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Road Ahead Tough For Clinton

By Reid Wilson

After last night's results, both Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton are able to claim some major wins. Clinton took California and New York, the day's two biggest prizes, while Obama won more states and, likely, more delegates. Neither scored a knock-out, ensuring the race for the Democratic presidential nomination will drag on for weeks, if not months.

While no winner emerged tonight, a protracted campaign is better for Obama, and what might be his roll toward the nomination begins in four short days. On Saturday, voters in three states head to the polls or caucuses, and in all three, Obama has hefty advantages.

In Washington State, the biggest prize available this weekend, a total of 68 delegates will be decided in caucuses. Four years ago, former Vermont Governor Howard Dean did better in Washington than he did in any place outside his home state and the District of Columbia. Washington is one of the most highly educated states in the country, and the dominace of white Seattle liberals in the electorate could favor Obama heavily.

Washington State political watchers on both sides of the contest agree Obama has the leg up. Clinton backers privately admit that their candidate will likely lose on Saturday, while Obama supporters play up their organizational advantages and speak confidently of wins throughout the liberal western half of the state, from which most delegates will be allocated.

In Nebraska, just 21 delegates are available at that state's caucuses, but given the amount of effort Obama exerted in Idaho -- he opened an office in Boise, the only candidate to do so -- to win that state's 16 delegates, he could play strongly there as well. Obama has support from the state's only Democratic member of the congressional delegation, Senator Ben Nelson.

And if Nebraska's geographical and political positions, namely a red state in the Plains, are any indication, he will perform strongly there: Obama won North Dakota, Kansas, Missouri and Colorado on Tuesday, and won neighboring Iowa a month ago. Plains states, especially those President Bush won in 2004, have gone heavily for Obama so far this year.

Washington and Nebraska have another political positive for the Illinois Senator: Eight states have conducted caucuses. Seven of them, including Iowa, Alaska, Colorado, Idaho, Kansas, Minnesota and North Dakota, have broken toward Obama. Only Nevada Democrats caucused for Clinton. Obama scored an eight-point win in Iowa, which at the time looked like a big victory. Last night, wins by nearly 50 points in Kansas and Alaska, by more than 30 points in Colorado and by more than 20 points in North Dakota made that margin look paltry.

The third state that votes on Saturday has promise for Obama as well. In 2004, non-whites made up about 29% of the Louisiana electorate, and while many, particularly African Americans, fled the state after Hurricane Katrina, the Census Bureau still estimates that nearly 32% of the population is black. On Tuesday, Obama repeated the dominating performance he had in South Carolina, winning African Americans in some states by as much as a six-to-one margin. While Clinton has been able to make up some of that gap with strong support among Latinos, just 3% of Louisiana will be Hispanic voters.

African Americans have dominated Democratic politics in New Orleans and some other major urban areas around the state. If black play a major role in Louisiana, as they have in other Southern states, odds are that Obama will sweep clean the Saturday states. Add in Maine, which holds another caucus, which benefits Obama, on Sunday, and Clinton could have a very bad weekend.

Beyond this coming weekend, Obama has other advantages heading into the rest of the race. Next Tuesday, African American voters will play another important role in the so-called Potomac Primary, in which Maryland, Washington, D.C. and Virginia voters cast ballots. While Clinton has institutional support from statewide elected officials in Maryland, Obama has backing from Washington Mayor Adrian Fenty and Virginia Governor Tim Kaine, giving him an early organizational leg up.

The next big contests come a month from now, on March 4, when Texas and Ohio are big prizes up for grabs. Polls have not been conducted recently, but in early December, Clinton led in the Buckeye State by a 45%-19% margin, according to Quinnipiac University. No polls have been taken in Texas, but Clinton's camp reportedly feels good about the state.

Clinton, though, has led by wide margins in other states she ended up losing or barely winning. She led by 37 points in an early October poll in Nevada, where she ended up winning by just four. In South Carolina, she led by 24 points in an American Research Group poll and 14 points in an Associated Press-Pew Research poll taken in late November, before losing by 29 points two months later. The more time Obama has to campaign in a state, the better he is able to do. And after outraising Clinton by nearly $20 million in the month of January alone, Obama can afford to begin running ads in both states early, closing any gap Clinton might have.

If Clinton can't score a big win by early March, calls will begin in earnest for her to leave the race. And while all signs point to leads in both Ohio and Texas now, she may not have the same support in the four long weeks Obama has to play catchup.

For Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, Super Tuesday was a draw. But that draw provided Obama with the opportunity to extend the nomination fight, and left Clinton, once again, ending an important round without landing the knock-out punch. The longer Obama dances and avoids the roundhouse, the more likely he will end up winning by surprising in a state he's not supposed to take.

Obama's chances have looked increasingly promising in recent weeks. If Clinton is unable to pick up any states this weekend and underperforms next Tuesday in the greater Washington, D.C. area, Obama will once again be in a position to score a knockout. The battleground will shift to Ohio and Texas before the Democratic race is through, but it will be Obama with the momentum going in, and Clinton, as she has been at least a few times so far in this campaign, with her back once again to the wall.

Reid Wilson is an associate editor and writer for RealClearPolitics. He can be reached at

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