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Looking Ahead…

As the dust settles following the Pennsylvania primary, the candidates and the media have turned to what comes next. It feels like it was years ago that everyone was talking about how Texas, Ohio and then Pennsylvania would be Sen. Hillary Clinton’s firewalls, preventing Sen. Barack Obama from riding a surge of momentum to the Democratic nomination. Now that that’s all behind us, North Carolina, it appears, will be Obama’s firewall.

According to Real Clear Politics poll average, Obama leads Clinton by 15 and a half points in the Tar Hell state (51.3 percent to 35.8 percent). The state is over 22 percent African American, according to the 2000 census, which is good news for Obama. Since it is the country’s tenth most populace state with around 9 million residents, it could help Obama dispel the Clinton charge that he can’t win a big state.

Unlike in South Carolina where she could afford to lose, Clinton can’t ignore North Carolina and blame a bad loss on the black vote carrying Obama to victory. If Obama does win big in the Tar Heel state, Clinton can’t keep pushing the "Tide is Turning" message (her campaign has distributed four press releases under that title since election night in Pennsylvania). Clinton has to prove that Obama is a fundamentally flawed candidate that can’t win in the general. The only way to do that is to beat him (or at least come close to beating him) in a state she has no business competing with him in. Moreover, a big Obama win would wipe out the bump in the popular vote Clinton earned in Pennsylvania – another crucial point in her momentum argument.

It looks like Clinton is marching down the only path available: Going for broke. I know the expectations game is risky, but if Obama wins by five points or less on May 6 in North Carolina, the Clinton camp could still declare victory. This will be particularly difficult for Clinton to do for three reasons. First, Clinton’s unfavorability rating is too high for her to make the jumps in the polls that Obama did in Pennsylvania. Pennsylvanians didn’t know Obama, North Carolinians already have an opinion of Clinton. Second, Clinton has to win Indiana on the same day, which is no easy task. According to the same averages, Clinton leads by just 2.2 points in Hoosier state. She’ll have to hold that lead or expand it while gaining on Obama in North Carolina. And last, even though she has raised $10 million dollars since Pennsylvania, she is still at a striking financial disadvantage to Obama. This will make it difficult for her to fight a two-front war.

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