A Fight to the Finish


Both Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama are still in the race for the Democratic nomination after Clinton’s swathe of victories yesterday, and the people of several small States have woken up with a new feeling of political importance.

Mississippi, Pennsylvania and Indiana are just three of the nine States whose remaining clutch of delegates will be at the centre of a continuing fight between the two Democratic candidates. Political analysts have expressed a sense of wonderment that these States – normally ignored by primary campaigns because they vote too late to make a difference to the results – have suddenly leapt to national prominence.

"Last year when all the States were making their rush to have primaries on Super Tuesday, some people were mad that Pennsylvania didn’t try to jump on that bandwagon," said Jennifer Victor, associate professor of Political Science at the University of Pittsburgh. "But now we’re in this fortuitous if accidental situation, where all eyes are going to be focused on us."

"I know that there’s a lot of excitement that Democratic voters could actually go to the polls and have some impact," said Elizabeth Bennion, associate professor of Political Science at Indiana University. "I’m hearing students on campus talking about that, and news commentators are starting to talk about that. And so voters are starting to pay a little bit more attention because they’re starting to see that their vote might matter."

With just a few dozen delegates separating them, Clinton and Obama will fight tooth and nail for each and every available vote in the nine States that have not yet gone to the polls. Starting this Saturday with Wyoming, the process will be dragged out over seven weeks, with a six week break between votes in Mississippi and Pennsylvania.

In an indication that neither the Clinton nor Obama camps were certain of how yesterday’s polls would turn out, they have yet to start television advertising blitzes in those States, Victor said. "We haven’t gotten barraged yet but I expect we’re going to be full of it for the next seven weeks."

So what are likely to be some of the issues that will resonate in the remaining States?

Associate Professor Marvin King, Jr, at the University of Mississippi, says that his State is very similar to South Carolina and Georgia, with a significant black voting block.

"None of the national polls have really taken to Mississippi yet," King said. "We’re all kind of expecting that Barrack will win here pretty well." He cautioned that Clinton’s victories in Texas and Nevada do not mean that she will take Mississippi. "It’s very different to Texas. She has done well in States with a little more diversity because she can pull in a variety of voters. And that’s not the case here in Mississippi."

King said that the major issues in that southern State are tied to persistent poverty. "Mississippi is what I call last in all the good States, and first in all the bad ones. The poverty in the Mississippi Delta is still crushing," he said.

As a result, health is a major issue. "There’s malnutrition. It’s not hunger now, it’s obesity. Instead of eating too little now people eat too much of the wrong foods. We’re near the top in diabetes, obesity and childhood obesity. So access to health care is an issue because the State pays such a low amount for something like Medicaid. Healthcare is not accessible for large swathes of the population."

Although healthcare is generally seen as Clinton’s strong point among Democratic voters, King believes that Obama will likely prevail in Mississippi.

"The Democratic primary will be close to 50 per cent black. So if he wins 80 or 90 percent of the black vote, then he’ll only need about 20 per cent of the white vote to win."

By contrast, both Pennsylvania and Indiana resemble Ohio, where Clinton won with a strong margin yesterday.

Elizabeth Bennion, in Indiana, said that the economy is likely to be the biggest issue for voters there. She said that, in her local region, the big industry was manufacturing recreational vehicles (RVs), the big camping vans. But in recent times, those factories have been shutting down, devastating the local economy.

"In these counties alone, we lost 1500 jobs just in January. And that’s primarily because of the RV industry. With gas prices up, people are not wanting to buy gas guzzling vehicles to go camping."

Local Indiana town budgets are also being squeezed. "We’re hearing from our mayors that we’re not going to have enough money to continue with things like trash collection, and police and fire fighters. And because people are feeling insecure about the national economy, they don’t want any more local taxes. So we’re really hearing this concern about taxes."

Bennion expects that these concerns will lead to more NAFTA-bashing from both candidates, as they criticize the North American Free Trade Agreement that many people dislike because they believe that it has encouraged American companies to move their manufacturing across the Canadian and Mexican borders. Last week Clinton and Obama clashed over which of them was most sincere in criticising the treaty.

Ultimately though, Bennion says that Indianans are generally conservative. The state consistently votes for the Republicans in presidential elections. Even local Democrats are pro-life and pro-gun. So the candidate who positions her/himself as closest to the centre probably has the best chance.

In Pennsylvania, the economy is also causing anxiety among voters, according to Jennifer Victor. "In a lot of ways, people here aren’t paying so much attention to what’s going on in Iraq because they’re worried about their pocketbooks," she said.

Although Pennsylvania has not had the levels of immigration that have caused conflicts in many other states, Victor says that the unions still have substantial influence in the one-time steel-working state. She thinks that means the candidates will craft an anti-free trade message there too, even though her state consistently votes for Democrats in presidential elections.

Reluctant to make a prediction, Victor nonetheless said she expects a Clinton win in Pennsylvania, where there are 188 precious delegates up for grabs. "That’s going to be the conventional wisdom going into this because she won Ohio. Not so much because of momentum but because of the similarities of the electorate."

Meanwhile, the Republicans are now free to focus on bolstering John McCain’s candidacy, and profit from the drawn-out fight between the Democrats. We are now in the long-tail of the process. Already, this afternoon, National Public Radio here is reporting on comments by Hillary Clinton that she would consider Obama as a running mate to end the stand-off.

Launched in 2004, New Matilda is one of Australia's oldest online independent publications. It's focus is on investigative journalism and analysis, with occasional smart arsery thrown in for reasons of sanity. New Matilda is owned and edited by Walkley Award and Human Rights Award winning journalist Chris Graham.