Tuesday, May 13, 2008
By Brian Knowlton
Published: May 12, 2008
WASHINGTON: Senator Barack Obama is acting as if he already has won the Democratic presidential nomination, but Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton is poised, ironically, to score two of her most lopsided primary victories and possibly enhance her political clout.
Obama's travel plans in the next two weeks suggest a clear focus on the general election in November - he will visit Missouri, a general-election swing state, on Tuesday, then Michigan on Wednesday and Florida next week, both of them key to the hopes of Democrats in the fall.
But the presidential primary season is not over yet, and polls show Clinton holding a huge edge Tuesday in West Virginia - leading by an average of 36 points, according to three voter surveys cited by the Real Clear Politics Web site. Polling also gives her a 30-point lead in Kentucky, which will vote May 20. She is also favored on June 1 in Puerto Rico, which votes in a primary but not the general election.
Although Obama is expected to win the three other remaining primaries - in Oregon, Montana and South Dakota, ending on June 3 - Clinton's upcoming show of strength should position her better for challenges to come. Those might include the matter of who Obama would choose to join him on the ticket; signals are mixed as to whether she might be interested. They might also make it easier for Clinton to end her candidacy unbowed and on an upbeat note.
Even top Clinton advisers acknowledge that the New York senator faces daunting odds. Terry McAuliffe, her campaign chairman, said Sunday that it was "highly unlikely" Clinton could overcome Obama's lead in elected delegates.
With mounting pressure from fellow Democrats to end a divisive campaign, Clinton has begun shifting her attacks to Senator John McCain, the presumptive Republican nominee. She has pledged to support the Democratic nominee "no matter what happens."
On the other side, McCain and his surrogates have considerably sharpened their attacks on Obama, hinting at the outlines of a general-election strategy. The former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney, an erstwhile McCain rival who now supports him, blasted the Illinois senator on Sunday as an untested man of scant experience.
"He has not accomplished anything during his life, in terms of legislation or leading an enterprise or making a business work or a city work or a state work," Romney said on CNN. "He really has very little experience, and the presidency of the United States is not an internship."
McCain planned Monday in Oregon to enlarge on his call for mandatory curbs on greenhouse gas emissions, a position closer to those of Obama and Clinton - and to many independent and centrist voters - than to the Republican mainstream or President George W. Bush.
As he plays a delicate game of positioning, McCain has laid out his views on the Iraq war, taxes and judicial nominations, all aimed at expanding his appeal among conservatives. But he received a sharp reminder Monday of the difficulty he may have in nailing down support from the right: Bob Barr, a conservative former Republican congressman from Georgia, announced plans to run for the Libertarian party's presidential nomination.
Barr, 59, helped lead the impeachment of President Bill Clinton, giving him national prominence, and in some circles, notoriety. But Barr left the Republican Party in 2006, disillusioned by what he said was its failure to restrain government growth and by what he considered affronts to civil liberties. He became a sharp critic of the Patriot Act, for example.
His candidacy could take some votes from McCain. And his criticisms of the party might add to pressure on McCain not to move too far toward the center.
In the Democratic race, Obama has effectively ceded West Virginia. He told a crowd Monday in Charleston - in his only visit to the state - that he expected Clinton to draw "many more" votes than he would get. West Virginia is one of the poorest, oldest, most white-dominated states, mirroring the composition of counties in Ohio, Indiana and Pennsylvania that Clinton carried handily.
But Obama emphasized themes meant to play well there: patriotism and love of country.
"My grandfather Stanley Dunham enlisted after Pearl Harbor and went on to march in Patton's army," he said. "My grandmother worked on a bomber assembly line while he was gone, and my mother was born at Fort Leavenworth."
Still, a poll in Kentucky suggested that Obama's race might hurt him there as he campaigns to be elected as the country's first black president. While more than half of respondents in a survey by the Herald-Leader, a newspaper in Lexington, Kentucky, said that his race was not a factor, 1 in 5 said it could hurt Obama's chances, and only 4 percent said it would help.
The newspaper also said that its poll raised doubts about whether Kentucky - which has backed the winning presidential candidate in every election since 1964 - would be a battleground state in the fall. The poll showed McCain leading Obama by 25 percentage points there and Clinton by 12. It had a 4 percent margin of error.