Election 2008


From NPR News, this ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Melissa Block.


And I'm Robert Siegel. Despite Hillary Clinton's win in Pennsylvania yesterday, Barack Obama remains the frontrunner for the Democratic nomination. North Carolina and Indiana hold the next primaries May 6th, and in those contests and the other states that remain, Clinton is not expected to overtake Obama. Still, as NPR's Mara Liasson reports, the continuing race is exposing Obama's potential weaknesses as a general election candidate.

MARA LIASSON: Obama lost Pennsylvania the same way he lost Ohio, by losing big to Clinton among white Catholics, white union members and white voters without college degrees. Those losses might not prevent him from winning the nomination, but, says Peter Brown of the independent Quinnipiac poll, it certainly will matter in November, particularly in the big swing states the Democrats need.

Mr. PETER BROWN (Quinnipiac Poll): What Ohio and Pennsylvania have shown is that he has a serious problem with white working-class Democrats. If he has a serious problem with white working-class Democrats, how do you think he's going to do with white working-class independents and white working-class soft Republicans?

LIASSON: And that's the concern of some Democrats who worry that as Obama inches closer to the 2,025 delegates he needs, his electoral coalition is looking hollowed out, missing the lunch bucket Democrats that are the foundation of the party's hopes for the White House. But Democratic strategist Steve McMahon isn't worried at all.

Mr. STEVE McMAHON (Democratic Strategist): The notion that Democrats won't come home to Barack Obama or to Hillary Clinton is, I think, a notion that's just not been proven true over time. The Republicans who supposedly wouldn't come home for John McCain are coming home right now. That'll happen on the Democratic side, too.

LIASSON: Peter Fenn is another Democratic strategist who is worried about Obama's limited appeal to blue-collar voters, but he thinks Obama's problem can be solved when and if the party unites behind him.

Mr. PETER FENN (Democratic Strategist): I think there's no question that Barack Obama is going to have to appeal to those folks. The key now, I think, is for the Democrats not to take this race three, four or five more months into a basic circular firing squad. If that happens, and it gets more petty and more nasty and more bitter, then, it is going to be very difficult for either of the candidates to emerge with unity.

LIASSON: Right now, the Democratic race is so divisive, that unity looks elusive. Exit polls in Pennsylvania show that 43 percent of Clinton's voters would stay home of vote for McCain if Obama was the nominee. And 29 percent of a Obama's voters would do the same if Clinton were the nominee. Democratic consultant Tad Devine thinks Obama could compensate for losing a certain number of white working-class votes because he's expanded the electorate.

Mr. TAD DEVINE (Democratic Consultant): Sure, he's got work to do. But having said that, you know, I do think that he's demonstrating a lot of strength in a lot of areas. I mean, first of all, he's bringing new people into the process. We've got unprecedented registration. Secondly, the turnout is incredible in these primaries.

LIASSON: But there's another problem for Obama in last night's exit polls. One in five white voters said race was a factor, and three in five white voters chose Senator Clinton. Tad Devine.

Mr. DEVINE: A lot of voters in a lot of these states have never voted for an African-American candidate before. This is simply a new experience for them, and many of them are going to have to confront this in the course of the campaign. I think right now, Hillary Clinton, for them, is sort of either a weigh station, you know, towards Obama, or a signal that they're not quite ready to make that step. I don't think anybody knows the answer to that yet.

LIASSON: They won't know the answer until after the party is able to unite behind a nominee. And that won't happen until one of these two heavyweight contenders figures out how to know the other out of the race. Although Clinton was hoping her solid win in Pennsylvania would convince superdelegates to at least stay neutral until the end of the primaries in June, today, each candidate picked up an endorsement. Brad Henry, the governor of Oklahoma, a state Clinton won, endorsed Obama. And Congressman John Tanner of Tennessee, another state Clinton won, endorsed her.

Mara Liasson, NPR News, Washington.

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