THAT clenched-teeth smile Mitt Romney wore Tuesday night betrayed anger toward John McCain that was pretty scary. Although he survived, Mitt's prospects are slim. If he stays in the race, there will be blood.
Gathering nuts. Today the national Conservative Political Action Conference opens in Washington; it's a gathering of right-wing Republicans, luminaries, and one president. Romney needs to wow them; John McCain needs to hire a food taster. If they take a straw poll and Romney wins, it will fire up right-wing radio for days.
Regardless, the bitterness between Romney and McCain will continue. McCain has said of Romney, "Never get into a wrestling match with a pig. You both get dirty and the pig likes it." Here's the back story.
The billion-dollar snow job of taxpayers. Romney was called to Utah to rescue the 2002 winter Olympics. He soon realized that he needed a major infusion of cash. Where did the private-sector champion turn? To the federal government, of course.
Romney, who's against taxes, went to Capitol Hill seeking a big taxpayer bailout to help Salt Lake City stage the Olympics. When he got wind of it, Senator McCain denounced it.
McCain said: "The American taxpayer is being shaken down to the tune of nearly a billion and a half dollars," the Los Angeles Times recently recalled. McCain vowed to kill this "pork-barrel spending." The battle between Romney and McCain raged for months. In the end, Romney got his $1.3 billion in public funds. But there had been blood.
Divorced over gay marriage. In his 1994 US Senate campaign against Ted Kennedy, Romney told a gay Republican group, "to establish full equality for America's gay and lesbian citizens, I will provide more effective leadership than my opponent."
Rearranging his beliefs on gay rights to court the evangelical right nationally, in 2006 Governor Romney attacked the state Legislature and the state's highest court over the legalization of same-sex marriage.
Nationally, Romney became a loud proponent for changing the US Constitution to prohibit same-sex marriage. McCain argued it was not a federal matter, that states should decide their own marriage laws. Romney called McCain's states'-rights posture "disingenuous," even though Romney says healthcare plans should be left up to individual states.
New York wins again. Supported by female, lower-income, and older voters - the core of the Democratic base - Hillary Clinton made her long association with Massachusetts stand up. The lady from New York, like her football team, put a beating on the local boys. Once again, pollsters failed to render an accurate snapshot of the race, missing a 56-to-41-percent landslide, making prognosticators like me look bad. This has got to stop or there will be blood.
Line of the night. Barack Obama, speaking for the alienated, left out, and forgotten, said, "We are who we have been waiting for." He's always worth staying up late to hear.
Entering an Obama zone. On Saturday, Katrina-ravaged Louisiana holds its primary and African-Americans will be a big share of the vote, perhaps a majority. (Obama is getting 80-90 percent of the black vote.) Washington state Democrats caucus Saturday. Barackomania has taken hold in Microsoft/Starbucks/Boeing country; he leads 53 percent to 41 percent. (See, I'm doing it again.)
On Sunday, Maine caucuses give Clinton a chance to parlay her wins in New Hampshire and Massachusetts into regional dominance.
Tuesday it's the District of Columbia, Maryland, and Virginia; again, the African-American vote could be significant, even decisive.
Wisconsin is Feb. 19. A new CNN poll shows Obama leading Clinton 49 percent to 46 percent. Hawaii, where Obama was born and spent his first six years, also votes that day.
The Democratic showdown might come March 4 when Ohio (88 delegates) and Texas (140) vote; but it might go right to the end, when Pennsylvania votes on April 22.
Check for leaks. Obama won 13 of 21 contests on Tuesday, losing four of the six biggest delegate states including California; but he's sitting right on Clinton's rear bumper in delegate totals. Clinton's people may try to scare Democrats about Obama by raising questions about his past and contributors to make him appear vulnerable to GOP attacks if he's the party's nominee.
That's fair in love and politics, but the Clintons must avoid a replay of South Carolina, where comments by Bill Clinton aroused the anger of African-Americans. The Clinton campaign has hired a special consultant whose sole job is to remove the superglue from the former president's lips at the end of the day.
There will be blood.
Dan Payne is a Boston area media consultant who has worked for Democratic candidates around the country. He does political analysis for WBUR radio.
Correction: A column by Dan Payne incorrrectly stated that Ohio has 88 Democratic delegates and Texas has 140 at stake in the March 4 primaries. Ohio has 161 Democratic delegates and Texas chooses 126 out of 228 in a multilevel process.