As predicted in the topsy-turvy race for the Democratic presidential nomination, Sen. Barack Obama and Sen. Hillary Clinton each won the state they were predicted to capture. The big surprise of the evening, however, was Obama’s decisive lead in North Carolina at 56 to 42 and how narrow Clinton’s margin was in Indiana at 51 to 49.
Political pundits have claimed Obama needed a big win in North Carolina to demonstrate that he had weathered the recent storm of controversy surrounding his relationship with his former pastor, Jeremiah A. Wright, and to help shore up his efforts to convince super delegates that he is the most electable Democratic candidate.
In the past couple of weeks, many analysts concurred that Clinton appeared to reinvent herself as a populist, blue-collar heroine and spent a lot of time promoting a gasoline tax holiday to strengthen her base of white workers, even though economists did not appear to support it. Obama took the riskier approach of denouncing Clinton’s proposal, which he described as pandering. Given how strong he was on Tuesday, the voters may have agreed.
“You know, some were saying that North Carolina would be a game-changer in this election. But today, what North Carolina decided is that the only game that needs changing is the one in Washington, D.C.,” Obama said in his election day remarks from Raleigh, North Carolina Tuesday. “Because of you, we have seen that it’s possible to overcome the politics of division and distraction; that it’s possible to overcome the same old negative attacks that are always about scoring points and never about solving our problems. We’ve seen that the American people aren’t looking for more spin or more gimmicks, but honest answers about the challenges we face.”
“I think in terms of delegates and popular votes, [his success in North Carolina] almost erases whatever advantage Clinton gained in Pennsylvania,” says Robert Smith, a political scientist at San Francisco State University. “And, the Obama camp must be pleased that the Wright affair does not seem to have had the effect they might have thought, which was good for him in these two races and in the future.”
Still, increasing his support among white, lower-income voters continues to be a challenge for Obama, who needs to continue talking about economic issues. “His opposition to the gasoline tax holiday probably helped him because it showed that he will not go for small solutions that might have some short-term advantage, but he’s looking for major kind of change in terms of both the energy problem and the economy generally. The only real way he’s going to appeal to those voters is to talk about the economy, the economy, the economy,” Smith says.
Once again, demographics played a major role in the primaries’ outcomes. According to MSNBC exit polls, 72% of seniors and 68% of blue-collar white voters supported Clinton. In North Carolina, an overwhelming 91% of African Americans voted for Obama, who also continued to win support from a large number of young and white, college-educated