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Super Tuesday: Afternoon Update

As political junkies know all too well, election days are some of the slowest of the entire year. (Election nights are an entirely different matter.)

In this long, dark tea time before exit polls are available and long before any real votes are cast, molehills become mountains and rumor becomes fact.

So, in an attempt to separate the truth from the rest as of 4 p.m., here's what we know:

* Former governor Mike Huckabee's (Ark.) win the West Virginia convention should be considered an upset. Former governor Mitt Romney (Mass.) was widely expected to win the state and even made a personal appearance at the convention this morning to drum up support.

In the aftermath of the vote, Romney campaign manager Beth Myers accused the McCain campaign of throwing its votes to Huckabee.

"Unfortunately, this is what Senator McCain's inside Washington ways look like: he cut a backroom deal with the tax-and-spend candidate he thought could best stop Governor Romney's campaign of conservative change," said Myers.

Regardless of the reason, Romney's West Virginia defeat gets his campaign off on the wrong foot on the most crucial election day in recent memory. Romney had hoped to use an early win -- the results from West Virginia were announced by 2 p.m. eastern time -- to build energy and enthusiasm for his candidacy across the country.

In the long run, West Virginia doesn't matter all that much. But, among political watchers desperate for news, it hurts Romney.

* The campaigns of Sens. Hillary Rodham Clinton (N.Y.) and Barack Obama (Ill.) spent the day furiously lowering expectations. Howard Wolfson, communications director for Clinton, said Super Tuesday would produce a "close and inconclusive" result. He added: "We are confident we are going to win a diverse mix of states today."

Obama campaign spokesman Bill Burton accused Clinton of attempting to drive down expectations for today even while doing so himself. "We fully expect Senator Clinton to earn more delegates on February 5th and also to win more states," said Burton. "If we were to be within 100 delegates on that day and win a number of states, we will have met our threshold for success and will be best positioned to win the nomination in the coming months."

* Clinton's campaign announced this morning that it had agreed to three debates this month -- a Feb. 10 get-together on "This Week with George Stephanapoulos," an Ohio debate on Feb. 27, and one in Houston the following day.

Of the decision to sign on for three more debates before Super Tuesday had even concluded, Clinton pollster Mark Penn said: "The campaign believes it's critically important that we continue the debates between Senator Obama and Senator Clinton."

Pushing for more debates -- in traditional political terms -- is the strategy of the underdog. Clinton's campaign clearly believes their candidate can defeat Obama in these one-on-one affairs even though the first such event -- last week in California -- largely ended in a draw with both candidates content to make their points and avoid conflict.

By Chris Cillizza  |  February 5, 2008; 4:58 PM ET
Categories:  Eye on 2008  
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