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Next primaries tougher yet

Florida's Jan. 29 race is the first with all GOP hopefuls contending in full.

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Among the Democrats, where the race is effectively a three-person contest, Hillary Rodham Clinton gained momentum by winning the Nevada caucuses last Saturday. But perhaps more important, the demographics of the New York senator's win demonstrated in stark terms the challenge faced by her Senate colleague, Barack Obama of Illinois.

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Entrance polls showed Senator Clinton beating Senator Obama decisively among women (51-38 percent), Latinos (64-26 percent), whites (52-34 percent), and voters age 60 and over (60-31 percent). Obama beat her soundly among African-Americans (83-14 percent), voters age 18 to 29 (59-33 percent), and independents (47-33 percent). Obama also beat her among men (by two points) and among voters age 30 to 44 (46-38 percent).

The third candidate, former Sen. John Edwards of North Carolina, won just 4 percent in Nevada, compared with Clinton's 51 percent and Obama's 45 percent. But Mr. Edwards is sticking out the race at least through South Carolina, his native state, which holds its Democratic primary Saturday. Two questions surround Edwards's long-shot candidacy: While he's still a candidate, from whom does he take votes away, Clinton or Obama? If he were to drop out, where do his supporters go?

If Edwards stays in until the August convention, and the delegate counts between Obama and Clinton are close, Edwards could conceivably play king- or queen-maker, throwing his delegates behind one or the other front-runner.

But for Obama to overcome the demographic deficits revealed in Nevada (and New Hamsphire), he needs to broaden his appeal among women, older voters, and Latinos. And, in a contest where race took center stage in the past two weeks, he needs to hold onto his black vote. That begins in South Carolina, where half the Democratic electorate is African-American.

"Looking ahead, Obama has to win in South Carolina, period," says Ted Jelen, a political scientist at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. "If he can't win there, it's unlikely he can win anywhere else."

Yet if Obama does win South Carolina, as expected, the Clinton camp will argue that he won because of the heavily black population, and the victory could be discounted.

If the trend toward identity politics continues beyond South Carolina, the Democratic candidates may find themselves battling for blacks and Hispanics until a clear winner emerges. Hispanics are numerically stronger out West. African-Americans are more numerous across the South and represent more voters in northern cities.

"Hillary has an advantage in California, and Obama will have a better chance in the Northeast and the Southeast," says Tom Schaller, a political scientist at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County.

Ariel Sabar contributed to this report from Columbia, S.C, and Ben Arnoldy contributed from Las Vegas.

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