Two Races, One Big Day
Candidates Crisscross Country in Late Push Before Pivotal Voting
Tuesday, February 5, 2008
Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton made a raspy appeal for support yesterday in her race against Sen. Barack Obama, even as her aides warned that the Democratic presidential contest will probably drag on for months after today's Super Tuesday voting. Republican Mitt Romney, meanwhile, predicted he would "surprise" those who were expecting Sen. John McCain to be anointed as the GOP nominee in the busiest single day of primaries and caucuses in presidential nominating history.
"I am definitely the underdog," Romney declared during a final day of furious campaigning that included a hastily arranged trip to delegate-rich California.
With 24 states in play, the leading candidates in both parties scoured targeted states for votes in the hours before the polls were to open. McCain, after a year of unexpected twists that left his candidacy all but dead late last year, hoped to clinch the Republican nomination by carrying California and a swath of Northeastern states.
Democrats were bracing for a less decisive outcome. Advisers to Clinton (N.Y.), once the clear front-runner, were stoic as they envisioned a "lengthy process" that could continue for months, possibly through the Democratic National Convention in late August. Clinton officials also confirmed that she had raised about $13 million in January, compared with $32 million Obama raised in the same period.
Clinton, her voice hoarse from nonstop campaigning, showed her emotions in New Haven, Conn., as she visited the Yale Child Study Center, where she had worked during law school.
"I said I would not tear up," she said, referencing a similar and closely studied moment just before her comeback victory last month in the New Hampshire primary. She staged a national town hall meeting last night, planned a celebration in Manhattan tonight to watch the returns come in, and was slated to be back on the campaign trail Wednesday morning. She is also due to visit Northern Virginia.
Obama drew about 17,000 supporters at a rally in Hartford, Conn., yesterday, building on excitement and sense of momentum that has surrounded his campaign since an overwhelming victory in the South Carolina primary late last month. He campaigned with Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.) as polls showed an increasingly close race even in states, such as California, that were supposed to be solid Clinton territory. Obama and Kennedy closed out the day with a huge rally in Boston, but after several surprising turns in the race over the past month, almost no one in either camp voiced confidence about the outcome of the coast-to-coast Democratic primaries and caucuses today.
Mark Penn, the chief strategist for Clinton, and senior adviser Howard Wolfson held a conference call late yesterday to emphasize the importance of contests being held much later -- in particular, Texas and Ohio on March 4 and Pennsylvania on April 22.
"We believe there's a lot of debate to be had," Penn said, suggesting that voters had not had enough time to fully study their choices.
The Democratic nomination will be "possibly decided in March, possibly decided in April, possibly not decided until the convention," Wolfson said, expressing the extent of the turnabout the campaign has made from its initial belief that Clinton would secure the nod on Super Tuesday. Clinton and Obama both spent the final day of campaigning in the Northeast, a region that was expected to produce a strong showing for her but appeared in recent days to present openings for Obama.
With Kennedy in tow, Obama also unveiled an endorsement from actor Robert De Niro, who praised the candidate during a rally at New Jersey's Meadowlands Sports Center and mocked criticism that Obama is not experienced enough to be president.
Referring to Obama's early opposition to the war in Iraq, De Niro said: "That's the kind of inexperience I can get used to. That's the kind of inexperience our country deserves." (Clinton would later counter with an endorsement from actor Jack Nicholson.)