No Comeback For Hillary

In a recent post, I took a look at Hillary Clinton's chances for a comeback in the race for the Democratic presidential nomination. Yesterday, the voters of Wisconsin made it plain they weren't having any of it: They gave Barack Obama an impressive 58-41 percent victory over Clinton. So much for any Clinton best-case analysis. The Clinton campaign continues to look to the Ohio and Texas contests of March 4. But her numbers there seem to be eroding. CNN showed her lead in Texas disappearing, to a statistically insignificant 50-48 percent, while SurveyUSA put it at 50-45 percent, with all of the Clinton lead coming in south and west Texas.

Clinton has spent much of her campaign time in the Lower Rio Grande Valley and other heavily Latino parts of south Texas, presumably on the theory that turnout is highly volatile there. When Tony Sanchez, the head of the leading bank in Laredo, ran for governor in 2002, the primary turnout in Laredo's Webb County tripled (or something like that). The problem is that there are only so many votes here even if turnout triples. The Lower Rio Grande Valley from Eagle Pass south to Brownsville has about 2 million people, about 80 to 90 percent Latino. But they're only about 8 percent of the 23 million people of Texas.

As for Ohio, SurveyUSA, in the only poll in the field more than one day after Obama's triple victory on Potomac primary day, has Clinton leading 52-43 percent. That's better than she was doing in Wisconsin, where she was behind 4 or 5 points in public polls a week before the election, but worse than the double-digit lead she had in two recent Ohio polls.

The Wisconsin results are not encouraging for Ohio. As I was watching the county returns come in for Fox News, I noticed a pattern. The medium-size counties, with their industrial cities and small suburbs, were voting for Obama: Brown (Green Bay), Outgamie (Appleton), Manitowoc (Manitowoc), Rock (Janesville and Beloit), Kenosha (Kenosha). And not because of any large black community: All but one of these counties have populations 2 percent black or less except Kenosha (6 percent black). Yes, there is some reason to believe that white people in counties with visibly large black populations (most similar Ohio counties are 10 percent black or so) are more reluctant to vote for a black candidate because of pre-existing issues, controversies, or candidates polarizing local voters on racial lines than white voters in counties with virtually no black people (like these counties in Wisconsin).

Even so, the fact that Clinton lost all these counties I found fascinating, given the fact that in earlier primaries she has tended to carry Catholic and downscale voters. She didn't in Wisconsin. She carried only small rural counties, and she lost plenty of these as well. On Fox News, Brit Hume asked me at about 10:40 p.m. EST whether Clinton could whittle down Obama's popular vote margin. No, I said, I expected it to go up, because Clinton was only running even at best in the small counties, Obama was carrying all the medium-size industrial counties, and 60 percent of the precincts had yet to report in Milwaukee County and Dane County (Madison), which Obama was carrying by wide margins. That proved to be correct. Obama was leading by 7 points, as I recall, in the tabulated vote at that time; he ended up carrying the state by 17 points.

By the way, the Wisconsin secretary of state's website does not seem to have the election results. Does anyone understand why this website--and those of some other election officials--are so unwilling to share with us what should be the most public of information? I've dealt over the years with these offices and have found some of them maddening. I can remember asking one clerk why state election results weren't available. She replied they weren't official yet. But, I replied, the governor who was elected has already taken office. I guess theres something to say for the idea that these offices should be run by plodders rather than people prone to slapdash mistakes. But still. To the Wisconsin secretary of state: I'm not just interested in who was on the ballot February 19. I'd like to know how many votes each one got, in each county. Any possibility you'll let me know anytime soon?

By Michael Barone