Campaigns/Elections

Hillary's Southern Crossroads

North Carolina can make or break her campaign

|

Even though its current focus is on the battle for Pennsylvania, the Democratic presidential race is certain to tilt on the results of North Carolina's May 6th primary. It is there that Hillary Clinton must show that working class, Southern, white voters will balk at supporting Barack Obama come November.

Clinton is not so much trying to win the nomination outright—neither candidate will secure enough delegates to do that—as she is auditioning before the party's superdelegates to be cast as the nominee most likely to beat John McCain. This requires offering some kind of proof that Obama is—pick your focus group: too black, too scary, too liberal, or too scary-black-liberal—to win enough white votes to beat McCain.

This is where North Carolina comes in. Ringed by three states that Obama won handily just weeks ago, a Clinton win would show that Obama's race relations talk didn't work, and that not even in a state with a significant black Democratic base can he overcome the suspicion that he is a crypto-Black Panther. Not only did Obama win South Carolina, Georgia, and Virginia, he crushed Clinton in those races, displaying the twin aspects of what has made his campaign so formidable. In South Carolina it was a huge black turnout with significant new voter participation, while in Virginia he pulled in huge numbers of white votes, finishing with 48 percent. A similar pattern prevailed in Georgia, where 43 percent of the white vote went for the Obama.

Only Tennessee, which gave Clinton a 13 point win, has resisted Obama's march across the South, not counting Clinton's "home" state of Arkansas, of course.

That was then, pre-Rev. Jeremiah Wright. Has the "landscape changed," as politicos like to say, after the electorate's introduction to Wright's fiery sermons? Maybe. The trouble for Clinton is she has considerable baggage of her own.

In North Carolina, especially in small and mid-size towns denuded of 250,000 furniture and light manufacturing jobs, NAFTA might as well be the Hitler-Stalin Pact. If both Clinton and Obama had to run from the treaty in Ohio and the Rust Belt, they'll have to be in dead sprint across the Tar Heel State. And Clinton simply has more—much more—pro-NAFTA weight to carry.

She tried to shed that burden in Winston-Salem the other day by calling for a "re-negotiation" of NAFTA, which just seems to be a fancy way of saying she was wrong for ever supporting the treaty. She also promised some $2.5 billion in workforce training programs to help make up for it all, one supposes.

Meanwhile, Obama was in Greensboro patiently explaining for the umpteenth time that he is, in fact, a Christian while bashing Clinton for being too tied to special interests. Obama also beat Clinton to the state's TV airwaves, putting up 30-second spots promising not to ship jobs overseas like you-know-who.

The early commitment of ad dollars shows that the Obama camp does not put much stock in one recent poll showing him with a 20-point lead in the state. The poll's methodology almost certainly overstates the pro-Obama turnout for the primary. The consensus view is that Obama now holds a lead, but of, at most, 10 points—and possibly little as five points among likely primary voters.

Because the race is relatively close, Clinton will no doubt soon move to counter the Obama ads in the state's metro cores. When she does, it may well be with the most direct and forceful attacks on Obama the campaign season has yet seen. Hillary, in point of fact, has nothing to gain by holding back. She must, to borrow Bill's old phrase from the Ken Starr days, "just win."

To that end, the political class in North Carolina is bracing for a heavy dose of Rev. Wright's oratory, offered up by pro-Hillary ads. It might not be pretty or artful, but the rough road is the only one left open to her.

Jeff Taylor
writes from North Carolina.

Advertisement

NEXT: Because it Worked So Well Last Time

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of Reason.com or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  1. Theres no way in hell she wins NC.

  2. Obama (and the media) lowered expectations enough for Obama that we all expect him to lose by 10 points. Yet, just like Texas and Nevada, he might end up with more delegates. North Carolina should clinch it for him, but I still don’t think the Hillary will drop.

  3. On the other hand, if Obama wins PA (even by less than 1%) Hillary has to drop. That would also kill the Wright flap once and for all.

  4. On the other hand, if Obama wins PA (even by less than 1%) Hillary has to drop.

    Yeah, but I’m not even sure she would with a PA loss. The delegate distribution will be close no matter who wins, with 70-90 delegates going to each candidate. Hillary would still be able to make a case (especially if she wins) that the momentum is on her side and she can still win with the superdelegates. She’s said a few times she her no problem going right up to the convention.

    That would also kill the Wright flap once and for all.

    I don’t think anything will kill that.

  5. Hillary cannot drop out of the race now. She has staked everything on this. If necessary she will leap across a debate stage to claw his eyes out, but she will not drop out.

  6. A PA win would mean he appealed to white working class voters, the group the Wright flap was supposed to kill him with.

  7. She can’t win NC. The rural and small towns she’s campaigning in are heavily Republican, and we don’t have open primaries here. The urban centers, like Raleigh-Durham are populated with the young and the well educated.

  8. Clinton already lost. This is just the Denial phase.

  9. A PA win would mean he appealed to white working class voters, the group the Wright flap was supposed to kill him with.

    Wait until the general.

  10. I don’t know, dey take dere bowlin’ awful serious out dere in Allegheney County.

  11. Adamness how do you honestly think “The jobs are not coming back, my friends” is going to play for McCain in PA and OH?

  12. Bill Clinton made it work in 1992.

  13. Adamness how do you honestly think “The jobs are not coming back, my friends” is going to play for McCain in PA and OH?

    I thought everyone liked ‘straight talk?’

    McCain can’t get away with telling the country that our jobs are simply gone and not coming back. He has to balance it with saying we need new industry, and it will best come from all the ‘green’ crap that’s suddenly popular. Besides, it’s not like McCain will be running on that. He won’t really be running on any domestic issue, and that alone will annoy a lot of people.

    Still, Rev. Wright will not disappear after PA even if Obama wins. Maybe McCain won’t play to it, but there are plenty of other Republican and conservative organizations who will bring it up.

  14. Yeah joe, but he was running against a free trader. And I don’t think he actually said that, IIRC he was very vague on NAFTA and talked about “fixing” it.

  15. This is the Hillary Clinton “surge”.

    She will repeat the success of this surge often enough for it to seep into the collective mythology – thus making it true.

  16. Interesting point made on kos: if Obama can eat into Clinton’s lead to a considerable degree in Pennsylvania, she will have to dedicate money and time there, while he’s working North Carolina and Indiana.

    Obama has a pretty good money lead on Clinton, so he can win a “war of attrition.”

  17. Joe: From the reports I’m seeing, Clinton is practically broke. She’s got some 8 million in debt, of her February haul only 11 million was primary money.

    Obama’s got several times more cash on hand that she does. I’m starting to wonder if her “I’m staying in until August” is just a fundraising pitch so she can pay off campaign debts.

  18. I don’t know, dey take dere bowlin’ awful serious out dere in Allegheney County.

    Hey! I hardly ever bowl better than a 120. Of course I live in Beaver County. Town of Beaver. I love living in Beaver. I try to spend as much time here as possible.

    p.s. And it’s spelled “Allegheny.”

    p.p.s. And it’s pronounced “Awwegany Cowny”

  19. I’m starting to wonder if her “I’m staying in until August” is just a fundraising pitch so she can pay off campaign debts.

    That is a very interesting point. Could be.

Please to post comments

Comments are closed.