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Clinton, Obama Plot Strategies for Final Primary Contests

March 12, 2008 at 6:30 PM EDT
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Sen. Barack Obama scored a victory in the Mississippi primary Tuesday, nudging his delegate advantage over rival Sen. Hillary Clinton. With nearly a dozen primary contests remaining, political analysts weigh how the battle for delegates may be waged in Pennsylvania and beyond.

JIM LEHRER: Next, the rough road ahead for the Democrats. Judy Woodruff has the story.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Barack Obama was back home in Chicago today, receiving endorsements from retired military officials from the Army, Navy and Air Force.

SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D), Illinois: It is a great privilege to be joined by some of the distinguished generals and admirals that are supporting my campaign.

JUDY WOODRUFF: The new support came on the heels of yet another southern state victory, yesterday’s runaway win in Mississippi. Obama captured 61 percent of the vote to Hillary Clinton’s 37 percent.

But exit polls showed Magnolia State Democratic primary voters, almost 30 percent of whom were either independent or Republican, were deeply divided along racial lines: 91 percent of blacks supported Obama, while 70 percent of whites backed Clinton.

Those divisions coincided with the dust-up over comments made by former Congresswoman Geraldine Ferraro, the 1984 nominee for vice president and a Hillary Clinton supporter.

During an interview with a California newspaper last week, Ferraro said, quote, “If Obama was a white man, he would not be in this position. And if he was a woman of any color he would not be in this position. He happens to be very lucky to be who he is, and the country is caught up in the concept.”

Clinton was asked about Ferraro’s remarks yesterday in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania.

SEN. HILLARY CLINTON (D), New York: Well, I don’t agree with that. And I think it’s important that, you know, we try to stay focused on the issues that matter to the American people.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Obama called Ferraro’s comments “patently absurd” and hadn’t backed off when asked about them today.

SEN. BARACK OBAMA: What I’m more concerned about is for the Democratic Party as a whole, but also the country as a whole, not to get drawn up into this slicing and dicing of the electorate into black, white, male, female. You know, that’s the pressure that we’re always under.

JUDY WOODRUFF: In an appearance on ABC’s “Good Morning America,” however, Ferraro blamed Obama’s campaign for inciting the dust-up.

GERALDINE FERRARO, Former Vice Presidential Nominee: My comments have been taken so out of context and been spun by the Obama campaign as racist that, you know, it’s doing precisely what they don’t want done. It’s going to the Democratic Party and dividing us even more.

JUDY WOODRUFF: But late today, Ferraro stepped down from her position on the Clinton campaign’s finance committee.

Meanwhile, Obama and Clinton’s elected convention delegate totals will be largely frozen for the next six weeks until Pennsylvania holds its primary April 22nd.

Racial divisions among electorate

Dan Balz
The Washington Post
The Democrats are now in a very difficult and potentially dangerous position, if this battle over race and this whole topic of race continues to dominate the discussion.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And for a look at what happens before Pennsylvania and beyond, we are joined by Amy Walter, editor-in-chief of the Hotline, National Journal's political daily; Lorenzo Morris, he is chairman of the political science department at Howard University; and Dan Balz, chief political reporter for the Washington Post. He joins us from the Post newsroom.

Dan, to you first. Mississippi, a big win for Obama, 61 percent to 37 percent, huge turnout, and voting along racial lines. What's the significance of the results there?

DAN BALZ, Washington Post: Well, I think there are two, Judy. The first, obviously, is that, in the delegate fight, Senator Obama has been able to make up, with this victory and his victory in the Wyoming caucuses, essentially what he lost on March 4th with his defeats in the Ohio primary, the Texas primary, and the Rhode Island primary.

I think the second -- and it goes to the story that you used to set up this -- is the racial division that we saw in that vote in Mississippi. We have turned into a pattern here in the past week or so in which the Democrats are arguing over race in a way that I think Democrats of all stripes fear could hurt the party in the long run.

I think it was inevitable, ultimately, that Geraldine Ferraro would step down from the Clinton campaign, given what had happened as a result of her remarks. But the Democrats are now in a very difficult and potentially dangerous position, if this battle over race and this whole topic of race continues to dominate the discussion.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Professor Morris, do you agree they're in somewhat of a dangerous position as a result, now that Geraldine Ferraro has stepped down?

LORENZO MORRIS, Howard University: Well, I think if race becomes the issue or a primary issue, it's a dangerous position, but there's a difference between racially identifiable voting patterns and a racial issue, because the black vote in Mississippi, as in other states, is heavily on the left. And it would be on the left with anybody who brought that agenda forward. And I think Barack Obama, because he's new, gets more credibility there.

Also the fact that he is black, obviously, is symbolic of a newness and of a new direction. It doesn't follow automatically that those voters would not vote for Hillary Clinton if he's out of the picture. So that is not an immediate threat.

As for those who didn't vote for him, as for the white electorate, part of it is the demographics. Mississippi tends to be lower income in its white population and those people have been behind Hillary in the past. Secondly, there are very few whites who are Democratic in Mississippi.

The Primary in Pennsylvania

Amy Walter
The Hotline
I do think it is very important that we don't look too much into one state and then presuppose how it's going to lay out for the rest of this election.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Amy Walter, what about those results in Mississippi? And look ahead -- take us, we've got a six-week spread right now between yesterday and the next primary in Pennsylvania. What do they tell us, if anything, about Pennsylvania, which is the first state coming up?

AMY WALTER, Editor-in-Chief, The Hotline: Well, I do think it is very important that we don't look too much into one state and then presuppose how it's going to lay out for the rest of this election.

I think what we've known -- and every time we come and talk, it seems, Judy, that we're saying somewhat of the same thing, which is Obama's silo of voters different from Hillary Clinton's, neither has found a way to kind of get into the other's base.

But we look at a place like Pennsylvania, obviously this is a state where Hillary Clinton is ahead right now. The demographics of the state suit her. It looks a lot more like Ohio than it does Mississippi. This is a state where she should win and should win by a significant margin. If she doesn't, then we could be talking about sort of the tipping point of this election.

But I think if we just sort of -- to say that Obama would be then tipping his way to the lead, not because he would suddenly get to the majority of the delegates, but because it would seem as if he was able to get into her base.

But the bottom line with all of this is we're going to be going for the foreseeable future, presumably until June.

No one candidate is going to win a majority of the delegates, so each one of these states will be important in terms of what it may say symbolically, but I think, in general, the more time that Democrats do spend focusing on not just whether it's race, not just race issues, but the back-and-forth, who's saying what about who, instead of focusing on the issues they really want to be talking about, the economy, jobs, health care, that's the problem.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Dan, I do want to look at some of these states that are coming up. Pennsylvania, as we just showed, is April the 22nd, the Clinton people putting a lot of emphasis on that. But after that, two weeks after that, you have on May the 6th Indiana and North Carolina.

DAN BALZ: Well, that's right. I mean, the Clinton campaign is putting emphasis on Pennsylvania for exactly the reasons that Amy said. It is a state that sets up extremely well for Senator Clinton.

The population is even older than that of Ohio, more Catholics. She's done quite well with Catholics. Fewer college graduates, she has done better with non-college graduates than Senator Obama. So they are looking for a big victory.

And the Obama campaign is saying, look, this is not a campaign that is only about one state at this point. They're clearly looking ahead to all 10 final contests.

They believe that North Carolina is a good state for them. They also think Indiana is a good state for them. My guess is that Indiana could be more competitive than they think, but we'll have to see about that.

But if you look forward at the remaining contests, you would probably project that Obama would win maybe one or two more of those than she will win and that the delegate count coming out of those contests will not be significantly different between the two of them.

I did a projection this afternoon in which I came out, in which she had maybe eight or ten more delegates out of those final contests than he has. That's not enough, obviously, for her to really begin to cut into the margin that he has among the pledged delegates.

Addressing economic concerns

Lorenzo Morris
Howard University
Pennsylvania is really Clinton territory. In addition, she has the endorsement of the black mayor of Philadelphia. And he's a popular mayor. And that would probably give a boost.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Professor Morris, tell us a little bit more about the characteristics of some of these other states coming up. Dan just mentioned Indiana, North Carolina, May the 6th. The week after that, May the 13th, West Virginia.

LORENZO MORRIS: Well, I think all those states where there are job issues and where there are industry issues tend to have some advantage for Hillary.

But on the other side, with Indiana, you have a large minority population and urban centers that are likely to go for Barack. So he would likely have a slight advantage there.

North Carolina has the same mix, except that, given the importance of the black electorate in North Carolina, he would have the greatest advantage of all of the following states.

I think as suggested, Pennsylvania is really Clinton territory. In addition, she has the endorsement of the black mayor of Philadelphia. And he's a popular mayor. And that would probably give a boost.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And, Amy, what would you add about West Virginia on the 13th of May and then, the week after that, to rush through these, Kentucky and Oregon on May the 20th?

AMY WALTER: Well, West Virginia, Kentucky, again, I agree that these are states where you have the economy, where the electorate is more overwhelmingly white. There are fewer minorities in those places.

Oregon is going to be a place where Barack Obama should do well. You think of it as a more liberal state, especially among Democrats there in Portland, around that area. Students obviously could be a big part of the equation there for Obama.

But I think we're going to come down to the end of this and say -- we're going to be back at the same place where we started which is, who won what groups? Who won which states?

And super-delegates ultimately are the ones who have to decide, based on how the candidates did in these certain states, which candidate they think deserves the nomination, which candidate they think is the most electable going into November.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And, Dan, what about this whole electability, win-ability? Who is going to going to define what constitutes who's the most electable?

DAN BALZ: Well, Judy, the campaigns are furiously competing with one another to get people to think about their definition as the prime definition.

There are a variety of ways that people can look at this. She obviously will make the case, as she's doing already, that she's winning the big states. She won California; she won New York; she won Massachusetts; she won New Jersey; and she won Ohio.

Now, some of those obviously are states that either Senator Obama or Senator Clinton will win in the fall. But a state like Ohio, battleground state, the Democrats have lost it the last two elections. They badly want it. She can make the argument that she's done better there.

If she wins in Pennsylvania, she'll say, "Look, that's a crucial battleground state. You have to do well there. I've won that."

On the other hand, the Obama campaign countered that today with a very interesting memo, which said, if you look at the eight or nine states that were closest in the 2004 election, states in which the vote was 8 percentage points or less, that Obama has overwhelmingly won those states, states like Iowa, Minnesota, Wisconsin, states like that.

So they are making the case that he's winning the states that are the true swing states. Ultimately, this is going to have to be something that each individual super-delegate will have to process and come out with their own opinion.

Examining the role of delegates

Amy Walter
The Hotline
In all this debate about the primaries, again, it's a primary electorate. This isn't a general electorate. So how you do among your own base, now, there's some concern.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And you have the undecided situation of Michigan and Florida, the states, Lorenzo Morris, that have voted, but very much in dispute.

LORENZO MORRIS: Yes, I think that there you could easily end up with a wash, as well. If Hillary is going to do well, she's going to do well as she already has done in Florida. And if Barack Obama is going to do well and say re-vote those, he would do well in Michigan.

I think that, though she has some chance in Michigan given the job situation there, I think that you will have a very strong momentum there, not only among the black electorate, but also among other minority groups that might give him a little bit of boost, because he had, for example, the Teamsters', I believe, endorsement, so that would help balance some of that.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And, Amy, coming back to you, as you said, we keep coming back to these same questions.

AMY WALTER: Right, to the same thing, right.

JUDY WOODRUFF: It finally comes down to persuading the super-delegates, what happens in Michigan and Florida, and this whole argument again, as Dan was saying, of who defines what's electability.

AMY WALTER: Right. And is it defined by who won the big states? That's important. But, remember, in all this debate about the primaries, again, it's a primary electorate. This isn't a general electorate. So how you do among your own base, now, there's some concern.

You come out of Mississippi, and the concern was, has this taken a toll on Democrats, where you see that more Obama voters saying they're willing to vote for Hillary Clinton than Hillary Clinton voters saying that they would be supportive of Barack Obama.

But let's look at Ohio. There wasn't that split at all: 34 percent of Clinton supporters said they would support Obama or they would be satisfied with Obama; 30 percent of people voted for Obama said they would be supportive of Hillary.

So there's no suggestion right now in a place like Ohio, one of those key swing states. Mississippi, it's been fun to play in, in a primary. It's not going to be a general election battleground. Ohio is.

If Obama can point to those and say, "I'm still getting Clinton voters," Clinton can say, "I'm still going to get Obama voters, it's fine."

JUDY WOODRUFF: The arguments go on.

AMY WALTER: That's right.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Amy Walter, Lorenzo Morris, Dan Balz, thank you all. We appreciate it. Good to have you both, all three of you.