Clinton and Obama: The Heat is On

Hillary Clinton landed her second big win in the early primaries in the Nevada caucus on Saturday. Barack Obama lost the popular vote with 45% to Clinton’s 51%, but won the delegate count 13 to 12. The outcome squares the two opponents for an important battle in South Carolina on January 26. 

Obama initially disputed the Nevada results, claiming victory because he won the delegate count. The Clinton campaign put out a press release disagreeing, saying the delegate selection process won’t be complete until April.

According election rules, Democrats need 2,025 delegates to win the nomination. So far Clinton has collected 236 and Obama has 136, according to CNN reports. 

Obama won the Iowa caucus and Clinton won the New Hampshire primary but no clear frontrunner has emerged between them as their last key battle before Super Tuesday approaches. John Edwards, coming in a distant third with 4% of the vote in Nevada, has vowed to keep on but his campaign becomes less and less significant. Edwards’ position in the race is sufficient only to deprive Clinton and Obama of votes that might otherwise give one or the other a decisive advantage. 

With sights set on South Carolina, Obama and Clinton are heavily courting the black and religious vote by attending churches and making speeches in smaller towns around the state.  Clinton reportedly attended a black church in Harlem on Sunday while daughter Chelsea was seen visiting the same black church as Michelle Obama. Barack Obama visited and spoke at Martin Luther King Jr.’s Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta one day before the national holiday honoring the civil rights hero. 

South Carolina, which maintains a high black vote count, is especially volatile due to recent racial tension between Obama and Clinton. Obama criticized Clinton for saying President Lyndon B. Johnson — who signed the Civil Rights Act of 1964 — was the real reason King’s idea of equality prevailed.

Blacks historically vote Democrat and Bill Clinton was popular among that demographic as President. According to Nevada reports, Obama captured the black vote there with 80% while Clinton received the most support from women and Hispanics. The question remains whether Obama’s race will influence South Carolina. Identity politics has proven very important thus far. Race and gender — which both Clintons seem to be using as weapons — may well be significant in the remainder of the Democrats’ primaries.

National polls and Nevada exit polls show Clinton doing well but younger voters seem more attracted to Obama, who has a consistent lead among that demographic group. In Nevada, Clinton prevailed in the 60 plus age group.  Nationally, in the 22 states scheduled to vote on February 5, both groups are likely to prove important in different states.

While Republicans will campaign for the January 29 Florida primary, Democrats will not. The Democratic National Committee stripped Florida of its delegates to the national convention because it moved ahead of Super Tuesday without permission. After South Carolina, Democrats have 10 days to campaign for support in the remaining primary states. Because they will be unable to visit and personally campaign everywhere, media attention and prior results will play a major role in determining the outcome.

As Clinton and Obama scramble for support with big budget advertising and criticism of each other, it’s entirely possible that they will wound each other so severely that they could well assist the eventual Republican candidate.  If Obama wins South Carolina, they will be neck and neck — leaving February 5 anyone’s race. At just 46, Obama would be able to seek the presidential nomination for the next two decades.  But for Hillary Clinton, it’s now or never. That explains the apparent desperation seen in her husband’s increasingly heated statements against Obama.  This may just deliver the nomination to Obama, not Bill’s wife.