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Red State Could Make Difference in Democratic Race

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Red State Could Make Difference in Democratic Race

Election 2008

Red State Could Make Difference in Democratic Race

Red State Could Make Difference in Democratic Race

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  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript

Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama have been battling for delegates in Texas, which holds its Democratic primary next Tuesday. The state, which is likely to vote Republican in November, has largely been ignored by Democrats in the past. Wayne Slater, a political reporter at the Dallas Morning News, talks with Steve Inskeep about the race.


Here's a quick guide to the politics of one of the states that could affect the Democratic presidential nomination. Texas votes one week from today, the same day as Ohio and some other states. The campaign that did not end as expected on Super Tuesday may also not end next Tuesday, but Texas could make a difference.

Our guide is Wayne Slater. He's a veteran political reporter for the Dallas Morning News. He's on the line from Austin.

Good morning, Wayne.

Mr. WAYNE SLATER (Reporter, Dallas Morning News): Good morning, Steve.

INSKEEP: Well, now, Hillary Clinton did have a big lead in Texas. How about now?

Mr. SLATER: Oh, yeah. It's gone. Basically, Barack Obama has erased that lead. She was way ahead in Texas, much as she was ahead in the rest of the country, even a few weeks ago. But now a couple of - three recent polls show that this is a dead heat.

INSKEEP: Well, now I think one of the reasons that Clinton campaign was saying don't worry about all those primaries we're losing to Barack Obama all across the country, one of the reasons they were saying let's focus on Texas and Ohio is because in Texas, there's a big Hispanic vote and she was doing well among Hispanic voters. Isn't she still doing that?

Mr. SLATER: I think she is. I really don't see an erosion, a major erosion, of support among Hispanics. And she clearly hung her hat on that. You know, in 1972, Bill and Hillary Clinton were young Yale students working on the McGovern campaign. And the Clintons have deep ties in Texas and especially in south Texas.

But if she loses some of this Hispanic vote - and every day that goes on, where Barack Obama is presenting himself in person and in Spanish language commercials in south Texas, it's a problem for her.

INSKEEP: Are there issues in Texas that play differently than they might elsewhere in the country?

Mr. SLATER: I think immigration does. No question about it. Texans are really much more sophisticated, I think - if that's the right word - about looking at immigration, especially the Hispanic population recognizes the importance of securing the border.

But the tone of that debate, as reflected by these Democratic candidates - both of them - really shows that you have to be careful about the way you talk about it. Many people in Texas know and have family members in Mexico, and then we have a long and rich border history.

INSKEEP: Is there also another side to that immigration debate in Texas? There are people who want to clamp down on the border, as well as people who are concerned about people across the border?

Mr. SLATER: There are. We've seen people - the Minutemen in this state and other states - trying to make sure that that's the case. In most cases, though, those Minutemen are not voting in the Democratic primary. So, in this case, right now, at this moment, in this week, the debate about the border is more about sensitivity to the issue.

INSKEEP: Well, now, that's another thing, Wayne Slater. Are we watching Democrats battle in a state that, when it gets to November, is likely to be Republican?

Mr. SLATER: It's going to be Republican. It's funny, you know, Texas for the last generation has been largely ignored, especially in the last 20 years, because it is Republican, because it's been a George Bush state. And what's happened this year is this phenomenon where suddenly we're in play. We have commercials here. People are actually seeing the candidates.

There are thousands and thousands of people, half mile lines, at Obama and Hillary Clinton rallies in places like the plazas in San Antonio, basketball arenas in Dallas, downtown streets in Austin. So it's really different this year.

INSKEEP: Does it make it harder for Hillary Clinton because she did have the support of the Democratic establishment, but there's not as much of it in Texas as some other places?

Mr. SLATER: That's true. And it really is a problem. You really see a measure of that erosion a little bit in south Texas, not much, but especially the excitement in the urban centers of Houston and Dallas, where African-American voters are very excited, and in places like Austin, the home of the University of Texas, where you go to the campus where young people are, and there's Barack Obama - Obama mania is very real.

INSKEEP: Wayne, it's always great to talk with you.

Mr. SLATER: Good to talk with you.

INSKEEP: Wayne Slater is senior political writer for the Dallas Morning News. He was on the line from Austin, Texas. And you heard him on MORNING EDITION from NPR News.

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What's at Stake in the March 4 Primaries?

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Democratic Sen. Hillary Clinton speaks during a campaign rally on Feb. 19 in Youngstown, Ohio. Jeff Swensen/Getty Images hide caption

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Democratic Sen. Hillary Clinton speaks during a campaign rally on Feb. 19 in Youngstown, Ohio.

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Democratic Sen. Barack Obama speaks during a primary campaign rally at the Toyota Center on Feb. 19 in Houston, Texas. Dave Einsel/Getty Images hide caption

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Dave Einsel/Getty Images

Democratic Sen. Barack Obama speaks during a primary campaign rally at the Toyota Center on Feb. 19 in Houston, Texas.

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Read a State-by-State Analysis of March 4 Primaries:

Republican Sen. John McCain greets supporters while leaving Charlie's Restaurant on Feb. 21 in Perrysburg, Ohio. J.D. Pooley/Getty Images hide caption

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J.D. Pooley/Getty Images

Republican Sen. John McCain greets supporters while leaving Charlie's Restaurant on Feb. 21 in Perrysburg, Ohio.

J.D. Pooley/Getty Images

The Democratic primaries in Texas, Ohio, Rhode Island and Vermont on March 4 are seen as make-or-break for the presidential campaign of New York Sen. Hillary Clinton.

Clinton needs to triumph in the delegate-rich states of Texas and Ohio to halt the momentum of Illinois Sen. Barack Obama, who has won 11 consecutive nominating contests since Super Tuesday (including the Virgin Islands and the Democrats Abroad Global Primary). Even her husband, former President Bill Clinton, has said that Texas and Ohio are must-win states if she is going to have a chance at taking the nomination.

For Obama, a successful March 4 could help nudge him toward the nomination and solidify the growing perception that he is the party's front-runner. He will still have to court the roughly 800 Democratic superdelegates, who act as free agents and who can vote for either candidate, regardless of their state's popular vote. (Both Obama and Clinton have been wooing the superdelegates relentlessly.)

The two candidates have been campaigning heavily in Texas (193 delegates) and Ohio (141), focusing especially on those states' respective Hispanic and working-class voters through rallies and advertisements.

On the Republican side, Arizona Sen. John McCain has swept recent primaries in Virginia, Maryland, the District of Columbia and Wisconsin, and now delivers speeches with the confidence of a man who is certain to be his party's nominee.

But a recent New York Times article proved to be a major distraction. The article outlined McCain's allegedly close relationship with a female lobbyist, with hints of a friendship that went beyond the professional. (Some commentators make the argument that for someone who stakes his reputation on his honesty and "straight talk," the article has the potential to prove damaging. Others say the story could ultimately help McCain with more conservative Republicans by making the argument that it was an effort by the liberal media to hurt the Arizona senator's prospects.)

Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee remains a candidate, though since Super Tuesday, when he did well in the South, he has won in just two states, Louisiana and Kansas. (Congressman Ron Paul of Texas, who has not won anywhere, is staying in the race as well, though he faces a challenge back home for his House seat in the March 4 primary.) Huckabee has said he will continue as a candidate until he or McCain has the 1,191 delegates needed to officially capture the nomination.

The Candidates

The Democrats: New York Sen. Hillary Clinton; Illinois Sen. Barack Obama

The Republicans: Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee; Arizona Sen. John McCain; Texas Rep. Ron Paul


The Democrats: Clinton is hoping that her strong ties to Texas will give her a boost. She worked in the Rio Grande Valley 35 years ago, registering voters — a fact she often mentions on local campaign stops. Texans also did well under the Bill Clinton White House, earning posts in the Treasury, Energy and Interior departments, along with two ambassadorships.

But Obama is on a roll. The night of Feb. 19, when he was declaring victory in the Wisconsin primary, he did so from Houston — signifying the importance he places on the state. Texas has an odd dual primary/caucus system, and Obama has done very well in states that hold caucuses; in fact, with the exception of Nevada, he has swept every caucus state.

New Texas polls show the two candidates locked in a dead heat.

Texas Democrats must vote in their senatorial districts by ballot, and then also attend a caucus immediately after the polls close. One hundred and twenty-six delegates will be awarded based on the primary, while 42 Democratic delegates will come from the caucus.

The Republicans: Arizona Sen. John McCain has been popular with Hispanics since he co-authored the ultimately unsuccessful immigration bill that would have created a path to citizenship for millions of undocumented immigrants. Huckabee, whose record also shows a more moderate viewpoint on immigration than some others in the party would prefer, has been campaigning in Houston and San Antonio.

Hispanics are the key demographic to court in Texas and could make up as much as 40 percent of the total electorate. The candidates have been running Spanish-language ads; the Feb. 21 Democratic debate in Austin was co-sponsored by the Spanish television network Univision.

Another key demographic: African-American voters, expected to be 25 percent of the primary electorate.


Ohio's sluggish economy is the key issue in the upcoming primary; unemployment in the Buckeye State is greater than in any state in the region other than Michigan. Candidates of both parties have talked about their plans to create jobs and stimulate the economy. Hundreds of thousands of Ohio's manufacturing jobs have left the area. The state has also been hit hard by high unemployment and home-foreclosure rates.

The Democrats: A recent poll seems to suggest that Obama's support in the Buckeye State is increasing, though Clinton appears to be holding a lead, however tenuous. Two Ohio labor unions, with a combined membership of about a 100,000, switched their backing from former North Carolina Sen. John Edwards to Obama. The Illinois senator also has received the national backing of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, which represents more than 1 million truck drivers and warehouse workers. Obama's plans for affordable health care, as well as tax credits for low- and middle-income workers and seniors, could appeal to the state's working class.

Clinton has also campaigned in Ohio, most recently in Youngstown and Columbus. She is hoping to appeal to women and working-class voters, who have made up her base in past primaries. Her health care plan calls for universal coverage, and she has proposed a $70 billion economic stimulus plan that includes a moratorium on foreclosures and an assistance fund for at-risk borrowers. Clinton has started running ads that appeal to blue-collar workers. Her latest Ohio ad begins with the phrase: "You pour coffee, fix hair. You work the night shift at the local hospital. You're often overworked, underpaid, and sometimes overlooked...She understands."

Ohio is not used to playing a decisive role in the nominating process. The last time that happened was in 1976, when Jimmy Carter's victory in the June primary state effectively awarded him the Democratic presidential nomination.


The Democrats: The Clinton name holds much weight in Rhode Island, a state that Hillary Clinton often visited with her husband when he was president. She also has helped fundraise for several state politicians who double as superdelegates, including U.S. Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse and Providence Mayor David Cicciline.

But as Obama keeps building momentum in his campaign, the question becomes: Will he make inroads into Clinton's base? Michelle Obama spent an afternoon campaigning in Rhode Island, where her brother is a basketball coach at Brown University. Providence is a college town, and its university-age voters are overwhelmingly supporting Obama.

The Republicans: McCain visited Rhode Island in mid-February to try to appeal to New England's more moderate Republicans. He won Rhode Island's 2000 presidential primary with 60 percent of the vote.


The candidates have not made Vermont a major priority in this March 4 contest: It offers just 15 Democratic delegates and 19 GOP delegates.

The Democrats: None of the candidates have campaigned in the state so far. According to the Center for Responsive Politics, Vermont Democrats have far surpassed the state's Republicans in fundraising for this election cycle, with $1.4 million going to Democratic candidates and $322,000 to Republicans.

University of Vermont political scientist Garrison Nelson predicts that Obama will do well in the state, since Vermont has a history of supporting maverick candidates, such as Howard Dean in 2000. (Vermont also has a senator who is an independent.)

The Republicans: McCain recently made a quick campaign stop. Huckabee is not expected to do well and is not targeting the state.

Vermont has an open primary, meaning residents can cross party lines to vote for the candidate of their choice.