Looking ahead to the 2008 electoral map, there are two regions where the parties are increasingly competitive: the southwest quartet of Colorado, New Mexico, Arizona and Nevada and the upper Midwest trio of Minnesota, Iowa and Wisconsin.

In what turned out to be a very rough year for Republicans, Tim Pawlenty's re-election in the Minnesota gubernatorial race, coupled with the 2008 GOP convention in Minneapolis-St. Paul and Minnesota's 10 electoral votes, should elevate Gov. Pawlenty to very near the top of the V.P. short list — irrespective of who the Republican nominee turns out to be.

Two and half weeks ago I wrote:

"With the possibility of a Democratic takeover of Congress having risen considerably these last few weeks McCain is well positioned to pick up the pieces from a dispirited and angry Republican party if they indeed lose two weeks from today.

"At the end of the day McCain's biggest appeal to Republicans in the fight for the nomination will be his claim (credibly) that he can win in 2008. And a Speaker Pelosi and Majority Leader Reid could be all John McCain needs to convince enough nervous conservatives to get behind him to ensure blowing the Democrats out of the water in 2008.

Republicans are a bit stunned right now, but I don't think conservatives outside of Washington, D.C., are necessarily that upset with Tuesday's result. Don't get me wrong, Republicans didn't want to lose Congress, but they also understand that realistically the election results aren't going to change much with President Bush still in the White House.

There was little reason to think the last two years of the Bush administration would get anything of consequence accomplished with a narrow Republican majority. Now with the Democrats in charge of Congress, the odds highly favor nothing of consequence getting done. The number of substantive issues that are going to satisfy 40 Republican senators, President Bush's veto and the Democratic caucuses in the House and Senate are close to zero.

Which means we are in a holding pattern until 2008.

As big as the 2006 election was, the truth is it was really just a warm-up for 2008. With the almost certain likelihood that at least one of the liberal members of the Supreme Court will step down in the next 6 years the — and with four solid conservative votes in Justices Antonin Scalia, Clarence Thomas, John Roberts and Samuel Alito — all three branches of government will be riding on the 2008 election. (One consequence of losing the Senate is President Bush will not be able to get another Alito or Roberts confirmed.)

Which brings us to John McCain and 2008.

The hostility toward McCain in conservative quarters is real and significant. However, as the magnitude of just how big the 2008 election will be creeps into people's minds, two trends that are very likely to occur over the next year are 1) a rapprochement between McCain and conservatives, and 2) a significant ratcheting up of anti-McCain rhetoric and demonization from the MSM (mainstream media). Ironically, the increase in hostility to McCain from the Washington press corps will help him significantly in his battle for the Republican nomination.

It should be said McCain is not a lock; the anti-McCain animus in conservative circles is very real. But the prospect of a Democratic president with a Democratic Congress and multiple Supreme Court appointments will concentrate many a Republican mind.

The Republican Party would also be well served to a tilt back toward to its Western-style Goldwater/Reagan roots, promoting individual freedom and limited-government. McCain's record on spending and national security issues is very much in the Goldwater-Reagan mold, and if he can reassure conservatives on judges he will become the heavy favorite for the GOP nomination.