By Anne E. Kornblut and Shailagh Murray
Washington Post Staff Writers
Thursday, February 28, 2008
ZANESVILLE, Ohio, Feb. 27 -- Aides to Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (N.Y.), coming to terms with the idea that she must win contests in both Texas and Ohio next week or face enormous pressure to drop out of the race for the Democratic presidential nomination, are pouring all of the campaign's dwindling resources into the March 4 primaries.
With each passing day, her climb appears steeper. The latest setback came Wednesday when, after weeks of equivocation, Rep. John Lewis of Georgia, a civil rights leader, officially switched his support from Clinton to Sen. Barack Obama (Ill.).
Despite a subdued mood inside her campaign, Clinton soldiered on Wednesday, holding an economic roundtable in Ohio, and her dash across the two states will culminate in a "Texas-size" town hall event to be broadcast on cable next Monday.
Pennsylvania Gov. Edward G. Rendell, who is backing Clinton, said the New York senator would win his state's April 22 primary, the next major contest on the calendar after March 4, if she were to beat Obama in Texas and Ohio on Tuesday. Without those victories, he said, the campaign will not get to Pennsylvania.
Rendell accepted the conclusion of former president Bill Clinton, who said recently that his wife must win both states to keep her candidacy viable. "I'm assuming the only way to proceed on is, as President Clinton says" to carry both big states, Rendell said in an interview. "I'm not close enough to the campaign, I don't know their monetary situation, I don't know any of that. But from a vantage point of a supporter who's not in the inner circle of the campaign, I think that would make sense."
Other Clinton supporters also see the importance of Tuesday's results.
Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley, another Clinton backer, said winning Texas and Ohio, even narrowly, would change the dynamic of the race and, given the nature of this battle, could lead to more surprises. But he said victories Tuesday are crucial.
"I think that Senator Clinton has to stop Senator Obama's momentum and start picking up some momentum of her own in order to turn around the dynamic," he said in an interview.
Does that mean winning both, he was asked? "That's the expectation. There are only so many states left, and I think the math is such that, yes, I think she probably needs to win them both."
Clinton advisers anticipate that she will come under immediate pressure from prominent supporters to consider leaving the race if she loses on Tuesday. That pressure probably would be conveyed privately at first, but quickly become public if she fails to heed the message.
A split decision Tuesday would be likely to lead to similar pressure, her advisers said. Only by gaining ground against Obama in the delegate fight would she find the justification to keep going. Aides described Clinton as realistic about her precarious standing.
Clinton was dealt a blow when she learned that Lewis, who had declared for her early in the process, would reverse course to back Obama. Confusion had arisen a week earlier when Lewis said he might do just that but his office denied it. The Obama campaign issued a statement after the endorsement became official. "John Lewis is an American hero and a giant of the civil rights movement, and I am deeply honored to have his support," Obama said in the release.
Inside the Obama team, the mood Wednesday was a mixture of relief that the last scheduled debate with Clinton was over, believing their candidate delivered a solid performance, and wariness about where the Ohio and Texas races are headed.
"We believe we're going to do well, but we just don't know," said David Axelrod, Obama's senior political adviser. Given the many twists and turns of the Democratic race so far, he added, "I don't think anyone at this point feels comfortable making predictions."
Internal polling shows Obama trailing in both states, although the gap is narrowing. The Obama game plan for the next six days is simple: Combine personal appearances with heavy advertising and strong grass-roots organizing, and hope that late deciders break their way. Obama officials are more optimistic about Texas, where Clinton's natural working-class white constituency constitutes a smaller portion of the electorate. Obama is also significantly outspending Clinton on television advertising in Texas and Ohio, and his advertising edge has been compounded by a raft of commercials being aired by two labor unions that are supporting him.
Since the candidates began advertising in the two states around Feb. 12, Obama has spent a bit more than $7 million, while Clinton has spent about $4 million, according to Evan Tracey, chief operating officer of the Campaign Media Analysis Group, which tracks network advertising. Obama was running far more ads over the past two weeks, but in recent days, the two candidates have been on a similar footing.
The Service Employees International Union and the United Food and Commercial Workers now have spots in major Texas markets airing in English and Spanish, and they are blanketing most of the major Ohio markets.
Tracey said the damage may already be done. "Obama's had a very big and significant running head start in these states," he said.
Obama returned to Texas on Wednesday afternoon and will campaign around the state until Saturday morning, targeting suburban areas outside of major cities where the delegate allocation is disproportionately large because of a weighted distribution system based on turnout in previous elections. Obama held a town hall meeting in Duncanville, outside of Dallas, in the late afternoon, then flew to Austin for a late-evening event in San Marcos.
Clinton, meanwhile, was joined at an economic roundtable in Zanesville yesterday by Ohio Gov. Ted Strickland (D), New Jersey Gov. Jon S. Corzine (D) and former senator John Glenn (D-Ohio).
Clinton's campaign issued a memo Wednesday accusing Obama of being all talk on the subject of national security. The tough-talk Clinton memo said the public had seen "a glimpse of the real Barack Obama" in the debate, accusing him of failing to carry out his responsibilities as the chairman of a Senate Foreign Relations subcommittee by not holding hearings related to Afghanistan.
Staff writers Dan Balz in Ohio and Matthew Mosk in Washington contributed to this report.