The optimism exhibited the last few days by the Clinton campaign that they were finally making progress in convincing Democrats that she would be the better candidate to face John McCain in the fall came a cropper in Indiana. It vanished in the middle of the night when a comfortable lead disappeared amidst hints of ballot shenanigans in one of the most crooked cities in the United States: Gary, Indiana.
Chicago has nothing on its close neighbor Gary when it comes to playing fast and loose with the electoral process. In 1967, the white city machine was in a panic because African American candidate Richard Hatcher appeared headed for victory. Like any crooked machine, they resorted to the time tested methods of vote fraud, ballot box stuffing, purging voter lists, and ghost voter registrants. Hatcher called in the Feds and the courts and got the process cleansed just in time for him to sweep to victory.
In the end, it really didn’t matter if Gary tried to rig the vote for Obama. By not winning comfortably in a state she was expected to do very well, Hillary Clinton’s campaign suffered the ultimate defeat: she failed to meet expectations.
Because of this, Drudge is reporting tonight at midnight central time that “Hillary plans to huddle with undecided super delegates tomorrow; gauging if she can go on.” This could be gamesmanship on Clinton’s part, meeting with the supers in order to take some of the pressure off of her to quit. More likely, it is a genuine attempt to assess what her chances are at this point in the campaign. The answer might determine whether she will go before the Rules Committee at the end of the month and make her pitch to seat Florida and Michigan’s orphan delegates. Or, whether she will fold her tent and either quit or suspend her campaign.
The basic problem for Clinton is that her argument to the Superdelegates -that she is more electable than Obama- took a huge hit in North Carolina and Indiana. Obama’s victory in the Tar Heel state was almost as complete as any victory he has had in his previous primary wins. Obama won weekly churchgoers, college graduates, non-college graduates, first time voters, every income group from those making less than $15,000 a year to those making more than $200,000 a year, and every age group except those over 60. He was seen as more trustworthy than Clinton, more likely to win in November, and much more likely to bring “change.”
There were, however, some troubling indications for Obama even in his blowout North Carolina win that may spell trouble for his campaign both in the immediate future and down the road if, as expected, he becomes the Democratic nominee for president.
First and foremost is the Reverend Wright issue. Forty-seven percent of voters in North Carolina and 46% in Indiana thought the Wright matter was “important.” In Indiana, Clinton got 72% of those voters and 60% in North Carolina.
Will half the voters still consider Reverend Wright an issue for the general election? Much depends on how -or if – Republicans exploit the matter by keeping Wright’s name before the public, reminding voters of whose pastor he is. Then again, John McCain tiptoed around the Wright controversy last week, seeing it as racial dynamite. If Republican independent groups -the so-called 527 organizations- make Wright an issue will McCain denounce the effort? I can’t imagine McCain eschewing an advantage like that but his pledge to run a “clean” campaign may tie his hands if Obama and the press cry “foul.”
Another problem for Obama was his failure to win a majority of Catholic voters, even in North Carolina where Catholics made up less than 10% of the electorate. There he edged Clinton 49%-48% as opposed to losing by 20 points among Catholics to Hillary in Indiana, where Catholics made up a fifth of total voters. States where the Catholic vote is vital like Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan, and Minnesota would be a problem for him in November unless he can get more than 35%-40% of that vote.
And his continuing problem with attracting white voters -especially men- is one of the only issues that is keeping Hillary Clinton’s candidacy alive. As long as Clinton can show her strength with a core Democratic constituency like white, working class males, Obama must contend with her campaign.
But overall, it was a good night for the Illinois senator. He dashed Hillary Clinton’s hope for any semblance of a moral victory in North Carolina by beating her soundly. And he won enough delegates that he is now less than 250 away from the magic number of 2025 (half the delegates to the convention minus Florida and Michigan). The fate of those two states may not matter once Obama goes over the top for the simple reason that he will probably have most of the party elites behind him at that point, trying to push Clinton out of the race. There is a huge incentive for the party to come together before the convention, and party leaders -not to mention Obama supporters- will demand he be anointed the standard bearer.
In Indiana Clinton, like Obama, also ran the board among core Democratic groups. She showed her usual strength with women, whites, union members, Catholics, and seniors. She also significantly outpolled Obama with those voters who thought the economy was the number one issue.
But Clinton’s major problem showed in Pennsylvania and especially in Indiana; she is being outspent by Obama everywhere. Turnout in rural areas was not quite what the Clinton camp was banking on while Obama’s voters showed up in record numbers. It could be that her campaign is now suffering a bottleneck in funds which is beginning to tell at the ballot box. And with hope for victory becoming ever fainter, there is a good chance that her ability to raise money in the amounts that would enable her to compete effectively with Obama may be at an end.
She can’t keep being outspent 3 or 4 to 1 in every state and get the blow out victories she absolutely needs to close the delegate gap with Obama. Instead, that gap widened last night to where it is now, almost 150 delegates and climbing, thanks to Obama’s continued success in wooing Superdelegates.
Is this the end of the line for Hillary Clinton? The consensus among the talking heads on cable appears to be coalescing around the idea that she should wind her campaign down and get out of Obama’s way. No doubt it will be an extremely difficult and emotional decision. She has fought as hard as any candidate I have ever seen for the nomination. But the votes aren’t there, the money’s not available, and time has run out.
Rick Moran is PJM Chicago editor; his own blog is Right Wing Nut House.