Despite Split Decision, Obama Claims New Momentum in Democratic Contest

Obama cruised to a double-digit victory in North Carolina while Clinton eked out a narrow win in Indiana, prompting analysts to say the race had not fundamentally changed Tuesday.

“Nothing is working very much for either one of these candidates. We can either say everything has changed because she has not changed the equation or that it is really not that different from Feb. 12 when (Virginia and Maryland) voted,” the Hotline’s Amy Walter told the NewsHour.

Despite the uncertainty surrounding the dynamics of the race, Obama secured the support of at least another 94 delegates to the convention in Denver this summer, moving him to within 200 delegates of the nomination, according to the Associated Press. Clinton garnered the support of at least 75 delegates.

Some analysts said Obama’s 14-point win in North Carolina and his closely fought Indiana campaign indicated that he had weathered a series of controversies and gaffes. Obama’s victory in North Carolina, the largest remaining pot of delegates to the summer convention, drew support from across most demographic groups.

Helped by the more than 90 percent of the vote he received from the one-third of North Carolina voters who were black, Obama also scored some 40 percent of white voters in the Tarheel State.

Clinton had hoped a win in North Carolina would have been a “game-changer”, showing a decisive new momentum for her campaign after winning Pennsylvania, Ohio and the Texas primary.

“You know, some were saying that North Carolina would be a game-changer in this election. But today, what North Carolina decided is that the only game that needs changing is the one in Washington, D.C.,” Obama told a raucous crowd in Raleigh, N.C.

Obama went on to congratulate Clinton on her win in Indiana, but took aim at presumptive Republican nominee John McCain.

“We can’t afford to give John McCain the chance to serve out George Bush’s third term,” Obama said. “We need change in America, and that’s why we will be united in November.”

Clinton echoed the theme of a unified Democratic Party defeating the Republican nominee in the fall.

“No matter what happens, I will work for the nominee of the Democratic Party because we must win this November,” Clinton added.

But Clinton also sought to rally support around her narrow Indiana win, saying, “We’ve come from behind, we’ve broken the tie and thanks to you it’s full speed on to the White House.”

“Tonight, once again, I need your help to continue our journey,” she told a crowd that chanted “Yes, she will”, urging supporters to donate money to her cash-strapped campaign.

Clinton reiterated her campaign themes or “fighting” for working families

“Tonight Hoosiers have said they do want a president who will stand up for you,” Clinton said before returning to her campaign themes of a gas tax holiday, improved access to health care and help for homeowners facing foreclosures.

After Clinton had claimed victory, the race dramatically tightened and news organizations were unable to declare her the winner for another three hours, only narrowly giving her the state early Wednesday morning. The 2-point spread in the race allowed the Obama campaign to express satisfaction with the result.

“I think we had improved performance in Indiana when you look across the board,” Obama strategist David Axelrod told reporters in North Carolina Tuesday night. “I don’t think she over-performed (in Indiana).”

Axelrod added that Obama had done well with younger white voters in both states, saying they would likely win a majority in Carolina and garnering some 45 percent of their vote in Indiana. According to exit polls, the Ill. senator actually won a majority of those voters under 65, but lost among the elderly nearly 2-to-1.

Voting was reported heavy in both states, with some election officials telling the Charlotte Observer that some 1.5 million voters may have voted Tuesday and Indiana’s secretary of state said the record 173,500 absentee ballots indicated possible historic voting there.

Clinton strategist Terry McAuliffe said their campaign would move on, building on the momentum of their Indiana showing to carry the campaign into the remaining six contests. He had earlier said a 15-point or larger loss in North Carolina would not surprise the campaign.

Even as Clinton spoke, campaign officials circulated a memo outlining the scope of their win in Indiana.

“Hillary won (in Indiana) by appealing to voters in almost every key demographic group,” a statement from the Clinton press office said. “According to the exit poll, Hillary won among men and among women, in northern, central and southern parts of the state, among those who earn more than $50,000 per year and those who earn less, union voters and non-union voters, suburban and rural voters, churchgoers, gun-owners, and those who have not graduated from college.”

The contests tested voter sentiment on a series of issues that had dominated recent news coverage, including the troubled economy, Obama’s fiery pastor and the racial divide among the two candidate’s support.

Some analysts pointed to the ongoing controversy that has surrounded Obama’s former pastor, the Rev. Jeremiah Wright, as hurting the Illinois senator among Indiana voters. Nearly half of all voters in the primary said the coverage of the pastor’s comments had affected their vote.

But analysts said the Wright situation may have uncovered one of Clinton’s key problems in the campaign.

“At the end of the day, Jeremiah Wright has hurt Hillary Clinton and I’ll tell you why: Because the controversy created expectations that she could suddenly make significant inroads among people who were going to vote for Barack Obama and now they are gonna switch– that did not happen,” political analyst Stuart Rothenberg told the NewsHour. “In the expectation game, at the end of the day, I think Clinton folks are deflated.”

Obama continued to draw strong support among black voters in both states, garnering 92 percent of their votes, according to exit polls conducted by media organizations.

As votes came in, Clinton was running strong among white voters, garnering some 61 percent of their support in Indiana and almost that well in North Carolina.

The one trend that continued to build in Tuesday’s contests was the growing concern of voters about the struggling American economy. Some two-thirds of voters in Indiana and almost as many in North Carolina cited the economy as their primary issue in deciding who to vote for, a number higher than in 28 earlier contests this year.

One voter, Republican Mark Dexter, told the Indianapolis Star that Clinton’s proposal to lift the 18-cent federal gas tax was a major reason for voting for the New York senator.

“Gas prices are totally out of line… From what I can see, there’s absolutely no excuse for it.,” Dexter said. “I’m a Republican. I’m just not at all happy with the current administration. Something has got to be done.”

Even before the votes were cast Tuesday, political experts saw Indiana and North Carolina as just another pair of contests in the ongoing battle for the nomination.

“The most likely split would be Mrs. Clinton winning Indiana and Mr. Obama winning North Carolina. That would almost surely mean the race would go on,” Adam Nagourney wrote in The New York Times.

Both campaigns said they would carry on, taking aim at the 28 delegates at stake next Tuesday in West Virginia.

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