard to see how he does not come out of that with a big enough delegate lead to proclaim himself the presumptive nominee.

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