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Analysis: Obama has advantage in weeks ahead

  • Story Highlights
  • Weekend wins for Barack Obama may signal rough times ahead for Hillary Clinton
  • Race for cash, momentum may be starting to tilt slightly in Obama's direction
  • Doubts about whether disaffected conservatives will coalesce around John McCain
  • Tuesday's Virginia primary provides next test of McCain's conservative support
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By Alan Silverleib
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NEW YORK (CNN) -- Sen. Barack Obama's dominant coast-to-coast performance this weekend set a new tone for the post-Super Tuesday phase of an unprecedented struggle for the Democratic presidential nomination.

Obama's overwhelming margins of victory in Washington state, Louisiana, Nebraska, Maine, and the U.S. Virgin Islands signaled the start of what may prove to be a rough few weeks for Sen. Hillary Clinton's campaign.

Five weeks and more than 30 contests after Iowa, the race for delegates between Obama and Clinton remains a virtual tie. Both candidates are roughly halfway to the magic number of 2,025 delegates needed to be nominated at the party's national convention in Denver this summer. The prospect of a brokered convention is no longer dismissed as a far-fetched scenario.

The race for money and momentum, however, may be starting to tilt slightly in Obama's direction. While the New York senator recently took out a $5 million loan to support her candidacy, money continues to pour into his campaign coffers with surprising ease. Video Watch crowds cheer Obama in Virginia »

The growing discontent within the ranks of the Clinton campaign was highlighted by Clinton's decision on Sunday to replace campaign manager Patti Solis Doyle with longtime adviser Maggie Williams.

It also has become clear that the Clinton camp operates at a distinct disadvantage whenever delegates are chosen by traditionally lower turnout caucuses instead of higher turnout primaries. Obama's enthusiastic supporters flooded caucus sites in Nebraska and Washington on Saturday, propelling him to remarkably easy victories. See map showing results in each state »

Perhaps more surprisingly, Obama also bested Clinton in Sunday's Maine caucuses. Maine is one of the poorest states in Clinton's home region of the Northeast, and she generally has performed better than Obama among lower-income white voters. However, the unusual degree of enthusiasm and organization among Obama's backers negated any regional and socioeconomic advantages the state may have provided her. Video Watch Clinton address supporters after Saturday contests »

Turning south to the other major contest this past weekend -- Louisiana -- Obama once again relied upon a rock solid base of African-American support to propel him to victory. Black voters, almost half of the state's Democratic primary electorate, backed Obama by a 64-point margin (82 percent to 18 percent). Clinton dominated white voters but by a relatively smaller 44-point margin (70 percent to 26 percent).

Following another trend from earlier contests, Obama beat Clinton among Louisiana's better-educated voters. Among the 64 percent of voters who attended college, Obama won by 16 percentage points (57 percent to 41 percent).

His decision to go up on the air helped as well. Obama put a few hundred thousand dollars into television ads the last week of the Louisiana campaign; Clinton was not on television at all. Among the 63 percent of primary voters who said that campaign ads mattered, Obama won by 19 percentage points (59 percent to 40 percent).

Another continuation of early trends could be found in the age and gender breakdown of Louisiana's Democratic primary voters. Specifically, Clinton performed extremely well among Louisiana's older white voters. She also ran well among white women and had a slight edge among early deciders, though it was not nearly enough to counter Obama's advantage statewide.

If the voting patterns in Louisiana and earlier states are reliable indicators of what is to come, Obama should do well in the remaining February contests. Tuesday's so-called "Potomac primary" in Maryland, Washington, D.C., and Virginia will feature sizable numbers of African-American, affluent and well-educated voters.

Wisconsin -- which has a long history of supporting progressive reformers since the heyday of home state hero "Battling Bob" La Follette in the 1920s -- takes center stage February 19.

The Clinton campaign, anticipating potential setbacks in all four of these primaries, already is placing a strong emphasis on March 4, when voters in the delegate-rich states of Ohio and Texas go to the polls. The senator's team continues to hope that adherence to a "big state" strategy ultimately will allow her to triumph in Denver, even if Obama has won more contests by the end of the primary season.Video Watch how superdelegates could swing the race »

The Republican contest, while largely settled on Super Tuesday, is now dominated by the question of whether or not disaffected conservatives finally will coalesce around the campaign of maverick Sen. John McCain. As of this past weekend, the answer was a resounding no.

McCain, the presumptive nominee according to most observers, was soundly defeated in the Kansas caucuses by former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee's shoestring campaign. The former Baptist minister, who likes to tell audiences he is hoping for a miracle in the delegate race, also edged out McCain in Louisiana's Republican primary.

Huckabee fought McCain, with his pattern of underperforming among GOP activists who dominate the party's caucuses, to a virtual draw in Washington state. Video Watch Huckabee on why he's fighting results in Washington »

Exit polls from Louisiana demonstrated exactly how much work McCain still has to do to mend fences with his party's base. Among the 45 percent of primary voters who called themselves very conservative, Huckabee beat McCain by 23 percentage points (55 percent to 32 percent). Among the 57 percent of primary voters who described themselves as either born again or evangelical Christians, Huckabee beat McCain by 24 percentage points (57 percent to 33 percent).

McCain, who enraged many conservatives by initially opposing the Bush tax cuts, also may have a long way to go to convince the GOP base that he can be trusted to manage the economy. The 33 percent of Louisiana Republicans who cited the economy as their top issue favored Huckabee over McCain by 12 percentage points (50 percent to 38 percent).

If there was a silver lining to be found for McCain in Louisiana's exit polls, it may be among the 26 percent of Republicans who still feel enthusiastic about the Bush administration. Despite McCain's frequent clashes with the president, Republicans who remain enthusiastic about Bush favored McCain over Huckabee by seven percentage points (51 percent to 44 percent). McCain may be benefiting from President Bush's address Friday to the Conservative Political Action Conference, which many observers saw as a call for the party to rally around its presumptive nominee.


Tuesday's Virginia primary will provide the next major test of McCain's conservative support. The senator from Arizona should perform well with the state's sizable military community. The more significant question, however, is whether he will pick up enough votes from the state's large evangelical population to defeat Huckabee statewide. McCain was heavily criticized for his condemnation of Virginia-based evangelical leaders such as the Revs. Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell during his 2000 primary campaign against Bush.

If McCain can defeat Huckabee in Virginia, pressure may grow on Huckabee to withdraw from the GOP race. If McCain loses, however, conservatives may be more reluctant to rally around the maverick senator in the weeks ahead. E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

All About John McCainBarack ObamaHillary ClintonMike Huckabee

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