Archive for the 'NC-Dem' Category

Decisively winning North Carolina, Obama effectively ends the primary race

By now, Iowa seems like the most distant of memories, Super Tuesday appears like the most anticlimactic election day, and we can barely remember what all that fuss around driver’s licenses was about. It took more than five months of voting, calculating delegates, caucusing, campaigning, counting supers before Democratic voters deigned putting an end to the cruel game that they had been playing since the beginning of March by refusing to put the candidates’ out of their miseries and giving just enough to both for the race to go on unaltered. Yesterday, their verdict was more decisive.

Obama’s first two match points were on Hillary Clinton’s serve, and she saved them both. In North Carolina, Obama finally got to serve out the match, managed to do what he had not done since Wisconsin — win big when he needed to. Clinton’s Indiana win was too narrow to offset the North Carolina blowout, as Obama put an effective end to the race for the Democratic nomination.

Just like on March 4th and April 22nd, I had outlined three thresholds Clinton had to pass: (1) Will she be able to stay in the race? (2) Will her victory be credible? (3) Will it change the fundamentals of the race? Clinton’s win in Indiana (51% to 49%) and loss in North Carolina (56% to 42%) make the answers very clear: Those 2 percent in Indiana allow her to stay in the race if she so chooses but her victory was certainly not credible enough for her path to the nomination to remain viable.

Clinton needed a comfortable victory in Indiana and at worst a narrow loss in North Carolina; she also needed exit polls to tell the story she wanted, namely that Obama’s numbers among blue-collar white voters had collapsed so low that superdelegates should rally around her. None of these things happen. Obama’s total among NC white voters (37%) was lower than previous Southern states (he got 43% in Georgia, fir instance), but it was not a significant margin. And Obama managed to overperform once more among black voters, sealing Clinton’s fate. Obama’s showings guarantee that he will clinch a majority of pledged delegate and make his popular vote lead unassailable. In fact, the Obama campaign is now reportedly considering striking a deal on Florida and Michigan to take those issues off the table. That should tell us how confident they are that the race has stopped being competitive.

With very little good news out of yesterday’s results, Clinton lacks a rationale to present to superdelegates; perhaps most importantly, she also lacks a way to continue fundraising when her campaign is clearly in financial trouble (it was revealed today that Clinton had loaned her campaign more than $6 million over the past month, most of it before Pennsylvania).

Clinton is vowing to press on and let the remaining states to vote, fighting on until “there’s a nominee.” In an email to supporters in which she repeatedly references the last “28 days of voting,” she writes, “I’m going to keep fighting for what I believe in until every voter has had his or her say.” But Clinton seems to have given up on a confrontational attitude and they are unlikely to try to draw major contrasts from now on. Ben Smith reports the lack of contrasts in Clinton’s stump speech this morning. This is essentially the position Huckabee was in before he dropped out on March 4th.

The question, of course, is whether superdelegates, the media, and Democratic elders will let her go on. The Obama campaign has clearly chosen to not pressure her at all, allowing her the space to come to her decision by herself without feeling that she is being forced out. Senator McCaskill insisted that it was absolutely not time for Clinton to drop out. Rep. Clyburn, who remains uncommitted but has been very critical of Clinton recently, said the same thing.

Will superdelegates start rapidly moving towards Obama? Former presidential candidate George McGovern, a prominent Clinton supporter, urged her to drop out this morning and announced he was endorsing Obama. McGovern is not a superdelegate, but his switch could influence other Democrats. Obama already picked up four superdelegates since last night and this despite reports that his campaign is holding on to superdelegate announcements to avoid putting too much pressure on Clinton when the results speak for themselves. And Clinton actually got a new superdelegate herself as North Carolina Rep. Heath Shuler announced he was backing her.

Obama is now looking to turn his attention to the general election, with his campaign announcing that he would be traveling other places than primary states in the upcoming states. But Obama should be aware that Clinton retains the ability to damage him in the weeks ahead if she stays in. Even if Clinton gives up on an intense campaigning schedule, she would remain heavily favored to win West Virginia and Kentucky big, forcing Obama to defend his appeal to blue-collar white voters once again and putting him on the defensive, however close he has to finalizing his nomination. (Marc Ambinder points out that it could be worse for Obama if Clinton drops out tomorrow and still ends up winning WV and KY; so perhaps the Obama campaign wants Clinton to stay in two more weeks, at least nominally. He also points to another reason Obama might want Clinton to stay in a bit longer: If Clinton campaigns amicably for the next month it would help heal the party and it could also allow the Obama campaign to pretend to resolve the Michigan and Florida mess while the race is still technically competitive.)

Finally, Clinton’s results last night deal a harsh blow to her chances to be Obama’s vice-presidential pick. Had she stayed in until the summer, Obama would have had no choice but to select her. Now, Clinton will not remain a powerful enough force for Obama to have to pick her. Yet, Obama will have to get to work as soon as possible to reconcile his party. Yesterday’s exit polls pointed to the urgency of his task, with less than half of Clinton supporters in both Indiana and North Carolina staying that they will vote for Obama in the general election.

But Obama can start worrying about that in a few days. For the night undoubtedly belonged to Obama. Despite all the gloomy forecasts and his supporters’ conviction that Clinton’s quest was ruining Democratic chances, the primary’s competitive stage is over with still 4 months to go before the convention. And the remaining uncommitted superdelegates who wanted to avoid picking a side at all costs (see Emanuel, Rahm) probably got their wish.

Results thread: States split, Obama as close as ever

1:40am (last upate): With a 2% win in Indiana and a 14% loss in North Carolina, Hillary’s results very clearly do not fall in the category of “credible victory.” Whether it is enough for her to stay in the race despite that is entirely up to her but there will be tremendous pressure on her to drop out and superdelegates will probably start moving towards Obama now that they have an opportunity to do so. So will Clinton deem this enough to stay in the race and go on to WV and KY after which she could at least go out with a win, or will the pressure just be overwhelming? More importantly, has Clinton already made up her mind? Tonight’s email and her cancellation of tonight’s media appearances imply that she might have.

1:15am: Clinton wins Indiana.
The votes were just not there in the rest of Lake County. The margin in Lake County is now 55% for Obama to 45% for Clinton, confirming that the rest of the county was pro-Clinton. The fact that the county held the non-Gary votes for surprisingly long created confusion and suspense but it was simply impossible for Obama to catch up since all the Gary votes were in (and I do think they have some explaining to do since the non-urban parts of the state reported after 7 hours when even Gary reported in less than 6; more confusing is that those rural areas were reportedly done counting by 6:30pm and the only part of the county that released its results around press time was the part that went big for Obama and gave the impression he could close the gap.) In the gubernatorial race, Lake County has allowed Thompson to pull oh so slightly ahead of Schellinger at the last minute (50.2%).

Props to the North Western Indiana Times which is doing a faster and better job than most of the media. They are now confirming that Gary, Indiana is completely in and that the remaining 44% of Lake County is entirely non-Gary. That should guarantee that Indiana is added to Clinton’s column. No new hard numbers though… Also just to be clear on how close this is: Shellinger is leading by 609 votes. (Lake County is explaining that they have too many absentee ballots… though since when does a county want to count all absentees before releasing voting totals?)
And continuing the list of things that are fitting: Isn’t it appropriate that Tim Russert has been among the first who is calling Obama the nominee and reporting that Clinton is canceling her morning appearances considering that he was the moderator of the October “driver’s licenses debate that started Clinton’s fall and that he moderated that Ohio debate back in February?

Unnoticed in that latest batch of Lake County votes was Monroe County pretty much finishing its own count (only one precinct outstanding). To win the state Obama needs to find 17,000 votes in Lake County (which isn’t looking that likely anymore) but he also has 7 precincts from Marion County he can get a few hundred votes out of if it comes to that. (As I said, this is obviously all for the symbol. But until the recap post I will write tomorrow it’s hard to not cover Indiana like a true nail-biter). Also, in what is an actual nail-biter, Thompson and Schellinger both have 50,0% in the gubernatorial primary with Thompson pulling even thanks to Lake. Also, Obama has just been coronated “The Nominee” by Drudge (it’s the headline). What is certain is that tonight guarantees that Obama will have a majority of pledged delegates.

Is it not fitting that what is potentially the last election night of this primary season is such an agonizing nail-biter? Naturally, this is little more than symbolic at this point; we are talking about a one or two delegate change and Clinton clearly did not get what she needed. But if Clinton has any desire to stay in the race for a few more weeks to compete in the remaining 6 contests — perhaps to withdraw after two victories in WV and KY — she certainly needs her margin (now 17,000 votes) to hold in Lake County. After all, even the media is now calling Obama the Democratic nominee; Russert reports that Clinton has canceled her appearances on morning TV shows.

Also, the Clinton campaign just declared victory in Indiana in an email they sent out: “Every time we’ve celebrated a victory, we’ve celebrated it together. And tonight is no exception. This victory is your victory, this campaign is your campaign, and your support has been the difference between winning and losing. Thank you so much for making this campaign possible. Let’s keep making history together.” The e-mail is very short and while it contains the customary “contribute” button at the bottom there is no future-oriented statement at all in the entire email, even no plea for money…

12:22am: More updates from Lake County!
The two candidates have roughly split the votes of the new 150 counties that have reported. Obama is now up 21,000 votes in the county; he was up 18,000 after the first 158. The Northwestern Indiana paper says this includes almost all of Gary — which would mean that Clinton is likely to hold her to her 2% margin in Indiana.

By this time on Super Tuesday we knew almost every result — even California! And tonight started at 6pm… Hopefully the general election will not come down to Lake County, Indiana (not that it will). Still nothing new from Lake County… The Northwest Paper of Indiana reports that there is a history of slow counting in Lake County and reminds us that the Clintons made stops here because there are a lot of white ethnics in the non-Gary part of the county. In other words, the margin is very unlikely to stay at 75-25. The question then is why the county did not report totals from towns that reported their totals at 6:30pm (if the Hamond mayor is telling the truth), as those numbers being in might have allowed Indiana to be called much earlier.

Lake County is showing no intention of releasing the 72% of precincts remaining there (it has been 5 hours the polls have closed in the county). The Mayor of Hamond, Lake County is saying that his town voted for Clinton and so did all the non-Gary towns of the county. He added that he reported his results to the county at 6:30pm and that he was not sure why the results were not reporting and why only the Gary results were in right now (see next paragraph). If confirmed, the Clinton campaign’s anger of most of the past 2 hours that Lake County’s not reporting is preventing them from declaring victory and getting that news in tomorrow’s paper could be justified. Whatever happens with the remaining votes in Indiana, tomorrow morning’s narrative is going to be one uncalled race and one Obama blowout.

The question is what remains to be counted in the county. The city of Gary, or the rest of the county? Also, Marc Ambinder says that the 28% of precincts reporting were mostly from Gary so that half of the city remains to report and the rest of the county. Clinton should do better in the non-Gary part of Lake than in the city itself, especially if the Hamond Mayor is correct.

Lake County is finally getting its act together and has started reporting! And Obama is getting a huge margin out of the county. With 28% of Lake County reporting, Obama has 75% of the vote and has closed Indiana to a 2% race and a 20,000 vote margin. If the rest of Lake votes the same way, the state (and the night) belong to Obama. Note that Gary is only one part of Lake County so not all the county is likely to have uniform results. Will we have to wait as long for the next batch of Lake County results?? (Even Kos is casting doub
t on Gary’s results now: “The question is whether this was legit. The way the vote is being released makes this stink to high hell.”)
Lake County could have an even bigger impact on the gubernatorial primary. Thompson was trailing against Schellinger 50.4% to 49.6% before Lake county started reporting… now, the margin is down to 0.4% and Thompson is winning Lake County!

Hillary Clinton did not drop out in her speech and justified that by using Obama’s statement last week that Indiana would be the tie-breaker. I did not get to watch the speech as I am not in front of the television tonight, but Ben Smith reports that Clinton sounded very “muted,” drained of energy and visibly down. Not to mention that the Clinton campaign is angry that Gary is withholding the final results. Even if Clinton wins Indiana now, it will be post-primetime, post-her speech and, perhaps, post tomorrow’s paper settle on their articles and storylines. What is up with Gary, Indiana???

10:30pm: MSNBC reports that Lake County (67% of the remaining precincts) will not start reporting before 11pm… Monroe and Marion County have about 60 precincts combined, and some counties have outstanding precincts here and there. It appears that most of the remaining counties should help Obama; it is unlikely — though not impossible — that they could carry him towards a victory. In North Carolina, a 14% margin is holding.

I have no idea why Lake County has not reported at all yet but until it does it will be hard to know the final margin in that state. Obama is trailing by 35,000 votes statewide and since half of the remaining precincts are in Lake County he will need a huge victory there. He is likely to get it in the city of Gary which is heavily black but not necessarily in the rest of the county. In North Carolina, Charlotte is now reporting on par with the rest of the state; the numbers will probably stay stable for the rest of the night.

Also, contrary to what the Huffington Post is suggesting, tonight’s exit polls do not suggest that the Limbaugh effect is having a big impact. Yes, as the Huff Post notes, most of those who say neither candidate shares their value are voting Clinton and it is also true that more Clinton voters would not vote Obama in the general than the other way around; but the fact that most blue-collar white Democrats (who have always been the first group to desert Democrats in the general) are Clinton’s base makes that perfectly predictable; also, most polls in the past month confirms that Democratic Clinton supporters are more likely to cross-over than Obama’s. Consider that 35% of Clinton supporters in Indiana said they will vote McCain in the general. But only about 5% of Clinton’s support comes from Republicans (10% of voters tonight were Republicans and they voted for the two candidates roughly equally). Clearly those 35% were not Republican and not Limbaugh listeners. (Marc Ambinder agrees that the Limbaugh effect is “marginal.”)

The margin keeps narrowing in Indiana — 3% with 79% reporting. But that is almost entirely driven by Indianapolis getting close to done (94%). There is no reporting at all in Lake County (Gary), which is expected to be big for Obama. Lake County represents a third of the remaining precincts, so the margin could narrow some more… perhaps leading to an Obama victory? The symbol of an Indiana victory would be huge, off course, and make it hard for Clinton to justify staying in the race. Even if Clinton holds on, the difference in size between the two victories would already make it hard for her to resist pressure; this has not been a good night for the new New York Senator.

9:45pm: Results are coming in slower now. Kay Hagan will be the Democratic nominee in North Carolina’s Senate race, Beverly Perdue in the governor’s race. In the GOP’s gubernatorial primary, Charlotte Mayor McCrory looks good in the GOP one: He is ahead by 9% only but “his” city is reporting significantly slower than the rest of the state.
The Clinton campaign is having trouble spinning the North Carolina results giving how much energy they put to convince they had a shot in keeping North Carolina close (there was even suggestion last week that the state was winnable). The exact margin is still unclear (it’s now down to 14%) but with Charlotte still to report Obama looks assured of at least a double-digit victory.

Giving his first victory speech in two months in Raleigh, NC, Obama concedes Indiana and calls Democrats to unify: “This primary season may not be over, but when it is, we will have to remember who we are as Democrats – that we are the party of Jefferson and Jackson; of Roosevelt and Kennedy… This fall, we intend to march forward as one Democratic Party, united by a common vision for this country.”
Results-wise, the race keeps tightening in Indiana but Indianapolis is now 84% reporting (a 45,000 vote lead for Obama in Allen County alone). Clinton’s overall lead is down to 5% with 71% reporting — though that’s a stable 50,000 vote lead. In North Carolina, the margin is down from the 28% it was at earlier to 18% with 39% reporting. Keep in mind that the numbers we saw at the beginning were early voters, of which a far larger percentage were African-Americans (40%, versus 33% overall).

We are up to 68% reporting in Indiana, including 73% in Indianapolis which is now reporting above state average. Clinton’s statewide lead is down to 6% (50,000 votes) and Obama is up 40,000 in Allen County. But Lake County (Gary) has not started reporting and Monroe County is only at 10% (though it doesn’t look that there are a significant number of votes there). CBS is still the only network to have called Indiana.

Down-the-ballot races are being decided as well. Kay Hagan and Beverly Perdue are headed to big victories. The IN gubernatorial primary is too close to call. In IN-07, Carson (who won the special election a few months ago) is holding on by 15% against a challenger.

: Indianapolis is now 54% reporting, and Monroe County (college-heavy) is starting to trickle in — more than the state total (52%) which is helping Obama catch up and close to 8%. In North Carolina, 14% are reporting but that includes almost all the votes in the Triangle (Chapel Hill, Raleigh, Durham) are reporting — and going huge for Obama (there was some talk of Clinton closing the gap somewhat in the Triangle).

8:20pm: CBS calls Indiana for Clinton. Other networks don’t go there yet. With 47% reporting (and 37% in Indianapolis), Clinton’s lead is down to 10%. Still nothing from the Northwest or from Monroe County.

Allen County (Indianapolis) is now 33% reporting and Obama is leading by 22% (9,000 votes). Clinton is now leading by 13% with 39% reporting. The bad news for Clinton is that many of the remaining votes are from Obama counties: college student-heavy Monroe County is only at 1% and the Northwest is still completely out. And, of course, Allen County will bring in many more votes.

8pm: A note on the NC results: A 14% victory for Obama would by no means a surprise. He was leading by double-digit in a number of polls this week and routinely beat Clinton by more than 14% until last week. Thus, we can’t even say that Obama exceeded expectations. But there is no question that Clinton needed to perform much better than a double-digit loss here. It looks like NC will be the mirror image of PA to the end — a victory that has nothing shocking will be portrayed like a significant triumph.
7:50pm: Updated exit polls in North Carolina have Obama expanding his lead a bit to 14-15%. This is going to hurt Clinton quite a bit. She is now projected to carry 60% of the white vote and 6% of the black vote. She was hoping for a bit more among both groups, but her failure to even hold to her usual level among African-Americans is what is driving her so far down here. If those numbers hold, it will also allow Obama to increase his pledged delegate total meaningfully.

Clinton supporters will at least be happy that she is holding on to her 57% to 43% lead (50,000 votes) in Indiana with a third of the precincts reporting… including 20% of Indianapolis, where Obama is up by 20%. It does look like the reporting precincts in Indianapolis are the smaller ones, however, since there is only 20,000 votes from Allen county while at least 150,000 voters were expected (correct me if I am wrong here).

7:40pm: Given how bad North Carolina looks like it could be for Clinton, she really needs to outperform exit polls in Indiana. With 26% of the vote reporting, she is still up 57% to 43% — a 38,000 vote lead. Indianapolis is starting to come in more rapidly, with 11% reporting there Obama is up by 20%. Fort Wayne has almost finished counting, with Clinton closing the gap a bit to 8%. Monroe County (Univ. of Indiana) has only reported 1% of the vote. Obama has a big source of votes there as well.

7:30pm: Polls close in North Carolina, Obama declared the winner. The improbable scenario of a double victory for Clinton is squashed. More problematic for her is the fact that networks calling the race this quickly means that the margin is likely to be big, potentially striking a terrible blow to Clinton. The exit polls right now give Obama a 13% lead, certainly significant. Since I have repeated that the racial breakdown is important, let’s look at it: 33% of voters are African-American, what Clinton needed to make this a race. But she appears to have fallen to 6% among black voters while getting ‘only’ 59% of white voters.

7:25pm: With 17% reporting, it’s still Clinton 57% to 43% (27,000 votes). That includes 68% of Allen County (Obama is leading by 10%). Indianapolis has started reporting, so numbers could start moving soon. With 3% reporting, he is leading by 10%. Appropriately, Hillary is winning Clinton County (with 61% of the vote).

7:15pm: 10% are now reporting and Clinton is ahead 58% to 42% (20,000 votes). Nothing yet from the Northwest and from Indianapolis, so this will all obviously change. Numbers are coming in from Fort Wayne, Indiana (Allen County) and Obama is performing above expectations. With 32% reporting, he is ahead by 12% (3,000 votes). That bodes well for his overall numbers.

7pm: All polls have now closed in Indiana, so we have access to CNN’s exit polling data. It looks like the numbers are the more reliable third wave of polling. This exit poll is projecting a tight race with Clinton slightly leading (about 5%). It could be a long night… Noteworthy findings: Only 55% of voters are women, expect a very good night for Obama in Indianapolis, and the polarization along partisan lines is not as dramatic as anticipated. As for the black vote, Obama seems to have had some room to grow… he is projected to be at 93%. I will wait a bit more for more exact breakdown among different constituencies; for now, all the usual voting behaviors are holding, with Clinton holding on to blue-collar voters. (Note: As far as understood, exit polls do have mechanisms to take early voting into account).

6:45pm: As I predicted, results have started trickling in before all polls closed. With 3% reporting, Clinton has a 61% to 39% lead in Indiana. As in most states, there will be some huge geographical polarization tonight, and the counties that are reporting right now are from rural areas likely to go big for Clinton.

6:10pm: Polls have closed in most of Indiana now but the full exit polls are not being released because small pockets of the state, on Central time, are closing in an hour. Results could start trickling in soon though. CNN reports that exit polls in North Carolina have the black vote at 91-6. If confirmed (which is far from certain), this would mean Clinton has fallen lower than her usual percentage and would make it tough for her to keep the race in single-digits.

There are very troubling signs for Democrats in the general, however. Ambinder notesthat 60 to 66% of a candidate’s supporters would be dissatisfied if the other wins the election. Also, the g-e breakdown among Clinton voters does not bode well for party unity: In North Carolina, 45% of them would vote Obama and 38% McCain (!); in Indiana, it’s 48-33.

Original post: Both Indiana and North Carolina have more delegates than any other state that still has to vote — 115 for NC and 72 for IN. Polls close at 7:30pm ET in North Carolina; Indiana polls close early (as you might remember from previous election nights), 6pm local time. That means that polls will close at 6pm ET in most of the state but not until 6 pm CT (7pm ET) in some areas. It is for now unclear whether numbers will start being reported before all polls are closed (they often are).

We should start having a good idea of where things are heading when early exit polls give us a precise idea of the partisan and racial breakdown of tonight’s electorate. For now, the AP is reporting preliminary exits with vague indications: (1) “About a third” of the NC electorate is African-American. Anything higher than 32% would make things tough for Clinton. (2) Respectively “about one in five” and “one in ten” of Indiana voters are independents and Republicans. If confirmed, this would be good news for Clinton. Some polls over the past week had suggested that the proportion of registered Democrats could be as low as 60%. (3) 48% of voters in both states are apparently telling exit pollsters that Wright was “very” or “somewhat” important in their choice…

As for exit polls of the horse race, they are suggesting an easy Obama win in North Carolina for now and a smaller Clinton lead in Indiana. But keep in mind that almost all exit polls from almost every state have been very skewed towards Obama. The second wave of exits from both Pennsylvania and Ohio showed Obama narrowly ahead, so swings by at least 10% are definitely possible.

For now, you can read my guidelines to tonight’s results; and, as always, stories from election day. Ben Smith posts on stories of people being turned away because of Indiana’s strict ID law that was just upheld by the Supreme Court.

Guidelines for IN and NC: Can Obama clinch it?

Welcome to round #3 of Obama’s attempts to clinch the Democratic nomination (#4 if you count New Hampshire’s primary on January 8th). Obama fell short on March 4th and then again on April 22nd. Yet, on neither night did Clinton get solid enough victories to meaningfully change the fundamentals of the race. The most likely result tonight is another wash — enough for Clinton to stay in the race but not enough to threaten Obama’s dominant position.

Tonight, however, is the first time that Obama has a match point on his own serve: OH, PA and TX demographics all favored Clinton but North Carolina is undoubtedly Obama country. The North Carolina primary is in many ways the mirror image of Pennsylvania. Here, Obama started off ahead by more than 20% but the race tightened considerably, with one random poll in North Carolina showing Clinton ahead just as PPP had suggested an Obama lead in Pennsylvania. Note that there is a lot of talk of the fact that polls have always understated Obama’s winning margin in Southern states (GA, SC and to lesser degree AL). However, most of these states voted in late January and February; the extent to which Obama would dominate the black vote was not yet clear and pollsters were finding Clinton to be too high among African-Americans — accounting for the huge polling mistakes. That should be less of a problem now.

This means that, unlike in PA and OH I mentioned, simply winning will not be enough for Obama to sink Clinton– he has to win big. If he does, it could be as meaningful as any result out of Indiana for it would mean that Obama has held his own better than expected among white voters — and a number of uncommitted superdelegates would surely take that as an opportunity to jump to Obama’s side. If Clinton manages to keep the race in low single-digits (and perhaps even prevail), it would mean that she has (1) benefited from heavy white turnout and (2) crushed Obama in the white vote — exactly the storyline she wants.

The situation in Indiana is more straight-forward. On April 24th, I explained that there were no expectations in Indiana; the state’s demographics favor neither candidate with large parts of the state likely to go for Clinton by huge margins but the concentration of Democratic votes in Indianapolis and in urban centers like Gary should be all Obama needs to counterbalance; also, a number of polls taken before Pennsylvania showed Obama in the lead here. This means that a any comfortable margin for Clinton would be deemed a credible one (unlike in PA or OH). To meaningfully impact the direction of the race, of course, Clinton will need to get much stronger numbers — at least double-digits. An Obama victory, finally, would probably force Clinton out of the race or be enough for the media to announce that the race has ended and for superdelegates to bring an end to it.

Thus, the situation is very similar to that of March 4th and April 22nd in that Clinton needs to pass three different thresholds:

  1. Will she survive? Any victory in Indiana would probably be enough for Clinton to stay in the race and vow to go all the way to June 3rd.
  2. Will her victory be credible and be taken seriously? To have a good night, Clinton needs to keep North Carolina in single-digits and have a comfortable victory in Indiana — around high single-digits.
  3. Will she change the fundamentals of the race? Given how far behind Clinton has fallen, it is difficult to assess what (if anything) can truly impact the direction of the race and give her an opening. If she wants to truly give pause to superdelegates, she would need to clearly exceed expectations in both states — winning in North Carolina (or coming painfully close) and trouncing Obama by a clear double-digit margin in Indiana.

More than the choice of late deciders, the partisan, class and racial breakdown of the electorate will determine which of these scenarios occurs tonight. As I explained last night, the proportion of black voters in North Carolina and of registered Democrats in Indiana is all we need to know to figure out who is likely to have a good night. The Indy Star already reports that there is heavy Republican turnout in Indiana, with many GOPers crossing over to vote in the open Democratic primary. Whatever Rush Limbaugh says, all signs, polls and prior elections confirm that it is Obama that stands to gain the most from a lowering of a proportion of registered Democrats.

This is likely to be the last chance Obama has of clinching the nomination before the race is over on June 3rd. Clinton is unlikely to stumble in Kentucky, allowing her to survive May 20th, whatever Obama does in Oregon. We will soon known whether Obama transforms this last opportunity.

Update: Let me also add a response to the absurd comments that blame me for artificially portraying the race as competitive and insist that Obama doesn’t need to win squat tonight: I have always been very clear in portraying Clinton’s victories (OH, PA) as credible but not at all game-changing and in explaining that Clinton’s path to the nomination is both narrow and unlikely. But it is absurd to suggest that Obama did not care about winning PA or does not care about winning tonight. Every time he fails to clinch the nomination, it prolongs the Democratic race, forces him to answer Clinton’s attacks and prevents him from turning his attention to McCain. Also, a Clinton victory in North Carolina would be of the sort that could meaningfully change momentum and give superdelegates pause, perhaps making the nomination last all the way to August. So Obama might be quasi-certain of winning the nomination, how and when he does are as important as anything else.

Poll round-up: Both NC and IN tightening in last hours

In many latest post, I explained that tomorrow’s results will be determined the class and racial breakdown of the electorate. As such, it is more important than ever to understand that the trend lines of these latest Democratic polls are more important than the raw numbers insofar as most (though not all) pollsters project a turnout model and weigh the results accordingly; they cannot help us determine what proportion of the electorate blue-collar voters or African-Americans will end up making.

That said, on to the polls — and I will do my best to provide the sample’s breakdown when it is available. First up, Indiana where Zogby remains the only pollster to show Obama ahead:

  • First, SUSA finds Clinton up double-digits, 54% to 42%. Last week, Clinton was ahead by 9%.
  • As always, Clinton’s lead is much bigger among registered Democrats (69% of the sample): she is ahead by 19%. Women only make up 52% of this sample though they are sure to be a much stronger force tomorrow (women typically make up 57% to 59% of the electorate of a Democratic primary).
  • In Zogby’s final tracking, Obama maintains a 2% lead for the third day in a row. The two candidates are tied among women — a finding other polls disagree with.
  • Suffolk, meanwhile, finds Clinton up 6 percent, 49% to 43%. Only 61% of the electorate is made up of registered Democrat, a crucial difference with SUSA.
  • PPP finds a close race as well, with Clinton’s lead diminishing to a 5 percent margin, 51% to 46%. That’s a 3% improvement for Obama.
  • Insider Advantage shows a similar tightening, with Clinton’s 7% lead last week down to 4%; she leads 48% to 44%.

North Carolina, meanwhile, stays strong for Obama though there is disagreement on the margin:

  • SUSA finds Obama to be leading 50% to 45%; this is the same margin as last week.
  • SUSA projects that 32% of the electorate will be African-American; among whites, Clinton gets an impressive 63%.
  • Zogby’s final tracking shows Obama expanding his lead to a 51% to 37% margin.
  • Zogby also predicts that the black vote will make up 32% of the electorate; in more good news for Obama, he only gets 79% of the black vote in this poll, with Clinton at her usual 11%. The remaining undecided black voters are likely to almost all break towards Obama.
  • PPP’s final poll shows Clinton tightening the race for the second week in a row but she still trails by 10%, 53% to 43%. She was trailing by 25% two weeks ago and by 12% last week.
  • PPP projects 35% of the electorate to be black; Clinton gets 60% among whites.
  • Insider Advantage, finally, finds the race much tighter than other institutes; it has Obama ahead by 3%. Its most recent poll had him leading by 5% — but keep in mind that IA was hte only group to find Clinton narrowly ahead early last week.
  • IA shows Clinton with 58% of the white vote but also with 17% of the black vote. If that is at all confirmed tomorrow, it would be a huge gain for Clinton, and one that would surely lead her to a solid result overall.

There is the potential for both candidates to get what they need out of tomorrow: SUSA’s poll have Clinton up double-digits in Indiana and trailing by low single-digits in North Carolina, exactly where she needs to be to score a credible victory. If Zogby’s findings and turnout model is vindicated, however, it would be very difficult for Clinton to stay in the race. Other polls fall somewhere in between. All in all, the fact that both races are tightening is better news for Obama who is happy with the status-quo being maintained. He does not need to change the narrative of the race. (We will discuss all of this in more detail tomorrow.)

However, there is a risk to Obama failing to close the deal once again. If Clinton survives tomorrow’s votes, she can look forward to a very good week in West Virginia:

  • Rasmussen’s latest poll, released today, has Clinton up 56% to 27%. That’s actually a 1% improvement from a poll taken in mid-March.

Clinton’s margin is even stronger in Kentucky, which votes on May 20th. West Virginia and Kentucky are part of Obama’s worst region in the country, the Appalachians. Clinton typically wins more than 2:1 in districts of that region and she can expect much more attention to be turned to her strength among these voters if she is alive after tomorrow.

Also today, other general election polls found interesting results:

  • The latest national AP/Ipsos poll shows Clinton opening up a 47% to 40% lead against Obama among Democratic voters. In the general election, both lead McCain. Clinton is ahead 47% to 42% while Obama leads 46% to 42%. This is the AP’s second poll in a week — quite unexpectedly.
  • The USA Today/Gallup poll also finds Clinton leading 51% to 44%; but in the general, McCain is ahead of both Republicans, 3% against Clinton and 1% against Obama, thus confirming that yesterday’s NYT/CBS poll should not be taken to signify that Democrats have opened a big lead.
  • Finally, a general election poll from Texas finds a competitive race! Rasmussen finds Obama trailing McCain 48% to 43% and Clinton behind 49% to 43%. This actually confirms a SUSA poll from late February that had McCain stuck in single-digits against both Democrats.
  • As always, it is fascinating to see how both Democrats arrive at similar numbers by putting together two completely different coalitions. Clinton trails by 12% among men, Obama leads by 2%; Clinton leads by 1% among women, Obama trails by 12%. Among Democrats, Clinton gets 80% but Obama 69%, a poor showing he compensates with stronger numbers among registered Republicans.

Just as some polls suggest McCain has the potential to dealing a terrible blow to Democrats by keeping New York competitive, having to seriously contest Texas and pour resources and time here would be a horrifying development for the GOP. The biggest Republican state in the country, Texas has also been one of the most reliable in recent cycles. But with the share of Hispanic vote increasing, Democrats are hopeful they can tighten the partisan gap in the state — though few people expect (expected?) Texas to tighten this year.

NC and IN results will depend on turnout of key groups

In this trench war, Obama and Clinton have both greatly benefited from the slightest inroad in the other candidate’s voting base; in fact, an argument can be made that Obama became the overwhelming favorite simply because of a few percentage up-tick among blue-collar white voters in Wisconsin and in the Potomac primaries. Yet, there has been enough stability in a group’ voting behavior that the primary factor has been what proportion of the electorate each group represents. Both candidates have been focused on soring up turnout among their own base or making inroads small improvements in groups that they know are not favorable to them; gone is the obsessive focus on the undecided voter. It might be a shame that the Democratic primaries have become so dependent on identity politics, but seemingly every contest since January has confirmed that fact.

In particular, the proportion of black voters and the proportion of blue-collar voters have been two crucial factors; in Pennsylvania, the main question heading into the Tuesday vote was whether the blue-collar and Catholic vote would turn out, not whether Clinton would hold to her high margin within that group. Tomorrow, the very same question will matter a great deal in Indiana. In North Carolina, black turnout will be a huge factor. Consider how remarkably stable the African-American has been since the South Carolina primary: It would be a huge surprise if Clinton gets anything lower than 8% and anything higher than 12%. Knowing that it becomes crucial to know just what proportion of the electorate black voters will make up in North Carolina.

The average number pollsters and pundits seem to be betting on is 35%. That number would make it quasi-impossible for Clinton to keep it close — and it is not even on the high-end of hte spectrum of the possibilities. African-Americans make up 41% of the early vote in North Carolina — though they tend to make up a bigger share of the early vote than of the day-of vote (for instance in 2004). This spreadsheet makes it obvious how difficult a 65-35 breakdown makes things for Clinton: If she manages to get 13% of the black vote, she would need 70% of the white vote to prevail. Unlike Alabama and Mississippi, North Carolina is not racially polarized enough for this to happen.

To make the race close, Clinton will need (1) heavy white turnout or depressed black turnout while (2) holding her usual share of the white vote. But even then the path to a victory is difficult: If blacks make up 32% of the electorate as they did in 2004 and as SUSA’s latest poll projects, Clinton would need more than 68% of the white vote to prevail! To pull off an upset, Clinton thus needs to do what she has not done a single time this year: improve her share of the black vote. Even her hopes of keeping the race within single digit depends on the electorate’s racial breakdown: If black African-Americans make up 40% of the electorate, Obama would be sure of pulling a double-digit victory, as Clinton would need about 67% of the white vote.

It is different to make similarly precise calculations in Indiana as the white vote tends to fluctuate a bit more based on educational and class breakdown. But the basic idea remains the same: just as in Pennsylvania, the question will be whether white blue-collar voters go the polls or whether they stay at home, perhaps demoralized by talk of Clinton’s low chances to win the nomination or convinced by Obama’s ads that Clinton’s talk of the gas tax holiday is simply a pandering position.

That Clinton’s main focus in Indiana has been this group of voters is hardly debatable. The gas tax holiday proposal is clearly aimed at the middle-class and both Hillary and her husband have employed increasingly populist rhetoric on the trail. Check Bill’s latest rant against a New Yorker article he accused of elitism and note the use of pronouns: “That’s the kind of thing those people that aren’t for us say. You know, they think we’re dumber’n we are. I know, cuz I grew up in a place like this, and I figured out that people are just as smart here as anywhere else. But they ain’t figured it out yet.” Clinton does not need to convince white blue-collar voters to migrate to her side; they have been heavily voting for her for months.

That she is putting such emphasis on their vote confirms that both campaigns are focusing on turning out their base, not on convincing any new voter.

Another key question in Indiana concerns the partisan breakdown: Indiana hosts an open primary and polls confirm that, as in many other states, Clinton is strong among registered Democrats while Obama’s hopes rest on independents and registered Republicans. How much these two latter groups turn out tomorrow will go a long way towards determining Obama’s potential.

Week-end polls: Democrats up big in NYT poll; are Sens. Dole and Cornyn vulnerable?

After a quite Sunday in which I chose to only reflect on the victory of Don Cazayoux, it is time to delve right back in the Democratic primaries; after all, polls in Indiana and North Carolina open in 24 hours. We are likely to receive a deluge of polls from the May 6th states today, so let me get Sunday’s polls out of the way before the political day starts, starting with Zogby’s latest round of tracking polls:

  • Zogby continues to find the two upcoming primaries to be remarkably stable. In North Carolina, Obama is now ahead by 8%, 48% to 40% — a one percent tightening in the past 24 hours.
  • In Indiana, Zogby has Obama narrowly ahead once again, 44% to 42%. Zogby is the only institute to find Clinton trailing at this point.
  • Clinton only leads 46% to 39% among white voters with 15% undecided; her margin among white voters in other polls is much larger, suggesting that a significant portion of these undecided voters could be a reservoir of votes for her. Whether they go to the polls as they did in Pennsylvania or stay at home will determine Tuesday’s results.

Clinton is managing to hold on to a single-digit margin in North Carolina — a gap that is confirmed by most other polls that have been released over the past week; that would do her no good, however, if she cannot prevail in Indiana. Keep in mind that most of the latest polls we have seen from both of these states were taken during or in the immediate aftermath of Wright’s second round of appearances and of Obama’s denouncing his former pastor. Whether these events are continuing to impact voters or whether they have already faded will determine whether last week’s polls (which were moving towards Clinton) will remain relevant today and tomorrow. If they do not, Clinton could be in trouble as expectations have shifted due to last week’s good polling results. For now, the only indication we have is that Obama has retaken the lead he had lost on April 27th in Gallup’s tracking poll.

Meanwhile, New York Times/CBS released its second poll in two weeks and found both Democrats expanding their general election lead to stunning margins:

  • Obama leads McCain 52% to 41% while Clinton is ahead 53% to 41%.
  • 60% of all voters and 68% of Democratic primary voters approve of the way Obama handled the Wright situation; 9% of Democrats said that Wright would “matter a great deal” to them should Obama become the nominee.

While Democrats are more used to leading than trailing over the past few months, such a comfortable margin is certainly not in line with the conventional wisdom — nor is it confirmed by other polls taken in the past few weeks. Democrats will understandably take the survey as a morale booster but until other polls suggest that the Democratic nominee has emerged with a clear edge keep in mind rules about margins of error and statistical variations.

Finally, three very interesting Senate polls to reoprt this morning:

  • First, SUSA polled the Minnesota Senate race and found Norm Coleman maintaining a double-digit lead against Al Franken, 52% to 42%.
  • Second, a Research 2000 poll in North Carolina finds Elizabeth Dole struggling to open a lead against both her Democratic rivals; she is ahead 48% to 41% against Kay Hagan and 47% to 37% against Jim Neal. The Democratic primary is Tuesday.
  • Third, Rasmussen published a stunning survey of the Texas Senate race, finding Senator John Cornyn leading his challenger Rick Noriega 47% to 43% only.

After a series of poll in mid-February showed a toss-up race in Minnesota, Rasmussen and SUSA have recently found Coleman to be back in a comfortable lead over the past two months. This is paradoxically also the time in which Franken pretty much secured his party’s nomination. Note that there are some weird crosstabs in this poll: Coleman gets 99% of the GOP vote (which seems an unlikely proposition) and Franken gets 67% of the Demoratic vote, leaving him far behind despite a 24% lead among independents.

It is surprising to see Elizabeth Dole kept under 50% and in single-digits while Coleman enjoys a double-digit margin in a high-profile race against a well-funded opponent. Polls have disagreed on how vulnerable Dole is to a challenge this fall but Democrats have to be frustrated that they did not do a better recruitment operation here, as all the candidates that could have made the race really competitive declined to run. We shall know more about what to expect from this race once Democrats select their nominee tomorrow.

As for Texas, the Cornyn-Noriega race is considered a sleeper by Democratic activists but even they would recognize that it is at best a second tier race right now. There is little confirmation besides this poll that the incumbent is this vulnerable (more than Coleman and Dole, according to this wave of poll); previous surveys have found Cornyn leading by double-digits without beign able to open up a commanding lead. If Democrats manage to just make one of either North Carolina or Texas competitive, it would already be a huge and unexpected accomplishment.

Guam votes, and polls show suspensful run-up to May 6th

Neither candidates is willing to let any delegate go uncontested and Guam’s 4 pledged delegates and 2 superdelegates have suddenly become very important in the race for the nomination. Guam is held its caucuses today and the vote counting is now under way, with Obama holding a lead as of 2am Guam time, 760 votes to 680 votes. Guam voters will also elect the chairman and vice-chairman of the Guam Democratic Party, and those two figures will be superdelegates. The allegiance of some of the candidates are known (2 favor Clinton, 1 Obama and 3 are undecided) and early results suggest that the ticket containing the Obama endorsee is heading for a win. [Update: As of 4am Guam time and 15 districts reporting out of 21, Obama is leading with 54% and the pledged delegates are likely to be split 2-2. Guam's most populous district has not yet been counted, so the Clinton campaign still has some hope.]

Meanwhile, polling continues to suggest a suspenseful run-up to May 6th as it is unclear whether either candidate will get the type of lead they need to meaningfully impact the race:

  • Zogby’s tracking poll finds an uncharacteristically big swing in North Carolina. Yesterday, Zogby had Obama up 16%. Today, the margin is back to what we have been seeing from other polls, with Clinton trailing by 9%, 46% to 37%.
  • In Indiana, however, Zogby once again finds the race to be a toss-up, with Obama edging out Clinton 43% to 42% — this puts Zogby at odds with other pollsters, with LA Times/Bloomberg the last poll showing Obama in the lead.
  • Finally, I missed the Insider Advantage poll from Indiana yesterday; it shows Clinton leading 47% to 40%. For those of you keeping score, there is remarkable consistency on this 7% margin (Insider Advantage, Mason-Dixon, Downs Center, Research 2000).

None of these results are particularly satisfying for either candidate, as Clinton needs more than a 7% lead in Indiana to give superdelegates pause; in North Carolina, Hillary’s rise occured a bit too early for her own good as expectations have now shifted away from a devastating Obama victory to whether he can win in double-digits. There is even some discussion as to whether Clinton could win North Carolina. In fact, North Carolina has become the mirror image of Pennsylvania: The front-runner has a large lead to begin with, stumbles to single-digits with one or two polls showing the opponent actually in the lead. On April 22nd, Clinton barely won the expectations game, though a 9% victory would have seemed unsatisfying just three weeks earlier. Will the same happen in North Carolina?

Finally, Rasmussen released the first non-SUSA poll from Oregon today:

  • Obama is in the lead, 51% to 39%. SUSA’s poll released on Thursday found Obama leading by a slimmer 6%.

Oregon votes on May 20th, the same day as Kentucky. If she is still in the race by then, Clinton can count on a huge advantage in that state, so Obama will need whatever he can get on that day to change the conversation and avoid a very tough end of May.

May 6th races stabilize, as ad war rages on

In the trench warfare Clinton and Obama have been waging for some time, the New York Senator advanced a few inches over the past week. From trailing widely in North Carolina and tying Obama in Indiana, she pushed forward in both states. But the polls in the field since Tuesday (Obama’s second attempt to turn the page of the Wright scandal) suggest the race has stabilized to a mid-to-high single digit lead for Clinton in Indiana and a high-single to low-double digit lead for Obama in North Carolina.

  • Rasmussen finds Clinton continuing to impressively close the gap in North Carolina but remaining distanced by the Illinois Senator. She now trails 49% to 40%; on Monday, Obama led by 14% — and that was already a dramatic drop from the 23% lead he had in the previous poll.
  • Insider Advantage, meanwhile, came out with a second poll in three days; they stunningly showed Clinton ahead by 2% and they now come closer to the average of polls: Obama leads 49% to 44% in their updated poll. This is in great part due to his improved numbers among black voters (80% instead of 65%, though he still has a lot of room to grow here).
  • ARG also released a North Carolina poll today, finding a stable race with Obama up 52% to 41%. He led by 10% at the beginning of the week.
  • In Indiana, ARG shows Clinton slightly expanding her lead from 5% to 9%. She is ahead 53% to 44%, thanks to a 22% lead among whites and a 22% lead among registered Democrats (quite a big partisan gap here).
  • Also in Indiana, a poll by the Downs Center (done by SUSA, though with a different model than its non-Downs polls) finds Clinton ahead by 7% (52% to 45%). This is the third poll in two days that has Clinton up 7%, after yesterday’s Mason-Dixon and Research 2000 surveys.
  • The previous poll for Downs Center had Obama leading by 5%, so a 12% swing towards Clinton in 2 weeks.

If this new conventional wisdom holds on Tuesday and neither candidate pushes a few inches more, May 6th will be a replay of March 4th and April 22nd: Neither candidate would get what they need. Clinton would score a “credible enough” victory (a meaningful Indiana victory) for her right to stay in the race to remain unchallengeable, but certainly not enough to change the fundamentals of the race or give pause to superdelegates. As for Obama he would have lost one more opportunity to end the race, a more frustrating one even than in Pennsylvania; he could do so by winning Indiana, but if he were to win big in North Carolina (building on home court advantage, the way he did in the latter half of February) Clinton would face a huge amount of pressure.

With a few more days to go, both candidates are blanketing the state with advertisements; in what is a huge relief for the Clinton campaign, it looks like they are being able to stay financially on par with Obama. As is by now well known, the main topic on which the ad war is raging right now is the gas tax and its summer repeal. Clinton is hitting Obama for his refusal to consider the plan, while Obama is defending himself by highlighting the superiority of his own energy plan and using the fact that the media (for once breaking its frustrating tradition of artificial neutrality to try and get to the bottom of the topic) is supporting his side. Obama is now running a second response ad, which is probably an indication that Obama’s internal polling is finding Clinton’s attacks on this subject are resonating with voters.

A variety of other groups are spending heavily on behalf of the candidates, in particular SEIU on Obama’s behalf and the American Leadership Project on Clinton’s. The ALP is now spending more than $1 million to hit Obama on the lack of specifics in his economic plans. You can watch the ad here. The Obama campaign attempted to threaten the ALP with legal action, alleging that they should have registered as a political committee and are thus violating campaign finance law. This is not the first time that Obama has objected to outside expenditures when they are helping his opponents (see the controversy around 527s in the run-up to Iowa).

To close this thread, it is worth noting that the two tracking polls find surprisingly similar results for once — Obama is being distanced by McCain in the general, while Clinton is holding for now:

  • Gallup’s tracking poll finds Clinton leading by 2 points, 48% to 46%. Rasmussen also has Clinton up 2%, for the second straight day.
  • In the general election, both trackings find McCain leading Obama by 6% and Clinton only by 1%. In the Gallup poll, this is the largest lead McCain has had over Obama and the largest differential between Obama and Clinton’s general election showing.

We will have to watch and see whether these numbers hold once all the polling data is collected after Tuesday and the re-fading of the Wright issue.

Zogby delivers its first tracking polls, contradicts the newly developing CW

The past few days were bringing increasingly good polling news for Hillary Clinton. Not only was she building a comfortable lead in Indiana but a number of polls suggested she was benefiting from a lot of movement in her favor in North Carolina, with Insider Advantage going as far as coming out with her leading by 2% — a result that would have the potential of truly rocking the primary! But Zogby’s first wave of tracking polls from IN and NC finds the race to be exactly where Obama wants it to be:

  • In Indiana, Clinton and Obama are tied at 42%.
  • In North Carolina, Obama has a large lead, 50% to 34%. Clinton is found with only a 10% lead among white voters (47% to 37%), a significant difference with other polls we have seen this week.
  • Research 2000, meanwhile, finds the race to be closer in North Carolina, with Obama up in single-digits, 51% to 44%. This is the same margin Mason-Dixon came out with this afternoon.

Zogby’s polls were conducted on Wednesday and Thursday, so they are the first surveys to potentially register the impact of Obama denouncing Wright; if so, it would bode well for Obama’s hopes of putting the controversy behind him, at least until Tuesday. We will obviously need much more polling to confirm any such trend, and keep in mind that Zogby’s track record has not been great over the past few months; though they nailed Pennsylvania, their tracking polls leading up to April 22nd had the state much tighter than other polls were suggesting. For now, let’s take Zogby’s polls as the Obama-end of the current polling spectrum, with Insider Advantage representing the Clinton-end; if the results do come in on the Obama-end and confirm Zogby’s findings, Clinton would be in big trouble come Wednesday morning.

If Clinton does survive May 6th, she can look forward to West Virginia (on the 13th) and Kentucky (on the 20th); but she will also have to play a game “on the road” as Oregon, a state in which Obama is heavily favored, votes on the 20th as well. I have previously explained my sense that Clinton could keep Oregon much closer than people expect; it is a closed primary, after all, and people forget that Obama only won the Washington primary by about 5%. The only previous poll of the state, conducted by SUSA, showed Obama with a 10% lead. Three weeks later, SUSA strikes again and shows Clinton closing in on Obama:

  • Obama is now leading 50% to 44%; he maintains a big lead among men, while Clinton is barely ahead among women. Also consider that Oregon is a state in which the Asian community could play a role — and actually register as a statically meaningful group in the exit polls (Obama leads by 12% here, but the subgroup is too small).

Clinton is likely to get a great result in Kentucky; if Obama does not get a perception-changer in Oregon that same evening, he could be in trouble as the conversation would concentrate on his problems with white blue-collar voters (KY) rather than Clinton’s weakness in the West.

Finally, let’s conclude this second polling thread of the day with two national general election polls, as Pew and CNN, two reputed pollsters, both find Democrats leading all match-ups:

  • CNN shows Obama leading McCain 49% to 45% while Clinton leads 49% to 44%.
  • Pew finds Obama leading McCain 50% to 44% and Clinton leading 49% to 45%.
  • Both polls have Obama edging out Clinton with a statistically insignificant lead (1% and 2% respectively) in a national primary match-up.

No electability comparison to be drawn by the numbers alone — though the extent to which both Democrats get to similar final numbers by assembling very different voting coalitions is certainly remarkable (remember Gallup’s finding that Clinton was losing among all educational groups with at least a college degree, while Obama losing all those without one… but they both ended up with the same results).

Obama suffers from worrisome wave of polls

In the first days of the initial Wright controversy back in mid-March, Barack Obama suffered a terrible polling day in which he plunged in a series of 9 catastrophic polls. While today’s polls are not quite as traumatizing, Obama is consistently found to be losing ground both against Hillary Clinton and against John McCain, suggesting once again that Obama’s support declines the more Wright is in the news. Whether Obama’s Tuesday press conference ends up helping him, of course, will be determined in the coming days. But with a Clinton campaign ready to exploit any sign that Obama has an electability problem, numbers like these (and from respected pollsters like Quinnipiac) will not make Obama’s already difficult week any less painful.

First, on to the primary polls from the two May 6th states:

  • Rasmussen’s tracking poll shows Clinton taking a narrow 46% to 44% lead, a 10% swing in the past two days and the first time she is ahead since April 13th.
  • Gallup’s tracking today also finds Clinton gaining ground, now leading Obama 49% to 45%, the first time she is ahead by more than 1% in quite a while. In the general, Clinton now runs 4% better than Obama as she is tied while he trails by 4%.
  • In what is the best polling news for Obama today, the race in Indiana remains close, with Clinton up 46% to 41% according to Rasmussen’s poll conducted on Tuesday night. Clinton only gets 4% (!) of the black vote (she can explain a bit more on Tuesday) and leads among whites by 19%.
  • Update: A second poll from Indiana released this afternoon by IN-based TeleRsearch has Clinton leading by 10%, 48% to 38%. She also improved her number as the days passed, in another confirmation that the week-end was rough on Obama.
  • Now comes the North Carolina shocker: Insider Advantage finds Clinton ahead, 44% to 42%! Clinton was merely trying to keep the race competitive — read single-digit — and now a poll has her leading. That’s a 17% swing in Clinton’s favor since the last IA poll.
  • Now, keep in mind that the internals suggest that the picture is not as rosy as this for Clinton: Obama only gets 65% of the black vote, which is also somewhat underrepresented; accounting for that, Obama would undoubtedly in the lead. But the trendline among white voters is also very significant, as Clinton has increased her margin by 14%, so a large part of the 17% swing is due to this shift.
  • Mason-Dixon releases its own poll from North Carolina, finding Obama ahead 49% to 42%; this survey is more in line with previous polls and it confirms that Clinton has managed to push the race down to single-digits. A few days ago, a loss by 20% or more looked quite possible.

As long as Clinton wins in Indiana, she would be able to use a narrow loss in North Carolina to her advantage, for such a result would be one of the most (only?) unexpected results of the past few weeks, in a primary season in which both candidates have struggled to break each other’s serve. But Clinton might regret these polls if they shift expectations in the next few days; there are enough days until Tuesday’s primary for the media narrative to change away from NC being an expected blowout for Obama to “will he break double-digits?” This is, of course, exactly what happened in Ohio and Pennsylvania.

Meanwhile, a series of general election polls also paints a troubling picture for Obama who has lost his edge relative to McCain in four polls taken in crucial swing states:

  • Rasmussen polls New Hampshire and finds McCain leading against both Democrats. But , while this is a state in which Obama usually far outpaces Clinton, he loses by 10% (51-41) while Clinton trails 47% to 44%. Last month, Obama trailed by 3%; two months ago, he led by 13%.

Quinnipiac released its monthly wave of polls from the “Three Big States” (FL, OH and PA):

  • In Florida, Clinton beats McCain convincingly, 49% to 41%. Obama trails 44% to 43%. This is an improvement for both Democrats; last month, Clinton only led by 2% but Obama was crushed by 9%.
  • In Ohio, Clinton reaches double-digits against McCain, 48% to 38%, while McCain narrowly edges out Obama, 43% to 42%.
  • In Pennsylvania, however, the prolonged exposure both Democrats got appears to have helped their cause. Clinton crushes McCain 51% to 37%; Obama gets a large lead as well, 47% to 38%.
  • The big difference comes among white working-class voters: Clinton is tied in FL, leads by 6% in OH and by 8% in PA among this group of voters. Among this same group, however, Obama trails by 17%, 15% and 7%! That’s quite a large differential with Clinton.
  • Obama also suffers from his usual problem among registered Democrats; in Florida and Ohio, he only gets 69%. His edge relative to Clinton among independents is not as large as usual.

If I was looking at these numbers exclusively from the point of view from the general election, they could certainly be spun in a very different light: After a very difficult month, bitter-gate and Wright (the second wave of Wright is not included in these polls), Obama is tied with McCain in OH and FL and he has opened up a large lead in Pennsylvania, most probably thanks to the millions he spent on PA television in the run-up to the primary. Combined with Clinton’s showing, the PA results are very good news for Democrats; the Keystone state is one of the most important swings states that they cannot afford to lose. Kerry and Gore spent a lot of time and money there, and it would be a huge boost if the Dem nominee did not have to do the same this year. The fact that McCain is not able to benefit from McCain’s troubles suggest that Republicans might have a very difficult time finding competitive numbers for a while after the Democratic primary is over.

Viewed through the primary lens, of course, the NH and Quinnipiac polls are the ideal set of results Clinton would have designed herself: She has somewhat managed to open a large lead against McCain in all three states (it is very difficult to imagine a Democrat losing despite winning all three of these states), and her electability advantage comes from Obama’s weakness among working-class whites, the group among which Obama is consistently weak. (Predictably, Kos’s latest post hits Clinton for being “weaker across the board” by cherry-picking the surveys released in the past few days and only including… the New Jersey poll released yesterday by Monmouth University. No mention of Quinnipiac).

This is to say that these numbers are not random nor are they surprising; the constituency that is providing Clinton with an advantage here is one in which she always performs better. But in other states with different demographics, it i
s Obama who is stronger in the general election — states in which the key swing state are independents rather than working-class whites (CO, OR and NV, for instance) are much more likely to be picked up or held by him. More than ever, the two Democrats represent two very different electoral maps.

More polls: Clinton continues to gain ground in North Carolina, mixed numbers from Indiana

I reported this morning that the latest polling news brought some good news for everybody — with the biggest question mark the North Carolina primary which is showing some major movement without endangering Obama just yet. And indeed, the latest Survey USA suggests that Clinton’s NC investments are starting to really pay off:

  • SUSA finds Obama’s lead down to five percent, 49% to 44%. Last week, Obama was up by 9%.
  • The movement is primarily among white voters, among which Clinton has opened a 31% lead; she tightened the race particularly in the Research Triangle area.

This week’s other two NC poll had bigger Clinton improvements (+12% for PPP, +9% for Rasmussen) but also had Obama staying put with a bigger lead (+12% for PPP and +14% for Rasmussen). Considering the importance of looking at trendlines, however, there is little doubt that there is considerable movement in Clinton’s direction. And the narrative that could be taking shape is exactly what Clinton is hoping for — white voters moving away from Obama in the context of renewed controversy over Reverend Wright.

Whether this is due to a post-Pennsylvania bounce that will subside by May 6th or whether it indicates a more meaningful change of momentum is still unclear. It is worth pointing out that the Gallup tracking poll shows no sign of Obama picking up the ground he lost following the PA primary; the two candidates are in a statistical tie for the fifth day and Clinton even edged Obama out today, 47% to 46%. In the general election, Clinton now runs 4% better than her rival, with Obama losing 2% to McCain in one day. However, Rasmussen’s tracking shows little progress by Clinton, though today is the first day in quite some time that both Democrats have a narrow lead against McCain.

Naturally, keeping NC close would do Clinton little good if she cannot carry Indiana comfortably. And two new surveys from Indiana show two different leaders in the all-important May 6th primary:

  • After showing a Clinton comeback in NC, PPP now finds Clinton to be leading comfortably in Indiana, 50% to 42%; as always, Obama is benefiting from the open primary as he has a 15% lead among independents. The result and internals are similar to yesterday’s SUSA poll, suggesting (just like yesterday) that PPP changed its turnout model.
  • A Howey-Gauge poll, meanwhile, shows Obama very narrowly ahead, 47% to 45%.

It has been obvious for quite some time now that Indiana is the first state in quite some time that could truly go either way; polls with Clinton leading tend to show a slightly bigger margin than polls with Obama ahead, but the Illinois Senator’s ability to massively outspend (and thus outorganize) Clinton gives him an added bonus.

Update, in response to Mark: While I fully agree that it is virtually certain that Obama will pick up much much more than 73% of the black vote in Indiana, I disagree with the rest of your analysis of the internals of these polls: (1) A gender breakdown of 55% women to 45% men does not over-represent the female vote; in fact it is a 3% underrepresentation of the female vote, which should be good for Hillary. If this was a general election, you would be right; but the female vote constitutes 57% to 59% of the electorate in most Democratic primaries (58% in PA, 59% in OH and IL).

(2) The partisan breakdown is also in line with what we have seen in previous open primaries. About 70% of registered Democrats participating sounds about right, even accounting for the fact that Republicans don’t have a competitive primary. (3) The “already voted” numbers you refer to in the NC poll by SUSA represents 2% of the sample. That’s about 10 to 12 people… These numbers have no statistical significance whatsoever, the margin of error in that small a sample is humongous and it was irresponsible of SUSA to include numbers from such small subsamples.

Polls and superdelegates: Some good news for everybody

Perhaps this is a sign that superdelegates are looking to make their decisions known soon: Three high-profile superdelegates (and four total) have rallied to a candidate since Monday morning. I already mentioned that New Mexico Senator Jeff Bingaman had endorsed Obama yesterday. Today, Obama got another superdelegate, Rep. Chandler of Kentucky; that means both of Kentucky’s Democratic representatives have endorsed Obama which is somewhat surprising considering KY might be one of Obama’s worst states. The latest poll from SUSA shows Clinton crushing her opponent 62% to 26%! And Obama obtained a third endorsement by Richard Machacek, a DNC member and a superdelegate from Iowa. Considering that Clinton needs to win a large majority of remaining uncommitted superdelegates, this is certainly not good news for her.

Between Bingaman and Chandler, however, Clinton snatched a superdelegate of her own — and a very important one at that: North Carolina Governor Mike Easley. The North Carolina Democratic establishment is almost entirely backing Obama, so this is a good get for Clinton. Easley is leaving office in a few months and he no longer has the kind of machine that would make this that meaningful an endorsement; but he remains popular and high-profile, ensuring that his decision will be covered by the local media. Clinton is looking for any positive movement in the state to force the race in single-digits, and this is as good news as any.

The latest polls from the state confirm that Clinton has been able to tighten the state — though not yet enough. Yesterday, PPP found that Obama’s lead in North Carolina had been cut by more than half in one week, though the Illinois Senator was still ahead by double-digits. Today, Rasmussen confirms that there is some movement in Clinton’s favor:

  • Obama leads Clinton 51% to 37% — a margin that is more than enough for him to have a good night on May 6th. In the previous survey by Rasmussen, however, Obama led 56% to 33% — a 9% tightening. The poll’s internals hold no surprises.

North Carolina looks to be a rare state in which Clinton is picking up ground as the campaign progresses; the most common trend, of course, has been for Obama to rise though often not enough to overtake Clinton’s initial lead. How much can Clinton move upward in this state? Even a low double-digit loss would be disastrous symbolically, not to mention that Obama would get a big pledged delegate boost.

Finally, two general election polls bring some good news with everybody, with Clinton more competitive in an AP national poll, Obama in Wisconsin, while McCain can be content that WI will be competitive in the fall no matter what happens until then:

  • The Univ. of Wisconsin’s Badger Poll finds Obama narrowly leading McCain 47% to 43%. McCain, meanwhile, leads Clinton 47% to 41%.
  • Meanwhile, the AP/Ipsos national poll shows Clinton opening up a meaningful lead against McCain, 50% to 41%; Obama is up within the margin of error, 46% to 44%.

I already made note of this poll yesterday afternoon, but it was in a long post about Wright, electability and MS-01 so I wanted to also include it in a poll rundown. The AP/Ipsos poll, after all, is a respected survey that often features prominently in discussions among pundits; and we know why intra-establishment chatter is very important in the coming months.

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