Fri, Feb 01, 2008 - Page 9 News List

Looking ahead to 'Super Tuesday'

By Bill Schneider  /  CNN

The US now has two frontrunners going into Super Tuesday next week, the day 23 states hold primaries and caucuses: Senator Hillary Clinton for the Democrats and Senator John McCain for the Republicans.

But their standing is far from secure. The race between Clinton and Senator Barack Obama is exposing some serious divisions in the Democratic Party. On the Republican side, McCain has not quite sold himself to the party base.

The racial division is especially dangerous for Democrats. White Democrats favor Clinton. African-American Democrats favor Obama by nearly two to one. In October, blacks supported Clinton over Obama by 24 points.

What happened?

African-American Democrats used to be reluctant to support Obama because they didn't think a black man could be elected president. Then Obama won Iowa and nearly won New Hampshire -- two overwhelmingly white states.

Now they believe.

"I am convinced we will not just win this primary and not just win the nomination and the general election, but together, you and I can transform this country -- and transform the world," Obama told his supporters.

RACE AND GENERATION

Hispanic voters had a voice in the Jan. 19 Nevada caucuses. They voted nearly three to one for Clinton. That pits Hispanics against blacks, who voted five to one for Obama. The division between blacks and Hispanics could generate ethnic and racial tension the Democrats don't need.

Clinton won the New Hampshire primary by widening the gender gap among Democrats. Women gave Clinton her first big victory, while male voters showed less enthusiasm for a female candidate.

There is also a growing generation gap between Clinton and Obama: Young voters favor Obama, older voters support Clinton. If Obama fails to get on the Democratic ticket, the party may face a generation of disillusioned voters.

What's the division between Clinton and Obama all about? Not ideology. You don't see any division between liberal and moderate Democrats. It's not about issues either. Democrats fought long ago over war and civil rights. Clinton and Obama are not very far apart on the issues, and neither are their supporters.

ECONOMIC IMPERATIVE

In primary after primary, Clinton voters cite the economy as their top issue. They also cite "experience" as the quality that attracts them to Clinton.

Back in 1984, the insider favorite for the Democratic nomination, former vice president Walter Mondale, devastated his outsider opponent, Gary Hart, with a single question borrowed from a hamburger commercial: "Where's the beef?"

Clinton is the "Where's the beef?" Democrat in this race: She promises to deliver the goods. Obama attracts supporters with his inspirational message of hope and good feeling. Voters say the quality that attracts them to Obama is his promise of change. Obama is the "new menu" Democrat. What Democrats are seeing is a clash of political styles, not political principles.

REPUBLICAN RACE

In the Republican race going into Super Tuesday, no candidate has caught fire with conservatives, who are the base of the Republican Party. The amazing thing about McCain's narrow victory in South Carolina is that he won without sweeping the conservative vote in a state where Republicans are overwhelmingly conservative. McCain carried only a quarter of the conservative vote. Mike Huckabee got a third.

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