Business Times - 08 May 2008
Democratic presidential endgame is in sight
After a rock-solid victory in the North Carolina primary, Obama looks set to win
By LEON HADAR
SENATOR Barack Obama, the frontrunner in the Democratic race for party's presidential nomination, is back in business, and after a rock-solid victory in the North Carolina primary and a narrow loss in Indiana, he could be on his way to winning the Big Prize.
'Tonight we stand less than 200 delegates away from winning the Democratic nomination for President of the United States,' Mr Obama told his supporters in North Carolina, promising to lead the Democrats towards victory against presumptive Republican presidential candidate John McCain in the general election on November.
During several weeks of gruelling election campaigning, Mr Obama, the son of a black Kenyan father and a white American mother, had suffered major electoral set-backs and public relations fiascos, and seemed to be losing his Mojo, a type of magic charm that according to African-American folklore brings luck and success.
The Mojo clearly helped Mr Obama score several crucial electoral victories, starting with the first caucuses in Iowa that propelled him to the top of the Democratic race, stunning most of the pundits in Washington who had been certain that Mrs Clinton, the former First Lady with her huge base of political and financial support would win the Democratic presidential nomination.
Most critical to Mr Obama's success and the political momentum he enjoyed was his ability to draw support not only from African-American voters, but also from a large number of white voters. That explained why he ended up winning the Democratic races in states with relatively small African-American voters in the Northeast (Connecticut), the Midwest (Wisconsin) and the South (Virginia).
But Mrs Clinton, whose initial support came from older voters and white women, has been able to exploit a rising sense of uneasiness with the black Mr Obama among white rural voters and blue-collar workers, two critical voting blocs in the large states of Ohio and Pennsylvania, where Mrs Clinton succeeded in winning the primaries.
Some of the problems facing Mr Obama stemmed from his ties to his pastor in an African-American church in Chicago, the Rev Jeremiah Wright, whose sermons accusing the US government of spreading the AIDS epidemic among America's blacks and blaming it for the 9/11 terrorist attacks, have been shown on YouTube and broadcast 24/7 on cable television. Also eroding Mr Obama's support among lower-middle class white voters were the condescending remarks he had made about them during a fund-raising event in San Francisco.
While Mrs Clinton has faced major obstacles in overcoming the lead of about 150 that Mr Obama continued to maintain among pledged delegates, she has remained hopeful that she could persuade the majority of the 800 'super-delegates' - party leaders, lawmakers, governors, mayors - to support her candidacy, after demonstrating that unlike Mr Obama, she could win the votes of whites in 'swing states', like Ohio and Pennsylvania.
With about 300 'super-delegates' still undeclared, and who in theory could decide to support her, it was Mrs Clinton who seemed to be the presidential candidate with the Mojo.
Just last week, Mrs Clinton was taunting her rival: If Mr Obama has a lead over her in terms of the pledged delegates and the popular vote - not to mention the millions of dollars he has raised for the campaign - why couldn't he 'close a deal', Mrs Clinton asked.
The former First Lady who was campaigning with her husband in Indiana and North Carolina was hoping that the controversy over Mr Obama's pastor and related issues, and the continuing erosion in his support among white voters, would help her win a double-digit victory in Indiana, with its large white population, and would make it difficult for Mr Obama to beat her in North Carolina, despite its concentration of African-American voters.
According to the best-case-scenario drawn-up by the Clintonites, the setbacks that Mr Obama would have suffered in these two states would have provided Mrs Clinton with the kind of political and media momentum that she needed and that would have left the party's 'super-delegates' no other choice but to consider her as the most-likely candidate to win in the general election in November.
But that didn't happen. Mr Obama won big in North Carolina, while Mrs Clinton's margin of victory in Indiana was quite narrow. Mr Obama, on the other hand, did better than expected. The outcome allows him to add more pledged delegates to his column and strengthens his hand - while it weakens Mrs Clinton's - as he tries to 'close a deal' with the 'super-delegates'.
Moreover, exit polls in North Carolina and Indiana suggest that the Wright controversy had only a marginal effect on the voters, and that, if anything, Mr Obama has been able to regain some of his earlier support among white voters.
The remaining primaries - in West Virginia and Kentucky, where Mrs Clinton is expected to win, and in Oregon and Montana, where Mr Obama is likely to emerge as a victor - are not expected to change the math of the Democratic race. Mr Obama continues to maintain a lead among pledged delegates and is gradually winning the support of the remaining undeclared 'super-delegates'.
Most observers expect several leading Democratic figures, such as former presidential candidate Al Gore to announce their support for Obama in the coming weeks and to try to persuade Mrs Clinton to withdraw from the race as part of the political deal under which she would be selected as Mr Obama's running mate.
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