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Sen. Hillary Clinton speaks to a crowd during a "Solutions for America" rally at Saint Mary's University in San Antonio, Texas, on Wednesday.
Ben Sklar/Getty Images
Illinois Sen. Barack Obama had decisive wins in the Potomac Primary on Tuesday, and he may do well again in the Wisconsin and Hawaii contests next week.
Sen. Hillary Clinton could be facing a long period of time — almost a month — with no wins at all. She has described her recent losses as just another speed bump in a long winding road of a campaign.
"This is a long journey to the nomination. You know, some weeks one of us is up and then the other is down, and then we reverse it," she said.
But, what if this is not just the normal seesawing of a competitive campaign? What if a different dynamic is beginning to build? asks Democratic strategist Geoff Garin.
"If I were in the Clinton camp, I would be worried that the energy Barack Obama is building up now will overwhelm the demographics that had previously kept anybody from building up any real momentum," Garin said. "And, the Clinton campaign needs to be developing that kind of emotional energy itself."
During a conference call on Wednesday, Clinton campaign strategist Mark Penn focused on the Ohio and Texas primaries on March 4, ignoring the primaries that came before.
"We expect change to begin March 4," he said. "We start off there. I think, with ... voters who believe, as Sen. Clinton does, that she is in the solutions business and that's a sharp contrast to an opponent who is in the promises business."
Penn pointed to what he called the "favorable" groups for Clinton in the March 4 contests: As many as 40 percent of Texas Democrats could be Latino, and in Ohio, the middle class has been hit hard by the economic downturn.
But the big story of the Potomac Primary was the progress Obama made with the voters in Clinton's coalition. He did better with older voters, and with white voters making less than $50,000 per year. Pollster Celinda Lake says there is still one bedrock group for Clinton, which Obama has not breached — yet.
"White women, and downscale women and older women have been her real firewall and make up a huge proportion of the Democratic primary electorate, and a particularly big proportion of electorates in Ohio and Texas," Lake said. "She has been very good at understanding their lives, with being tough, with having shared some common experiences."
"It will be a real competition for those women," Lake added.
These are pragmatic women — not political romantics — and when it comes to their feelings about Obama and Clinton, for these women it's no contest.
"They love her. They like him, but they love her," Lake said. "They don't want a movement leader. They want a presidential leader."
If these women continue to turn out for Clinton, she could still fight her way back to the lead. But, if Obama can make inroads into this central core of her support, she probably cannot. Democratic strategist Jim Jordan says although Obama made impressive gains on Tuesday night with voters he had not won before, that may not be the beginning of a new trend.
"One thing you have to admire about Sen. Clinton is her tenacity. There have been other points in the campaign when it looked like he could've put her away — in New Hampshire on Super Tuesday. She prevented that; she rallied," he said.
Once seen as the inevitable nominee, Sen. Clinton has shaken up her staff, lent her campaign $5 million of her own money and has tried out a number of different messages. But Jordan, who has been through the rollercoaster of a presidential campaign himself, says some of the problems she is facing are beyond her control.
"Candidates just have to run for who they are, and sometimes the environment is not suitable for who they are," he said. Democratic voters "are looking for something larger; they're looking for something inspirational, for a fundamental break with the politics of the past."
Most analysts agree that Obama does not have to win Ohio and Texas, but Clinton does. And, she has to win both of them by big enough margins in pledged delegates to prevent the unpledged superdelagates from beginning to surge in Obama's direction.