Sen. Barack Obama won decisively in the North Carolina primary (56 to 42 percent) Tuesday night while Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton won a close race in Indiana (51 to 49 percent), but the consensus among analysts was that Obama’s victory carried more weight, as well as more delegates.
Adam Nagourney reported in The New York Times that “for Mr. Obama, the apparently divided outcome came after a brutal period in which he was on the defensive over the inflammatory comments of his former pastor. That he was able to hold his own under those circumstances should allow him to make a case that he has proved his resilience in the face of questions about race, values and patriotism — the very kinds of issues that the Clinton campaign has suggested would leave him vulnerable in the general election.
“When paired with Mr. Obama’s comfortable victory in North Carolina, a bigger state, Mrs. Clinton’s performance in Indiana did not seem to be enough to cut into Mr. Obama’s lead in pledged delegates or in his overall lead in the popular vote. And because Mrs. Clinton did not appear to come particularly close in North Carolina, despite a substantial effort there, she lost an opportunity to sow new doubts among Democratic leaders about Mr. Obama’s general-election appeal.”
With record turnout in both states, “Obama took an overwhelming 91 percent of the black vote in North Carolina, according to exit polls, with Clinton taking only six percent. Clinton took 59 percent of the white vote, compared with 36 percent for Obama, according to the polls.”
The delegate tally
The exit polls also showed that 81 percent said that the economic recession had affected them. Among those voters, “fifty-two percent …said they think Obama is better suited to improve the economy, compared with 42 percent who said Clinton. Among voters who said they have been affected by the economy, Obama took 55 percent of the vote, compared with 41 percent for Clinton.”
The Washington Post reported that “due to Obama’s tremendous strength among black voters in North Carolina, he carried nearly every major demographic category as well. Obama won among men 57 percent to 39 percent over Clinton; he won among women, 54 percent to 42 percent.”
Obama’s delegate count brought him closer to the nomination — 1840.5 to 1,684 for Clinton in The Associated Press count, out of 2,025 needed to win the nomination.
Obama also enjoys a popular vote margin of roughly 500,000 and has won 31 contests to Clinton’s 16.
So Obama continues to lead in all categories: delegates, popular vote and elections. And the margins will increase after Tuesday, meaning it will be difficult, if not impossible, for Clinton to overtake him. And it will be increasingly difficult for uncommitted superdelegates to deny him the nomination, many analysts suggested last night on the cable network talkathons. But Clinton has shown no signs of being willing to drop out.
Clinton emphasized populist themes during recent weeks, The Times reported, “yet she was unable to build her base of support substantially beyond the white, working-class voters who had sustained her for the last month — and that will not be lost on the super delegates, the elected Democrats and party leaders who will ultimately decide this fight.”
Obama’s controversial former pastor, The Rev. Jeremiah Wright, played a role in the election in both states, CBS reported, with half saying it was important in their vote and half saying it was not.
‘Defining moment in history’
In an impassioned speech to supporters last night in Raleigh, N.C., Obama, shaking off several weeks of campaign turmoil, talked as though he would be the eventual nominee.
“We stand less than 200 delegates away from securing the Democratic nomination for president of the United States,” he said. “But ultimately, this race is not about Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama or John McCain…because we all agree that at this defining moment in history — a moment when we’re facing two wars, an economy in turmoil, a planet in peril — we can’t afford to give John McCain the chance to serve out George Bush’s third term,” Obama said. “We need change in America.”
Clinton, flanked by the former president and her daughter, Chelsea, did not declare victory in Indiana in a speech late last night, but came close.
“Not too long ago my opponent made a prediction; he said I would probably win Pennsylvania. He would probably win in North Carolina. And Indiana would be a tiebreaker,” she said. “Well, we’ve broken the tie, and thanks to you it’s full speed on to the White House.” But Clinton also assured her supporters and the television audience that she would work for the party nominee in the fall.
Whoever ultimately wins the nomination will have a good deal of work to do to woo back the other candidate’s supporters, according to exit polls.
CNN reported that “half of Clinton’s supporters in Indiana would not vote for Obama in a general election match up with Sen. John McCain… A third of Clinton voters said they would pick McCain over Obama, while 17 percent said they would not vote at all. Forty-eight percent of Clinton supporters said they would back Obama in November. Obama got even less support from Clinton backers in North Carolina where 45 percent of Clinton supporters said they would vote for him over McCain. Thirty-eight percent of Clinton supporters said they would vote for McCain while 12 percent said they would not vote.
“Obama voters appear to be more willing to support Clinton in November. In Indiana, 59 percent of Obama backers said they’d vote for Clinton, and 70 percent of Obama backers in North Carolina said they’d vote for her against McCain.”
Poll experts point out that those numbers may change significantly by the general election, but they still present challenges for the eventual Democratic nominee, particularly Obama.
Doug Stone is director of College Relations at Macalester College in St. Paul and a former reporter for the Minneapolis Tribune and assistant news director at WCCO-TV. The views in this article are not those of Macalester College.