A day after winning the Nevada caucuses, Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Rodham Clinton flew to Missouri, a key Feb. 5 battleground state, while rival Sen. Barack Obama hoped to invigorate his candidacy with the help of black voters in South Carolina.
Although Clinton won 51 percent of the popular vote in Nevada, Obama’s campaign argued that the outcome in Nevada was a shared victory because Obama collected 13 delegates, compared with 12 for Clinton.
Obama left Nevada without delivering a concession speech. “We’re not treating this as a loss,” an aide to Obama told The Washington Post.
Clinton campaign aides disagreed with the delegate count, saying there has been no final count from state elections officials. The Obama campaign also alleged the Clinton camp resorted to voter suppression tactics, a claim the Clinton campaign denies.
“This race is still wide open on both sides of the partisan aisle — these primaries only emphasized that point more, Peter C. Groff, a Colorado state senator, publisher of Blackpolicy.org and executive director of the Center for African American Policy at the University of Denver, told BlackAmericaWeb.com.
“The win in Nevada was actually not much of that for Clinton, considering Obama still snags a large enough amount of delegates to keep him at the top,” Groff said. “Plus, he won 11 out of 17 counties in that state. He should be touting that, including the fact that he experienced a 20-point surge in the polls within 30 days. Remember, he was 25 points down in December.”
“What’s ironic here,” he added, “is that the Clinton campaign for so long insisted that this race was all about the delegates; now they’re placing greater emphasis on the states won.”
According to The New York Times, Clinton dismissed questions about the delegate count.
“We’re looking really good,” Clinton said during a news conference. “I find it somewhat strange, actually, that there’s such a reaction when this was a very effective campaign to reach as many as people as possible.”
Meanwhile, Sen. John McCain won a hard-fought South Carolina primary Saturday night, avenging a bitter personal defeat in a bastion of conservatism and gaining ground in an unpredictable race for the Republican presidential nomination.
“We’ve got a long way to go,” McCain told The Associated Press in an interview. The man whose campaign was left for dead six months ago quickly predicted that victory in the first southern primary would help him next week when Florida votes, and again on Feb. 5 when more than two dozen states hold primaries and caucuses
Nevada’s presidential caucuses gave Clinton a big boost, powering her to a second straight win over Obama in the first Western contest of the 2008 calendar. She bested Obama among women, as she did in New Hampshire, and showed significant strength among Hispanic voters — an important and growing segment of the Democratic electorate in the mountain West and key states like California, Florida and New York.
But Obama won decisively among black voters — nearly 80 percent — who could account for more than 50 percent of the voters in South Carolina’s primary Saturday. And Nevada’s likely delegate count appeared to be almost evenly split between Clinton and Obama, indicating a protracted delegate battle yet to come.
Clinton acknowledged the excruciatingly tight race before departing Nevada, calling her win “one step on a long journey.”
“The results of the Democratic caucus in Nevada do not necessarily portend the future, but they do set the stage for what will be a very interesting battle among the Democratic candidates for the votes of African-Americans, Hispanics, and women,” Michelle Bernard, president of the Washington, D.C.-based Independent Women’s Forum, told BlackAmericaWeb.com.
“In Nevada, it appears that a clear majority of Democratic women and Hispanics favored Sen. Clinton. African-Americans voted for Sen. Obama five to one,” Bernard said. “Although Sen. Clinton won the popular vote in Nevada, Sen. Obama won more delegates. This is as much a race for the popular vote as it is for delegates and the all-important superdelegates.”
“The Clinton Nevada victory puts a certain amount of pressure on the campaign of Sen. Obama,” Craig Kirby, a Democratic strategist, told BlackAmericaWeb.com. “I think a big win is needed in South Carolina for Obama to continue on for Feb. 5 [Super Tuesday] — with a look to the next round Feb. 12.”
On the Republican side, McCain defeated former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee in a close race in the state that snuffed out his presidential hopes eight years ago. The Arizonan was gaining 33 percent of the vote to just under 30 percent for his closest rival.
“It just took us a while. That’s all. Eight years is not a long time,” McCain told the AP.
Appearing before supporters, Huckabee was a gracious loser, congratulating McCain for “running a civil and a good and a decent campaign.”
Far from conceding defeat in the race, he added, “The process is far, far from over.”
Former Tennessee Sen. Fred Thompson was in a struggle for third place with about 16 percent, after saying he needed a strong showing to sustain his candidacy. Another Republican, California Rep. Duncan Hunter, dropped out even before the votes were tallied.
Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney cruised to victory earlier in the day in the little-contested Nevada caucuses. Final returns showed him with more than 50 percent support in a multi-candidate field.
“The irony here is that McCain takes South Carolina, solidifying the very conservative and evangelical vote eight years after losing badly to President Bush in 2000 in that same state,” Groff said.
“Still, the South Carolina primary shows that McCain could be getting some sort of validation or nod from the Republican right, particularly in light of Huckabee’s supposedly strong ‘Christian’ credentials,” he added. “This obviously gives McCain serious momentum into Florida and some credibility with Southern “Bible Belt” states … but he still has a long way to go before conservatives trust him.”
For the Democrats, the Nevada results still spelled trouble for Obama, whose stunning victory in the Iowa caucuses Jan. 3 has been overshadowed amid evidence of his vulnerability among important demographic groups, especially white, working-class Democrats and women.
He tried to remedy that problem in Nevada, holding economic roundtables with women voters and bringing in his popular wife, Michelle, to campaign with him. But women outnumbered men among caucus-goers, and a sizable majority went with Clinton.
Obama is now under greater pressure to win South Carolina, while Clinton is mostly hoping to hold her own there. Both campaigns are also looking ahead to “mega Tuesday” Feb. 5, when more than 20 states hold contests.
Polls in South Carolina have shown black voters shifting to Obama despite their longtime loyalty to the Clintons and particularly to Bill Clinton, who was once nicknamed the first black president.
With her Nevada win, Clinton campaign officials say she will campaign hard this week in South Carolina and hope for a strong enough showing to pick up sizable number of the state’s delegates.
“As the Democratic race moves to South Carolina and then Florida, women, African-Americans, and Hispanics may have an unprecedented role in selecting the Democratic party’s nominee,” Bernard said. “Until recently, African-Americans overwhelmingly supported Sen. Clinton. However, African-American support for her has shifted among black men and women to Sen. Obama since the Iowa caucuses just a few weeks ago.”
“Weeks ago, conventional wisdom told us that whites would not vote for an African-American. Iowa dispelled that notion,” she added. “Sen. Obama’s experience in Illinois demonstrates that Hispanics, both black and white, will vote for an African-American as well. As a result, the role of these three voting blocs will only escalate as the presidential race moves forward.”
Clinton visited Abyssinian Baptist Church in Harlem Sunday and is scheduled to attend a prayer service in South Carolina Monday honoring Dr. Martin Luther King’s birthday before attending an NAACP rally at the state capitol and a nationally televised debate in Myrtle Beach.
“Obama’s strong performance in Nevada certainly opens up momentum for South Carolina, Groff said. “There may be indications that the strong black support for Obama in Nevada underscored a black backlash against Sen. Clinton due to recent comments over race.”“The big question: Will that backlash hold into next week during the South Carolina Democratic primary?” Groff asked. “African-Americans have a very long memory.”