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Last Updated: Wednesday, 6 February 2008, 17:40 GMT
Inconclusive polls raise new questions
By Kevin Connolly
BBC News, Washington

Barack Obama rally
The outcome of the Democratic race is still shrouded in uncertainty
There was always a danger that Wednesday 6 February would feel like one of the most ordinary days in American history, trailing as it does in the wake of Superbowl Sunday, Super Tuesday and the Monday of breathless anticipation which came in between.

But in fact it finds most of the leading presidential candidates grappling with an intriguing set of political problems thrown up by the closest thing America has ever had to a nationwide primary.

Super Tuesday was gripping, and gruelling, and in the end it was inconclusive.

But it failed to deliver clear outcomes for Republicans and Democrats for very different reasons. To some extent this was a tale of two systems.

Senator Obama's people might be a little concerned his undeniable surge of the last few weeks didn't carry him into a clear lead over his rival

Republicans, remember, tend to favour "winner-takes-all" primaries, so that when Senator John McCain won in New York he secured the support of all 101 of the delegates which that state will send to the party's summer nominating conference.

Democrats like proportional representation, so that when Hillary Clinton won in the same state she did get a larger proportion of the Democratic delegates than Barack Obama, but he got quite a few too. So delivering a knockout blow in the race for the Democratic nomination is desperately difficult.

'Calculation Wednesday'

The initial headlines after Super Tuesday made it feel like advantage Senator Clinton - true she only won eight states to Senator Obama's 13, but they included the huge prizes of New York and California, which tend to grab the headlines.

The day after Super Tuesday should really be called "Calculation Wednesday" for the way in which the fund-raisers and pollsters in every camp get out the party election rule books and fill in their spreadsheets with the detailed returns.

Hillary Clinton
Her good showing should help Mrs Clinton raise more money

By some calculations, it looks as though Senator Obama may have ended up with more delegates than Senator Clinton, perhaps around 850 to 840. But the essential story of a race which is virtually tied does not really change.

Senator Obama's people might be a little concerned that his undeniable surge of the last few weeks did not carry him into a clear lead over his rival.

He had momentum in the build up to Super Tuesday, and now he needs to build it again before next month's battles in Texas and Ohio. On the plus side, he has plenty of money - he is said to have raised more than $1m a day in one recent month.

Senator Clinton will find plenty to encourage her too. She has shown she has a voter base which is loyal and determined - and perhaps one that becomes even more motivated when they see stories on their television news bulletins about Mr Obama's surging popularity.

Things have reportedly been a little tight for the Clinton camp financially, but first place finishes in California and New York should get the cash flowing again.

The two Democratic Party candidates are like evenly-matched champion boxers, able to trade jabs and absorb punishment, but not quite able to find a knockout blow.

[Mr Romney] is handsome and hard-working, but fatally hobbled by a lack of real charisma

Expect a war of rival interpretations on the outcome of Super Tuesday from Clinton and Obama spin doctors and surrogates in the coming days. The nuts and bolts of how delegates are broken down in individual congressional districts and counties are complex enough to provide both sides with plenty of ammunition.

Super Tuesday was inconclusive on the Republican side because of the nature of the candidates, and the peculiar relationships now developing between them.

Romney 'lacks charisma'

John McCain is now a very clear front-runner and it is realistically impossible to see any of the other candidates catching him - apart from New York and California he won a clutch of other states too.

John McCain in crowd
From a crowded field, Mr McCain has emerged as the likely winner

His weakness all along has been that conservative true-believers think he is suspect on issues like illegal immigration, but the truth is they have no other candidate around whom to coalesce, and they regard Mr McCain as sound on national defence in general, and Iraq in particular.

The Republican race at one point appeared to have resolved itself into a straightforward gladiatorial contest between Mr McCain and Mitt Romney, the former governor of Massachusetts, who plays on his economic and business credentials - he is a wealthy businessman who has made a considerable fortune in the private sector.

Mr McCain is in front, Mr Romney is in denial and Mr Huckabee is in with a chance of a place on the ticket

He is handsome and hard-working, but fatally hobbled by a lack of real charisma and an inability to boil down his message into a few simple propositions.

But alone of the candidates he is personally rich enough to stay in the race if he chooses too, even when it's clear he has no real chance of winning.

His team are poring over the details of the returns from the states they won (like Utah - Mr Romney is a Mormon) but they won't find much to encourage them. Mr Romney faces a question that only troubles very rich candidates - how long is he minded to carry on writing the cheques?

Mike Huckabee
Charismatic Mike Huckabee has a strong Bible Belt following

The complicating factor on the Republican side was Mike Huckabee, the ordained Baptist minister who is also a former governor of Arkansas.

His shoestring campaign has been toiling away on his home turf in the Deep South and did rather better than anyone expected - perhaps even the droll and charming Mr Huckabee himself.

He won his own state of Arkansas of course, but he won Tennessee, Georgia, Alabama and West Virginia too.

Mr Romney riled the Huckabee camp in the run-up to Super Tuesday by suggesting that he withdraw to make the Republican race a straight McCain/Romney battle. He seems to have goaded the already hardworking Huckabee into a superhuman effort.

The Huckabee wins aren't enough in themselves to change the race for the Republican nomination but they do bring us on to the next problem - who should be Mr McCain's running mate?

He could do worse than a former governor from the Deep South who campaigns with wit and charm and who is a proven vote-getter across his home region.

Far from over

So, on the Republican side, Mr McCain is in front, Mr Romney is in denial and Mr Huckabee is in with a chance of a place on the ticket.

On the Democratic side, there is still a long way to, but Mr Obama has ground to make up and his advisers will have to work on fine-tuning that message of change - or maybe adding a little detail - if they are to make up the gap.

Things are clearer on this "Calculation Wednesday" but they are far from over, at least for the Democrats.

There were political activists in Texas and Ohio whose primaries are due next month who were fuming that their elections would be irrelevant because of the sheer scale of Super Tuesday.

As it turns out, they need not have worried.

Select from the list below to view state level results.

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