Barack Obama’s poor showing in Pennsylvania removed any hope he might have had that Hillary Clinton would drop out of the race. Short of dynamite — and maybe not that — she will not be exiting the race anytime soon, perhaps ever.
With a comfortable win in Pennsylvania under her belt Clinton now looks ahead to her next possible victory on May 6 when North Carolina and Indiana both will hold their contests.
North Carolina is leaning Barack Obama’s way, by a 15-point margin according to the RealClearPolitics poll average. It would take more than another Snobgate incident to dislodge him from his double-digit lead there, where 35-40% of the Democratic primary voters are African American.
But Indiana, with its 72 delegates, is another story. Clinton’s lead is a slim 2 points. Both sides in the Democratic race expect it to be a truly competitive state with no definitive advantage for either candidate. Larry J. Sabato agrees: “It should be highly competitive in any event, the closest of all the remaining states and territories.”
According to the RealClearPolitics averages in polling taken before the Pennsylvania primary, Clinton held a lead of just over two percentage points. The next two weeks promise to be a titanic battle, with Obama out to halt Clinton’s new found momentum and Clinton looking to plant more seeds of doubt about Obama with superdelegates.
Some see an advantage for Obama. Sabato gives “a slight edge starting out for Obama because of the border with Illinois and the size of the black vote.” John Roos, professor of political science at Notre Dame and an Obama supporter, concurs. He posits that Indiana is “more receptive to Obama than Ohio” in large measure because of the large number of African American voters in cities like Gary, South Bend and Indianapolis. Obama also enjoys a reservoir of support around the states major universities in South Bend, Bloomington and West Lafayette.
However, other local political experts give Clinton the edge. Marjorie Hershey of the University of Indiana notes that “Demographically we ought to be a Clinton state.” African Americans make up only 9% of the electorate. The state also has a substantial percentage of older voters who favored Clinton by a large margin in Pennsylvania.
Moreover, like Ohio, Indiana may be receptive to Clinton’s appeal to downscale voters. Hershey notes that the state has undergone its share of economic hard times. (For example, since 2000 there have been a loss of 25,000 jobs and the state has not escaped the housing crisis.) It is just that economic anxiety which Clinton hopes to capitalize on to duplicate her impressive Ohio and Pennsylvania wins. So long as the economy remains the top issue, Clinton has an appeal to blue collar voters who are most impacted from a downturn in the economy.
Indiana also offers Clinton has some additional advantages. A significant portion of the state is still rural, especially in the southern part of the state where pro-life Democrats Brad Ellsworth and Baron Hill have won Congressional seats. Even before Obama slammed rural voters for “clinging” to guns and religion Clinton held an edge with these voters.
Clinton may also benefit from the open primary rules. Republicans and independents may vote (although in rare cases they can be “challenged” at the polls) in the Democratic primary. Whether they want to make mischief for the Democrats by prolonging their predicament or whether they now perceive Clinton as the lesser of two evils, Republicans (after years of Clinton-bashing) ironically may come to her aid.
But Clinton’s real ace in the hole is the endorsement and the active assistance of Evan Bayh. Sabato explains, “Bayh is Clinton’s trump card (the equivalent of Strickland in Ohio and Rendell in Pennsylvania.)” A one-time possible candidate for president himself and frequently mentioned as a potential VP for Clinton, Bayh remains the most popular politician in the state. Not only has he been a successful Senator but Bayh’s two terms as governor provide him, and in turn Clinton, with contacts, supporters, and get-out-the-vote lists — all critical on Election Day. ( She also picked up the nod from former Governor Joe Kernan.)
So far, the remainder of the state’s Democratic political insiders is divided. Former Congressmen and 9-11 Commission members Lee Hamilton and Tim Roemer have lined up with Obama but Clinton already has nabbed 5 of the state’s 12 superdelegates. Many of the elected officials who are superdelegates remain wary of endorsing either candidate for fear of alienating their constituencies.
The candidates are already out in force, a rarity in Indiana which has rarely been a decisive state in either party’s primary. Obama received the news of his Pesnnylvania defeat in Indiana on Election night- clearly a sign that he recognizes the stakes there. Clinton and her surrogates have been out in force. (Bill has been on the road, where, as Roos, notes he can be used “tactically” in blue collar and rural areas.)
Despite the competitive landscape Obama has the upper hand in one all-important department: money. At the end of March Clinton had approximately $9.3 million in cash on hand, but about $10.3 million in debt. Obama had more than $42 with less than a million in debt. Although Obama spent millions in TV ads in Pennsylvania he still enjoys an overwhelming advantage in cash which will allow him to flood the airwaves. Clinton’s victory in Pennsylvania resulted in an immediate influx of funds, but she will simply not be able to match him financially. As Sabato bluntly notes “Obama will outspend [her] by a mile.”
One challenge for Obama is the calendar. By May 6 most college students will have completed finals and be heading for home. To try to capture these votes the Obama camp is pulling out all the stops. For example, they have been shuttling students from Bloomington’s University of Indiana to polls which have since April 7 allowed early, “no excuse” voting.
Finally, there is a more important issue lurking in the background for Clinton: does a win in Indiana even matter? Charlie Cook thinks not, noting that even with a Pennsylvania win “she’ll still be 130 or so delegates behind, at the least. Also superdelegates seem more likely to break toward Obama than to Clinton.”
But others think that an Indiana win is just what Clinton needs to keep the momentum — and the doubts about Obama — perculating until she can bag further wins in West Virginia, Kentucky and Puerto Rico.
What is clear: an Obama loss in the Hoosier state, particularly one of a significant margin, will only increase the sense of buyer’s remorse among Democrats who may see a candidate with little appeal among rural, senior, white and working class voters. That, no doubt, is exactly what would give Clinton back her trademark cackle.