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Democrats Hunker Down for Long Haul

Illustration by: Matt Mahurin

Looking at the next phase in the race for the Democratic presidential nomination, one metaphor seems right: Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton and Sen. Barack Obama are in for a tough period of trench warfare.

Hunkering down for the long haul may come as a bit of a letdown after the frenetic pace that began in Iowa and ended with dramatic, too-close-to-call results on Super-Duper Tuesday. But these two candidates – closely matched, and, in many respects, mirror images of one another – have little choice.

Obama campaign officials say they were pleased with Tuesday’s results, given what they said was the front-runner status that Clinton began with in many states. They say they are looking forward to coming contests, including Louisiana, Virginia, Washington and Hawaii.

Mark Penn, Clinton’s chief strategist, acknowledged yesterday that the February match-ups to come favor Obama. But looking ahead to March, Penn said, “the remaining three large primary states — Ohio, Texas and Pennsylvania — are states with a lot of delegates, strong support from elected officials there and where [people] see Hillary as the candidate with the solutions to the problems they face.”

Clinton and Obama have finely honed messages and enough money to keep delivering them. (The Clinton campaign said yesterday that she loaned the campaign $5 million late last month.) They can each see their way to victory. Which of them emerges victorious could come down to who they’ve got in the trenches with them.

Tuesday’s results made clear who lines up where. Clinton draws much of her support from women, working-class Democrats and Latinos. For Obama, it’s young people, wealthier, better-educated voters and African-Americans.

There are geographic differences. Clinton did well in the Northeast and Obama in the deep South. She won California, but he did well in the middle of the country and in the mountain states. There are exceptions to all this (he won Connecticut, she won Arizona) and there are explanations (his organizing teams seem to have cracked the caucus, resulting in wins in Kansas, Minnesota and North Dakota).

In fact, the best explanation for their performances thus far comes from those demographic breakdowns.

In California, where women make up 55 percent of the electorate, they favored Clinton, 59 percent to 34 percent. Obama won among male voters, but just narrowly, 46 percent to 45 percent. Clinton carried California Latinos across all age groups by at least 25 percentage points. Obama did better among Latinos in New Mexico, where he trailed her by just 6 percentage points among those 45-59. But she won among Latinos age 60 and over, with 65 percent of the vote.

In Georgia, which Obama won on Tuesday, he trounced Clinton across all age groups of black voters. Her closest margin was 78 percent to 22 percent among voters age 60 and over. He also won among all black voters in New Jersey, a state Clinton carried. Among white voters, he won only among those age 18-29.

Obama’s strength among young voters, many new to politics, has been a key to his recent momentum. “He’s bringing so many people into the process,” said David Axelrod, his top strategist, arguing that such support would be an asset in November’s general election.

Obama has also brought soaring rhetoric, a message of hope and change. His are lofty words — look at them as the Zeppelin attack before this coming long ground battle. As Obama declared to supporters Tuesday night in Chicago: “Change will not come if we wait for some other person, or if we wait for some other time. We are the ones we’ve been waiting for. We are the change that we seek.”

The challenge for him is to attract enough voters with that message to outweigh what appears to be Clinton’s dominance of traditional elements of the Democratic base.

Speaking to her supporters Tuesday in New York, Clinton took the opportunity to remind voters of her ties to those core Democratic constituencies. “We are hearing the voices of people across America,” she said, “people of all ages, of all colors, all faiths and all walks of life, people on the day shift, the night shift, the late shift.”

Signaling the way the turf has shifted in recent weeks, Penn also tried to use the endorsements Obama has received – from Sen Edward M. Kennedy, Sen. John F. Kerry and others — against him, saying they had helped make his an “establishment campaign.”

Howard Dean, chairman of the Democratic National Committee, threw cold water Tuesday on the idea that endorsements matter one way or another. “Endorsements bring you attention,” Dean said on MSNBC. “But they don’t sway voters.”

But what is going to matter is who digs in with you for the long haul. Obama has shown strength in many states that Democrats don’t usually carry in general elections. But if he wants to be around that long, he first needs to fortify his trenches and survive his impending battle with Clinton.

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