Is it hot yet?!

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The presidential campaigns are still said to be ‘heating up.’ No kidding.

Victory in the New Hampshire presidential primaries has righted the foundering campaigns of Democratic Sen. Hillary Clinton and Republican Sen. John McCain. Yet the restoration of the pair to front-runner status by the U.S. media is highly tenuous–neither has demonstrated a sure grip on their own party, let alone the electorate at large.

And the media have a bad track record at this point for predicting what’s going to happen or figuring it out once it does.

This week, the true test will begin. The net effect of the Iowa caucus and the New Hampshire primary has been to transform the four weeks before the slew of “Super Tuesday” primaries Feb. 5 into a genuine vetting period in which candidates’ strengths and weaknesses will be scrutinized by a highly engaged electorate.

“Genuine” for a change, instead of fabricated, packaged and sold by the media. And the other key to that statement is that this time, we’re “a highly engage electorate.”

The candidates know that, too, and they’re trying to figure out what America wants at this point in time, and we we are likely to support. It’s interesting to see how that is projected.

A substantial plurality of New Hampshire voters believed Obama had a better chance of defeating the eventual Republican nominee in November.

Which could be Romney or Huckabee or Thompson…

But it may finally be McCain’s year–not least because he may have the best chance of beating Clinton in November.

I think the engaged electorate is less interested in media handicapping these races. We want to elect whoever would be the best leader, not the toughest dog in the fight.

Speaking of which, there was more growling coming out of the Democratic frontrunners over the weekend.

After staying on the sidelines in the first year of the campaign, race and to a lesser extent gender have burst into the forefront of the Democratic presidential contest, thrusting Senators Barack Obama and Hillary Rodham Clinton into the middle of a sharp-edged social and political debate that transcends their candidacies.

In a tense day of exchanges by the candidates and their supporters, Mrs. Clinton suggested on Sunday that Mr. Obama’s campaign, in an effort to inject race into the contest, distorted remarks she had made about the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Mr. Obama tartly dismissed Mrs. Clinton’s suggestion, adding that “the notion that somehow this is our doing is ludicrous.”

Mr. Obama’s campaign then attacked Mrs. Clinton for failing to repudiate one of her top black supporters for “engaging in the politics of destruction” with an apparent reference to Mr. Obama’s acknowledged drug use in the past. And throughout the day, supporters of Mrs. Clinton and of Mr. Obama each accused the other of injecting race in search of political gain.

Meanwhile, John Edwards jumped into the fray.

Speaking before a predominantly African-American congregation at the Mount Zion Missionary Baptist Church in Sumter, South Carolina, John Edwards criticized Hillary Clinton and her husband for comments they made last week just before the New Hampshire primary vote.

Now this is interesting…

In his address to the congregation, Edwards praised Obama for his political achievements.

“This may come as a surprise to some of you coming from another presidential candidate,” Edwards said, “but as someone who grew up in the segregated South, I feel an enormous amount of pride when I see the success that Senator Barack Obama is having in this campaign.”

Sounds like he’s positioning for an eventual Obama-Edwards ticket, doesn’t it?

If this is called ‘heating up’, I wonder what it will be like when it’s hot.

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