In the wake of the primaries, it appears that finding a successful trajectory will be far more daunting for George W. Bush than for his Democratic rival. As he licks the wounds inflicted by John McCain's spirited challenge, the Texas governor will have to complete an extensive to-do list: Find a centrist voice, talk up the reform aspect of his candidacy and embrace the moderate wing of his party.
"Bush is obviously very bruised after his battle with McCain," says TIME chief political correspondent Eric Pooley. There are many McCain supporters who want to fall in line with the Bush camp, agreeing with him on issues like tax breaks and military funding, but the Texas governor will have to find a convincing way to quell fears that he has lunged too far to the right on social issues. "As a function of his campaigning in South Carolina, some people don't see Bush as a moderate any more," says Pooley. "They see him as a hard-core conservative."
There are no such overt struggles on the horizon for Gore. "He is very comfortable, very happy about where he is now," says Pooley. Having not had to stray far from his centrist-Democrat path in his tussle with Bill Bradley, the vice president won't have to do too much repositioning in his wooing of McCain independents in the coming months. And according to the exit polls taken in open primaries exposing the social libertarianism of many McCain supporters on issues like gay rights, Gore's moderate stance on social issues will probably find a welcoming audience. The vice president also lost little time in keying in to one of McCain's strongest issues, campaign finance reform, promising to take up many aspects of the Arizona senator's platform.