John McCain's victory tonight, which finally ripped the eight-year-old South Carolina monkey off his back, is the culmination of a whole season's worth of remarkable good luck for a campaign that was declared dead more times last summer than Abe Vigoda. Much of the campaign's once-wishful sounding dominoes fell almost perfectly into place:
1) Mitt Romney, McCain's chief early-state-strategy rival, was knocked off of his front-runner's perch in Iowa by an out-of-nowhere revolt from a candidate not named Giuliani. 2) That candidate, Mike Huckabee, caused the GOP establishment to rear up on its hind legs, let out a mighty hiss, and start looking for an "electable" alternative. 3) The Romney defeat, combined with McCain's natural talents at door-to-door campaigning in independent-heavy New Hampshire, led to a repeat of his 2000 victory there. 4) McCain's early poor polling, plus his personal friendships with other candidates, basically gave him a free ride in terms of criticism from the contenders. 5) Giuliani's late-state strategy, as predicted but not guaranteed, caused his early national lead to evaporate, and led to routine humiliations in early primaries by Ron Paul. 6) Paul's libertarian revolt, while exceeding most expectations, nevertheless failed to take a serious bite out of McCain's support among independents. 7) McCain's friend Fred Thompson, who entered the race when it looked like McCain was going nowhere, failed to catch fire, and fizzled in the very state he was supposed to take: South Carolina. He looks set to drop out and back his old campaign finance reform buddy.
So, it's mostly all broken right for McCain. But not everything—Romney has pivoted pretty quickly into an opportunistically delegate-scarfing strategy, and he beat McCain in Michigan. Florida, which McCain and everyone else has identified as the kingmaking state, is currently a threefour-way tie. Guiliani's late-state strategy might yet pay off on Super Tuesday. And McCain has longstanding deficits in money, organization, and love from the GOP base. This race is still wide, wide open … and interesting.