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Obama, Clinton Battle Down to the Wire in Ind., N.C.

May 6, 2008 at 6:40 PM EDT
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In the latest Democratic primaries, Sens. Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama have campaigned unrelentingly in Indiana and North Carolina over the last few days.

GWEN IFILL: Election day in Indiana and North Carolina all was over but the voting and the last-minute face time.

SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D), Illinois: Thank you very much.

GWEN IFILL: Both Democratic candidates began their days in Indiana, Barack Obama at a restaurant in Greenwood…

SEN. BARACK OBAMA: That was a very good omelet. I recommend it, guys, the house omelet.

GWEN IFILL: … and Hillary Clinton at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Both were working hard to leave final impressions.

SEN. BARACK OBAMA: I feel good. I think we’ve campaigned hard and well in this state. And I’ve met wonderful people, like this gentleman right here.

And I think it’s going to be close. I think it’s going to be close. I don’t think anybody really knows exactly what’s going to happen.

GWEN IFILL: Clinton appeared with race car driver Sarah Fisher.

SEN. HILLARY CLINTON (D), New York: To use a good driving analogy, if you want to go forward, you put it in “D.” If you want to go backwards, you put it in “R.”

We’re going to vote Democratic, and we’re going to win in November. We’re going to take this country back.

And I’m here to see — you know, Sarah, who is a trailblazer, has done so much for this sport. And I’m thrilled to have her personal support and I’m here to show her my personal support.

SARAH FISHER, Indy Series driver: Just so you know, we don’t have a reverse in this car.

GWEN IFILL: Both candidates are competing to boost turnout among voters most likely to tip a competitive balance.

SEN. BARACK OBAMA: Any people still undecided here? Because I want to work on you. All right.

GWEN IFILL: Voters in both states cast ballots in record numbers today, in part because the extended campaign gave them a chance to affect the outcome.

VOTER: We don’t hear from Indiana as often, so I’m excited that we have a chance to be part of the decisions here.

VOTER: It’s so important for North Carolina to have an opportunity to speak loud and clear about not being satisfied with the way things are. And we want a change.

Not 'who wins, but how they win'

GWEN IFILL: Only six Democratic primaries remain after today's voting.

Only six. Here now to discuss what they'll be watching from tonight's results, Stuart Rothenberg, editor and publisher of the Rothenberg Political Report, and Amy Walter, editor-in-chief of the Hotline, National Journal's political daily.

Amy, what are the expectations we're setting for tonight or that have already been set for tonight?

AMY WALTER, editor-in-chief, The Hotline: I think already been set, exactly, and they probably were set -- well, they've actually been set months ago.

But it's not so much now about who wins, but it's how they win. And what we've known since we've started talking about these primaries -- it seems so long ago -- that demographics have been destiny. And that we know that, based on what the state looks like, the racial, ethnic, and the educational level of the voters is going to tell us basically all we need to know about how the two candidates will do in that state.

What we haven't seen -- or at least we only saw one or two times, places like Wisconsin or Virginia, was a candidate who was able to get outside of their comfort demographic zone and break into the other candidate's base.

We're all looking for that. I don't think we're going to see it tonight. And the super-delegates, most importantly, want to see something that's going to give them the answer to say this is the right candidate to take the nomination. And I don't know if they're going to get that answer.

GWEN IFILL: Stu, what do we know about who voted, how many of them voted, and what they were thinking about today?

STUART ROTHENBERG, Rothenberg Political Report: Well, at this point we don't know how many have voted and how they voted. We do know...

GWEN IFILL: Yes, they're still voting, that's right.

STUART ROTHENBERG: We do know they're concerned about the economy. All the early indications are this is the No. 1 issue. And it is growing as an issue.

And if you think back all the way to January and February, some people cared about the economy, but it was mostly the war and change generally. Now it's jobs. And that's why we see the candidates talking about gas prices and rebates and things like this, because the economy is emerging as such a key issue.

Black, working-class voters are key

GWEN IFILL: So we -- say you're looking at the maps of the two states tonight. Starting with you, Amy, what areas are you looking at? What are you expecting to watch as a sign of what's going to happen?

AMY WALTER: Well, you know, in a place like North Carolina, the question is what the African-American turnout looks like. And so there are estimates all over the place about how many people will actually turn out to vote.

Barack Obama has consistently gotten anywhere between 85 percent and 90 percent of the African-American vote. So the bigger that percentage, the greater the margin of victory for him in that state, so it's probably the first place that you're going to look.

Also, his success in Indiana will be based on not just how he does, let's say, in a place like Indianapolis or other urban areas, but in some of those places he traditionally does well, right, Bloomington, which has a big college population, the University of Indiana.

What we're also looking for is going into these places like Kokomo, Ind., or go to the eastern part of Indiana, and see if either one of these candidates is able to do well among a more diverse group of voters.

So is Hillary Clinton able to break in among more African-American communities based on this economic message that Stu is talking about? Is Obama able to make gains with some of those working-class voters in places like Kokomo? If that doesn't change, we're not going to see much.

STUART ROTHENBERG: I'll be particularly looking at northwestern Indiana, because southeastern Wisconsin was very important at the Wisconsin primary. Remember, Wisconsin was one of those places where Barack Obama did very well among most voters who generally have been voting for Senator Clinton.

So he won white Catholic voters in Wisconsin. That was a very unusual performance. And some people think it's because, in the southeastern part of the state, the southeastern corner, Kenosha, Racine, Milwaukee, those general areas, they were in the Chicago media market.

Well, northwestern Indiana, Lake County, the second-largest county in the state, which includes Gary and East Chicago, with African-American voters and Hispanics, is also in the Chicago media market. It's also working-class, blue-collar, with a significant minority...

GWEN IFILL: But is being in the Chicago media market, given everything that's been going on during what he'd concede has been a rough couple of weeks, involving the Jeremiah Wright coverage, in which it's been more intense there, is that a good thing?

STUART ROTHENBERG: Well, they know Barack Obama. They've known him longer. And that's the question, whether the familiarity with him, seeing him over the years, or at least the last couple of years, whether that is a mitigating factor.

We're also looking, I think, in the southwestern part of the state, conservative. There are some blue-collar areas, Evansville, for example. Will Senator Clinton roll up big numbers there, as the kinds of places that she has in other states? So I think it's going to be fascinating geographically.

AMY WALTER: Yes, because that comes really to the question here, which is, is the reason that Barack Obama has not been able to sort of break into Hillary Clinton's voters or she hasn't been able to break into his, it's an issue -- in some cases, you say, well, for Hillary Clinton, it's the fact that she is so familiar, right, that there may be a tap here among voters who had already made up their mind about her.

Whereas, with Obama voters, they've either been sitting, waiting for him to give them a sign that he is the candidate that they want him to be and he hasn't given that to them yet or that they had made up their mind long ago and that they're just sort of following the same patterns that we've seen primary after primary.

Split more than likely

GWEN IFILL: Let's talk about the stakes. There are a couple of things, three things, I suppose, which could happen, which is to say Senator Clinton could win both states. He could win both states. They could split them.

AMY WALTER: Split them.

GWEN IFILL: What do you think?

AMY WALTER: I mean, it looks more than likely that they're going to split these two states.


AMY WALTER: Just demographically. If we're going back to this destiny is -- demographics is destiny, that based on what we know about the kind of people who turn out and vote in North Carolina, the kinds of people that turn out and vote in Indiana, those are both set-up very well for those two candidates, based on how they've done traditionally.

STUART ROTHENBERG: Well, I tell people I don't make predictions, but I'll tell you what my assumptions are. I'll tell you what my working assumption is, and I agree with Amy.

I assume that Senator Clinton is going to win Indiana by somewhere from 6 points to 8 points or 6 points to 10 points. I'm assuming Senator Obama -- and I think many of us are assuming Senator Obama is going to win North Carolina from 6 points to 10 points or maybe even 8 points to 12 points.

And if they don't achieve those showings, one of them, both of them are going to have some explaining to do. Now, they're great at explaining. You know, the press folks will send out explanation spin, assessments.

But I think that's -- as we go into the balloting, as we await the balloting, I think that's the thing to think about. Are they going to meet these expectations or not?

Because the results are unlikely to change who's going to win in terms of pledged delegates. It's still going to come down to super-delegates. So everything now is, how can your argument sway super-delegates?

GWEN IFILL: Are they to be swayed at this point anymore?

AMY WALTER: Well, they keep, I think, waiting to be -- to get the answer. And I think it was Walter Shapiro who wrote this the other day on Slate that, you know, in many ways, they resemble the little kids in little league.

The ones, you know who they are, they're sitting in the outfield. And every time the batter comes up, they say, "Please don't hit the ball to me. Please don't hit it to me."

They are waiting for a sign, whatever that sign is. And, again, if it's that, "Wow, Barack Obama finally able to get these white, working-class voters," "Wow, Hillary Clinton doing much better among African-American voters, what's going on?" That would maybe give them that clue. I don't think they're going to...

GWEN IFILL: We will see if the ball gets hit to the super delegates or if they get to duck it tonight. Thank you both very much.

AMY WALTER: Thank you.