Bush, Gore gear up for week of primaries
Current delegate tallies obscure Bradley, McCain
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Although the delegate counts and popular opinion indicate otherwise, the presidential primary season is far from over, including a flurry of primaries and caucuses across the country for the next week.
Voters in more than a dozen states -- including delegate-rich Texas and Florida -- will cast primary ballots or attend caucuses in a steady stream of events beginning Thursday and culminating next Tuesday. By March 14, more than half of the nation's electorate will have weighed in on the presidential candidates.
But voters participating in the upcoming contests may have fewer candidates from which to choose, as the 39 percent of the nation's electorate who went to the polls on Super Tuesday handed decisive victories to Democrat Al Gore and Republican George W. Bush.
Both Vice President Gore and Texas Gov. Bush hold more than 50 percent of the delegates necessary to win the nomination of their respective party. Gore's all-important delegate count is now 1,421 -- he needs 2,170 for the Democratic nomination. Bush has 681 of the 1,034 needed to secure the GOP nomination. Those tallies have all but eliminated rivals Bill Bradley and John McCain.
"I look forward to the campaign against him," Bush said of the vice president Wednesday. "First and foremost I've got to secure my party's nomination."
For his part, Gore challenged Bush to forego television advertising and instead engage in regular debates. "I think we can have a campaign of ideas, not insults," Gore predicted. He issued a similar -- but unaccepted -- challenge to primary rival Bradley.
"I think we're going to see a pretty nasty race between Bush and Gore," Republican strategist Tony Blankley said Wednesday. "But it's basically a dead even race."
Despite the anticlimactic feel to the remaining primary season, Democrats in South Carolina will go to caucuses Thursday, when 52 delegates are at stake. Because of party rules dictating that no primaries or caucuses could be held for five weeks after the February 1 New Hampshire primary, Democrats are playing catch-up this week.
Colorado, Utah and Wyoming voters will weigh in a day later, participating in what has been dubbed the "Big Sky" primary on March 10. Democrats will award 90 delegates in Colorado and Utah, while Republicans will allocate 91 out of the three states.
Democrats in Michigan and Arizona will head to the polls on March 11, when 212 delegates are at stake. One day later, Minnesotans and Nevadans will hold Democratic caucuses.
Showdown in the South
The next big contest is the multi-state primary on March 14 when nearly 19 percent of the nation's voters -- hailing from delegate-rich Texas and Florida plus Louisiana, Mississippi, Oklahoma and Tennessee -- head to the polls. Democrats overseas also will be able to cast their ballots.
Gore is certain to capture the lion's share of the 573 Democratic delegates at stake on March 14. On the GOP side, 341 delegates are up for grabs.
Texas yields the biggest prize: winners in the Lone Star State's open primary will reap 194 Democratic and 124 Republican delegates.
Bush and his wife Laura cast absentee ballots in Texas on Wednesday morning. When asked who he voted for, the Texas governor quipped: "That Bush fellow."
And Florida, which is governed by Bush's younger brother Jeb, will award 161 Democratic delegates and 80 for Republicans.
CNN exit polls indicated that both Bush and Gore captured their core party constituencies on Super Tuesday, and all eyes will be on which way independent voters go in these contests. Any registered voter may participate in contests held in Texas, Tennessee and Mississippi. However only voters registered by party may participate in Florida, Louisiana, Oklahoma.
"You look at primary after primary and a lot of new voters came out, but a lot of them went for McCain," said Blankley. "Whether they stay in through November or go back to sitting on their hands remains to be seen."
"I think Bush has a slight advantage," Blankley added, "but neither of them have so far presented themselves in ways that would appeal to the previously disillusioned voters that went for McCain."