Clinton and Obama's Super Tuesday in Indiana and North Carolina

It's not over yet, but there are several scenarios for how the Democratic nomination will end after Tuesday's primaries.

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Corrected on 5/9/08: Due to a posting error, the column titles on the chart were reversed.

The original Super Tuesday, in the 1988 cycle, was engineered by southern and moderate Democrats with the intention of securing the nomination for a moderate southern candidate in a flurry of southern primaries. It worked that year, but for the other party: George H. W. Bush, after his defining victory in South Carolina (scheduled for the Saturday before Super Tuesday by Lee Atwater), swept the South and won the Republican nomination, while on the Democratic side, Al Gore's five primary wins in the South were matched by Jesse Jackson's five, and Michael Dukakis, winning Florida and Texas, went on to win the party's nomination.

This year, the Republican nomination was effectively settled on Super Tuesday, when John McCain's narrow but decisive wins in several states, together with the party's winner-take-all delegate allocation rules, enabled him to build up an insurmountably big delegate lead over Mitt Romney. Mike Huckabee stayed in the race, but obviously had no chance to win; he and McCain traded compliments, and on subsequent election nights Huckabee delivered gracious concession speeches and McCain delivered victory statements aimed at the general electorate. It served both candidates' interests to pretend that there was still a real contest, and Huckabee actually won the Kansas caucus and was competitive in the Virginia primary during this period. But everyone knew McCain was going to be the party's nominee, and treated him accordingly.

So it is, I think, on the Democratic side after Tuesday's thumpingly wide 56 percent to 42 percent victory for Barack Obama in the North Carolina primary and thuddingly narrow 51 percent to 49 percent victory for Hillary Clinton in the Indiana primary. In Raleigh, N.C., Obama delivered a victory speech that was clearly aimed at a general election audience. He was carefully respectful of Clinton and congratulated her on what he said appeared to be her victory in Indiana (although at that point only CBS had called the state for her and on the data available was in my opinion clearly wrong to do so). He told us repeatedly that he loved America—something he needs to do, given his 20-year pastor's denunciations of his country and his wife's statement that she was only "really proud" of her country when her husband started winning presidential caucuses and primaries. I think John Hood is right to say it was a decisive night for Obama and "Richelieu" (we all assume it's Mike Murphy) is right to say that Hillary Clinton is toast. An over familiar metaphor, I'm afraid; I attempted a variation of it on Fox News last night when I said, thinking of the time Obama ducked a reporter's question by saying that he wanted to eat his waffle, that Obama was like a warm, steaming waffle, while Clinton was like cold toast.

Which isn't to say that Hillary Clinton is going to quit running now, any more than her erstwhile fellow Arkansan Mike Huckabee quit running immediately after February 5. She can clearly win West Virginia on May 13; look at how she's done in adjacent counties in Dave Leip's Election Atlas and you'll see why. On May 20, she can clearly win in Kentucky, through probably not in Oregon on the same day. She can probably win in Puerto Rico on June 1, and perhaps by a substantial popular vote margin, one large enough to swamp possible losses in lightly populated South Dakota and Montana June 3. She no longer leads in popular vote (counting Florida and Michigan) as she did after the Pennsylvania primary April 22, but she could conceivably regain that (qualified) popular vote lead. But I think none of this will matter. Superdelegates are going to continue to go toward Obama, and Clinton may soon have fewer superdelegates, as well as fewer primary-selected delegates and many fewer caucus-selected delegates, than Obama. Democrats are going to assume that Obama's problems with the Rev. Jeremiah Wright and with his own remarks about "bitter" small towners have not produced decisive damage, although there's some basis in the May 6 results to argue otherwise.

So I expect Clinton and Obama to continue to campaign along the lines of the nonaggression pact their election night remarks suggest. They'll say little or nothing negative about each other and approach the results in ways that will be consistent with the responses they'll have to make when Obama clinches the nomination. One possible endpoint: Obama may claim after May 20 that he has a majority of committed delegates (not including Florida and Michigan). Another possible endpoint: The Democratic National Committee's rules committee meeting May 31 may produce a compromise that gives Florida and Michigan some representation but leaves Obama well positioned to claim a majority of delegates. Another possible endpoint: After the June 3 primary, Obama announces a cascade of 20 to 40 superdelegates, which put him over the top without identifying any single superdelegate as having made the decision.

Obama's relative success in the May 6 primaries can, I think, be chalked up to his performance in three metropolitan areas which have had robust or relatively robust economic and demographic growth and where urban politics has not been focused on racially polarized city elections—Charlotte and Raleigh-Durham, N.C., and Indianapolis. I haven't calculated the metro area totals yet, but it's apparent from these data that Obama ran very well among whites in their largest counties:

  Black % Obama %
Wake County, N.C. (Raleigh) 20 65
Mecklenburg County, N.C. (Charlotte) 28 70
Marion County, Ind. (Indianapolis) 25 67

Obviously the black percentage of voters was higher than the black percentage of population, but probably not too much higher, given the robust overall turnout. So this suggests that most whites in these counties voted for Obama.

In contrast, look at the county we were concentrating on till the wee hours at Fox News—Lake County, Ind. This includes black-majority Gary and, being literally next-door to the city of Chicago, was considered an Obama stronghold. The numbers:

Lake County, Ind. (Gary) 26 55

There seems to have been some manipulation of the announcement of the returns from Lake County, presumably orchestrated by Obama supporter Rudy Clay, who is both mayor of Gary and Lake County Democratic chairman. For most of the evening, Lake County reported no results at all, even though the mayor of Hammond (a Clay rival) said his results were ready to be reported early in the evening. Then, around midnight—I didn't look at my watch as the numbers suddenly flashed on my screen at Fox News headquarters—we saw some 38,000 votes posted, "half of the city of Gary," we were told, that were 75 percent for Obama; they reduced Hillary Clinton's running margin from about 40,000 to about 20,000. A straight-line extrapolation from these results, assuming that Obama would win that percentage from the rest of the county that was expected to cast another 94,000 votes, would indicate Obama would overtake Clinton and carry Indiana.

As I pointed out on Fox, a straight-line extrapolation wasn't justified. For one thing, it was unlikely that those 38,000 votes represented only a part of Gary. Gary's 2007 population was 97,000, and a turnout of 38,000 would be 40 percent of the total population—a huge contrast from the 20 percent of total population turnout in Marion County. Moreover, while Gary has a large black majority; the rest of the county, some 395,000 people, is only about 12 percent black—the same percentage as in two other industrial northern Indiana counties, St. Joseph (South Bend) and Allen (Fort Wayne), which Obama carried with 53 percent and 56 percent of the vote. Later tranches of the Lake County vote justified my analysis: Obama won it with 55 percent of the vote.

One other interesting thing: The exit polls were pretty much on target here, as opposed to earlier contests this year in which they have tended to show Obama winning a higher percentage—sometimes a considerably higher percentage—than he has won in the tabulated vote. One possible explanation: Obama voters tended to be more enthusiastic and more willing to take the exit poll, which half of those approached decline to do. But that was not true this time. Has the Reverend Wright reduced the enthusiasm for Obama? Maybe. But it hasn't reduced his support in Democratic primaries enough to give Hillary Clinton the opening she was hoping for until the May 6 returns started coming in. Clinton's 51 percent in Indiana is not so far from her 55 percent in Ohio and Pennsylvania which, as I have pointed out, has an older demographic profile than Indiana.