Day of Reckoning Ahead for Clinton, Obama Farai Chideya talks with NPR senior Washington editor Ron Elving about how tomorrow's voting contests in Texas and Ohio will shake up the presidential race.

Day of Reckoning Ahead for Clinton, Obama

Day of Reckoning Ahead for Clinton, Obama

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Farai Chideya talks with NPR senior Washington editor Ron Elving about how tomorrow's voting contests in Texas and Ohio will shake up the presidential race.

FARAI CHIDEYA, host:

From NPR News, this is NEWS AND NOTES. I'm Farai Chideya. Could tomorrow decide who will be the Democratic presidential candidate or will it be a moment where no matter what the results, both candidates will fight on? Ohio, Texas, Rhode Island and Maine hold political contests tomorrow. Texas and Ohio are blue collar states that used to be seen as sure wins for Hilary Clinton. But recent stats show Obama has narrowed the lead to nearly a dead heat. For now we've got NPR's Senior Washington Editor, Ron Elving. Hey Ron.

RON ELVING: Hello, Farai.

CHIDEYA: So first of all, polls aren't everything but what are they showing?

ELVING: The poles are showing it too close to call really, in both states, in both Texas and Ohio, but having said that, there's a little bit more to be gleaned from these polls. In Texas Barack Obama has erased a 20 point lead for Hilary Clinton from say several weeks ago, right after Super Tuesday and actually taken a small lead on average. Taking all the polls together, he seems to have a point or two advantage. That's not statistically significant but it does suggest that he has caught her, that it is close enough for him to represent well in the primary voting during the day tomorrow and we'll talk in a moment about the caucuses that are coming up in the evening tomorrow.

But he should hold his own in that primary voting during the day, and that may be the one most significant sentence to say about the March 4th primaries. Over in Ohio, still looks like Clinton country. Most of the polls showing her still with some small advantage. It's statistically not that significant but there is one poll out, the Ohio poll from the University of Cincinnati that still shows her up about 10 percentage points. That would tend to indicate that she is going to pull out Ohio.

CHIDEYA: Ohio was this real bell weather last election. And it's been a bell weather many times. But Ohio was the make or break state last time around in the general election. What makes Ohio special in terms of what it represents for America?

ELVING: Ohio almost always votes with the winner. Ohio votes for the man or the woman, perhaps the 2008 case, who winds up winning the presidency. So Ohio has a diversity that is representative of the country in terms of north and south, urban and rural, white and black and Latino. It has a blue collar/white collar mix that reflects the country. It's a kind of microcosm for the whole 50 states.

CHIDEYA: When you think about all of the issues that are swirling around this election, this primary season, superdelegates and earned delegates and brokered conventions, is tomorrow really the moment of truth or is it just another moment?

ELVING: It's potentially the moment of truth. And more than any Tuesday or Saturday that we've had thus far in 2008, this date has the potential to close it out. For example, on the Republican side, John McCain is almost surely going to go past the magic number of 1,191 delegates and he will become the presumptive nominee of the Republican party. Could that happen on Democratic side? No. Nobody is going to go over the magic number needed to nominate on the Democratic side. For one thing, it's about twice as large a number. They are just are going to have to have lots more delegates to get this thing resolved.

What could happen, at least in theory, is that Barack Obama could win Texas and Ohio if he pulls off something of an upset in Ohio, Vermont as well, probably not Rhode Island. But let's say he throws in Rhode Island too and just adds that to this big long string of eleven victories he's already put together. And if that were to happen, by whatever narrow margins, it really wouldn't be of consequence what the margin was. If he were to win all these events, then I think most everyone in the Democratic party who was not a hardcore Hilary Clinton partisan would have to say, look, he's wrapping it up. There's really no point in Hilary Clinton going on. He keeps winning. He's got the delegates. He's going to have the delegates, there's really no point in Hilary Clinton continuing.

So in that sense there's the potential for a knockout blow on March 4th. What's more likely, is that he's just going to solidify his position of being the front runner in pledged delegates, but there will be other issues to resolve, superdelegates, what do you do with Michigan and Florida, whether or not the Pennsylvania primary might be brought in to in some sense or another, reverse the momentum. There will be other issues to discuss if it's a split decision on March 4th.

CHIDEYA: What if anything changes for Senator McCain if or when he just absolutely, is carried over in terms of the delegates that he has?

ELVING: Well he can start being nice to Mike Huckabee again, because Mike Huckabee...

CHIDEYA: (Laughter)

ELVING: Mike Huckabee will pretty much have to pull out. He has said that he can, expects to continue his campaign beyond this Tuesday and he expects to go all the way to the Republican convention in the twin cities. But look, he has also on other occasions said, when he gets - once John McCain gets to the required number of delegates - and that really is feckless, and I think Mike Huckabee will see it that way a little later on this week - and pull out. John McCain can then set his own campaigning schedule. He can focus himself on resolving some of his disputes with the Federal Election Commission over some of the fundraising issue and the issues of whether or not he's taking public financing that he needs to resolve. And he can devote himself full time to trying to placate those elements of the Republican party, primarily social conservatives who have been unhappy with his nomination.

CHIDEYA: Before we let you go, just give us a quick taste of what seems like a bit of a surf and turf approach in Texas where there is a caucus and a primary. How does that work?

ELVING: They call it the Texas two-step. During the day there is a normal primary and any of us could recognize and two- thirds of the delegates are allocated on the basis of that. Two-thirds of delegates are going to be responsive to the results of that primary. Then at night, starting 15 minutes after the polls close in each county in Texas, they have caucuses. They call them conventions. We would normally see them as caucuses. And at those caucuses, they allocate another third of the total number of delegates.

And Texas has 193 pledged delegates to allocate tomorrow. So that's going to be important too and those dynamics usually tend to favor Barack Obama as they have in other states. So that's why I think most people are expecting Barack Obama to come out of Texas tomorrow with more delegates in that state than Hilary Clinton.

CHIDEYA: Well, Ron, as always, great to talk to you.

ELVING: Good to talk to you Farai.

CHIDEYA: Ron Elving is NPR's senior Washington editor and he spoke with us from Washington, D.C.

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