NC primary possible deciding factor

March 5, 2008 5:52:12 PM PST
Once expected to be little more than a victory lap, North Carolina's presidential primary is suddenly a prize worth winning.

After Hillary Rodham Clinton's victories this week in Texas and Ohio, there will be no quick end to her race with Barack Obama for the Democratic presidential nomination. North Carolina's May 6 primary is second in size only to Pennsylvania among the 12 contests left, and the state's 134 delegates will be the last triple-digit treasure for the two candidates to divide.

"They both need this state to push them into the convention," said Hunter Bacot, director of the Elon University poll. "North Carolina is now a must-win -- the last big state -- so a candidate can say that they have the momentum."

Earlier this year, Obama posted easy wins in the neighboring states of South Carolina, Georgia and Virginia. North Carolina has a large population of black voters, a key component of Obama's support, and Bacot said his early polling shows the Illinois senator faring well in a matchup with Clinton.

Bacot suggested Clinton's only chance in North Carolina is to start airing the same kind of negative ads that appeared to sway voters to her side before Tuesday's crucial primaries in Texas and Ohio.

"She has no choice -- she needs to be vigorous and vicious to turn the numbers," Bacot said. "Despite all the people saying they don't like negative advertising, it works."

A victory in the Tar Heel state could also be the final push needed to win over the party's superdelegates, the unpledged party delegates who will make up 20 percent of the vote at the Democratic Party convention. Many of North Carolina's superdelegates were left without a clear choice following former North Carolina Sen. John Edwards' decision to leave the race.

"It looks like North Carolina will be a major player," said state Democratic Party chief Jerry Meek. "We fully expect at this point that both campaigns are going to be very actively engaged in North Carolina."

Obama called Meek on Wednesday to lobby for his superdelegate vote, although the party chair doesn't plan to endorse a candidate before the May primary. Only four of North Carolina's 13 superdelegates have declared their allegiance -- three in favor of Obama and one for Clinton.

As of Wednesday, Obama had a total of 1,567 pledged and superdelegates to Clinton's 1,462. It takes 2,025 delegates to win the nomination, and Clinton vowed Wednesday to continue the campaign to its end.

"You're going to see campaign apparatus opening up in North Carolina before long," senior Clinton adviser Harold Ickes said on a conference call with reporters. "As that primary approaches, you'll see more and more activity."

Edwards still holds the 26 delegates he won before dropping out of the race, and both Obama and Clinton have actively courted his endorsement. Edwards' spokesman didn't return a call Wednesday seeking comment on whether the 2004 vice presidential nominee plans to publicly pick a favorite before the May primary or the party's August convention in Denver.

Muriel Offerman, a state Democratic party official who once backed Edwards with her superdelegate vote, said his endorsements would probably influence her decision. But she also plans to wait until after the state's primary to make a final decision.

"I want to be open to what's going on, both here in the state and in the country," she said.


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