Obama Pivots Toward Fall Challenges

Democratic presidential hopeful Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., speaks at a rally in downtown Des Moines, Iowa, on Tuesday, May 20, 2008.
AP
This analysis was written by CBSNews.com senior political editor Vaughn Ververs.


Two candidates, two states and two different Democratic parties were on display in Kentucky and Oregon, the latest installment of the never-ending primary. As expected, the two brought in a split decision, with Hillary Clinton winning with a West Virginia-like margin in Kentucky and Barack Obama handily carrying Oregon.

To the extent the final outcome is in doubt, the race has now come down to a dispute about mathematical computations. But the numbers aren't adding up for Hillary Clinton, and barring a totally unexpected and dramatic reversal of fortune, she's not going to persuade those superdelegates that two plus two somehow equals five.

With just three more contests to go on the calendar, Obama has now wrapped up the majority of the pledged delegates at stake, according to the CBS News delegate count and is less than 80 total delegates away from securing the 2,026 total delegates needed to claim the nomination.


Kentucky Results
Oregon Results

Clinton, who seems to turn into a better candidate the longer her odds become, showed no inclination to even acknowledge the situation. She continues to argue that Obama's math will change with the eventual inclusion of the disputed delegates in Florida and Michigan and points to her calculations to claim the popular vote lead.

Wherever the mathematical calculations fall in the end, Obama made it more crystal clear than ever that his focus is now on running a general election campaign. Appearing in Iowa rather than the site of his Oregon win, Obama wanted to symbolically wrap up this primary campaign where it began on January 3rd. As he and his campaign have done in recent weeks, Obama was careful to praise Clinton and avoid any hint that he wants her to exit.

But Obama spent his time laying out the driving theme of his launch into the fall campaign - change. "Change is coming to America," Obama proclaimed, on issues from health care to taxes, education and the war in Iraq. "It is more of the same versus change," is how he defined the choice between himself and John McCain. "It is the past versus the future. It has been asked and answered by generations before us, and now it is our turn to choose."

Change may be what Obama wants to talk about but as the results in Kentucky made clear is there is no change in what is a clear problem for the front-runner. Just as in Pennsylvania, West Virginia and Ohio before, voters in the Bluegrass state delivered a message that must worry even the most enthusiastic Obama supporters.

Just a glance at who voted for Clinton in Kentucky and in what numbers: 72 percent of white voters; 70 percent of those with no college degree; 67 percent of those with incomes of $50,000 or less; 67 percent-plus of those voters over age 50; 240,000 more total votes. In a 35-point win, those margins are going to be large. In fact, Clinton won the majority of votes in nearly every single category measured by the exit polls. But it's that coalition of women, whites, lower-educated, lower-income and older voters that have clung to Clinton even as the pundits declare her campaign over.

It's a coalition she did best with in Oregon as well, but not nearly in the numbers she's shown in the Rust Belt states she's dominated. More telling - and chilling for those Democrats plotting general election stories - is what has become evident in those states surrounding the Ohio River Valley.

In Kentucky, 77 percent of those voting for Clinton said they would be dissatisfied with Obama as the Democratic nominee while just 21 percent said they would be satisfied. Forty-nine percent of Obama voters in Kentucky said they would be dissatisfied with Clinton as the nominee while 47 percent would be satisfied.

More worrisome, just 33 percent of Clinton voters in the Bluegrass State said they would back Obama in a general election. Forty two percent said they would support Republican John McCain and 23 percent said they would not vote in the fall. Seventy one percent of Obama voters said they would back Clinton in the fall should she win the nomination. Those are striking number and larger than were reported in West Virginia, Pennsylvania and Ohio but the trend has held throughout a crucial region of the country for November's vote.

In Oregon, however, a majority of voters supporting both candidates said they would be satisfied with the other as the nominee. Fifty eight percent of Clinton voters there would be satisfied with Obama and 55 percent of his voters said they would be satisfied with Clinton. Sixty eight percent of Clinton's supporters in Oregon said they would support Obama in the fall while 80 percent of his voters said they would back Clinton as the nominee.

Questions about those two very different results - whether a matter of race, economic outlook or fond memories of the Clinton presidency - will continue to dog Obama well into the fall campaign regardless of how unified the party becomes. Kentucky and West Virginia may not be crucial to Democrats in the general election but Pennsylvania and Ohio are.

The math may all be on Obama's side in his quest for the Democratic nomination which is just within his grasp. But the equations will become much more complicated for the general election.