With no clear leader for the Republicans, and a failure by Barack Obama to have delivered a quick knockout in New Hampshire last night, the fight now moves on to the country's biggest states.
Political and advertising executives said today that in the Democratic race, Sen. Hillary Clinton's unexpected New Hampshire win forces the candidates to immediately move their focus beyond the next two states, Nevada and South Carolina, to Feb. 5, aka Super Duper Tuesday. On that day, more than 20 states -- among them California, Colorado, Massachusetts, New Jersey and New York -- have primaries.
Unlike Iowa and New Hampshire, where organization was the main weapon, on Feb. 5 heavy media advertising, backed by a heavy publicity push, will be deployed.
Resetting the clock
"It resets the game clock," said Steve McMahon, a Democratic media consultant. "As we move past Nevada and South Carolina, it's much more of a media campaign than a retail campaign."
Mr. McMahon said that besides forcing the presidential hopefuls to spend much more, the high expense of some of the media markets in the 20 primary states will necessitate tough choices by campaigns with limited warchests. None of the Democrats will be able to spend at the levels they did in Iowa and New Hampshire media.
"They'll be looking at tactical media strikes in select markets vs. a national effort," he said, predicting that national cable and some network TV news and public-affairs programming could be the beneficiary of any national buys.
For Republicans, Sen. John McCain's victory alters the playing field, likely making Feb. 5 more important. But the GOP has a two stops more than the Democrats before the impact of Feb. 5 becomes clear, with contested primaries in Michigan (Jan. 15) and Florida (Jan. 29).
"On the Republican side, it would be astonishing if [the race] doesn't go beyond Feb. 5," said Norman J. Ornstein, resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute. But he added that a win by Mr. McCain over former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney in Michigan and problems for former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani in Florida could change the script leading to Super Duper Tuesday.
Mr. Ornstein said the most likely Republican scenario is that alternating GOP primary winners leaves no single candidate with a knockout -- or with sufficient money to advertise everywhere.
"Feb. 5 is potentially going to be a problem for most of the Republican candidates," he said. "Unless Romney wants to take all his [personal wealth], competing in all 20 states is going to be prohibitively expensive. They don't have $40 million to $50 million in the bank, so what you are going to see is a very different process and a different kind of ad strategy where they are going to do national cable and look for other places to target."
Mr. Ornstein said the GOP race could end up being decided at the Republican National Convention.
Changing the message
Media consultants today also said the New Hampshire results could change some of the candidates' messages.
Mark Mellman, a pollster who handled Sen. John Kerry's campaign, said one reason for Ms. Clinton's surprise success was that she took the "empathy" vote away from former Sen. John Edwards. Mr. Mellman described that vote as those economically hard pressed who wanted "someone who will care about their problems."
He also said the tear in Mrs. Clinton's eye provided a powerful word-of-mouth story for the campaign and that other campaigns will have to work to provide their own stories to pass on.
Mr. McMahon said Mr. Obama's New Hampshire finish demonstrated that while Mr. Obama is motivating people, the campaign needs tailor its message to get supporters to show up at the polls.
Mr. Mellman said the Clinton campaign needs to keep up its move to showcase a more personal version of the candidate.
"She became a better candidate when she lifted the bubble, surrounded herself with voters and reporters and engaged directly with both, and showed a more human side," he said. "She needs to continue doing all three things. People think she is plenty qualified. If she can make them like her a little more, that's what she needs to do to close the sale."