His mixed victories signal a need to become a party unifier – or the GOP will crash-land.
John McCain's big boost on Super Tuesday has also ripped open distinct ideological strands in the Republican Party. To show he's a leader able to win broadly in November, this maverick will need to show that he can weave his own party together.
The country's taste for "change" and an end to polarizing politics is strong. But bridging the ideological splits within a widely diverse GOP won't be easy after this nationwide party contest.
In the key state of California, for instance, Senator McCain won the popular vote and most of the delegates but took only a third of the votes among those who define themselves as conservatives. In the bellwether state of Missouri, he squeaked by with an overall 33 percent win. In his home state of Arizona, he lost the self-described conservatives.
In fact, even though McCain now leads comfortably in the delegate count, the vote tallies in many states showed former governors Mitt Romney and Mike Huckabee winning a combined majority of the votes.
Mr. Huckabee's four-state primary win in the South put a spotlight on McCain's weakness among social conservatives. Mr. Romney's victories in seven northern states reveal his attraction as an economic conservative.
Playing to his strength, McCain has already helped force his fellow national-security conservative Rudy Giuliani out of the race. The Arizona senator has limited time before the remaining primaries to knit a broadly based coalition, as Ronald Reagan did, that somehow brings together the party's ideological legs.