Some Early Thoughts on Indiana and North Carolina and Their Impact on the Race

| Fri Apr. 25, 2008 11:08 AM EDT

The next battlegrounds in the Democratic primary race are Indiana and North Carolina, where there are 72 and 115 pledged delegates up for grabs, respectively. Combined, the two states are worth more than vaunted Pennsylvania, and they have the ability to end the race or change its direction, depending on the results.

North Carolina favors Obama demographically. It is 22 percent black, and has a number of large colleges (UNC, NC State, Duke, Wake Forest, to name a few). It also has a number of white-collar professionals in the Raleigh/Durham/Chapel Hill area known as the Research Triangle, where the information technology and biotech industries are thriving. It has a hefty 115 pledged delegates on offer because it is a top ten population state, with over nine million residents.

Current polling in North Carolina usually shows Obama up by nine to 15 points.

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Indiana, on the other hand, favors Clinton demographically. A solid red state in general elections, Indiana is 90 percent white and has an economy heavily reliant on manufacturing. (Despite those Clinton-friendly facts, it is also home to John Mellencamp, who recently performed on Obama's behalf.) It has 72 pledged delegates as the fifteenth largest state in the country, by population.

Current polling in Indiana shows Obama up one to three points. Many political observers are surprised that Indiana's numbers don't more closely resemble those from Ohio and Pennsylvania, two states directly to Indiana's east. In those states, Clinton was up 15 to 20 two weeks out from election day, and eventually won both by roughly 10.

The reason why IN and NC have the ability to end the race is this. Every time Obama wins a state demographically favorable to him, the victory is written off by the pundits, the superdelegates, and the Clinton campaign. When Clinton wins a state demographically favorable to her, the victory isn't necessarily written off, because Obama usually does a fairly good job of making every state competitive, but it isn't seen as a resounding victory. With this pair of states, Obama has the opportunity to win both a state that favors him and one that favors his opponent. That may be enough of a knockout blow — especially if the Clinton camp expends all their cash in IN and NC, as they did in Pennsylvania — for the superdelegates to step in and hand the race to him.

Clinton also has an opportunity. If she wins both a state that favors her and one that favors him, it legitimizes completely her campaign's new rhetoric that the "tide is turning." It will be hard for the Obama to argue that Democratic voters haven't lost faith in him in the second half of this campaign if he loses a state like North Carolina.

If they split the two states — NC for Obama and IN for Clinton — then we will likely have to wait until June, when all the primaries are over, for the superdelegates to finally step in and decide this thing.

So stay tuned. Pennsylvania didn't change all that much in the presidential race; the primaries on May 6 just might.