Bragging Rights

Did Obama or Clinton win Super Tuesday?

John Dickerson was online on Feb. 7 to chat with readers about this article. Read the transcript.

Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama

A spooky ad that ran repeatedly during CNN’s Super Tuesday coverage suggested that you should contemplate your life as if you had only one month to live. If you do that, expect to exit without knowing the Democratic nominee. After Super Tuesday voting, the clearest thing about the race on the Democratic side is that it’s headed into March—and quite possibly beyond.

Both the Clinton and Obama campaigns emerged from Super Tuesday with bragging rights. Clinton trounced Obama in Massachusetts, 56 percent to 41 percent. It was a thrashing that almost matched the one he gave her in South Carolina. She had been ahead in polls in the state, but for the last week, Barack Obama has had about the best press imaginable there. He was being compared often to JFK by Kennedy family members, who did everything but play touch football with him on the lawn. Obama also had the support of Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry and Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick.

Clinton also won the toss-up state of New Jersey and the largest popular-vote prize in California, where she was able to stop Obama’s movement with two crucial blocs of voters. She won Latino voters by 32 points even though Obama was endorsed by the state’s largest Spanish-language newspaper. She won by 18 points among women despite a widely publicized rally attended by Michele Obama, Oprah Winfrey, and Caroline Kennedy, at which California first lady Maria Shriver made a surprise appearance and endorsement.

Obama, for his part, can brag about picking up Connecticut, a state in Clinton’s own back yard. He also stole more votes from her home state of New York than she took from him in Illinois. And Obama claimed his share of the toss-up states, winning the popular vote in Colorado and Delaware. These wins, plus his victories in Georgia and Alabama, allowed Obama, like Clinton, to claim a geographically diverse set of victories. By several measures, Obama was the victor: He picked up 13 states to Clinton’s eight, and he won more pledged delegates. This gives him additional momentum going into some promising-looking primaries over the next couple of weeks. The contests in the next two weeks in Virginia, Maryland, and Washington, D.C., on Feb. 12, followed by Wisconsin and Hawaii on Feb. 19, all favor him. His $32 million fund-raising record in January shows that he will have more money than Clinton to wage a protracted campaign. Obama will also have time to become better known—particularly for the March 4 primaries in Ohio and Texas—than he did in the 22 states in which he competed today.

The exit polls in the 16 primary states in which they were taken showed that the contours of the race as we’ve come to know them are still in place. Obama did well with African-Americans, men, the wealthy, those with college degrees, and liberal voters. Clinton continues to do well with women, older voters, Latinos, and those with less education and lower incomes. Inside those patterns, some shifts were visible. In recent national polls, Clinton’s lead among women was 15 percentage points. Exit polls showed that her margin among women was only seven percentage points (though among white women, her margin was 20 percentage points). Obama also turned in strong performances among white male voters, picking up 40 percent in Georgia and almost 50 percent in California.

Both candidates took advantage of their strengths but didn’t put to rest questions about their weaknesses. Obama beat Clinton by 40 points among the 52 percent of voters who say they want change. Clinton trounced him 91 percent to 5 percent among those who say experience is the most important quality in a candidate, but that group represented only 22 percent of the voters.

In a political year during which the conventional wisdom has taken beating after beating, perhaps no assumption has been made more obsolete than the idea that the front-loaded primary system would foist an early winner on the American people. I suggest you ignore that One Month To Live ad and plan on living at least through the Democratic Convention.