The Republican race was cast as a contest between John McCain and Mitt Romney, NBC's David Gregory called it "a tight showdown;" his colleague Ron Allen favored "a death match." ABC's Ron Claiborne (embargoed link) emphasized McCain's "stunning comeback from near extinction" last summer, echoing the Arizona senator's own spin about his final 24 hours on the stump--the Mac is Back tour. ABC's John Berman (no link) envisaged a second-place finish for Romney, calling it "particularly stinging" since he had been governor of a next-door state and had outspent all of his rivals combined, with a $7m advertising budget. NBC's Gregory delineated the base of each campaign: "McCain's trump card is independent voters; Romney is counting on turning out the Republican base."
Tim Russert, anchor of NBC's Meet the Press, resorted to his usual trick of defining the important factor in an election by repeating it thrice. "Independents. Independents. Independents," he declaimed. Since they are entitled to vote in either party's primary the fate of both Romney and Rodham Clinton depends on how independents split their vote: "John McCain's worst enemy is Barack Obama because if Obama takes the independent vote it is the same as he needs to beat Mitt Romney."
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