If the conventional wisdom (and assorted state polling) holds on Tuesday, and Barack Obama wins North Carolina and Hillary Clinton wins Indiana, then we wake up on Wednesday looking at four more weeks of campaigning, six more primaries and ramped up pressure on superdelegates to start making their endorsements public.
In other words, not much will have changed from the last four weeks. Has anyone started looking into whether there are direct flights from San Juan, Puerto Rico to Billings, MT or Sioux Falls, SD?
In perhaps their sharpest policy disagreement on the campaign trail, the two Democratic candidates have been clashing over what to do about rising gas prices. Clinton supports a freeze on the gas tax during summer months (as does John McCain) while Obama continues to speak out strongly against the position.
Whether voters agree with Clinton that Obama doesn't get it on this issue and isn't offering solutions, or if they agree with Obama that the proposal is just a political "stunt," could determine what has been a tight and contentious Indiana primary battle.
Indiana may be a true toss up primary, with demographics favorable to both Clinton and Obama. The state is a unique patchwork mix that has areas that resemble Illinois, Ohio, and Kentucky. There are many rural, blue collar regions as well as urban, industrial regions with large African-American populations.
Neither candidate has a clear advantage but the overall demographics in the state may favor Clinton, because of how well she has performed with blue-collar, lower-income voters in previous states. Obama will need strong turnout and support in his strongholds (northern and central Indiana urban areas) in order to offset Clinton's support in large swaths of the southern part of the state.
The importance of North Carolina in shaping the overall picture of the Democratic race going forward cannot be overstated. This is the first state that Obama has been expected to win since the second round of controversy surrounding his former pastor, Rev. Jeremiah Wright.
For the first time since the South Carolina primary nearly four months ago, Obama goes into a presidential contest facing more heat than Clinton.
North Carolina, which has a large number of black voters, is the kind of place the Democratic frontrunner is expected to win. Roughly one-third of the Democratic electorate is expected to be African American. Statewide polls show the Illinois senator leading Clinton, but both campaigns seem to think the race has tightened a bit this week.
Other things to look for on Tuesday:
1. Turnout in Indiana – How big and where is it? The northwestern corner of the state is the most Democratic – around 20-25 percent of the total Democratic votes on Tuesday could come from this region. This area also has a large African-American population, in cities like Gary and South Bend. In the 1st Congressional District, 18 percent of eligible voters are African-American, compared to just eight percent statewide. Obama has overwhelmingly won African-American voters in primaries so far and as the senator from neighboring Illinois, he enjoys high name recognition in the northwestern corner of the state because it is in the Chicago media market.