Business Times - 31 Jan 2008
Will 'Billary' stop the Obama resurgence?
Expect a long and nasty fight between these political stars
By LEON HADAR
SENATOR Barack Obama's crushing victory over Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton in the South Carolina Democratic presidential primary on Saturday has provided his campaign with huge political momentum as these two political stars, together with the third presidential contender, Senator John Edwards prepare for the key primary races, including in California, New York and New Jersey that will take place next week.
The final results of the Democratic primary in South Carolina indicate that Mr Obama had won 55 per cent of the vote against 27 per cent for Mrs Clinton and 18 per cent for Mr Edwards. This is the second primary victory for Mr Obama after his earlier victory in the Democratic caucuses in Iowa.
Mr Obama needed a big win in South Carolina after his losses in the primaries in New Hampshire and Nevada. And while he drew a wide majority of African-American support in South Carolina, he also won the support of 25 per cent of the white voters in the primary in a state where blacks were still suffering horrendous discrimination by the white majority until the early 1960s. At the same time, Mr Obama seemed to have the backing of most of the men and young voters in the primary, while Mrs Clinton maintained an advantage over Mr Obama only among members of one key demographic group - women voters.
'Tonight, the cynics who believed that what began in the snows of Iowa was just an illusion were told a different story by the good people of South Carolina,' Mr Obama told a jubilant audience during a victory speech in South Carolina on Saturday. 'After four great contests in every corner of this country, we have the most votes, the most delegates and the most diverse coalition of Americans we've seen in a long, long time.'
While the candidacy of the young and charismatic African-American politician - a son of a Kenyan man and an American-white woman, who grew up in Indonesia and Hawaii and graduated from Harvard law school - has ignited a lot of excitement among members of the political class in the media in the US and around the world, most political observers were sceptical until the victory in Iowa that Mr Obama could actually defeat the powerful and experienced campaign machine of Hillary and her husband, former president Bill Clinton - or 'Billary' as they are know in Washington.
But the current conventional wisdom among the pundits that has already changed several times during the campaign that started last year is that Mr Obama has emerged as a very strong contender for his party's presidential nomination.
Indeed, the recent behaviour by Billary and their aides in recent days, including their attempts to cast Mr Obama as an inexperienced black politician who was not prepared to occupy the White House seemed to have backfired against the ex-president and first lady, especially among African-American voters who had traditionally supported the Clintons.
On the other hand, Mr Obama's message of unity and inclusion and his cross-demographic appeal together with his focus on the need for 'change' in Washington seemed to be powerful, especially among students and young voters who have been showing-up in huge numbers to his political events.
In many ways, the success of the Illinois senator in motivating a new generation of Democrats to enter politics and in drawing new voters from all over the political spectrum to his camp reminds Americans of another young and very attractive Democratic senator, John F Kennedy, who in 1960 had won the presidency, mobilising the support of the then young members of the post-World War II generation with his call for dramatic changes in American domestic and foreign policies.
In this proposed Obama-is-Kennedy narrative, Bill and Hillary Clinton represent the past and the 'old politics' of Washington with its ugly partisanship and corrupt interest groups and lobbyists, while Mr Obama is a 'fresh face' representing a 'new' kind of politics that offers change and renewal.
So it wasn't perhaps surprising that the daughter of JFK, Caroline Kennedy, in a piece published in the New York Times on Sunday expressed her support for Mr Obama after making a comparison between him and her late father. Another member of the Kennedy clan, Senator Edward Kennedy was also expected to endorse the presidential candidacy of Mr Obama.
But the election campaign is far from over and the Billary team could be counted on to continue fighting over every delegate that will be chosen in the coming primaries until the race reaches the finishing line. And the two are quite confident that they are going to win in what is expected to be a long and nasty campaign.
When it comes to Super Tuesday, the set of primaries that will take place on Feb 5, Mr Obama can certainly count on the support of African-American voters who could help him deliver victories in four southern states and to win in California, New York, and New Jersey, but who will play a less critical role in states like Colorado and Kansas. Hillary Clinton, on the other hand, is expected to carry the votes of many if not most white women as well as Hispanics on Tuesday.
But polls also show that Hillary remains very unpopular among white men and that Mr Obama could draw many new young voters who have never participated in politics in the past. Unlike on the Republican side, the primary process on the Democratic side is not based on a winner-take-all system and it requires dividing the number of delegates in the several districts in each state between Mr Obama, Mrs Clinton, Mr Edwards, and other candidates.
If the race between Mr Obama and Mrs Clinton will be close, one can expect a bitter fight between the two camps, in particular as they try to draw the support of the delegates of Mr Edwards and other candidates to their respective side. The Billary duo, veterans of two presidential races and several other election campaigns could prove to be more successful in handling that kind of fight that could continue until the party's convention that takes place in August.
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