Fresh from New Hampshire victories, John McCain rallied Wednesday for a Michigan showdown in the most confounding Republican presidential contest in half a century, while Hillary Rodham Clinton, buoyant once more, took time to "get grounded" for the grueling races ahead.
Back home in Chappaqua, N.Y., after a win that surprised her own campaign and shocked nearly everyone else, Clinton considered questions about how to make her next big stand in the Democratic race and whether her organization needed changes. She was able to seek those answers in the first blush of success, instead of the failure that had been anticipated, in the New Hampshire primaries.
Being home, she said Wednesday, "gives me a chance to kind of get grounded and take a deep breath before I go out for the next couple of weeks leading up to the February 5th grand finale of all those states." She was referring to Super Tuesday, when more than 20 states vote.
Before then, Democrat Barack Obama will be bidding for resurgence in South Carolina and Nevada. On Wednesday, he anticipated the endorsement of the 60,000-member Culinary Workers Union local in Nevada after collecting the backing of the state's chapter of the Service Employees International Union. He said unpredictability has become the hallmark of the race.
"Anyone who thinks they know how voters are going to respond at this point are probably misleading themselves," the Illinois senator said Wednesday. "And I think voters are not going to let any candidate take anything for granted. They want to lift the hood, kick the tires. They want us to earn it."
McCain campaigned in Michigan, a state he won in 2000. He counted experience, knowledge and judgment as his calling cards in the contests ahead.
"I can throw a dart at a map of the world and show you a place where there's national security challenges," he said on the flight to Grand Rapids. "I'm the only one that's been involved in these issues for the last 20 years."
The GOP battle
The Arizona senator staggered Mitt Romney in New Hampshire on Tuesday to vault back to the top ranks of the Republican field. "Nothing quite as invigorating as a win," he said Wednesday.
Romney is considered strong in Michigan, the state where he was born and where his father was governor. Mike Huckabee, winner of the Iowa GOP caucus and third-place finisher in New Hampshire, also is in contention for the Jan. 15 Michigan contest. He flew to South Carolina on Wednesday, eager to capitalize on a polling lead he enjoys there and woo the state's religious conservatives, a bigger bloc of voters than he encountered in New Hampshire.
Former Tennessee Sen. Fred Thompson set South Carolina as his firewall for a campaign that has yet to take off. "I'm proud to say I am drawing a line in the sand in South Carolina," Thompson said Wednesday in Sumter. He bypassed New Hampshire's GOP campaign and finished last there.
He said he won't change his style for political expediency. "What you see is what you get," he said. "If they like that, I'll be in great shape."
Keys to the win
Clinton attributed her win in part to her success late in the race in telling voters why she's in public life, a reference to her choking up when a voter asked her how she was faring. Asked whether that was a turnaround for her, she said, "I think it could well have been."
McCain did well among New Hampshire's voters concerned with national security and the threat of terrorism. "Those are the themes," he said. "I have the knowledge and experience and judgment."
Clinton, McCain and Obama commented in a round of talk show appearances on ABC, NBC, CBS and Fox.
New Hampshire placed Clinton squarely back in the contest for the Democratic nomination after her third-place finish in Iowa and revived McCain's hopes seven months after his campaign had seemed to be down for the count.
Ahead were Michigan, South Carolina (Republicans, Jan. 19; Democrats Jan. 26), Nevada (Jan. 19) and Florida (Jan. 29). Two dozen states vote on Feb. 5.
Voting for change
The victories for McCain and Clinton were evidence of New Hampshire's prickly habit of rejecting those chosen by Iowa voters a few days earlier and raised the prospect of a drawn-out nomination battle between two history-making candidates: Clinton, who would be the first woman to hold the presidency, and Obama, who would be the first president of African-American descent.
McCain rode a wave of support from independent voters to defeat Romney, a former governor of neighboring Massachusetts. That showing reprised the senator's victory in the traditional first-in-the-nation primary in 2000 before he was knocked out of the race in South Carolina, where independent voters do not vote in the party primaries.
The results were a bitter blow to Romney, the Republican who spent millions of dollars of his own money to win the kickoff Iowa caucuses and the New Hampshire primary - only to finish second in both.
Even so, the businessman-turned-politician said he would meet McCain next week in Michigan, and he cast himself as just what the country needed to fix Washington. "I don't care who gets the credit, Republican or Democrat. I've got no scores to settle," he told supporters.
Third place on the Democratic side went to former Sen. John Edwards, who said he had no intent of dropping out. Instead, he hoped to keep the race a three-way contest. "Two races down, 48 states left to go," he declared.
Former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani bolted New Hampshire for Florida even before the ballots were counted for Florida, the state he expected to propel him in the polls and former Tennessee Sen. Fred Thompson, who ran third in Iowa, was already in South Carolina after giving up on New Hampshire long ago.
With 96 percent of the New Hampshire vote tabulated before counters shut down for the night, Clinton had 39 percent, Obama 36 percent and Edwards 17 percent. New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson trailed with 5 percent.
On the Republican side, McCain had 37 percent, Romney 32 percent, Huckabee 11 percent, Giuliani 9 percent and Rep. Ron Paul 8 percent. Thompson got 1 percent.