Barack Obama's Momentum Grows
What will Hillary Clinton do now? That is the question coming out of Tuesday's big win in Wisconsin for Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., where exit polls found he drew voters from the very ranks that supported Sen. Hillary Clinton, D-N.Y., in prior primary and caucus states: women, white men, middle-aged voters and union households.
With 97 percent of precincts reporting, representing more than a million voters, Obama had 57 percent compared to 41 percent for Clinton. More notable than that solid margin of victory, which came after both candidates campaigned hard in Wisconsin, was the increasingly broad support that Obama appears to be generating.
According to exit polls, Obama won: all age groups under 65; white voters under age 60; all education levels; all income levels; all regions of the state -- rural, suburban and urban; and among Democrats, Republicans and Independents. Obama also won among voters who picked a candidate in the past week and among union members and union households, the exit poll data said. And he tied Clinton among women.
Wisconsin was the ninth contest Obama has won in a row. The exit polling also showed his support has been growing in key segments of the electorate since 2008's first primaries and caucuses. In New Hampshire, for example, Obama won 38 percent of the vote among white men. In Wisconsin, he won 62 percent. In New Hampshire, he won a third of voters aged 50 to 60, while in Wisconsin he won more than half that group. And among people earning $30,000 to $50,000 a year, Obama also went from winning a third of those voters in New Hampshire to more than half in Wisconsin.
While pollsters and pundits may quibble over comparisons between these states, what is unmistakable is Wisconsin has confirmed the new dynamics of the Democratic contest. Obama is indeed the front runner, gaining not just more delegates than Clinton but also attracting a growing cross-section of the party's base. In short, it appears that Democrats -- and Independents -- are coalescing around his candidacy.
According to CNN, Obama now has 1,294 delegates, compared to 1,234 delegates for Clinton. In Wisconsin, 92 delegates were at stake. Hawaii also held a Democratic caucus on Tuesday, which Obama overwhelmingly won with 76 percent of the vote compared to 24 percent for Clinton. Twenty-nine delegates are at stake in that contest, whose results were announced early Wednesday. The next primaries are on March 4, when four states, including Texas and Ohio, vote.
"We just heard we won tonight in Wisconsin," Obama said, speaking at a rally in Houston, Texas, where after thanking Wisconsin voters, he turned his attention to the state with the largest block of delegates left in the Democratic nominating contest. "But we know this, Houston, the change we seek is still months and miles away, and we need the good people of Texas to help us get there."
"Understand this Houston, as wonderful as this gathering is," he continued, "what we are trying to do here is not easy, and it will not happen overnight. It is going to take more than big rallies. It will require more than rousing speeches. It will also require more than policy papers and positions and websites. It is going to require something more, because the problems that we face in America today is not the lack of good ideas, it is that Washington has become a place where good ideas go to die."
Clinton, meanwhile, was in Youngstown, Ohio, where she did not mention the Wisconsin results in her rally.
"Tonight, I want to talk to you about the choice you have in this election and why that choice matters," Clinton said, her voice slightly hoarse. "It is about picking a president who relies not just on words, but on work -- on hard work to get America back to work. That's our goal.
"When I think about what we are really comparing in this election, we can't just have speeches," she continued, referring to Obama's oratory. "We've got to have solutions. And we need those solutions for America ... because while words matter, the best words in the world are not enough unless you match them with action."
Next stop, Texas and Ohio
The next primaries are on March 4, when Texas, Ohio, Rhode Island and Vermont vote. The Clinton campaign has said it must win in Texas and Ohio to secure the nomination and has been focusing on those states with 228 and 161 delegates, respectively.
Obama's Wisconsin victory suggests new hurdles for Clinton, especially in Ohio. That state's demographics and issues are similar to Wisconsin, where the economy and jobs are among the top issues raised by voters. Both states have sizeable working-class and union households, although Wisconsin historically has been more of a maverick state with supporting populists and political outsiders.
Still, Ohio's largest city, Cleveland, is not just the state's largest Democratic stronghold, but also has a large African-American population, a block that has supported Obama in other states. The biggest unknown about the Cleveland vote is whether the Cuyahoga County Board of Elections will have successfully trained poll workers in a new paper ballot system to prevent voting day bottlenecks that could disenfranchise thousands of voters -- as has been the case in several recent elections in the city.
Beyond the mechanics of the Ohio vote, it appears that voters in the remaining primary and caucus states will have a few weeks to take yet another look at the candidates to determine which candidate and leadership style can beat Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., the likely Republican nominee: Obama's promise of a new, post-partisan White House, or Clinton's promise of experienced leadership from day one in office.
For Clinton to win, she must convince women, the middle-class and working people that she is the candidate who can succeed in the fall and deliver on the promise of a government that helps solve their problems. For Obama, he needs to continue to make a case for why he would be a better choice than Clinton, as well as deflect new criticism from McCain, who on Tuesday, speaking of his lofty rhetoric, said, "Americans are not deceived by an eloquent but empty call for change."
And Obama must be careful not to stumble. As candidates approach winning their party's nomination, they often become more cautious as press and public scrutiny increases. But disclosures this week that Obama used -- some say plagiarized -- speech lines from Democratic Gov. Deval Patrick of Massachusetts, did not appear to deter Wisconsin voters.
Still, it would be realistic to expect the Clinton campaign to use everything in its political arsenal against Obama before the Ohio and Texas primaries on March 4. If Clinton is to win the Democratic nomination, she must carry those states.