Fanning the Flames: The Freedom Project Blog


Critical Tuesday Comeback

By Shawn Healy
By now you've heard the news, Sen. Hillary Clinton pulled off a stunning comeback with a slew of victories in Ohio, Texas, and Rhode Island, with Sen. Barack Obama claiming a lone Critical Tuesday prize in Vermont (the Texas caucus vote is also trending his way, but returns are trickling in slowly). Sen. John McCain had a defining evening of his own, sweeping all four state primaries and accumulating enough delegates to move past the 1,191 necessary to clinch the Republican nomination. What follows is an analysis of these results and the implications moving forward in this mesmerizing nomination process that promises to live on for at least seven more weeks.

Let's begin with the Republicans, for McCain closed the deal and begins with the general election campaign starting today with lunch at the White House, where he is expected to receive President Bush's endorsement. McCain surfaces as the titular head of the party, a post he has pursued for the last decade, and it is fitting that the crown will be transferred from his chief rival. This ends a long and improbable comeback where the pundits declared him dead only four months ago. His last formidable competitor. Gov. Mike Huckabee, ended his own Cinderella run last evening with a pledge to support McCain with all of his might.

McCain faces an uphill battle as the GOP has held the White House for 8 consecutive years (voters tend to punish the incumbent party after consecutive terms), an unpopular president hanging as an albatross around his neck, a staggering economy making voters receptive to Democratic promises of national health care and middle-class tax cuts, and an unpopular war that the candidate has embraced as the defining issue of his campaign. Moreover, he still must win the allegiance of conservatives who comprise the most active segment of the base, many of whom are threatening to sit out this election. To count out McCain, however, is the business of fools, for he always seems to have the last laugh, from a Hanoi prison camp to the GOP nomination.

For the Democrats, the battle rages on, with contests in Wyoming on Saturday, and Mississippi next Tuesday. Both lean toward Obama, as the former is a caucus state where he has dominated and the latter boasts a large African-American population. Obama won the votes of 9 in 10 African-Americans in both Ohio and Texas yesterday. Clinton edged closer to Obama in the delegate column, but still trails by a substantial margin, and it is very improbable that she will overcome his lead amongst committed delegates in the remaining contests. That said, neither candidate will likely clinch the nomination outright prior to the convention at the end of August short of superdelegates.

What this means is the likelihood of a divided convention grows with each passing contest. Clinton will pin her hopes on Pennsylvania, a state that looks much like Ohio demographically, and where she has the support of popular Gov. Ed Rendell. The PA primary is slated for Apr. 22, seven weeks from now. As a point of comparison, the Iowa Caucuses were held 8 weeks ago, so the buildup to the Keystone contest is likely to rival that of the Hawkeye State. Furthermore, it's hard to see Hillary waving the white flag there, meaning a fight through the checkered flag on Jun. 7 in Puerto Rico.

As I've said previously, this may come down to a dispute over seating delegates from Michigan and Florida, both states where Clinton won handily. In sum, to quote the baseball philosopher Yogi Berra, "It's getting late early." If you could pardon me one more sports reference, this prizefight is bound to end in a split decision, with the judges (aka superdelegates, DNC officials, the seated delegates themselves) declaring a victor.

A look inside Clinton's one-two big state punch of Ohio and Texas is informative as we move forward to the remaining contests. She won back the allegiance of the so-called Dunkin' Donuts Democrats, the blue collar white voters she rode to victory in early contests before Obama's 12-state winning streak commenced on Feb. 9. The gender gap appeared once more in both states, but she made even more dramatic gains amongst white men when compared to the Badger State results two weeks ago, for instance.

Clinton also dominated amongst Latino voters, and narrowed Obama's lead amongst younger voters. She continued her success with seniors, and also resonated in rural areas. Obama still polls well with African-American voters, along with Starbucks Democrats, the more affluent college-educated voters who tend to congregate in suburbs of large cities. Obama also bests her among independents and Republicans, but Clinton won big with fellow party members.

Beyond exit polls, a couple of other factors likely played a prominent role in yesterday's outcome. One, late-deciding voters shifted to Clinton in a big way. This may be attributed to the controversial red phone ad (it's actually white) which questions who voters would want to answer the phone at 3am in the case of a national security crisis, implying that Obama lacks the experience to inspire confidence is such precarious situations.

Another factor was the economy. Much of the debate in the closing days centered on the candidates' support for NAFTA, even though both committed to revisiting some of its provisions and scrapping it entirely if such compromises with Canada and Mexico cannot be achieved. I recounted the story in yesterday's post, but Obama's authenticity was called into question when his campaign dismissed a report that the candidate was only posturing on the issue.

The final straw may have been the media scrutiny directed Obama's way, some would argue for the first time. This thorough vetting is likely to continue in the coming weeks, and Obama must perform better than he has in recent days, for as Harry Truman was apt to say, "If you don't like the heat, get out of the kitchen." Count on Clinton and the national press to make it down right tropical for the IL senator as winter yields to spring and this thrilling contest chugs along for at least two more months.

The spin cycle is also likely to enter its next phase. Expect Obama to point to his "insurmountable" delegate lead, his success in "red states," and his competitiveness in a head-to-head match-up with John McCain. Additionally, Obama will likely answer Clinton's criticisms more directly, as he has the financial resources to air response ads within hours of an allegation, and his opponent clearly wounded him over the last week.

Clinton will trump her big state successes (CA, TX, OH, NY, NJ) as indicative of her strength as a general election candidate. She'll continue with her mantra that Obama is not qualified to serve as Commander-in-Chief on Day One. Clinton will also ask Obama to move beyond hollow platitudes and qualify what he means by "change."

In the end, Critical Tuesday left the outcome more muddied than when the day dawned, at least for the Democrats. The most compelling election season in my lifetime lives on for another day. See you in PA, where the Keystone State may well live up to its name a long seven weeks from yesterday.


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Managing Director

McCormick Freedom Project

Shawn is responsible for overseeing and managing the operations associated with the McCormick Freedom Project. Additionally, he serves as the in house content expert and voice of museum through public speaking and original scholarship. Before joining the Freedom Project, he taught American Government, Economics, American History, and Chicago History at Community High School in West Chicago, IL and Sheboygan North High School in Wisconsin.

Shawn is a doctoral candidate within the Political Science Department at the University of Illinois at Chicago where he received his MA in Political Science. He is a 2001 James Madison Fellow from the State of Wisconsin and holds a bachelor's degree in Political Science, History, and Secondary Education from the University of Wisconsin at Madison.

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About Fanning the Flames and the McCormick Freedom Project

Fanning the Flames is a blog of the McCormick Freedom Project, which was started in 2006 by museum managing director Shawn Healy. The blog highlights the news of the day, in hopes of engaging readers in dialogue about freedom issues. Any views or opinions expressed on this blog represent those of the writers alone and do not represent an official opinion of the McCormick Freedom Project.

Founded in 2005, the McCormick Freedom Project is part of the McCormick Foundation. The Freedom Project’s mission is to enable informed and engaged participation in our democracy by demonstrating the relevance of the First Amendment and the role it plays in the ongoing struggle to define and defend freedom. The museum offers programs and resources for teachers, students, and the general public.

First Amendment journalism initiative

The Freedom Project recently launched a new reporting initiative with professional journalists Tim McNulty and Jamie Loo. The goal is to expand and promote the benefits of lifelong civic engagement among citizens of all ages, through original reporting, commentary and news aggregation on First Amendment and freedom issues. Please visit the McCormick Freedom Project's news Web site, The Post-Exchange at

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McCormick Foundation

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McCormick Freedom Project

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