In Mississippi, Obama Needs to Win Big

Mississippi offers Barack Obama a chance to reinforce what his dominating victory in Wyoming over the weekend suggested: That Hillary Clinton’s March 4 results have not significantly altered the Democratic playing field.

It is a primary state, which supposedly plays to Clinton’s advantage. But it’s also a heavily black state—36 percent of the overall population and more than half of the Democratic electorate—and black voters have overwhelmingly backed Obama in every contest this year.

Curiously, Obama isn’t expected to do as well in Mississippi as he did in Georgia’s primary on Feb. 5, when he won 67 percent of the vote (to Clinton’s 31 percent), even though Mississippi has a larger black population than Georgia, which is just 28 percent black.

This is because politics, even within the Democratic Party, are even more polarized in Mississippi than in the other states of the old Confederacy. A recent poll bears this out, with Obama trouncing Clinton among blacks in Mississippi by a 75 to 16 percent margin; among whites, she leads, 65 to 24 percent. Overall, Obama led the poll by 17 points (54 to 37). More than usual, the final result tonight will be a function of turnout patterns.

Still, an Obama victory is close enough to a foregone conclusion that anything less would be an unmitigated catastrophe for the Illinois senator. To win the primary in the eyes of the media, Obama needs to cover the spread, which is probably about 10 points.

If Clinton can keep the result closer than that, she could declare a moral victory and use the result to buttress several key talking points: the notion that caucuses are undemocratic and that her success in nominating contests is directly proportional to the number of people who participate; the claim that Democratic voters are increasingly apprehensive about Obama’s viability in a fall campaign and that, as a result, they are warming to Clinton; and the notion that March 4 signaled a fundamental turning point in the race and that Clinton is now ascendant and Obama is fading.

But a solid, double-digit Obama victory, on the heels of his 23-point win in Wyoming, will provide more evidence that his coalition is sticking with him in the face of his March 4 setbacks and the increased intensity of Clinton’s attacks and the media’s scrutiny.

The Obama campaign would be able to argue, compellingly, that all that March 4 proved was that Clinton is capable of winning the states in which she has built-in advantages and that Obama’s ability to win the states where he is better-positioned on paper has not been diminished—and will not be. And if that’s true, then Obama—thanks to a May and June primary calendar that is slightly more favorable to him than to Clinton—will be assured of ending the primary season with more delegates and popular votes than Clinton.

Just as importantly, a solid Obama win in the primary means he will claim a solid majority of the state’s 33 pledged delegates. Potentially, this could put him in position to argue that Wyoming (where he won two more delegates than Clinton) and Mississippi essentially canceled out Clinton’s Ohio, Texas and Rhode Island wins, where she cut into Obama’s overall delegate lead by about a dozen.

And if, somehow, Obama manages to score a much bigger than expected victory—say 25 points or more—he could even make the case that Clinton’s attacks are backfiring, and that if she’s not careful, she might just lose Pennsylvania, too.

In Mississippi, Obama Needs to Win Big