Feature

A split decision dims Clinton’s chances

Barack Obama won a blowout victory in the North Carolina primary this week and came within two points of victory in Indiana, denying Hillary Clinton the “game-changing” result she had hoped could propel her to the Democratic

What happenedBarack Obama won a blowout victory in the North Carolina primary this week and came within two points of victory in Indiana, denying Hillary Clinton the “game-changing” result she had hoped could propel her to the Democratic presidential nomination. Obama’s 14-point margin in North Carolina indicated he had weathered inflammatory remarks by his former pastor, the Rev. Jeremiah Wright, as well as Clinton’s attacks on him for opposing a waiver of the federal gas tax. In Indiana, Clinton won 51 percent of the vote to Obama’s 49 percent, a margin that hardly advances her case that she alone can appeal to working-class Democrats in the industrial heartland. Obama more than recouped his lead in the popular vote, which was eroded by his Pennsylvania primary loss last month. He also extended his lead in the delegate count, which now stands at 1,584 for Obama to 1,413 for Clinton—with 2,025 needed to clinch.

Exit polls, however, contained troubling news for Obama. In both states, only about half of Clinton supporters said they would support Obama in the general election, and the voting was racially polarized. Obama nonetheless framed the results as a triumph over the “politics of division.” He denied speculation that the bruising primary fight had irreparably divided the party. “This fall, we intend to march forward as a united party,” he said.

What the editorials saidAlthough Obama took a big step toward the Democratic nomination this week, Clinton succeeded in exposing “his potential weaknesses as a general election candidate,” said The Wall Street Journal. “His victory in North Carolina depended heavily on his overwhelming (91 percent) share of the black vote,” while more than 60 percent of whites in both states broke for Clinton. Clearly, Obama’s “early promise of a transracial, postpartisan coalition has dimmed.”

That’s why this “exasperating” Democratic showdown needs to be brought to closure, said The New York Times. It’s easy to forget that whatever divides Clinton and Obama pales in comparison to what unites them. Indeed, “there is a vast gulf” between Republican John McCain and the two Democrats on everything from the Iraq war to health care. The sooner Democrats start focusing on real issues rather than petty and personal differences, the better it will be, not only for the party but for the country.

What the columnists saidClinton’s attacks on Obama may have been a blessing in disguise, said Kirsten Powers in the New York Post. The controversies over Wright and the gas tax “gave him a chance to disprove” the Clinton camp’s insinuations that he’ll “crumble under the weight of any attacks that come his way.” He has toned down his chants of “Yes, we can” in favor of “empathy with the economic struggles of Americans.” And he has countered whispers about his patriotism with “passionate shout-outs to the greatness of America.” No one can still call Obama “untested.”

Still, he has a huge task ahead of him, said David Brooks in Newyorktimes.com. Because Clinton’s attacks forced him to move to the left, “moderate, independent voters are now less sure that Obama shares their values.” In the weeks ahead, “he is going to have to work hard to win over” Clinton’s more socially conservative supporters. And he’ll have to do that without driving away “suburban independents, who are less economically populist than his current supporters.” That will take some fancy footwork.

But first, it’s time for Hillary to do something out of character, said Carol Marin in the Chicago Sun-Times: She must acknowledge defeat. She tried valiantly, but it’s now clear that she cannot catch up to Obama, and that continuing to fight will only hurt the causes to which she has dedicated her life. Without doubt, Clinton has “the grit, the discipline, and the talent to keep on going.” The real question is, does she have the ability to accept the fact that “sometimes, winning isn’t everything?”

What next?Clinton said she would push on to the next round of primaries, on May 13 in West Virginia and May 20 in Kentucky and Oregon. She also will press the Democratic National Committee to include the results of the disqualified contests in Michigan and Florida, which she won. Privately, though, weary Clinton aides admitted their candidate’s chances were fading. “Absent some sort of miracle,” an unnamed senior campaign official told The Washington Post, “it’s going to be very tough for us.”

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