The
media networks crisscrossed the nation last evening on their large
screen high tech maps gathering political results of the election
and hitting state by state numbers measuring. What we weren’t learning
from any major network at the time was the other state by state toll,
where the country was swept by disastrous storms, with tremendous impact.

Residents in five Southern states tried to salvage what
they could Wednesday from homes reduced to piles of debris, a day after
the deadliest cluster of tornadoes in nearly a decade tore through the
region, snapping trees and crumpling homes. At least 50 people were
dead.

Rescue crews, some with the help of the National Guard, went
door-to-door looking for more victims. Dozens of twisters were reported
as the storms swept through Kentucky, Tennessee, Mississippi, Arkansas
and Alabama.

I monitored the coverage just about all evening, and learned of the
devastation when some of the presidential candidates appeared at their
campaign rallies to give speeches…..and called their supporters’
attention to the disasters of the day in all those states.

It was jarring, and still is.

In many places, the storms struck as Super Tuesday
primaries were ending. As the extent of the damage quickly became
clear, Hillary Rodham Clinton, Barack Obama and Mike Huckabee paused in
their victory speeches to remember the victims.

That was the first reporting I was aware of, of these dreadful
storms. The films today shot from helicopters above the devastated
areas show breathtaking destruction.

“Loss of life, loss of property — prayers can help and
so can the government,” [President George] Bush said. “I do want the
people in those states to know the American people are standing with
them.”

The American people are always best in times of disaster and tragedy, always generous and swift to respond with relief.

The American political process that swept everyone’s attention away
on Super Tuesday is at its best, too, when the people are as engaged as
they are right now, for all their differences and disagreements.

And those are considerable…

The Democrats are pretty well split between Sen. Clinton and Sen.
Obama, though some analysts today are still saying with some (seemingly
unwarranted) certainty that she will be the party’s nominee. Sen. Obama certainly doesn’t believe that.

Barack Obama said he emerged from Super Tuesday as the
leader in the delegate count over Hillary Clinton in a Democratic
presidential race that both campaigns expect will be a protracted
battle.

Which is best for the democratic process in such an energized
election year. It would be better if these candidates were now
scrutinized more closely than they have been on their policies and
principles.

The Republicans have carved up the country, too, dividing the
social, fiscal, defense and judicial conservatives, and McCain’s major
lead now has not coalesced them. In fact, these groups have all seemed
to dig in deeper. The staunchest Reagan conservative coalition is
frankly accusing fellow conservataives of caving or folding in order to
ameliorate the anti-Bush political world (in Washington especially) and
jockey for better positions in an eventual less conservative
administration, should McCain win the election.

As for the pervasive question right now of whether the anti-McCain
conservatives could possibly find their way to support him if he’s the
party nominee…that’s premature. It’s too early to be asking that. In
fact, the question implies capitulation to the moderate to liberal
groups within the Republican party while the primaries are still going
on. The presumptive scenario on a lot of minds becomes evident when
people ask ‘would the conservatives prefer Hillary to McCain?’

Candidates Obama, Romney, Huckabee, and even Paul have something to
say about that….and nobody is listening to Paul except his impressive
support base.

Tomorrow is an important event for conservatives and McCain – the
C-PAC takes place (Conservative Political Action Committee conference)
and McCain is attending this year (he didn’t last year). And it’s his next big test.

CPAC is the Lollapalooza of the Republican right, and
its founder, David Keene, has been an outspoken critic of McCain’s
perceived anti-conservative transgressions on issues ranging from
campaign finance reform (McCain’s for it) to gun control (for it, in
certain instances) to global warming (against it). As a result, McCain
has routinely skipped the event; last year, he was booed in absentia.
“He won’t get a poor reception at CPAC; he’ll get a mixed reception,”
says McCain adviser Charlie Black, who promises that McCain’s
conservative endorsements will be showcased at the event.

A conservative analyst just predicted that will be the last time they’re showcased, saying McCain will ‘drift moderate’ after the conference, returning to who he ‘really is’.

It’s about time we learn who they all really are. It’s what Coach Ditka calls ‘gut check time.’

Sheila Liaugminas

Sheila Liaugminas is an Emmy award-winning Chicago-based journalist in print and broadcast media. Her writing and broadcasting covers matters of faith, culture, politics and the media....