Strong victory for Obama in Mississippi

Solid support from black voters gives him 20-point win over Hillary.

AFRICAN-AMERICAN Senator Barack Obama yesterday rode on the wave of black support again, easily brushing off rival Hillary Clinton in Mississippi.

His 20-point victory margin, however, is unlikely to shorten a bitter race for the Democratic presidential nomination, which is expected to last at least six more weeks before the two face off in Pennsylvania – and possibly far longer, with a coronation more likely in the August national convention.

For Mr Obama, Mississippi was a chance to regain momentum after losing the popular vote in three contests – Ohio, Texas and Rhode Island – last week to the former first lady.

In Mississippi, he came away with 59 per cent per cent of the vote to Mrs Clinton’s 39 per cent. His win added to his nearly insurmountable lead in the pledged delegates where he currently leads by 1,385 to 1,237, according to a count by the Associated Press.

Neither is likely to reach the 2,025 delegates needed to clinch the nomination without help from the nearly 796 “superdelegates” – party officials and leaders free to back any candidate at the convention.

Here, Mrs Clinton is still holding the upper hand which could see the balance of power tilt her way.

The Clinton campaign looked far from demolished following Mr Obama’s sweeping victory in Mississippi yesterday. If anything, it was growing in confidence as

it crafted a new strategy to win the nomination.

According to aides, it involved three planks.

One was to win a majority of the popular vote in primaries and caucuses, even if she could not overtake her rival in the number of pledged delegates. Mrs Clinton’s big win in Ohio has convinced her that she can repeat her success on April 22 among white working-class voters in Pennsylvania.

It could put her on course to overtake Mr Obama in the total number of votes cast, giving moral legitimacy to her claim that superdelegates should back her.

Secondly, the plan also entailed getting re-runs in Florida and Michigan, which were stripped of their delegates in a dispute with the national party and held unsanctioned contests won by Mrs Clinton.

And, finally, the Clinton camp is bent on undermining Mr Obama’s credibility as the candidate to beat Republican nominee John McCain.

His latest win added fuel to her argument that his success in the nomination race thus far has been built tenuously on states where Democrats face dim prospects in the November general election. They maintain that his triumphs in smaller states will be irrelevant to Democrats in the general election.

If history is any guide, Mississippi, for example, has not voted for a Democrat since Jimmy Carter in 1976.

But observers believe neither candidate has a clear-cut case in trying to argue that primary results will correlate to what happens in November.

To date, Mr Obama has won more traditionally Democratic states than Mrs Clinton. He has also won twice as many traditionally Republican states, which he argues demonstrates his bipartisan appeal and competitiveness in November.

The two candidates have roughly split swing states.

Mrs Clinton’s supporters, however, argue that running up the score with African-Americans in the Republican south exaggerates his strengths. He cannot win support from working-class whites and Hispanics.

Indeed, exit polls from Mississippi yesterday indicated a striking racial divide, and suggested a pattern that had carried Mr Obama to victory in earlier contests in South Carolina, Alabama, Georgia and Louisiana.

Black voters, who made up roughly half of the electorate, were largely responsible for his win. He won 90 per cent of their support.

But Mrs Clinton secured nearly three in four white voters. Mr Obama fared especially poorly among older whites but did better among the younger population, according to exit polls.

The volatile issue of race has coloured this Democratic campaign.

The Internet is rife with accusations that the Clinton campaign doctored a recent TV ad to make Mr Obama’s face blacker.

Adding fuel to fire, Mrs Clinton later denied rumours that Mr Obama was a Muslim – then added a caveat, “as far as I know”.

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