Talk Of An Obama Upset In Pennsylvania Begins

As I wrote yesterday, Democratic registration in Pennsylvania hit new heights this week as Monday's deadline to register to vote in the April 22nd Dem primary passed. While it's unclear whom the party switchers benefit more -- as I've written before, Hillary Clinton has made inroads recently among both Independents and Republicans -- there is some evidence that perhaps this surge of new Democrats just may benefit Obama.

Although the final numbers are not yet in, so far registration has swelled 84,801 since the 2006 elections -- that's 11% of the 790,000 people who voted in the 2004 Democratic primary. Last week alone 50,347 people became Democratic voters, according to Pennsylvania's State Department, bringing the state party's total to over four million for the first time ever. Since the beginning of the year, 86,711 Republicans and Independents have switched affiliations, and in just the last three weeks 34,104 new voters registered as Democrats. Significantly, 64% of those who changed parties were in the 12 largest counties -- urban areas that have large African American and educated white populations, demographics that are Obama's strength.

Which led one local political scientist to utter those fateful words:

"I think he has a chance to pull off an upset here," said Ray Owen, professor emeritus of political science at the University of Pittsburgh. "The rates of changes in registration and new registrations indicate that some independents are joining the new voters in registering Democratic."

We're already seeing Obama assert himself in polling in Pennsylvania, having gained three points on Clinton in the latest Rasmussen Poll, bringing her margin down to 10 points, her smallest lead in the state since her March 4th victories. Add to that Obama's recent ad blitz and his forthcoming bus tour of the state, if history is any guide, polls are likely to close even more. But you have to think the Obama campaign would like to tamp down any "upset" narrative that might spring forth. We have seen this movie before after all. Remember New Hampshire, California and Ohio one can hear the Obama camp shouting, when polls showed him closing the gap, indeed even pulling ahead of Clinton, but her overperformance relative to expectations on election day went on to feed into a "she's alive" narrative that the Obama campaign would like to avoid in April. Right now, there is movement away from the sense that Pennsylvania is must-win for Clinton in favor of the notion that her victory is a foregone conclusion and instead that North Carolina is actually must-win, a narrative that the Clinton campaign is already pushing back against.

[Ace] Smith told Trail Mix that Barack Obama starts with a large advantage here and that if Clinton were to win on May 6, "it would probably be one of the greatest upsets, probably in the last 10 years." But Smith also said he expects North Carolina to be competitive and said the Clinton campaign will put in place "one of the biggest, deepest grassroots organizations that this state's ever seen."

Does Clinton have to pull off the upset to have a chance at the presidential nomination, as some commentators have suggested? Smith said no. "There's no question that a huge upset win in North Carolina would be great for the campaign," he said. "Is it absolutely necessary? The answer is we're just looking to run a strong campaign here."

The Clinton campaign has benefited most from expectations management thus far in the race. One wonders if this time team Obama can take a page out of their playbook and manage them a little better this time, although ultimately it's up to voters who have tended to break for Clinton on election day in these three key Clinton country states. What Obama needs to do to end this thing is to dramatically overperform expectations on April 22 and the only way to do that is to go all in in PA, risking inflating his poll numbers perhaps above reality. Making sure it doesn't backfire on him again is the fine lilne he's going to have to walk.

There's more...

Maybe An Edwards Endorsement Wouldn't Help Clinton In NC After All

As I wrote this weekend, it's looking less and less likely that John Edwards will endorse in the primary. While certainly an Edwards endorsement would serve as a much-desired vote of confidence for Hillary Clinton, helping to drive a positive narrative in the media and providing a psychological boost to her supporters and donors, it turns out, according to the new PPP poll, that the endorsement wouldn't actually be likely to help Clinton all that much where she could use it most: in the North Carolina primary.

Among those voters who either support Barack Obama or are undecided -- representing 66% of the poll's respondents -- the results were as follows (keep in mind that the smaller sample size means an even higher MOE than the poll's 3.8%):

If John Edwards endorsed Hillary Clinton, would it make you more likely or less likely to vote for Clinton, or would it not make a difference?

More likely 12%
Less likely 31%
No difference 57%

Endorsements are notoriously overrated as vote-drivers, so I wouldn't take this as a referendum on Edwards's popularity per se. Rather I see it as yet another symptom of the polarized Democratic electorate. The lion's share of the "Less likely" vote comes from Obama supporters, who aren't likely to switch no matter who endorses her. In fact, among undecideds, who would actually be the prime target of such an endorsement, a decent 29% say they'd be more likely to vote for Clinton after Edwards endorsed her. But even if all those undecideds who said they'd switch to Clinton were to do so, it would only be worth 3% or so, not much when the margin is 21% to begin with. All told, an Edwards endorsement is clearly still something the campaign covets, just don't expect it to be a silver bullet in North Carolina that some like to speculate it would be.

There's more...

Clinton's Path To The Nomination May Run Through North Carolina

The other day I saw Chuck Todd on TV speaking about a Bill Clinton event in North Carolina during which the former president told North Carolina voters, as he had done to Texas voters weeks before, that it's in their hands, that if Hillary Clinton wins North Carolina she'll be the nominee. Chuck Todd's assessment of that statement: "and you know what, he'd be right." 

John Heilemann nails why North Carolina is crucial to Hillary Clinton's path to the nomination:

Why is the Tarheel State ostensibly so important? Because, of the nine states (including Puerto Rico) still waiting to hold primaries, it's the only one in which African-Americans make up north of 10 percent of the population -- thus it's the last opportunity for HRC to score a ringing, unequivocal upset against BHO. (Indeed, blacks are expected to make up as much as a third of the Democratic primary electorate in North Carolina.)

A win there would not change the pledged delegate math terribly for Clinton, but rather would give her a psychological boost, particularly among the undeclared superdelegates.

...it would surely buttress the argument that she and her people are adamantly making to the remaining undecided superdelegates: that buyer's remorse is setting in among Democrats as they learn more about her rival; that they are slowly waking up to the fact that she and not Obama would be the stronger runner against John McCain.

A point that is made all the more stark by a quick glance at First Read's breakdown of the pledged and super delegate situation assuming nothing surprising happens between now until June.

If the remaining contests split up "as expected" meaning Clinton wins her base states (PA, KY, WV etc.) and Obama wins his base states (NC, OR, MT etc.) and the two split Indiana down the middle, the two campaigns will likely split those 566 delegates right down the middle 283-283 (margin of error +/- 5 delegates). This means Obama would need 34% of the uncommitted superdelegates to hit the magic 2024 number, while Clinton would need 72% of the uncommitted Supers to hit 2024.

This is not how Clinton wants June to end, which is why the Clinton campaign has dispatched Ace Smith, who spear-headed Clinton's California and Texas victories, to North Carolina and not Pennsylvania. While PA is touted as must-win for Clinton, it's actually become a will-win and as Heilemann argues compellingly, North Carolina is becoming Clinton's latest must-win.

Which makes the shift in the state just since last week such bad news for Clinton. According to the latest survey from NC-based Public Policy Polling, Obama has gone from a virtual tie to a significant lead in just one week.


CandidateMarch 24March 17March 3RCP 3-poll Ave.
Obama55444750.3
Clinton34434338.3
Undecided111310

If such a shift seems unbelievable, well, it's because it is, but not because, as Josh Marshall suspects, last week's poll was an outlier. Rather, as PPP's blog reminds us:

...we are changing our universe from folks who voted in the 2004 or 2006 primaries to folks who voted in the 2004 primary, 2006 primary, or 2006 general. That's who we called for our very accurate Democratic polls in Wisconsin, Texas, and Ohio. Given that it's clear now we will have a high intensity primary in North Carolina as well it seems like the time is right to make that change here.

That's not to say that a 21 point lead for Obama is inaccurate necessarily (although no other poll taken in March has had him up by double digits,) it's just to say that there are other factors that account for his 7-day 20 point shift. But as the poll analysis makes clear, had the methodology remained the same, Obama likely would still have put some distance between himself and Clinton thanks both to his speech on race as well as several appearances in the state over the past few days.

I suspect that the reality of Obama's lead lies somewhere south of 20 points but no matter what the true number, considering the importance of the state for Clinton as well as Obama's advantage there, to say that Ace Smith has his work cut out for him is an understatement.

There's more...

PPP Poll Shows North Carolina All Tied Up

The expectations about the results of North Carolina's May 6 primary is pretty much set as a likely Obama win but if the latest Public Policy Polling (D) poll (521 LVs, March 17, MOE +/- 4.3%) is right, we may be in for a closer race than previously thought.

CandidateMarch 17March 3RCP 3-poll Ave.
Obama444746.7
Clinton434341.3
Undecided1310

At first glance it looks as though Obama is shedding support to Undecided as opposed to Hillary Clinton but the analysis tells a slightly different story.

The biggest movement in Clinton's direction since PPP's poll two weeks ago is among female voters. Obama led them by 4 in the last survey, Clinton now has a 2 point advantage.

They also see Clinton benefiting from fall-out from the Jeremiah Wright controversy, as they have found elsewhere.

The internals of the poll do demonstrate some real room for movement for Barack Obama, though, as his margin over Clinton among African-Americans is a relatively modest 72-19 and Clinton is currently leading among 18-29 year-olds by 12 points. But still, PPP warns against assuming North Carolina is Obama country.

Some folks in the national media seem to have written off North Carolina for Obama but it looks like the state could be up for grabs, particularly if Obama can't put his recent bad press behind him quickly.

There's more...

Obama Up 8 Points in North Carolina, per SurveyUSA

The next primaries following Pennsylvania, which holds its nominating contest on April 22, will be Indiana and North Carolina, which hold their contests on May 6. Interestingly enough, the two moderately large states combined will actually send more delegates to the Democratic National Convention than will Pennsylvania (230 v. 214, as far as I can tell). With this in mind, here are the latest numbers out of the Tarheel state:

CandidateSurveyUSAPollster.comRCP
Obama4945.447.0
Clinton4137.538.8

SUSA adds this pertinent analysis: "Compared to an identical SurveyUSA poll released one month ago, before Obama won Virginia, Maryland, and Wisconsin, and before Clinton won Texas and Ohio, the contest in NC is largely unchanged. Then, Obama led by 10, now by 8."

In other pertinent North Carolina primary news, Lieutenant Governor Beverly Purdue, who appears to be the favorite in May's gubernatorial primary (and, as such, the frontrunner for the Governorship), has endorsed Barack Obama.

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