Business Times - 05 Jun 2008
He needs the support of critical voting groups that traditionally vote for the Democratic presidential candidate
By LEON HADAR
SENATOR Hillary Clinton won the Puerto Rico Democratic primary on Sunday in a landslide, beating Senator Barrack Obama - her rival for the party's presidential nomination - by a huge margin of 68 per cent to 32 per cent.
Unfortunately for the former first lady, her victory in the beautiful island of Puerto Rico - a semi-autonomous colony of the US and whose residents do not get to vote in presidential elections - is not going to make it more likely that she will be returning to 1600, Pennsylvania Avenue any time soon.
In fact, after the last Democratic primaries of the season in South Dakota and Montana - which together send 31 delegates to the Democratic convention - Mr Obama was able to claim during an address before more than 20,000 supporters in St Paul, Minnesota, that he had amassed enough pledged and super-delegates - 2,118 delegates is the magic number needed to be nominated at the party's convention in Denver in August - to make him the presumptive presidential nominee of his party.
So the Democratic primaries are over - and Mr Obama is the winner! But while it's becoming clear to everyone, including to Mrs Clinton's supporters, that the math of the delegates means that the presidential nomination has slipped from her grasp, there are no indications that the feisty politician, who had been anointed as the likely nominee by the media last year, was going to concede a defeat and call on her delegates and supporters to back Mr Obama.
In an interview with The Washington Post, Mrs Clinton insisted that she was not searching for an 'exit strategy', raising concerns in the Obama camp, as well as among the Democratic Party's leaders that she will press forward with her campaign straight to the convention in Denver in August, raising the spectre of a politically bloody fight for the nomination between Mrs Clinton's groupies and the Obamaniacs.
Indeed, officials in the Clinton campaign are continuing to spin the results of all the primaries as a victory for their candidate, pointing out that Mrs Clinton has won the overall popular vote. Reflecting that spin, a Clinton campaign ad running in Montana and South Dakota maintains: '17 million Americans have voted for Hillary Clinton. More than for any primary candidate in history. Some say there isn't a single reason for Hillary to be the Democratic nominee. They're right. There are over 17 million of them.'
But based on the complex electoral system of the primaries, the candidate who wins the popular vote does not necessarily win the nomination.
The political buzz around Washington is that Mrs Clinton and her aides are drawing the outlines of an exit strategy under which she will announce her withdrawal from the Democratic nomination race and endorse Mr Obama.
The questions on the pundits' mind is whether Mrs Clinton will demand some prize - the vice-presidency? - for supporting Mr Obama, and whether the large number of white Democratic women who support her will 'come back home', that is, whether they will vote for Mr Obama or whether they will stay home on Election Day, or perhaps vote for John McCain, the Republican candidate.
Mrs Clinton and her supporters suffered a devastating defeat over the weekend when the Democratic National Committee Rules and Bylaws committee came to a compromise on the disputed delegates from Michigan and Florida, where no official primaries had taken place but where many Democrats decided to vote anyway.
Under the deal, each delegate from the two contested states would count as half a vote. The Clinton camp wanted each delegate to count as one vote. Based on the compromise, Mr Obama would pick up 63 votes to Mrs Clinton's 87 votes. In the aftermath of the announcement of the compromise, many angry Democrats in Michigan and Florida have threatened not to vote for the Democratic presidential nominee in November.
Mrs Clinton, who addressed her supporters in New York City on Tuesday refrained from endorsing Mr Obama and explained that she would decide on her political future in the coming days while her advisers hold talks with members of the Obama campaign.
Some of Mr Obama's top aides are reluctant to offer Mrs Clinton the vice-presidency but it is Mr Obama who will have to make the final decision.
Winning Mrs Clinton's supporters to his side is just one of the many challenges that Mr Obama will be facing in the general election.
He is the first African-American with any real chance of winning the presidency and his selection by the Democrats as their presidential candidate is itself seen as a historic development. One American television anchor compared it to the landing of the first man on the moon.
Mr Obama is also one of the youngest candidates to ever run for the office of the presidency (and will be running against the oldest candidate to ever run for the White House). Thanks to his personal charisma, oratorical skills, and a fresh message of 'change', he has succeeded in mobilising many young and new voters to support and even work for his campaign.
But while Mr Obama will be able to rely on the backing of these young voters as well as on winning the votes of two important demographic blocs (African-Americans and educated professionals), he also needs the support of other critical voting groups that traditionally vote for the Democratic presidential candidate (senior citizens, blue-collar workers and rural residents) in order to win in such critical 'swing' states such as Ohio, Pennsylvania, Michigan and Florida - states where Mrs Clinton beat him in the primaries. Mr Obama also seems not to being doing so well among Catholic and Jewish voters as well as among Hispanics. One of the major obstacles that he is facing among these groups and other white voters is the issue of race. Although he has tried to market himself as a 'post-racial' and not a black candidate, many white voters - especially the older and less educated ones - are reluctant to vote for a non-white for the presidency even if they would not admit that in responses to pollsters.
Mr Obama's ties to his African-American pastor in the Trinity United Church of Christ in Chicago, who has blasted American foreign policy and the nation's attitudes on race during his sermons, seemed to have hurt him among the white voters he needs in order to win in November. Hence, Mr Obama announced on Saturday that he was resigning from the church in which he has been an active member since 1992.
The major advantage that Mr Obama has on his side in November is the very depressed mood of the American people who - against the backdrop of the continuing war in Iraq, a mounting recession, and high energy prices - have been telling pollsters that they are angry at the way President George W Bush and the Republicans have managed US domestic and foreign policies in recent years. They are demanding a radical change in Washington.
Mr Obama could win the race if he could succeed in convincing these voters - blacks and whites, young and old, men and women, educated and the less-educated, urbanites and rural residents - that he is indeed that agent of change.
Copyright © 2007 Singapore Press Holdings Ltd. All rights reserved.