Welcome to this, the 14th round of Primary Season 2008. With a week off, the contests in Texas and Ohio have received a ton of scrutiny from all angles. So much so, that there has been a kind of calm before the storm (Well, not between the top two Democratic contenders.) as today's contests approached. The media have said what they're going to say about the rules in Texas and changes in voting method in Cuyahoga County, Ohio. With so much time (and so much is a relative term here) the void has been filled by Clinton attacks on Obama. That has been the new story/news story. And the momentum seems to be with Clinton on this; her campaign has planted the seeds of doubt on Obama. Oh sure, the source there is her campaign, but the polls that have come out in Texas and Ohio the last few days back that up.
The Real Clear Politics poll averages in those states showed movement toward Obama late last week in both states. In Texas, those averages gave Obama a slight advantage (within the margin of error) after having been down double digits just two weeks prior. Now, while the Texas race is still a dead heat, the recent polls are giving Clinton that slight edge there (still within the margin of error and still susceptible to Obama's caucus success during the state's delegate selection night cap). In Ohio, Clinton's double digit leads shrunk to as few as four percentage points late last week. With the exception of the most recent Reuters/C-SPAN/Zogby poll (showing a tie), the most recent polls in the Buckeye state stretch the Clinton advantage back to around seven percentage points. So while claims that the infamous "3AM ad" (and that link has a further link to the 1984 phone ad that Mondale ran against Gary Hart as well) is the reason for the momentum shift may be spurious, on its face at least (and in the media) it appears to have had an effect.
Is all the momentum talk moot anyway? That's the contention of the Obama camp; which is claiming that narrow victories by Clinton in these states doesn't get her any closer in the pledged delegate count. The expectations game has been played by both sides on this one and how these contests and their results are perceived will depend to a large degree on how the media reports things tonight.
For those following at home the night will progress like this: Vermont's polls close first at 7pm (all of these times are Eastern). Even given the scant polling that is available from Vermont, it looks as if Obama will kick the night off with an easy win. Ohio strikes next with voting being cut off there at 7:30pm. Call it a hunch, but I doubt this one gets an immediate call/projection from any of the networks. What you might hear is, "too close to call." The polls in Texas close next at 8pm and will most likely resemble the Ohio situation from a half hour earlier. An hour later, voting in Rhode Island stops. Now this one looks like a Clinton win, but what Rhode Island does is keep the media paying attention to results. All the while, the Texas caucuses will have been going on. And Texas Democrats have adopted a system similar to the one used in Iowa to get "unofficial" results from the caucuses out in a quicker fashion. Whether those "results" come out before or after Rhode Island or in relation to the Texas/Ohio projections is a matter that will be solved tonight. Either way you look at it, with these contests potentially proving decisive on the Democratic side, it will be a fun night to follow.
[UPDATE: For those of you like me out there--without suitable cable access--ABCNews.com is streaming coverage of the returns tonight online. None of the three major networks is allotting any time to coverage of the presidential races tonight, yield to regularly schedule programming. ABC is awfully nice to give the online-only class a shot at actually seeing something on a primary night not named Super Tuesday.]