Tuesday's "Potomac primary," with large pockets of black and highly educated voters who have thus far favored Barack Obama in the Democratic race, looks like inhospitable territory for Hillary Rodham Clinton. But she's not conceding the region.
"It's a matter of delegates," said Mark Rozell, a public policy professor at George Mason University in Arlington, Va. "Even though she's likely to lose the popular vote, there's a real incentive for her to try to boost her numbers and increase her delegate count."
Both Democrats are advertising in Virginia, Maryland and the District of Columbia in the run-up to the Potomac primary. Obama held a series of town halls and rallies, and he planned rallies at sports arenas today in Baltimore and at the University of Maryland. Clinton's schedule has her touring a plant today near Baltimore and speaking to a University of Virginia government class in Charlottesville. Her husband, former president Bill Clinton, spent Sunday morning at black churches in Washington and Maryland.
The message from both candidates Sunday was "I care." Obama discussed his education plans with parents in Northern Virginia. Clinton released a raft of statistics designed to show how her economic plan would benefit Virginians.
Virginia is the hot contest on the Republican side. Arizona Sen. John McCain was capping today with a rally in Richmond. Former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee scheduled a whirlwind of Virginia rallies.
McCain has piled up Republican endorsements, including those from former Maryland governor Robert Ehrlich and former Virginia senator George Allen. The Democratic establishment is divided, as Clinton dominates in Maryland and Obama in Virginia.
Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley crisscrossed the state Sunday on Clinton's behalf. He'll also join her today at a plant that makes transmissions for GM hybrid vehicles. Clinton has pledged more "green collar" jobs to help develop alternative energy, and O'Malley said that message resonates.
"We need a president who can get the job done for the working people of our state," he said in an interview.
Virginia Gov. Tim Kaine, whose ties to Obama include Harvard Law School and grandparents from the same small Kansas town of El Dorado, said he gave Obama his support in December 2006 and told him, "You'll be the underdog from the day you get in until the day you win the nomination."
That mind-set has prevailed for all but a few days after Obama's "momentous" Iowa win, Kaine said in an interview, and is part of the reason for Obama's success. "It's better to think of yourself as slightly behind and working the game," Kaine said.
Obama has been trying to make inroads among working-class voters with whom Clinton is strong. Kaine said Obama "may speak in a lofty way" but "he's grounded in reality" and people recognize that when they get to know him.
Clinton has also done better than Obama with Hispanic and Asian voters, both significant groups in Northern Virginia. Kaine said that's because they have "good feelings" about Clinton, not bad ones about Obama.
Robert Lang, co-director of the Metropolitan Institute at Virginia Tech, said Northern Virginia has so many immigrant groups that Hispanics and Asians may not be as helpful to Clinton. The area has a high concentration of people with college and postgraduate degrees, he said — a boon for Obama, who has done better with highly educated voters.
Obama also has an advantage in that blacks may be 40% of the Democratic electorate, Lang said. Obama has drawn more than eight in 10 blacks in past contests.
Tom Schaller, a political scientist at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, called Maryland "a home game for Obama." He said Clinton's support from seasoned Democratic politicians such as O'Malley and Sen. Barbara Mikulski probably is "not enough to compensate for the huge lead Obama will have" among the state's liberal white voters and African-Americans, nearly a third of the population.
Huckabee is a former minister with appeal to Virginia's religious conservatives. GOP strategist Whit Ayres said McCain "has done best with veterans and those concerned with national security." He said Virginia, home of the Pentagon and many military bases, has "an abundance of both." That and "his momentum as the presumptive nominee" should put McCain over, Ayres said.
McCain's dilemma was highlighted Sunday by two fellow Republicans on ABC's This Week. Rep. Tom Davis, R-Va., a moderate not running for re-election, said McCain needs to hang on to the appeal he's demonstrated in the past to independents. "We can't win a national election this year with just Republican votes," he said.
Tom DeLay of Texas, the former House GOP leader, said McCain will also need the Republican base "not just voting for you but working for you."