It is a long time since any primary campaign has remained open all the way to the convention. In 1976 Ford was thought to have a narrow lead over Reagan, and so it turned out. But, in theory, that nomination could have gone the other way. In the same year Carter had a strong lead over his nearest rival, but with only a small majority overall. Certainly, his primary campaign went to the wire with the result in doubt up to the final primaries in June.
Could either party take their campaigns all the way to the convention this time?
One possible result of the compressed primary timetable for the campaigns to be wrapped up ever earlier. If one candidate dominates the early states - as John Kerry did in 2004 - he or she could have an unassailable lead by super-Tuesday. But if the early states split several ways there may be no frontrunner - perhaps not even a pair of frontrunners - by super-Tuesday. That could lead to three or more candidates taking states then. Under those circumstances, every vote would be vital in the primaries which followed. Here are possible scenarios which could lead to that result.
New Hampshire Romney; Wyoming Romney
Florida Giuliani (Thompson second)
Maine Giuliani, South Carolina Thompson
Alabama Thompson; Alaska Giuliani; Arkansas Thompson; California Giuliani; Delaware Giuliani; Georgia Thompson; Michigan Romney; Missouri Romney; New Jersey Giuliani; New York Giuliani; Oklahoma Romney; Tennessee Thompson; Utah Romney; Colorado Romney; Connecticut Guiliani; Illinois Romney; North Carolina Thompson; Oregon Giuliani; Pennsylvania Giuliani; Rhode Island, Giuliani.
New Hampshire Clinton
South Carolina Obama; Florida Richardson
Alabama Obama; Alaska Clinton; Arkansas Clinton; California Obama; Delaware Clinton; Georgia Obama; Idaho Clinton; Missouri Obama; New Jersey Clinton; New Mexico Richardson; New York Clinton; Oklahoma Obama; Tennessee Obama; Utah Clinton; Colorado Richarson; Connecticut Clinton; Illinois Obama; North Carolina Obama; Oregon Clinton; Pennsylvania Clinton; Rhode Island Clinton.
Obviously, this is pure speculation, and very tentative. It would only take one or two changes and the whole situation looks different. For example, Richardson's survival in this scenario depends on his coming out of Nevada and winning Florida. If he narrowly lost Florida, he would probably have nothing rolling into super-Tuesday. On the other hand, he could cap winning Florida by winning California as well. If he followed that with a handful of others, he would not be leading, but would have a strong group of delegate with which to bargain. Equally, this scenario has Edwards fizzling after Iowa. If he were to win South Carolina instead of Obama, Obama's campaign might grind to a halt. That could see Edwards picking most of the southern states (which here go to Obama) but perhaps not the mid west, which Clinton might pick up instead.
On the Republican side, Giuliani's campaign probably depends on Romney and Thompson both looking credible into super-Tuesday. If one of them stumbles, the other would be likely to win.