Plenty at Stake as Texas, Ohio Prep for Vote

Tuesday's presidential primaries in Texas and Ohio could seal the nomination for the Republican front-runner, Sen. John McCain. They could make or break Sen. Hillary Clinton's bid to take the Democratic nomination away from Sen. Barack Obama.

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MADELEINE BRAND, host:

This is DAY TO DAY. I'm Madeleine Brand.

ANTHONY BROOKS, host:

And I'm Anthony Brooks continuing now with presidential politics on the eve of what could be a pivotal moment for the Democrats. Senators Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton are working hard to shore up support on the eve of primaries and caucuses in Ohio, Texas, Rhode Island and Vermont.

Joining us now to talk about those four contests is senior Washington editor Ron Elving.

Ron, welcome.

RON ELVING: Good to be with you, Anthony.

BROOKS: Ron, by all accounts tomorrow is do or die for Hillary Clinton in the big states of Texas and Ohio. Of those two big states, where's the focus tomorrow?

ELVING: I think the focus is on Texas, because Texas is the largest state that has not yet voted, second most populous state in the country, an enormously diverse state. And yet it's also the state in which Barack Obama has probably staked out his best chance to defeat Hillary Clinton on this crucial day, March 4th, and set himself up as the presumptive nominee of the Democrat Party.

If he does win Texas, then even if Hillary should win in Ohio and add Rhode Island, he's still going to be so far ahead in delegates that it's going to be pretty much impossible for her to overtake him.

BROOKS: So if Hillary is to stay in the race tomorrow she not only has to win but win convincingly. How convincingly? What does she have to do to make a case that Democrats need to take another look at her and another look at Obama?

ELVING: Taking the Clinton campaign's viewpoint at this juncture, if she can keep it close in Texas and win Ohio, win Rhode Island, she's going to make the argument that even if she's going to have a hard time winning more delegates than he's going to have, she has broken his momentum, she would say; she is forcing people to take another look at Barack Obama as the prospective nominee and have their doubts; she is going to be able to go on to Pennsylvania, perhaps, on April 22nd and then on from there to Indiana, North Carolina, other states, and say she's building the momentum before we get to the convention.

She could make a plausible case for how by the time we got to Denver even if she didn't have more delegates she would have more momentum and be the more plausible November candidate and use that case to bring the superdelegates to her side. And super delegates cast 20 percent of the total vote. They could reverse a lead in pledged delegates in Denver, if they so chose.

BROOKS: Hmm. Two other state voting tomorrow, Vermont and Rhode Island. Do we need to say anything about these smaller states? How important are they?

ELVING: They make a very small contribution in terms of the number of delegates. And we assume at this point their going to split, with Vermont clearly going to Obama, Rhone Island still preferring Clinton by a few percentage points. At this juncture they're probably going to cancel each other out. But if they were to both go for the same candidate, that would add to a sense of momentum.

BROOKS: Hmm. Now, Senator Clinton went on "Saturday Night Live" this past weekend and she's going to join Jon Stewart tonight on "The Daily Show." She's following, of course, in a proud tradition of serious-minded politicians showing they can be goofy. A good strategy for her right now?

ELVING: Yes, I think anything she can do to reach out in particular to younger people - and the demographics for these shows are somewhat younger - to people who have not been in her camp, to people who have seen her as being, if you will, the establishment candidate - to borrow a term from another era. Anything she can do to reach out to those kinds of voters is smart politics right now. She's not going to cost herself very much among the people who have been favoring her; that is to say older voters, some of the women - white women in particular - because they're probably with her and because they're probably not watching these shows.

BROOKS: Her best voter, her most loyal supporter, is a white woman over 65 years old. So this kind of show would make sense.

ELVING: It would. It would, because she needs to reach out to people who are as far away from that demographic as possible. She needs to find more of the first-time voters, people who are for the first time going to contemplate actually going out and making the effort to vote or go to a caucus. And that kind of voter is more likely to either be watching one of these shows or just as significantly picking it up on YouTube or somewhere else on the Internet.

BROOKS: All right. We'll tune in. Thank you very much. Senior Washington editor Ron Elving, thanks for joining us.

ELVING: Thank you, Anthony.

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What's at Stake in the March 4 Primaries?

To view a photo gallery of the presidential candidates leading up to the March 4 primaries. hide caption

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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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Hillary Clinton

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

Jeff Swensen/Getty Images
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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

itoggle caption Dave Einsel/Getty Images
Barack Obama

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

Dave Einsel/Getty Images

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

John McCain i i

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

itoggle caption J.D. Pooley/Getty Images
John McCain

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

TEXAS

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

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.


RHODE ISLAND

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.


VERMONT

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.

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