March 4– Texas, Ohio, Rhode Island and Vermont primaries
370 Democratic delegates at stake
256 Republican delegates at stake
It's been a long two weeks since the last voting day (anyone remember the Wisconsin primary?). And if anyone thought Hillary Clinton was going to wave the white flag of surrender after the 11th consecutive victory for Barack Obama, well they are certainly singing a different tune today.
Clinton has sharpened her attacks on the stump, released an ad suggesting that Obama is not ready to be president (and rejected his characterization of her campaign as "desperate," ABC News' Jake Tapper reports), and loosened up a bit in front of a live studio audience on Saturday Night Live. She is certainly not looking like a candidate on the verge of dropping out.
Despite Clinton's "in it to win it" attitude, the speculation on "if and when she will drop out" continues and puts expectations and pressure squarely on her shoulders (despite efforts by her campaign to paint Tuesday's contests as must-wins for Obama.)
Figuring out how Tuesday will play out is almost like reading a "Choose Your Own Adventure" novel, with several possibilities:
-- If Clinton wins Texas and Ohio, turn to page 15 for what she will do next (The story continues, more dueling conference calls! Clinton fights on through the Pennsylvania primary on April 22 and the battle for the undecided superdelegates gets even more heated)
-- If Clinton wins one out of two, turn to page 37 (She still fights on! But starts to feel a bit of pressure to get out – especially if it's a close win and less-close loss and if Obama builds a larger lead in the delegate count. Where the win and loss occur will also play a factor in where the story goes – her campaign is expecting a tight race in Texas but feel good about a single digit win in Ohio.)
-- If Clinton goes 0-2 in Texas and Ohio, turn to page 94. (Cue the post-mortems, get ready for the undecided superdelegates to start announcing their support for Obama and eagerly await the RNC emails on Obama's experience.)
Things to look for in Tuesday's key Democratic primaries:
-- They aren't calling it the Texas Two Step for nothing – on Tuesday, there are 193 Democratic delegates at stake in Texas in a primary and a caucus. Two-thirds (126 delegates) will be awarded proportional based on the primary results and the remaining one-third (67) will be awarded proportionally through a caucus that begins Tuesday night.
-- Given the quirks in the Texas delegate selection process, it is possible that Clinton could finish ahead in the Texas popular vote and still just break even or possibly lose the delegate count (as she did in Nevada).
If this happens, the race will be thrown into ambiguity since her allies will likely want to spin any win as a victory while her critics will argue that she should step aside because she is not going to catch Obama in pledged delegates.
-- The state has an open primary, which could favor Obama, and party officials expect that turnout will be strong.
-- Pocketbook issues are obviously critical in Ohio but how will "NAFTA-gate" play out in Tuesday's primary? Has the Clinton campaign been able to push the issue in a way that it resonates with voters or it is too inside baseball for anyone outside the campaign press corps and the Beltway?
-- Could Ohio end up looking like Wisconsin, with Obama scoring big wins in urban areas that will trump her support across the state?