Democrats Choose Different Paths Toward Nomination
In GOP Race, McCain Closes in on Front-Runner Status
Wednesday, February 6, 2008; 12:52 PM
Having battled on Super Tuesday to a virtual dead heat, Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.) and Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) are charting distinctly different paths to the Democratic nomination in a race so close it may not end until the party convention in late August.
Some analysts saw little likelihood that either candidate could score a knock-out blow in the next string of contests, which includes the so-called "Potomac primaries" in the District, Virginia and Maryland next Tuesday, preceded by voting this Saturday in Louisiana, Nebraska and Washington state.
As the Democrats develop their strategies for the coming weeks, the mantra of Bill Clinton's drive for the presidency in 1992--"it's the economy, stupid"-- animates his wife's bid to create a Clinton dynasty. Exit polls suggest Hillary Clinton did well yesterday among voters who consider the economy the most important issue, and she continued to draw support from lower-income voters who are particularly vulnerable to an economic downturn.
Clinton appeared to be speaking directly to those voters last night when she addressed supporters in New York. She said the race was about "the mother whose insurance company won't pay for her child's treatment; the couple so determined to send their daughter to college, they're willing to mortgage their home with a subprime second mortgage; the man who asked me what he was supposed to do after training the person who will take his job in another country; the veterans who've come home, only to find they don't have the health care."
Obama, meanwhile, continued his extraordinary performance among voters concerned about the war in Iraq and those thirsting for change. His continued strength among self-described independent voters fueled his argument that he would be the better general election candidate.
In his remarks last night in Chicago, Obama signaled he would try even more aggressively to draw a contrast with Clinton over who is the true agent for change.
"If I am your nominee," he said, "my opponent will not be able to say that I voted for the war in Iraq, because I didn't. Or that I gave George Bush the benefit of the doubt on Iran, because I haven't. Or that I support the Bush-Cheney doctrine of not talking to leaders we don't like, because I profoundly disagree with that approach."
The GOP contest appeared less volatile than the Democratic race this morning, with Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) staking a clear claim to front-runner status after victories in the biggest states yesterday. While he did not definitively put away former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee and former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney, who won 12 states between them, McCain won most of the delegates at stake yesterday.
Several GOP analysts said it would be difficult for the others to catch up.
"McCain hasn't got it into the end zone yet, but it's late in the game and he has a 21-point lead," said Ed Rogers, a former political director in the George H.W. Bush White House. "It is a big challenge for Romney in the near term news cycle to somehow minimize or diminish the defeat he has suffered. I don't know if it's possible. He doesn't have enough of a foothold or an ideological grip on the party."
Both Clinton and Obama could plausibly take succor from yesterday's results. Clinton won most of the large states in serious competition--including the big prize, California--and appeared to blunt Obama's late momentum. Obama won a string of smaller states, his home state of Illinois and the bellwether state of Missouri--which initially seemed prepared to go for Clinton but broke narrowly this morning for the junior senator from Illinois.
By this morning, it appeared the two candidates had evenly divided the delegates at stake in the 22 states that held nominating contests yesterday, with Clinton narrowly ahead in the overall delegate count, 845 to 765 , according to the Associated Press. The Obama campaign said the race may be even closer. A total of 2,025 delegates is needed to capture the Democratic nomination.