Even Guam, the far off island in the Pacific that is home to fewer than 200,000 people, is not immune to the intense political battle that is the 2008 Democratic Presidential Primary. Just seven votes separated Barack Obama from Hillary Clinton in this weekend's caucuses, splitting four delegates between the two camps--a microcosm of the race that has divided the Democratic Party.
Today, all eyes turn to Indiana and North Carolina--two states that hold the largest delegate prize remaining on the calendar. While the media, the party, and Clinton and Obama partisans are hoping tonight's results will provide a knockout blow or a game-changing turnaround, the two states are likely to provide an all too familiar outcome: another split decision. Tonight probably won't bring this race to an end, but the stakes remain high nonetheless for both Clinton and Obama.
Clinton comes into tonight having won the last three big primaries in Ohio, Texas (which actually gave Obama more delegates), and Pennsylvania. Her campaign may claim momentum out of those victories, but they've done little to dent to the delegate lead held by her opponent. Obama, meanwhile, is reeling not only from those defeats, but also the lingering cloud of Bittergate, Reverend Wright, and creeping doubts about electability. Thus, tonight provides great opportunity and great peril for both sides that shouldn't be underestimated.
Demographics have come to define both candidacies, so we turn to the numbers to give us insight into both states. Despite polls that show a lead, once as high as twenty points, shrinking to single digits in recent weeks, North Carolina's black population provides him with a perhaps insurmountable advantage. Obama has routinely won nine of ten black votes this year and with that group making up perhaps a third of the electorate in the Tarheel State, he is well positioned to regain some footing with a win there. Early voting, a bigger factor in North Carolina than Indiana, should also help Obama, with many voters casting their ballots before the recent Jeremiah Wright media onslaught. Pollster puts the average at just under eight points in the state, but we'd expect a double digit margin for Obama tonight.
Indiana is more of a battleground. Much of the state is filled with working class white voters who have helped Clinton in nearby Ohio and Pennsylvania. The state is also home to a number of big college campuses, Obama bastions, and neighbors Obama's Illinois. The latter point is something of a mixed bag, however, for the Obama campaign. While overlapping media markets mean that many of the state's voters are more familiar with him than elsewhere, it also means they were exposed to the Chicago press corps that has rabidly followed the Wright story (not to mention the Rezko trial). Our crystal ball tells us the margin should be around eight points or less tonight in Clinton's favor.
Both sides have been spinning expectations leading into tonight's vote, hoping to maximize the effect of a win or even narrow defeat. "We're still the underdog," Clinton told campaign volunteers in Indiana this weekend. "I'm the underdog," Obama declared on NBC's Meet The Press on Sunday. While Obama badly needs a win, any defeat tonight would be far more devastating for Hillary Clinton's campaign. Trailing by more than 100 delegates overall, she has fewer and fewer opportunities to make up ground and change the dynamics of this race as the calendar moves forward. After tonight, there are just 217 pledged delegates remaining. Clinton would need to win all of those or claim a vast majority of the undeclared superdelegates to win the nomination. Neither scenario seems all that likely given the remaining states in play and with the supers drifting to Obama with increasing frequency of late. After a tough couple of weeks (or months), tonight won't provide a knockout blow for Obama, but it will move him ever so closer to the finish line.
Cross-posted at Political Realm.