3.25.2008

Obama regains ground in two upcoming primaries

Barack Obama had been losing ground to Hillary Clinton in the upcoming primaries for much of the past two weeks: Pennsylvania surveys were showing Clinton up more than 20% lately, and she had pulled almost even with the Illinois Senator in North Carolina. While not enough to seriously endanger Obama's firm grip on the nomination, such results would drag on the race for weeks and months beyond May 6th.

Two new polls from these two states, however, are the first to suggest that Obama might have stopped the bleeding and regained some ground now that the Wright controversy has lost its novelty. The movement among white voters in North Carolina could also suggest that Obama's race speech last week helped him control some of the damage:

  • A Rasmussen poll of Pennsylvania shows Clinton leading 49% to 39%. That's a slight improvement for Obama from the previous Rasmussen poll which showed her up 52% to 39%.
Rasmussen has never showed Clinton leading Pennsylvania with the 20%+ leads other institutes have given her, so we have to keep that in mind. But it is still significant that the trendline here is favoring Obama when most other indicators pointed to Clinton expanding her advantage.

  • Meanwhile, a North Carolina poll from PPP shows Obama up a massive 55% to 34%. Two weeks ago, Clinton had pulled within 1%, so this is a very significant shift in Obama's favor and the biggest lead he has ever had in any North Carolina poll.
  • The main reason for this shift appears to be a move among white voters, who now favor Clinton 47% to 40% only instead of 56% to 30%.
The expectations game has more or less attributed Pennsylvania to Clinton and North Carolina to Obama, so neither candidate have that much to gain from these two victories. But an unexpectedly small or large margin could shake up the race. In Pennsylvania, pulling within single digits would be a moral victory for Obama; but if Clinton won by a significant margin (15% or more) it could sent the Obama campaign into its own downward spiral. The same is true in reverse in North Carolina.

The most suspenseful state voting by May 6th is Indiana -- mostly because there is almost no polling and that the demographics don't necessarily favor any candidate -- but that doesn't mean that Clinton's fate isn't also dependent on Pennsylvania and North Carolina. We are once again facing the very same questions we tried to answer in the run-up to March 4th: What does Clinton need to justify her staying in the race after early May? Certainly a win on April 22nd and at least one on May 6th. But is that enough? How triumphant do her victories have to be?

On March 4th, her three victories accompanied by her double-digit edge in Ohio were enough to keep her going, but Clinton is now facing a different challenge. She needs to build such momentum as to give pause to superdelegates and convince them that handing the nod to Obama would be too risky for the general election. Such an effort will require her to get a truly convincing victory in Pennsylvania (much larger than she did in Ohio) and pull so close in North Carolina as to argue that Obama's numbers are collapsing and that his base is deserting him.

These two polls released today show that Obama has what it takes to prevent this scenario; but other polls taken in the past 2 weeks show that Clinton has enough room to rise to get the numbers she needs. Which is what keeps the Democratic race so interesting, however much Hillary's chances have diminished.

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