The results from last nights primaries in North Carolina and Indiana have given Sen. Barack Obama a decisive advantage over Sen. Hillary Clinton. Obama’s 14 point victory over Clinton in N.C., and the narrow loss in Ind. has given the Obama campaign the air of inevitability. In both states, Obama’s margins with working-class whites and other key Clinton demographics has weakened Clinton’s argument for urging Democratic superdelegates to ignore Obama’s delegate and popular vote lead and give the nomination to her.
Obama is gearing up for a campaign shift, as evidenced by his focus on a national contest in his N.C. victory speech, warning of upcoming Republican attacks. In the Wall Street Journal, Obama strategist David Axelrod was quoted as saying, “I don’t think we’re going to spend time solely in primary states.”
Clinton is not yet backing down; however, with Tuesday’s poor results and the loss of momentum, the legitimacy of her campaign is in question. The steady trickle of superdelegates endorsing Obama is certainly a sign that Clinton’s fate is sealed. Former Sen. George McGovern of South Dakota, who had previously endorsed Clinton, is one of a number of party leaders to support Obama the day after the decisive primaries, and is now encouraging Clinton to drop out of the race.
Meanwhile John McCain is doing his best to make inroads into key democratic constituents, courting moderate and conservative blue-collar Democrats in Pennsylvania and Ohio, two key swings states. The same group of voters that was key to electing Ronald Reagan in 1980. Currently, polls show that 30% of Clinton supporters would vote for McCain over Obama, if the general election were held today. Due largely to the emotions surrounding the hard-fought nomination battles between Clinton and Obama, this voting shift is likely to fade by the fall. The McCain campaign is hoping to take advantage of the current environment and pickup the disenfranchised Clinton supporters now.
It’s hard to say how much longer the battle for the Democratic nominee will last. If Obama makes a clear shift towards a general election strategy, we should see party leaders pushing Clinton hard to drop out of the race. However, it’s not likely Clinton will drop out before June 15th. Obama will have to focus on courting Clinton supporters before McCain does. With both McCain and Obama appealing equally well to independent voters, the blue-collar, conservative democrats are McCain’s best hope for winning the general election.