By Dan Balz and Jon Cohen
Washington Post Staff Writers
Friday, February 22, 2008
AUSTIN, Feb. 21 -- Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, facing a pair of big Democratic primary tests on March 4 that could determine the fate of her presidential candidacy, is deadlocked with Sen. Barack Obama here in Texas and holds a slender lead over him in Ohio, according to two new Washington Post-ABC News polls.
The closeness of the races in Texas and Ohio underscores the challenges facing Clinton over the next 12 days of campaigning as she seeks to end Obama's double-digit winning streak in their battle for the Democratic nomination. Those victories have given Obama a lead in delegates to the national convention and have put Clinton's candidacy at risk unless she can rack up a string of big victories of her own.
In Ohio, Clinton leads Obama in the new poll by 50 percent to 43 percent, a significant but tenuous advantage given the shifts that have taken place in advance of previous primaries as candidates intensified their campaigns. In Texas, the race is about even, with Clinton at 48 percent and Obama at 47 percent.
In recent contests in Virginia and Wisconsin, Obama cut into Clinton's coalition, a potentially significant change in the Democratic race. At this point in Ohio and Texas, Clinton is doing better than she did in those states among her more reliable voters, but she has yet to make deep inroads into Obama's core supporters.
The Post-ABC News polls show Clinton with solid support from white women, seniors, voters with less education and those with lower incomes in both Ohio and Texas. She holds a big lead among Hispanics in Texas. Obama has large advantages among independents, African Americans and better-educated voters in both states.
Clinton advisers have expressed optimism about her prospects in the two contests, but the new polls suggest that the momentum Obama achieved in his string of victories has turned both into true battlegrounds. Clinton's husband, former president Bill Clinton, said this week that she must win Texas and Ohio to keep her candidacy viable.
In Ohio, the economy and health care are roughly tied for the top spot on voters' agendas, while in Texas health care is the clear No. 1 concern, followed by the economy and Iraq. In Ohio, the war in Iraq also comes in third place, but far below the other two; just 9 percent of voters there called it their most important voting issue.
Obama and Clinton supporters in both states are highly enthusiastic about the candidates, and more than seven in 10 said they definitely will stick with the candidate they have embraced. But that leaves a sizable number of likely voters in both states either undecided or open to changing their minds between now and primary day.
The Democratic electorates in the two states hold both candidates in high regard, with more than seven in 10 saying they would be satisfied with Obama or Clinton as their party's nominee in November. More than six in 10 said they believe either candidate could defeat Sen. John McCain, the presumptive Republican nominee, in the general election, although when they were asked who has the better chance, Obama came out ahead by 11 percentage points in both Ohio and Texas.
Democratic voters in both states are split evenly on the attributes they are looking for in a nominee -- strength and experience, which have been Clinton's calling card, or fresh ideas and a new direction, which embody Obama's message. Almost eight in 10 Democratic voters favoring strength and experience in a candidate back Clinton, and roughly the same proportion of those seeking change opt for Obama.
Most in both states view Clinton as the stronger leader, but majorities in Ohio and Texas said Obama has the experience to serve effectively as president. About four in 10 said Obama does not have the necessary r¿sum¿.
Obama holds only narrow edges in both states on the question of who "would do the most to bring needed change to Washington," and about seven in 10 said Clinton would do enough to set a new course.
The two candidates run about evenly as the one more in touch with "people like you."
On the issues, Clinton has big head-to-head leads on handling the economy and health care, while the two are more closely matched on dealing with the war in Iraq and immigration.
Obama campaign officials have argued that victories in Texas and Ohio alone would not be enough to put Clinton on a path to the nomination. Given Obama's lead among pledged delegates, now in the neighborhood of 150, Clinton would need big wins to make real gains in the delegate count, because of Democratic Party rules that award delegates proportionally on the basis of the popular vote.
The Texas system in particular, which includes both a primary and caucuses on the same day, may benefit Obama, who has excelled in previous caucuses. Given the closeness of the race, that system will make it all the more difficult for Clinton to come out of the state with a big gain in the overall delegate battle.
But Clinton campaign officials counter that victories for her in Ohio and Texas would seed doubts about Obama because he would by then have lost the vast majority of the most populous states that have voted. The Clinton camp hopes such doubts would prompt the superdelegates -- members of Congress, governors and party officials who have automatic voting rights at the convention and who may hold the balance of power in the nominating battle -- to rethink the race.
The demographic contours of the two upcoming contests provide insights into what each candidate needs to do over the next two weeks to win.
Clinton holds sizable leads in Ohio and Texas among white women -- 17 percentage points in Texas and a whopping 35 points in Ohio. She is doing well among white men in Ohio as well, leading Obama by 12 percentage points in that group. In Texas, Obama leads among white men by 10 points. If Obama were to stay stuck at 40 percent among white men in Ohio, it would be one of his worst showings among those voters since Super Tuesday.
Seniors break for Clinton by wide margins in both states; Obama's only win so far among older voters was in Virginia, according to network exit polls.
Obama has overwhelming leads, roughly 4 to 1, among black voters in both states. But Clinton has solid support in the Hispanic community in Texas, leading Obama by about 20 percentage points among a group of voters who proved crucial in her victories in California and other Super Tuesday states.
Clinton is seeking to hold two other core groups in her once-strong coalition -- less-educated, lower-income white voters and self-identified Democrats. By focusing on the economy, particularly in Ohio, she hopes to prevent the kind of shift to Obama seen in Wisconsin on Tuesday.
The Post-ABC News polls show her with wide leads among white voters with annual family incomes under $50,000 in both states, and with a 16-point advantage among those from union households in Ohio. She leads Obama by 11 points among white voters in Texas who do not have a college degree and by 38 points among those voters in Ohio. Obama will need to cut into that margin in Ohio if he hopes to overtake Clinton there.
Independents lifted Obama to many of his early victories, but he has also carried the support of mainline Democrats since Super Tuesday. These new polls, however, show Clinton leading Obama by double-digit margins among Democrats. Both Ohio and Texas hold open primaries, in which any registered voter may cast a ballot.
The polls were conducted by telephone Feb. 16 to 20, among random samples of 611 Ohio adults and 603 Texas adults likely to participate in the Democratic primaries in those states. Sampling-error margins are plus or minus four percentage points for the full samples; error margins are larger for subgroups.
Cohen reported from Washington. Polling analyst Jennifer Agiesta in Washington contributed to this report.