Seemingly eons ago, Barack Obama was poised to win New Hampshire, with polls handing him a double-digit lead before the Granite State voted. Yet Hillary’s resiliency, aided by a tear, kept her in contention. The same scenario replayed in the run-up to Super Tuesday, characterized by erratic polling setting the stage for an Obama upset. That day, Hillary fought to a stalemate, again preserving her status in the race. Now, the third wave of declaring Hillary a bygone of the 1990’s has crested. The rush to pen obituaries is premature.
The terrain since Super Tuesday has favored Obama, as many states had either significant African-American populations or well-educated electorates. Yet on March 4, the field shifts to Clinton territory. Texas has a significant Latino population which could compose as much as a third of the Democratic primary vote, and polls currently hand Clinton a double-digit lead. In Ohio, there are many downscale Democrats receptive to Hillary’s retooled populist message, powering her seventeen point lead in the state.
Wisconsin acts a bridge between the demographic divide in the calendar. The state has a progressive tradition hearkening back to Robert LaFollette, but is also home to a substantial white, working-class population. Current polling gives Obama a slim lead of 4%, barely outside the margin of error. Also of importance, anywhere from 10-15% of voters are undecided. In the depressing flow of data for the Clinton campaign recently, there has been one bright spot, concerning late deciders. In Maryland, which Obama won by 23 points, voters who decided on the day of the primary went 48% for Clinton and 41% for Obama.
The Clinton campaign is clearly making a push in the Badger State. Hillary is campaigning across Wisconsin this weekend and Monday morning, sacrificing valuable time that could be spent in Texas and Ohio – states she cannot afford to lose. The campaign is castigating Obama on the airwaves, broadcasting negative ads deeming him a candidate lacking substance. The concerted effort is a bid to keep Obama’s margin of victory low, while preserving the possibility of an upset.
On “Hardball” yesterday, Chris Matthews asked USA Today columnist Susan Page how the newspaper headlines would spin an Obama victory in Wisconsin by less than five points. She replied, “Closer than expected,” despite the fact that the hypothetical mirrors the polls. The Clinton campaign has effectively lowered expectations, now able to spin a close loss as a victory. A Wisconsin “win” would provide Hillary a much-needed boost heading into March 4, potentially halting Obama’s momentum.