Unlike Republicans, Democrats emerged from last week’s Super Tuesday extravaganza without a clear front runner in the race for their party’s presidential nomination. Although Barack Obama’s late surge in the polls helped him capture a majority of the states up for grabs, Hillary Clinton’s victories in larger states like California and New York resulted in both candidates receiving nearly the same number of delegates. In fact, a count of all the votes cast on Super Tuesday reveals a virtual tie, with Obama and Clinton receiving slightly more than 7,000,000 votes apiece.
As a result of this statistical dead heat, primaries and caucuses that were once irrelevant (in the past, Super Tuesday victories generally clinched nominations and anything thereafter was a mere formality) have been suddenly imbued with critical importance as Clinton and Obama continue to scramble for delegates ahead of next summer’s convention.
The Obama campaign’s approach to the 25 or so post-Super Tuesday primaries has been to focus on the smaller, earlier voting states, and it appears to be paying off. Riding a wave of momentum after victories in Louisiana, Maine, Nebraska, Washington and the Virgin Islands over the weekend, Obama is on track to win several more states over the coming weeks, including a clean-sweep of tomorrow’s Chesapeake Tuesday (or Potomac Primary, if you prefer). Large enough victories in tomorrow’s contests would likely push Obama ahead of Clinton in the overall delegate count (not including super delegates) and would bolster his prospects for winning the remaining primaries and causes in February.
Clinton, meanwhile, has decided to focus on March 5th, when residents of Ohio and Texas, both large, delegate-rich states, go to the polls. She is thus mimicking Guiliani’s failed late-state strategy which saw him spend a majority of his time and money in Florida at the expense of campaigning in Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina. Although risky, the pay-off from decisive victories for Clinton in both Ohio and Texas could potentially erase any gains made by Obama in smaller states between now and early March. However, anything less than a complete victory would likely signal the end of Clinton’s once unstoppable campaign, as McCain’s victory in Florida did for Guiliani.
Indeed, the Democratic Party’s decision to assign delegates on a proportional basis means Obama needs only to avert complete annihilation in Ohio and Texas to effectively clinch the nomination. This is especially true should he win the remaining contests in February, a prospect that is growing more likely as March draws closer.
Following March 5th, only Pennsylvania and North Carolina (and to a lesser extent Indiana) offer primaries with significant numbers of delegates up for grabs. Unfortunately, no recent polling data is available from either state (the most recent statistics for both are from early December), although one might safely assume that Obama’s victory in South Carolina, coupled with a victory in tomorrow’s Virginia primary, would make him the frontrunner in North Carolina. Pennsylvania will likely be a closer contest, but, aside from a landslide in both Ohio and Texas for Clinton, it will likely have no major impact.
Clearly then, barring any major mishaps in Ohio or Texas, the race for the Democratic presidential nomination is now Obama’s to lose.