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The N.C./Indiana quandary: which matters more?

April 25, 2008 |  2:02 am

In the Pennsylvania primary, it was all about the margin.

It was clear that barring a major political upheaval, Hillary Clinton was going to win the state. The question became: Would she do so by enough to legitimately boast about it? (She did).

In the dueling May 6 primaries, a new measuring stick is being applied: Which one is more important?

The conventional wisdom, as of now, tilts toward Indiana. North Carolina -- with its large black population and its notable enclaves of highly educated voters of all types -- is widely seen as a gimme for Barack Obama, in pure win/lose terms. As was the case for Clinton in Pennsylvania, attention will be paid to how easily he prevails.

Indiana, by contrast, is seen as much more competitive -- and thus a bigger symbolic prize. Part of it borders Illinois and a much of its population is within the Chicago media market, giving Obama an edge. But it is predominantly white and has lots of small towns, which works to Clinton's advantage.

Obama, in a characterization he may now rue, said while campaigning in the state earlier this month that it "may end up being the tiebreaker." That will be thrown in his face over the next week and a half, even if he did use the conditional.

Still, the astute crew at MSNBC who churn out the network's daily "First Read" political note offered a contrary view Wednesday on how to assess the next Democratic faceoff. Here's what they wrote:

"So which May 6 state is more important to Clinton -- Indiana or North Carolina? Sure, many in the media (and in the Clinton campaign) are pointing to Indiana, because the race is likely to be very close. But isn't North Carolina the opportunity for Clinton to either prove or disprove momentum? The state isn't just a pothole for Clinton in her comeback bid, it's a potential sinkhole. It's a big state, not some small red state. And the gains Clinton made in the popular vote, thanks to Pennsylvania, could be wiped away completely in the Tar Heel State. And because the popular vote is now the most important measuring stick to the Clinton campaign, they have to figure out a way to either pull the upset or make the Obama victory margin so close that it will serve as a wakeup call to the superdelegates. It's been said a bunch of times, but we'll say it again: Obama can't seem to convince Clinton to get out until he beats her in a place that demographically favors her, and she can't convince superdelegates that he's really unelectable unless she beats him in a place that demographically favors him. And since the burden still remains with Clinton to catch up, it may mean North Carolina is actually more make-or-break than Indiana."

It will be worth watching which state is seen by most pundits as "The Big One" on that first Tuesday in May. Perhaps it will end up a draw. After all, the bottom line remains pretty basic.

Obama has to triumph in North Carolina, or face a barrage of doubts over whether his political magic truly has faded.

Clinton has to win Indiana, or face a renewed clamor that she is merely postponing the inevitable demise of her candidacy.

-- Don Frederick

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