By Perry Bacon Jr. and Anne E. Kornblut
Washington Post Staff Writers
Wednesday, May 7, 2008
INDIANAPOLIS, May 6 -- After failing to win the decisive sweep in North Carolina and Indiana that could have reshaped the Democratic race, disappointed aides to Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton conceded it would be difficult for her to catch Sen. Barack Obama in either delegates or overall votes in the six remaining contests.
The outcome caused the candidate and her campaign to intensify their efforts to persuade party leaders to include the results of disqualified contests in Michigan and Florida, both of which she won. The Democratic National Committee's Rules and Bylaws committee is scheduled to meet on May 31 to consider two challenges pending on whether, and how, to seat delegates from those states.
"Absent some sort of miracle on May 31st, it's going to be tough for us," said a senior Clinton official who spoke on the condition of anonymity in order to be frank. "We lost this thing in February. We're doing everything we can now . . . but it's just an uphill battle."
As voters went to the polls yesterday, Clinton tried to recast the terms of the race, telling reporters that the number of delegates needed to win is "2,209," rather than the 2,025 needed without Michigan and Florida.
"There are going to be the rest of these contests, which are very significant, and then in June, if we haven't done it already, we're going to have to resolve Florida and Michigan," she told reporters during a daytime event at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. "They were legitimate elections."
In a late-night speech here, Clinton said that "it would be a little strange to have a nominee chosen by 48 states."
Her aides also tried to stoke concerns yesterday among elected officials and party leaders, known as superdelegates, about whether Obama could win in November, with one warning of an "October surprise" that could ruin his chances.
"The superdelegates have to decide who is the best candidate to take on John McCain," campaign chairman Terence A. McAuliffe said. "Over the last week, that advantage has shifted to Senator Clinton."
Campaign officials said they would remind superdelegates that Indiana was a state that Obama aimed to win early on and at one point described as a tiebreaker in the race. They also said the results showed that Clinton continued to gain the support of the white, working-class voters they contend will be key to winning Michigan, Pennsylvania, Ohio and other swing states in November.
Still, Clinton officials were increasingly worried that superdelegates, absent some overwhelming new evidence to make the case for Clinton, would move toward Obama to put an end to a race that many are worried is harming their chances in the fall.
"I don't think tonight is a game-changer," said Steve Grossman, a Clinton fundraiser and former chair of the DNC. "I don't think the results are going to surprise many people."
A Clinton adviser said the situation was increasingly becoming one in which "she cannot be nominated and he can't get elected."
The Clinton campaign has tried to sway voters and superdelegates for weeks by pointing to opinion polls that show Obama's favorability ratings steadily decreasing since his string of victories in February. His popularity hit bottom in recent weeks after Obama was quoted as saying that small-town Americans are "bitter" and with the airing of controversial remarks by his former pastor, the Rev. Jeremiah A. Wright Jr.
But 64 percent of voters in Indiana and 69 percent in North Carolina said they would be satisfied with Obama as the Democratic nominee, according to exit polls, in line with the 69 percent who said the same in previous contests.
Likewise, superdelegates have continued to support Obama. In the two weeks since the Pennsylvania primary, which Obama lost by 10 percentage points, he has gained the support of about two dozen superdelegates, to the dozen or so that have backed Clinton.
Clinton's loss in North Carolina also pointed to an increasingly complicated dynamic for her campaign: More than 90 percent of African Americans, one of the most loyal factions in the Democratic party, favored Obama. That not only prevented Clinton from coming close but also makes it harder for her to woo superdelegates who would be loath to derail the chances of the most viable black presidential candidate in the country's history.
Rep. Brad Miller, an undecided superdelegate from North Carolina, said on the eve of his state's primary that he would be uncomfortable telling the African American community in his Raleigh area district that he would choose Clinton over Obama simply because he deemed her more electable.
"I'm not sure how I could tell them that," he said.
Clinton plans to continue to reach out to working-class voters with her plan for a gas tax "holiday" in the six contests that remain, but campaign aides acknowledged that changing the dynamics in any of those places will be difficult. The candidates are expected to split the remaining races, with Obama favored in Oregon, Montana and South Dakota and with Clinton given the edge in West Virginia, Kentucky and Puerto Rico.
Clinton's last chance for a big upset is in Oregon, where she will go Thursday, but she faces an uphill climb among an electorate that one of her aides described as "demographically polarized."