Early reports show that Barack Obama will win North Carolina, giving the Illinois senator bragging rights in the battle for delegates tonight. Indiana remains too close to call with half of the state yet to report. However, CNN and other media organizations are reporting that Obama has made headway among white blue-collar voters in Indiana, a constituency that played key roles in Clinton’s victories in Ohio, Pennsylvania, and in her claim that Obama could not win a national election against John McCain.
Prior to tonight’s results, the Forbes Delegate Calculator showed that even if the Democratic candidates split both contests, Obama would retain a significant lead in delegates. In addition, a close finish in Indiana and an Obama victory in North Carolina (which appears imminent) will make it very difficult for Clinton to approach victory with only five states remaining. Conservative projections of tonight's results, with Obama winning 55% of North Carolina and Clinton winning 55% of Indiana (both smaller margins than current exit polls suggest) would leave Obama with an overall delegate advantage of 142 delegates. The New York senator’s appeal to unpledged superdelegates also appears to lose steam with an Obama victory, particularly if exit polls continue to show a pick-up among white, blue-collar voters. Further adding to Clinton's woes, the aforementioned delegate gap means the New York senator would have to win two-thirds of the remaining delegates (pledged and super) to win the nomination--a very tall order.
Many analysts held that Clinton would need to net 20 delegates to make her case for a continued shift in momentum after her delegate victories in Ohio and Pennsylvania (Obama won Texas thanks to the hybrid primary/caucus system). But an Obama victory in North Carolina makes it mathematically impossible for Clinton to claim victory by that margin this evening, and it destroys her claim that she has picked up momentum at Obama's expense.
Team Clinton, perhaps sensing the inevitability of an Obama victory in North Carolina, reignited the debate over the seating of delegates from Michigan and Florida. The newest proposal calls for a re-vote (of sorts) to take place on August 5 when both states will host primary elections. While the addition of a presidential column to the ballots would offer Clinton the possibility to make up ground in the race for presidential delegates, it is highly unlikely that the state committees would allow such a vote to take place, since national Democratic bylaws would need to be changed for elections taking place during the Democratic convention to be counted.
If Clinton can manage a narrow victory in Indiana, the Clinton spin machine will point to pre-election claims that Indiana marks a turning point in this election. However, the math does not agree with this spin. Obama continues to lead in delegates, popular vote and total states won. Although Obama has struggled to pick up blue-collar whites in the numbers that Clinton has, these voters have traditionally voted Democratic in recent years. If Obama is the nominee in November, he will have to reach this block to defeat John McCain. What is clear, however, is that with over 90% of African-American voters supporting Barack Obama in Indiana and North Carolina, Obama is poised to be the Democratic nominee.
--Paul M. Murdock