Hillary Rodham Clinton split the May 6 Democratic presidential primaries with Barack Obama, but the New York senator lost the momentum she had built over the last two months. That momentum was critical to her argument to uncommitted Democratic superdelegates that she would be the party's strongest candidate in the general election. Moreover, although Clinton edged out Obama in Indiana, he decisively defeated her in North Carolina -- a state with more pledged delegates at stake, bolstering his net advantage over Clinton in that crucial category.
According to a projection earlier this morning by the Associated Press, Clinton won 37 of Indiana’s pledged delegates to Obama’s 33, with two still undetermined. In North Carolina, AP reported, Obama won 61 pledged delegates and Clinton won 38, with 16 undetermined. Overall, AP's projected tally shows Obama with 1,840 delegates to Clinton's 1,684.
As long as Obama can maintain and add to his lead among pledged delegates, he and his supporters will be able to continue to press their case that superdelegates should not overturn the results of the primaries and caucus. To date, Obama has won 32 primaries and caucuses, while Clinton has carried 19. (Clinton has captured 17 out of 33 primaries.)
Only six primaries remain in the Democratic contest: Kentucky, Montana, Oregon, Puerto Rico, South Dakota and West Virginia. Those states have a total of 217 pledged delegates.
It is not the kind of line-up that gives Clinton much of an opportunity to shake up the perception of the Democratic race with dramatic victories in large battleground states like Ohio and Pennsylvania, the way she did in March and April. Nothing short of a sweep in the remaining contests -- including Montana, Oregon and South Dakota, where Obama is favored -- is likely to alter the view that Obama is the party’s likely nominee and prevent superdelegates from coalescing around him.
A Near-Sweep For Obama In North Carolina & A Hoosier Victory For Clinton
With 99 percent of precincts reporting, Obama defeated Clinton in North Carolina by 56 percent to 42 percent. His margin of victory in the Tar Heel State was more than 230,000 votes. He swept every region of the state except its western portion along the Blue Ridge Mountains, which has relatively few African Americans or urban voters.
Obama’s strongest territory was the Research Triangle area and the north-central part of the state, which contains its capital and second largest city, Raleigh. It also contains Duke University and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, home to the kind of well-educated voters who have been become part of his base in this Democratic contest. According to the National Election Pool exit poll conducted by Edison Media Research and Mitofsky International for ABC, AP, CBS, CNN, FOX and NBC, Obama won 57 percent of college graduates.
Obama won all 10 of North Carolina's top vote-producing counties with urban centers like Charlotte and Greensboro, but he also managed to carry many rural counties that had a significant registration of African-American voters.
Clinton carried 83 of Indiana's 92 counties. With 99 percent of precincts reporting, she narrowly defeated Obama, 51 percent to 49 percent, and won by a margin of about 22,000 votes. The southern portion of the state, with its predominantly rural counties, was Clinton’s strongest region. Obama kept the race close by winning the five top vote-producing counties in the primary: Marion (Indianapolis), Lake (Gary), St. Joseph (South Bend), Allen (Ft. Wayne) and Hamilton (suburban Indianapolis). He also easily carried academic communities like Monroe (Indiana University) and Tippecanoe (Purdue University).
A Broad View Of The Democrats
The debate over the suspending the federal gas tax this summer and enacting a windfall profits tax -- a position Clinton embraces and Obama opposes -- dominated the exchanges between the two candidates in the days before the May 6 primaries, but it's unclear what efffect it had on the results. Clinton emphasized relief for working-class voters and dismissed criticism of her stance as “elite” opinion, while Obama called Clinton’s proposal a symptom of old politics because the gas-tax holiday is unlikely to be enacted. According to the exit poll, Clinton and Obama evenly split Indiana voters with family incomes of less than $50,000. Obama carried those voters in North Carolina, 60 percent to 37 percent.
Clinton won 56 percent of Indiana's primary participants who said they decided which candidate to vote for during the last three days of the campaign or on Election Day, but Obama captured 52 percent of the late-deciders in North Carolina.
The NEP exit poll also showed that the racial split in the Democratic contest continued in North Carolina and Indiana. In North Carolina, Clinton carried white voters, 61 percent to Obama's 37 percent. But among African-American voters, 91 percent backed Obama while just 7 percent chose Clinton.
In Indiana, the racial divide was almost as severe: Among white voters, Clinton defeated Obama by a comfortable 60 percent to 40 percent, but Obama won 90 percent of African-American voters to Clinton's 10 percent. The difference was that in North Carolina, African Americans made up about 34 percent of the Democratic primary vote; in Indiana, they made up only about half of that, at roughly 18 percent.
Clinton Still In It To Win It
Despite Tuesday's mixed returns, Clinton vowed to fight on and “work my heart out” in the upcoming Kentucky and West Virginia primaries in her primary night victory speech in Indianapolis. She also repeated her call for the results of the contested Florida and Michigan primaries -- both of which she won -- to be counted.
“It would be a little strange to have a nominee chosen by 48 states,” Clinton said in the speech.
The Rules and Bylaws Committee of the Democratic National Committee is scheduled to meet on May 31 to decide what to do about the delegations from Florida and Michigan. Those states conducted their primaries earlier than party rules permitted and were subsequently sanctioned by the DNC, which took away all their convention delegates.
Democratic leaders who are concerned that the protracted struggle between Clinton and Obama will hamper the party’s ability to unite behind its eventual nominee won't be reassured by the exit poll, which finds that many of Clinton’s supporters seem somewhat reluctant to embrace Obama. In North Carolina, only 47 percent of the primary's Clinton voters said they would vote for Obama in the general election against the Republican presidential nominee, Sen. John McCain of Arizona. About 35 percent of Clinton voters said they would vote for McCain in the fall instead of Obama; 12 percent said they would not vote in the presidential race.
That story was much the same in Indiana, where only 49 percent of Clinton voters said they would back Obama in the general election. Thirty-two percent said they’d vote for McCain and 16 percent said they’d sit out the race. In North Carolina, more than 70 percent of Obama’s voters were prepared to back Clinton in the general election, and more than 60 percent in Indiana indicated they would support Clinton over McCain.
The current heated contest could be exaggerating the Democratic defection rates in the fall, but party leaders who are not so sanguine may begin to side with Obama to bring their race closer to a conclusion.
But if Obama wants to make it easy for superdelegates to rally around him, he can’t afford another losing streak like the one he endured in March and April. He is favored to prevail in half the remaining primaries, but in order to do that, he’s going to have to start carrying the white vote -- something he hasn’t done since he captured the Vermont primary on March 4.