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The Barack Obama edge: Is it eroding?

March 20, 2008 |  1:33 pm

An odd, somewhat hard-to-reconcile juxtaposition has emerged this week between various overviews of the Democratic presidential race and what polls are showing in the two crucial, yet-to-vote states of Pennsylvania and North Carolina.

On the one hand, several analysts have focused on how, in their view, time and opportunity seem to be waning for Hillary Clinton to overtake Barack Obama in the nomination battle.

Amy Walter, a highly respected political forecaster, wrote in the National Journal that "the events of this week" -- mainly, Obama's speech on race relations -- "seem to leave little doubt that the race has tipped decidedly for" him and Clinton's campaign "has run out of ways to tip it back." (For the rest of the piece, go here.)

Another veteran pundit, Time magazine's Mark Halperin, set up a brief look at the status of Clinton's bid to regain the favorite's position in the contest with this caveat: "Make no mistake: Obama will be the Democratic nominee unless something dramatic happens."

In gauging what he terms the "elements of a potential Clinton comeback," he also adds that "her candidacy is still on life support." (For the rest of the post, go here.)

And the Page One political story in today's ...

New York Times, by Adam Nagourney, is headlined: "Clinton Facing Narrower Path to Nomination" (kudos to the headline writer, tasked with coming up with a substantive one-column topper).

Nagourney paraphrases estimable Democratic consultant Tad Devine, who is on the sidelines in the party's tiff, as opining that Clinton "faced a challenge that although hardly insurmountable was growing tougher almost by the day." (For the rest of the article, go here.)

And yet, we can't help but notice some pesky poll numbers that don't spell good news for Obama.

Based on one new survey in Pennsylvania, here's the lead on a Philadelphia Daily News story: "Could Hillary have a lock on the Keystone State?"

More to the point, could she be headed for a blowout that will make the critiques cited above seem premature at best, and perhaps downright silly?

The Franklin & Marshall poll written about by the Daily News, conducted over several days in mid-March, gave Clinton a 16-point-lead over Obama.

More dauntingly for his camp, a survey by Public Policy Polling, conducted on Saturday and Sunday, put Clinton up by an eye-popping 26 points! The pollsters, in a release, note: "Clinton is aided in large part by a 46-point margin over Obama with female voters, 66-20."

Yes, that's certainly a helpful stat for her. (To read more about this poll, go here.)

True, both of these surveys tapped voter sentiment before Obama used the furor sparked by his personal pastor, the Rev. Jeremiah Wright, to deliver his wide-ranging meditation on racial tensions in America. But if a look at reaction to the speech among patrons of a Philadelphia tavern with a largely white clientele is any barometer, Obama hardly improved his standing among this slice of the electorate.

The nut-graph from the must-read story on Politico.com concludes that his address, "although widely praised by the pundit caste and Obama supporters, has only seemed to widen the gulf with the Budweiser class here."

Meanwhile, Obama's fortunes appear to be sagging in North Carolina, the state his camp views as a firewall for it following the Pennsylvania primary on April 22. A survey just out from Public Policy Polling shows the lead Obama had enjoyed over Clinton there has basically vanished: The new numbers put him up by one percentage point, 44% to 43%. (For a listing of all the polling that's been done in North Carolina, which holds its primary May 6, go here.)

We concur with analyst Jay Cost who, in his new post on RealClearPolitics.com, says, "North Carolina could be the make-or-break state for both campaigns."

Cost's piece is headlined: "Is This Race Over?"

The answer seems obvious.

-- Don Frederick

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