Mowing Down the Plains

Barack Obama won both Nebraska and Washington state—and by won, I mean made Hillary Clinton look like a second-tier candidate. Obama has once again produced impressive margins of victory, and once again the victories come in two caucus states.

With the majority of precincts reporting, Obama has at least two-thirds of the vote in both states. That’s the eighth time he’s topped 60 percent of the vote in caucus contests (Iowa and Nevada are the only exceptions). Clinton has won only one caucus—Nevada—where she pulled in 51 percent of the vote. (John Edwards barely factored into the results.)

Naysayers and the Clinton campaign will probably suggest that Obama naturally does better in caucus systems, where his “fervent” supporters can try to convince their neighbors to switch allegiances. That thinking may have applied in Iowa and Nevada, but it doesn’t anymore. Now that Edwards is out of the race, viability thresholds aren’t as prevalent of an issue, so these caucuses are more like glorified straw polls than democratic wasteland. When it’s one candidate against another, caucus meetings morph into a really disorganized primary —and that doesn’t favor either candidate.

Sure, caucuses take longer than primaries (an hour or two compared with 15 or 20 minutes). But these caucuses were on a Saturday, when most people—fervent fans and lukewarm supporters—have an hour to kill. Clinton competed hard in Washington—she made more campaign stops than Obama—and she got beat. No complaining allowed.

Obama isn’t beating Clinton in caucuses—he’s beating her in the Pacific Northwest, Great Plains, and the Rockies. Iowa, Minnesota, North Dakota, Nebraska, Kansas, Idaho, Colorado, and Washington have all chosen Obama over Clinton. Attempting to cheapen his wins by crying caucus is so early January. It’s time to ask why Obama caucus states favor Obama, not caucus procedures. Add Utah to the mix and it’s clear the region, not caucuses, want optimistic change, not experience, to take up residence in the White House. And they’re making their voices heard in impressive margins.

To Clinton’s relief, there are only two more caucuses left on the primary schedule. But considering the black vote once again handed her a loss in Louisiana’s primary and that she’s expected to lose Virginia’s and Maryland’s primaries on Tuesday, things still look bleak in the short term. According to exit polls in Louisiana, only 19 percent of voters there thought experience was most important in a candidate. Clinton should be thankful that momentum doesn’t matter this cycle. But losses still do.

At this point, the one thing that should really soothe Clinton’s nerves is that after tonight, almost every Great Plains state is out of the way. Ohio and Texas can’t come vote soon enough.