It’s All Eyes on Texas and Ohio as Dems Square Off in Potentially Race-Changing Primaries

Date: Tuesday, March 04, 2008
By: Michael H. Cottman,

DALLAS – Chris Powell, a manager for a Texas-based transportation company, is proud to support Barack Obama’s historic quest for the White House and considers Tuesday’s primary in the Lone Star state as an unprecedented moment in American politics.

“Like many African-Americans in my age group, I never thought I would live to see a person of color seriously contend for the Presidency of the United States of America,” Powell, 49, told

“In many ways, the Obama campaign has re-written the modern day rules of political engagement,” Powell said. “His unique message of hope, inspiration and ability to bring people together, coupled with his impeccable credentials and youthful looks, reminds many of JFK.”

Tuesday’s Texas primary has become a political firewall for Hillary Clinton, Obama’s Democratic opponent. She has lost 11 straight primaries and caucuses to Obama, and she needs a win in Texas and Ohio Tuesday to keep her campaign on track. Even her husband, former President Bill Clinton, said if Hillary Clinton loses Texas and Ohio, her bid for the White House is over as Democratic leaders would no doubt increase calls for Clinton to bow out.

Gov. Bill Richardson of New Mexico hasn’t endorsed anyone yet, but said of Clinton: “I just think that D-Day is Tuesday.” But last week, Clinton’s senior campaign aides seemed to contradict Bill Clinton, suggesting that if Clinton splits a win in Texas or Ohio, she could remain in the race.

More than 2 million Democratic voters in Texas’ 15 largest counties have cast early ballots — 10 times the total early-voting numbers in the 1996 and 2000 elections. And in yet another unusual twist to an unpredictable campaign, many Texas Republicans now say they are voting for Obama because they do not like Clinton and they also believe GOP frontrunner John McCain can defeat Obama in a general election.

“The stakes for senators Clinton and Obama could not be higher going into Tuesday’s primaries in Ohio, Texas, Rhode Island and Vermont,” Michelle Bernard, a black conservative and president of the Washington, D.C.-based Independent Women’s Voice, told “It is quite possible that the outcome of Tuesday’s primaries will, for all intent and purposes, determine who the Democratic nominee will be.”

According to all major polls, Obama and Clinton are locked in a statistical dead heat in Texas, and Clinton has a slight edge in Ohio. Black voters in both states could play a major role for Obama’s campaign. Last month, about 18,000 people attended an Obama rally in Houston and 17,000 jammed into Reunion Arena in Dallas, many of whom were black.

A bizarre delegate allocation system that awards more delegates to urban areas with high concentrations of black and young voters favors Obama. The Texas contest, a primary followed by limited same-night caucusing, will yield 193 delegates, with Ohio offering 141 delegates. Obama’s delegate total stands at 1,362, Clinton’s at 1,266, with 2,025 needed to claim the nomination.

A survey by the Associated Press showed that of the 796 superdelegates, Clinton has backing from 242, Obama has support from 188, and the remainder are uncommitted or unknown.

For Powell, a product of the 1960s civil rights movement who remembers the assassinations of John F. Kennedy and Bobby Kennedy, Martin Luther King and Malcolm X, race riots and the ongoing call for stronger black political leadership, Obama’s candidacy is more than a political campaign.

He represents a growing number of black professionals in Texas who are energized and engaged in the political process. Many black voters in Texas believe Obama has made an extraordinary transition from leader of a grass-roots movement to perhaps leader of the nation.

“I continue to be moved by Sen. Obama’s ability to articulate a vision of a restored America and a return to pride in our nation and its leaders,” Kristi Grant Coleman, a Dallas-based training manager who watches the presidential debates closely, told

“I think he is a refreshingly new kind of political leader,” Grant Coleman said. “While I believe he is young and not necessarily the most experienced candidate for president, I think he has a remarkable grasp on the issues, and he has demonstrated his ability to surround himself with competent people, evident in part by his historical fund-raising and campaign organizing. I am very excited about the possibilities.”

Obama and Clinton have spent the past five days barnstorming through Texas and Ohio campaigning at a frantic pace. Obama outspent Clinton on ads in both states, $7 million to her $4 million. Both candidates were campaigning aggressively in Texas Monday and the 3.6 million eligible Hispanic voters in the Lone Star state will likely play a major role in the too-close-to-call primary.

Hispanic voters in Texas are now experiencing a generational divide, with middle-aged and older Hispanics supporting Clinton and younger Latinos backing Obama. A recent Gallup poll of eligible Hispanic voters nationwide showed Obama not only erasing a 31-point gap against Clinton in just a week, but taking the lead by four percentage points.

“I want a change in the politics. I just don’t want to see another Clinton name up there — and all that baggage coming off her husband,” Manuel Hernandez, who works with Austin parks and recreation, told CNN. “However,” he said, “my friends that are Hispanic are all voting for Hillary.”

In Waco last week, Clinton said Obama was “missing in action” on foreign policy issue. Her remarks were timed for a new ad campaign in Texas that asks voters who they want to answer the phone in the White House at 3 a.m. when “there’s something happening in the world.” Obama criticized the ad saying it was an attempt to “scare up votes.”

Early voting in urban areas has swelled to record numbers in Texas. The latest early voting numbers suggest Obama is seeing success in Texas’ big cities like Dallas and Houston. Clinton’s strategy is to amass smaller delegate numbers over broader areas of the state like El Paso, with the hope of topping Obama overall.

“What we do in the next couple of weeks will allow us to change the world,” former Dallas Mayor Ron Kirk, who is supporting Obama, told a rally of black voters earlier this month.

On Sunday, Obama picked up a significant high-profile endorsement from hip-hop icon Russell Simmons.

“Today, I am announcing my personal endorsement of Sen. Barack Obama for president of the United States,” Simmons said in a statement.

Simmons, chairman of The Foundation for Ethnic Understanding and the Hip-Hop Summit Action Network, said he supports the overwhelming number of voters from the hip-hop generation who are supporting Obama.

Simmons will fly to Cleveland Tuesday for appearances at a housing complex, a barber shop and a community college, according to Obama’s campaign.

In polls less than a year ago, Clinton was leading Obama among black voters nationally and some questioned whether Obama was “black enough,” and if he could actually win a presidential election because of his race.

But times have changed.

Today, Ernest White, a black District Court judge from Dallas, said Obama’s candidacy is a source of pride.

“I am overwhelmed not only by Senator Obama’s run for the presidency, but the success he has achieved thus far,” White told

“As a African-American man born in the mid-1950’s, I never felt that another black man or woman for that matter, would have a chance to be president,” White said. “That would be something that would hopefully occur in my children’s lifetime, a statement my parents would often recite to me when I was a child.”

“The fact that he has run such a positive campaign, speaking of change and hope, is the anecdote needed by all Americans who are living in these troubled times and has been the reason that hhis message has been accepted across racial and gender lines,” White added. “I cannot predict whether Senator Obama will win in November, but his message has truly given this country hope.”

Clinton and Obama were about even in a CNN-Opinion Research Corp. poll conducted a week ago. With the Texas contest Tuesday, whites are divided about equally in the new survey, Obama has a large lead among blacks and Clinton is ahead with Hispanics.

Last week, in a huge blow to the Clinton camp, U.S. Rep. John Lewis of Georgia — who is also a superdelegate — said that he’s now backing Obama and switching his support from Clinton. A day later, State Rep. Senfronia Thompson of Houston also defected from Clinton to support Obama. Democrats predict other members of the Congressional Black Caucus may follow Lewis’ lead in the weeks ahead.

The 42-member Caucus is spilt, 18 for Obama, 17 for Clinton and others remain uncommitted. 

“At this point in time, neither candidate can win the Democratic nomination with only pledged delegates,” Bernard said. “The eventual nominee will have to win enough superdelegates to make it over the proverbial finish line.”

“More likely than not, most superdelegates will follow the will of their constituents and others, supporting the candidate with the majority of the popular vote,” she added. “Accordingly, if Senator Clinton loses either Ohio or Texas, her 2008 presidential run will end. She must win both states, and she must win by an enormous margin if her campaign is to retain an appearance of viability. If she does so, the race will continue, and it will be a bitter battle to the end.”

Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee of Houston, national co-chair of the Clinton campaign and a superdelegate, has told reporters that Obama’s campaign has slowed support from Clinton, but she said the Clinton campaign would not write off the black vote.

In Ohio, even though her colleague Rep. Lewis switched to Obama, Rep. Stephanie Tubbs Jones (D-Ohio) said she remains loyal to Clinton.

Tubbs Jones said on CNN last week that folks don’t jump ship because a candidate “is down and out.” Tubbs Jones said Clinton “is not out, but she is down” and maintained that she’s on the Clinton bandwagon until the end, win or lose, insisting that Clinton has the experience to lead the nation.

Last week, Obama’s Ohio campaign announced “One Million for Change,” an ambitious grassroots effort to knock on one million doors before the Tuesday primary.

The plan may be paying off.

According to Time magazine: “At least on Cleveland’s east side, Obama’s surging grassroots success has stolen Clinton’s establishment base right out from under her. Cleveland City Councilman Kevin Conwell came out early for Clinton, winning a trip to the national convention to vote for her. Then Conwell’s constituents sat him down for a little chat. “I met with my residents and tried to get them to go with Hillary,” Conwell says. “Not one of them would move. All of my volunteers, all my block club presidents, every last one of them was going for Barack.”

Chris Redfern, the Ohio Democratic Party chairman, told The New York Times Monday that the Obama political machine and outreach is unlike anything he’s ever seen in Ohio.

“She’s [Clinton] doing everything right, and had there not been a guy named Barack Obama in the race, she’d be the nominee,” said Redfern, who is staying neutral. “The Obama army is larger, more enthusiastic, more confident, and they are young and naive enough to think they can win.”

Back in Texas, the site of Tuesday’s major primary showdown, Powell told he will head to his voting precinct early because he expects long lines.

“He has a solid foundation,” Powell said of Obama, “That being a grassroots movement of change.”