Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Obama Retains Lead, Clinton Makes Case for Going On

by Joel Wendland

While Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-N.Y.) managed to stake a claim for staying in the race for the Democratic nomination with a split victory on "crucial Tuesday," Mar. 4, she failed to overcome numerical odds against her capturing the nomination of that party.

Barack Obama held on to a roughly 100 delegate lead, by most media estimates. But with a mere 600 pledged delegates remaining and both candidates more than 700 away from clinching the majority needed to win, it is increasingly likely that the Democratic nomination will be decided late into the spring and quite possibly by the much maligned superdelegate voting process.

The night began with Obama's 12th straight victory in Vermont, but quickly unraveled from there. Clinton opened an early commanding lead in Ohio that narrowed to a 10-point victory after the votes had been counted.

A ballot shortage in Cleveland-area precincts, an Obama stronghold, sparked some controversy. Though Obama campaign lawyers convinced a judge to keep the polls open an extra hour and a half, no outside estimates exist on how many votes may have been lost in the process.

Ohio Secretary of State Jennifer Brunner, who oversees Ohio's controversial elections process and who has endorsed Hillary Clinton, denied that ballot shortages in Cleveland caused lost votes.

Obama's campaign efforts in Ohio included a massive virtual phonebanking effort that claimed to reach more than 1 million voters in Ohio and Texas. Activists from Michigan, West Virginia, and Illinois poured across the border to canvass and turn out the vote.

Hundreds of Obama supporters in Columbus, Ohio staged a march to the polls to participate in the early voting process last weekend.

In the end, however, these efforts may not have been enough to overcome sharply negative campaigning from the Clinton camp. According to exit polling, a majority of Ohioans thought that Clinton had lobbed unfair attack ads, but in the end, a majority of them sided with her at the polls.

Notably, the Clinton campaign circulated a TV ad known as the "3 am" ad, copied from a 1984 Walter Mondale commercial, which claimed that Obama would not be ready in an international crisis. Obama responded by stating that the 3 am crisis had already come in Iraq in 2003, and both Hillary Clinton and John McCain made the wrong choice to go to war.

Voters from union households in Ohio numbered approximately 34 percent and backed Clinton by margins roughly proportional to the statewide totals. Union voters played a huge role in bringing economic issues to the foreground in that state's primary.

Voters who cited the Iraq war as their top concern backed Obama.

One major issue was the role of NAFTA and other free trade deals in decimating Ohio's manufacturing economy. While both candidates pledged to revisit the unpopular trade deal and find ways to prevent it from causing job losses, Obama could not overcome Clinton's claim that members of his campaign told Canadian officials that Obama's views on NAFTA were mere campaign rhetoric.

A report in the Washington Post, Mar. 4, showed that the Feb. 8 meeting between Obama campaign representative Austan Goolsbee and the Canadian consul-general for Chicago actually included a discussion of Obama's goal to revamp NAFTA in favor of the labor and environmental concerns of US workers.

According to the memo released by the Canadian government Goolsbee told the Canadians that they sought to remake the trade deal "in favour of strengthening/clarifying language on labour mobility and environment and trying to establish these as more 'core' principles of the agreement."

Labor and environmental advocates accuse the Clinton administration of sidelining workers' rights and environmental concerns in the original NAFTA negotiations back in the 1990s in order to win Republican backing for the agreement in Congress.

Obama's point that Clinton had long been a supporter of NAFTA until her recent campaigning in Ohio failed to overcome Clinton's spin on the affair as one in which Obama had two views on the subject.

The day before the primaries, Sen. Clinton delivered what many commentators saw as her most controversial argument. On Monday, critics of the Clinton campaign argued that Clinton appeared to endorse John McCain over Obama when she stated, "I think that I have a lifetime of experience that I will bring to the White House. Sen. John McCain has a lifetime of experience that he’d bring to the White House."

Media reports also suggest that when pointedly asked, Clinton failed to denounce strongly false rumors about Obama's religious views, hinting that he might be a closet Muslim.

Negative campaigning in Ohio and Texas helped sway last minute, undecided voters in Clinton's favor, polls showed.

In Texas, Clinton and Obama appeared to split the state's "prima-caucus" system, with a razor-thin victory for Clinton in the primary and a similar advantage for Obama in the caucus, though final tallies in the caucus were not turned in at the time of writing. Vermont fell to Obama by large margins, while in Rhode Island, Clinton held off a last-minute Obama rally.

In her victory speech, Mar. 4, Clinton made an argument for staying in the race despite failing to win by large enough margins to overcome Obama's lead. "We're going on, we're going strong and we're going all the way. Millions of Americans haven't spoken yet and they want their turn," she told a small but exuberant crowd in Columbus, Ohio.

The Obama campaign downplayed the results. According to it, March 4th saw Clinton's huge February leads in the polls in those four states crumble. Obama supporters claimed a continuing lead in the popular vote for all 41 primaries and caucuses to date, a more than 100-point delegate lead, and victories in 28 states to Clinton's 13.

"Time is running out," said Obama campaign spokesperson David Axelrod. "And at some point, the party is going to coalesce around the nominee, and the nominee is going to be Barack Obama."

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