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Ben Surtees on: March 4th – The Endgame?

February 13th, 2008

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    Guest slot on why it will all come down to Texas and Ohio… probably

Super Tuesday’s “Split Decision” has raised the prospect of a protracted fight for the Democrat nomination, even a brokered convention. Certainly the failure of the early primaries to produce a presumptive nominee has senior democrats concerned and political pundits excited. However, despite this, it remains likely that a nominee will be decided long before the party’s convention, in Denver in late August.

With six wins out of six already February looks set to be a good month for Barack Obama, with likely victories in the two remaining contests in Wisconsin and Hawaii on February 19th. Such a sweep places enormous pressure on Hillary Clinton, who has already been forced to contend with fundraising difficulties and a major shake up within her campaign staff. In an effort to recover momentum, the Clinton campaign is now targeting the primaries in Texas and Ohio on March 4th, both of which offer significant delegate hauls.

The Clinton campaign’s effort to effectively bypass the remaining February primaries in favour of the big states in play on March 4th carries echoes of Rudy Giuliani’s failed presidential campaign.

Like Giuliani, Senator Clinton runs the risk of ceding massive momentum to her rival that could seriously undermine her position in those states which vote later. Her campaign’s emphasis on Texas and Ohio, also means that, should Clinton fail to secure convincing wins in both, her position could rapidly become untenable.

As unconvincing performances in Texas and Ohio, could potentially act as the catalyst for leading Democrats to begin to call for her to exit the race, in the interests of party unity.

For Barack Obama, Texas and Ohio also represent key tests: Should the Illinois Senator sweep the February contests, strong performances in the states voting on March 4th would place the Democratic nomination within his reach. Conversely, strong performances by Senator Clinton in both states could swing the momentum of the race back in her favour.

Both Ohio and Texas would seem to be contests likely to favour Hillary Clinton. In Ohio lower income, blue collar workers dominate the Democratic primary, while in Texas the state’s large Hispanic community also provides a strong base for the New York Senator. Consequently, Obama’s chances of doing well in these states rests on his ability to replicate the expansion of his support amongst lower income white voters and Hispanics which he achieved in Virginia and Maryland.

Another key feature of the contests on March 4th is the bizarre caucus/primary hybrid employed in Texas. While the state will hold a primary, this will only allocate two thirds of delegates, as the final third will be allotted by a series of caucuses held during the evening. An esoteric electoral process to say the least, which could well play to the strengths of the Obama Campaign, with it’s impressive track record in caucuses.

Neither candidate is likely to have the necessarily delegate lead to ‘clinch’ the nomination after March 4th. However, either Barack Obama’s momentum will have been checked by Clinton securing strong victories in both Texas and Ohio or it will not. As a result, one candidate is likely to come under substantial pressure to exit the race in favour of the perceived front-runner.

While, the March 4th contests could prove inconclusive and the race drag out further (either to the Pennsylvania primary in April or all the way to Denver in August) that would seem unlikely. If Senator Clinton is in fact ‘ceeding’ the February contest to Obama then she has to be able to respond with strong showings in Ohio and Texas on March 4th. At the same time, Obama has to be able to maintain his momentum even where the demographics may favour Clinton. One candidate has to fall short on March 4th and for that candidate their position as a viable contender for the Democratic nomination could become rapidly untenable, as the move for party unity in an election year becomes irresistible.

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Ben Surtees






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