Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Lone Star Latinos, Buckeye endorsements and women — these are three factors that must come through for Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton to reclaim the Democratic Party’s presidential nomination that once appeared hers.

Photos: Potomac primaries

Mrs. Clinton, now looking like the underdog despite her once sky-high front-runner status, is laser-focused on Texas and Ohio while appealing to the demographic groups where she remains strong in the face of Sen. Barack Obama’s surge in delegates and national polls.

Mr. Obama’s formula for the nomination includes math, momentum and time, and after last night’s dominance of the Potomac region’s primaries, these elements are all on his side.

Both candidates are wooing superdelegates — members of Congress, top state officials and local Democratic activists — in hopes of tipping the scales in their favor. The superdelegates play a key role, one that has sparked heated debate over whether the process is fair.

Despite Mr. Obama’s rout of Mrs. Clinton in the three Potomac primaries yesterday, and his five-contest sweep over the weekend, their race for the White House is still very much up for grabs. The uncertainty, making some party elders anxious, is due in part to the way Democrats allocate pledged delegates proportionally, as well as the many uncommitted superdelegates.

Team Clinton has been touting her showings in the big states of California, New York and Massachusetts, saying that she does very well in primaries of populous states. Looking ahead, they want her to win by wide margins in Texas and Ohio on March 4 and Pennsylvania in April, allowing her to rack up more delegates.

“If she wins those three, she is probably the nominee,” Democratic strategist James Carville, who supports the New York senator and worked for former President Bill Clinton, said this week on CNN. “I’d be very reluctant to count them out now.”

Both campaigns agreed that Mr. Obama led in pledged delegates, awarded from primaries and caucuses, going into last night’s votes in the District, Maryland and Virginia, which all gave him double-digit victories.

When superdelegates are factored into the equation, Mrs. Clinton holds a slim victory — 1,151 delegates to 1,131 for Mr. Obama, according to an AP tally. But those superdelegates are uncommitted until the party convention in Denver this summer, and the Obama campaign thinks many may line up behind him should he win more popular votes and more state contests than Mrs. Clinton.

She is spending at least two days in Texas this week, and is leaning on supporters in the Buckeye State, including Gov. Ted Strickland, to help win over undecided Ohioans. She plans to campaign in Ohio this week as well, and yesterday astronaut and former Sen. John Glenn endorsed her at an event in Columbus.

The U.S. boasts more female voters than male voters, and Mrs. Clinton consistently has won them over throughout the election season.

“With the race for the Democratic nomination so close, Hillary is counting on us to make the difference,” campaign strategist Ann Lewis told female supporters in a targeted “Hillgram” this week. “Each phone call, door knock, e-mail and dollar you contribute will have a significant impact on this race.”

Mr. Obama has been slowly cutting into Mrs. Clinton’s advantage with Hispanic voters, winning 40 percent of them in Arizona on Super Tuesday and reaching out with a Spanish-language radio ad in Texas that began running yesterday.

Obama campaign manager David Plouffe thinks math is on his candidate’s side since the Illinois senator leads in pledged delegates based on his eight-straight wins and his Super Tuesday showing.

Based on “the cold hard reality of the math … it becomes harder and harder for that pledged delegate lead to be overturned,” Mr. Plouffe told reporters yesterday. He also thinks superdelegates who have said they will back the former first lady may swing to the Obama column once they realize he is winning more states.

Time is also Mr. Obama’s friend, allowing him to campaign for several days in Wisconsin, where voters head to the polls next Tuesday. “It might not seem like enough time but to us it seems like an eternity,” Mr. Plouffe said. An Obama campaign talking point is that their man does better when he meets more voters in person, one reason they have resisted Mrs. Clinton’s call for a debate a week for the next few months.

Because he spent so much time in Iowa before it kicked off the nation’s voting season, Mr. Obama faced a compressed schedule heading into Super Tuesday and in many cases held just one event in each state. “As the calendar slows down a little bit, that’s a good thing for us,” Mr. Plouffe said.

But he cautioned against those who are gauging the campaign based on momentum, saying campaign staffers “certainly don’t factor” that into their assessment of the race.

Either way, the campaigns are settling in for a protracted battle.

“This is going to be a nomination fight that will go on through the spring and likely to Denver,” Clinton spokesman Howard Wolfson said this week.

Mr. Wolfson said Monday he thinks “it’s almost statistically impossible” for either candidate to get to the 2,025 delegates needed to capture the party nod without superdelegates.

But many, including Democratic strategist Donna Brazile, a District-based superdelegate, have publicly fretted over the process.

“If 795 of my colleagues decide this election, I will quit the Democratic Party. I feel very strongly about this,” she said this week on CNN.

D.C. Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton, a superdelegate, echoed those complaints when endorsing Mr. Obama.

“The notion that a candidate who has not earned delegates could become the Democratic nominee for president is at odds with the democratic principles of our party reforms,” she said. “Superdelegates were never intended to allow the return of smoked-filled room, behind-the-scenes selection of our candidate.”

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s daughter Christine Pelosi, a superdelegate from California, said yesterday on CNN she will remain neutral and then support the candidate with the most popular votes.

Some voters started a “Popular Primary Vote” Web site urging frustrated Democrats to write party officials.

“In other words, the super-delegate system allows ‘party-insiders’ to ‘select’ the candidate for you,” the site complains. “If you feel that this is completely unconscionable, write the Democratic party now. Both Hillary and Obama are fine candidates, but it is we the people who should decide!”

Mrs. Clinton’s staffing woes continued yesterday as deputy campaign manager Mike Henry resigned. The news comes just days after she replaced her campaign manager.

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