Obama Gains, But Still Lags In Big States


By: Wall Street Journal

By CHRISTOPHER COOPER and AMY CHOZICK

Barack Obama’s overwhelming weekend victory in South Carolina’s Democratic primary gives him new momentum in the run-up to the near-national nominating contest a week from tomorrow, known as Super Tuesday.

But Mr. Obama heads into the 22-state showdown as the underdog. The Illinois senator trails Sen. Hillary Clinton of New York by large margins in polls in most of the big states voting Feb. 5. And he lacks the time or resources to campaign intensively in many of those far-flung races to close the gaps.

Mr. Obama’s 55% to 26% victory Saturday over Mrs. Clinton was far wider than predicted, and showed off the best assets of his campaign: a powerful ground organization, the perception that he is an agent of change in a party longing for it, and an ability to attract both white and black voters in a state where the electorate remains racially polarized.

Today, Mr. Obama is likely to get a fresh boost. One of the Democratic Party’s icons, senior Massachusetts Sen. Edward Kennedy, is expected to offer his endorsement, joining his niece — Caroline Kennedy, daughter of slain President John F. Kennedy — and adding to the JFK aura that has lifted Mr. Obama’s presidential bid.

But for all of the attention Mr. Obama has garnered since his Iowa caucus victory at the beginning of the month, Mrs. Clinton has maintained her big lead in national polls — and in polls in the big states with delegate prizes far greater than any state that has voted so far.

Among the major Super Tuesday contests, Mrs. Clinton has wide — in some cases double-digit — polling leads in California, New York, New Jersey, Massachusetts, Arizona, Missouri and Alabama. Mr. Obama leads in his home state of Illinois and in Georgia.

The demographics in many of those states also seem to play more to Mrs. Clinton’s strengths, with big populations of Latinos and white women, groups that helped carry her to victory over Mr. Obama in New Hampshire and Nevada.

Mr. Obama’s South Carolina win was pumped up by the 80% of the black vote he carried in a state where more than half the voters are African-American; he also received 25% of the white vote in a state not historically known for racial tolerance. On Super Tuesday, the black vote will dominate mainly in a handful of Southern states.

Diversity

The sheer diversity of the states in play — racially, regionally, geographically — means that no candidate will have the cash or the leisure to engage in anything approaching the old-fashioned whistle-stop campaigning that has defined the races in most states so far. Mr. Obama had more than three weeks to build on his Iowa victory to chip away at Mrs. Clinton’s lead in South Carolina and ultimately to overwhelm her. That will be much harder over the coming week.

“Clinton is harvesting her long-term campaign investment,” says Cole Blease Graham Jr., a professor of political science at the University of South Carolina. “The Democratic establishment seems to be more behind her.”

Looking for some fresh momentum of her own, Mrs. Clinton has started calling attention to the largely ignored Democratic vote tomorrow in Florida, a state where a recent poll gave her a 48% to 28% edge. All the Democratic candidates have pledged not to campaign in Florida, which was stripped of all its delegates by the Democratic National Committee as punishment for moving its primary into January. Though the party forbade candidates from staging rallies there, it is allowing fund-raising visits; Mrs. Clinton has three scheduled today, in Sarasota and Miami. And she now plans to visit Florida after the polls close tomorrow night to “thank her supporters.”

The Florida race is being hotly contested on the Republican side; the Republican Party took away only half the state’s delegates, and the party’s leading candidates are all focused on tomorrow’s vote. Arizona Sen. John McCain appears to have the momentum and former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, who has staked his candidacy on the Sunshine State, is fading.

Saturday, Mr. McCain picked up the endorsement of Florida’s popular first-term governor, Charlie Crist, who political operatives say has the most effective get-out-the-vote machine in the state. Mr. McCain also has the endorsement of Sen. Mel Martinez, who is popular with South Florida’s Cuban community. Polls show Mr. McCain in a tight race with former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney.

But the Democrats are already fully focused on Feb. 5 — and neither of the two leaders is giving up any demographic. Yesterday, Mr. Obama said he would travel to one Super Tuesday state, Kansas, which has a relatively small African-American population, to campaign in his white grandfather’s hometown. Mrs. Clinton left South Carolina moments after the polls closed, spending yesterday in Tennessee, where a week-old poll gives her a 14-point lead. One stop: Memphis, where much of the state’s black population is centered. About 16% of the state’s citizens are black.

Having the Edge

Mrs. Clinton appears to have the edge going into the coming week. Polling conducted since the middle of January — after her thin-but-surprising victory in the New Hampshire primary — shows that she holds a decisive and often double-digit edge over Mr. Obama in eight of the 10 most important Super Tuesday states. These states collectively will deliver more than 1,500 delegates; 2,025 are needed to lock up a nomination.

But that advantage may be less solid than it seems. Recent polls in California, Arizona, Illinois and Tennessee show anywhere from 1 in 10 to 3 in 10 Democrats still undecided.

At a Clinton rally in Phoenix last week, Benjamin Taylor, a 29-year-old attorney, said he doesn’t agree with the claims by Mrs. Clinton and husband, Bill, that Mr. Obama lacks experience. “People said the exact same thing about Bill Clinton when he first ran. If you’re intelligent enough, you deserve to be president,” said Mr. Taylor, who says he wants to see Mr. Obama speak before making a decision. He will get his chance Thursday when Mr. Obama visits the state.

Though a poll conducted a week ago in Arizona shows Mrs. Clinton with a 10-percentage-point lead over Mr. Obama, it may not account for any bump he might have gotten from a recent endorsement by Arizona Gov. Janet Napolitano. Ms. Napolitano plans to campaign with Mr. Obama during his visit to the state.

Statewide polls are often unreliable. And because it’s expensive to poll, they often fail to come out frequently enough to reflect changing voter sentiment on the ground. A poll in Massachusetts conducted Wednesday gave Mrs. Clinton 59% of the vote — a nearly 3-to-1 edge over Mr. Obama. But the Kennedy endorsement could carry substantial clout with Massachusetts voters. And Mr. Obama has the backing of the state’s other senator, John Kerry, as well as Gov. Deval Patrick.

Tough Season

This has proved a tough season for statewide pollsters even by historical standards. Mrs. Clinton eked out a win in New Hampshire even though most pollsters expected her to be buried by Mr. Obama. A recent analysis of polls in that state by Survey USA found that pollsters were off by an average of 10 percentage points in the days leading up to the election. Meanwhile, in South Carolina, where Mr. Obama routed Mrs. Clinton on Saturday, Survey USA found that prognosticators did even worse, chalking up average error rates of 17 percentage points.

Mrs. Clinton’s protestations to the contrary, she clearly believed she had a chance to do well in South Carolina, having plowed millions of dollars into the state and added scores of paid staff there in recent months.

The Clinton strategy, in part, is to play down her South Carolina defeat by attributing it largely to the state’s large African-American populace and to tag Mr. Obama as a black-oriented candidate. The latest shot across the bow came over the weekend when former President Clinton, in a move that many in the Obama campaign saw as a ham-handed attempt to cast its candidate as narrowly as possible, reached back 20 years to draw comparisons to the long-shot campaign of black civil-rights activist Jesse Jackson.

“Jesse Jackson won South Carolina twice, in ’84 and ’88,” Mr. Clinton said. “And he ran a good campaign, and Sen. Obama’s run a good campaign here.”

Clinton press secretary Matt McKenna declined to comment when asked directly about the former president’s statements.

More broadly, in a sign of how tricky racial politics can be, the chief strategic question facing the Clinton campaign is how much to lean on the former president, who is still very popular among Democrats, but has been criticized by party faithful in recent days for his attacks on Mr. Obama. Mr. McKenna said Mr. Clinton will continue to play a big role in the campaign but there may be a cost: Black voter support of the Clintons — historically substantial — ebbed to about 18% of the electorate in South Carolina, exit polling showed.

Exit polling also showed that around 60% of voters said Mr. Clinton’s presence affected how they voted; of those in that category, about two-thirds voted for Mr. Obama or former North Carolina Sen. John Edwards, who finished a distant third.

Write to Christopher Cooper at christopher.cooper@wsj.com and Amy Chozick at amy.chozick@wsj.com

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