Clinton, Obama enter the campaign's next phase even in national polls

Starting a week ago Friday Senator Clinton surged in the national polls, erased a sizable Obama lead, won more votes in OH and TX, and raced ahead of Senator Obama by between 4 and 6 points. Both daily tracks, Gallup and Rasmussen, and now Newsweek, have the race changing again, finding the candidates within a point of one another either way. Clinton's surge has come to an end, and the race now appears tied as we enter this next phase of the campaign.

Update: As hard as it is to come to terms with, it sure appears that the Democratic race will continue through early June. 3 more months. Following Mississippi this Tuesday is PA on April 22nd, Indiana and North Carolina on May 6th, West Virginia on May 13th, KY and OR on May 20th, MT and SD on June 3rd and Puerto Rico on June 7th. My hope is that a deal can be struck to let FL and MI hold primaries in that early June window so at least all the voting can be wrapped up by then.

We will now be entering a very different phase of the campaign. Fewer states in play, fewer elections, less horserace, more attention to the candidates themselves, their views, their values. The media beast will need to be satiated, and without polls and elections to fill it, we will see a remarkable and complicated dance between and among the President, John McCain and the two Democratic candidates, all focusing much more on national issues - and new developments in international and domestic affairs - taking the current debate to a new and different place. The Democratic nominee may end up being decided by how the two candidates adjust to this changed issue and political environment, which will force them to leave behind their early primary positioning.

The Democratic campaigns are simultaneously having their playing field shrunk and enlarged, as this phase is both happening in many fewer places while going national - if not international - at the same time. It will be interesting to see how each of them decide to deploy their massive networks of support in this period - what exactly are all those millions of Obama and Clinton people in the early primary states suppossed to do now?

The first phase of the Democratic nomination for President ended this week. It ends with the two candidates tied in national polls and Obama ahead in delegates, votes, money and organization. But amazingly this next phase, one that will take us through June, is a little longer than the 8 week window that took us from Iowa to Texas. So much happened in the last 8 weeks. It is incredible to think we have another phase of even greater length about to begin. There will no doubt be many twists and turns along the way in what is clearly a very different phase in the race to the Democratic nomination.

Sunday update: Gallup's daily track is picking up addiitonal movement for Obama, and now has the Illinois Senator up 48%-46%, a net change of 6 points towards Obama just in the last few days. Rasmussen isn't showing the same movement and has it unchanged from yesterday. So time will tell if Gallup is picking up something new or things are just bouncing around within margin of error. But we do know now that the powerful Clinton surge has ended and we move on to a new phase in the race.