Super Tuesday unlikely to settle Obama-Clinton race
The former first lady's imposing national lead among Democratic voters faded leading up to the 22-state sweepstakes.
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For both candidates, the road to Super Tuesday has been long and hard-fought. The primary season opened early and wide, with eight Democratic candidates vying for the nomination before contests in Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada, and South Carolina whittled the field to two.Skip to next paragraph
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Shrewd campaigners who raised more than $100 million apiece last year, Clinton and Obama each won a pair of the four contested primaries thus far.
Seldom have two hopefuls entered the biggest day of voting on such seemingly equal footing. Never before has either a woman or an African-American been this close to either party's nomination.
Clinton, with her high name recognition in Democratic politics, had led in the national polls for more than a year. But the second-term senator and former first lady, who has cast herself as the battle-tested candidate of experience, has faced unexpectedly stiff head winds since Obama's victory in Iowa on Jan. 3.
Obama, a first-term Illinois senator, put together vibrant grass-roots organizations in early-voting states, where he invested months on the ground introducing himself to voters with stirring oratory and a theme of hope. His challenge Tuesday will be battling the Clinton name in states that know him less well and where television ads play a bigger role than the grueling shoe-leather politics he parlayed into victories in Iowa and South Carolina.
"What you had with these early states are important stakeholders in the Democratic Party" – left-leaning independents, blacks, young voters – "but not necessarily the real center," says Robert Stein, a political scientist at Rice University in Houston. The Feb. 5 sweepstakes "is probably a more representative sample of what the Democratic Party looks like."
Obama raised a record $32 million in January, enough to advertise in 20 of the 22 states voting Tuesday and a half dozen states beyond.
Because most states award Democratic delegates in proportion to the vote for each candidate, it is unlikely that either Clinton or Obama will win enough delegates Tuesday to clinch the nomination. But one or the other could emerge with a clear advantage, making it a matter of time before that momentum jells into hard numbers in later contests.
If neither wins a majority before the Democratic National Convention in August, the race could turn on 796 so-called "superdelegates" – governors, Congress members, and other party leaders – who are not bound by the popular vote and whose support both camps have aggressively courted.
Clinton has led with superdelegates, who make up one-fifth of the voting pool at the conventions. But Obama's endorsement last week by Sen. Edward Kennedy of Massachusetts, a Democratic stalwart with pull across the party base, is expected to narrow her lead.