Turf Wars

After waking up in Washington, D.C., today, Hillary Clinton is flying to Texas, while Barack Obama is flying to Wisconsin. Think of it as claiming their turf for the coming battles.

But it’s not as simple as his-and-hers. Obama has won every contest since Super Tuesday. If he wins today’s Chesapeake hat trick, he’ll be positioned to take both Hawaii and Wisconsin next Tuesday. He would then have won 10 contests in a row—a daunting number, even if Clinton is favored in Ohio and Texas next month.

So, Wisconsin is her best shot at breaking Obama’s streak before the three-week break ( break being a relative term). The state has 74 delegates, plus a good chunk of working-class Democrats, making it a sensible place to stage her blockade. To that end, Clinton’s camp today unveiled a new TV ad hitting airwaves across the state. The spot focuses on her health-care plan—which has become the centerpiece of her case against Obama—calling her ” the only candidate for president with a plan to provide health care for every American.” (Now that Edwards is gone, Hillary ganks his line that universal care is “America’s moral obligation.”) She has also agreed to a debate in Milwaukee; Obama has not.

Likewise, Obama can’t afford to rest on the would-be laurels of his hypothetical 10-state sweep. Texas’ Latino population ( 20 percent of voters in 2004) outnumbers its African-American electorate (12 percent in 2004). To that end, Obama has a new Spanish-language radio ad going up today across Texas, pointing out his decision to work as a community organizer “instead of accepting job offers that paid a lot of money.”

Their mutual turf invasion plans have one downside: Neither candidate has deniability in the expectations game . In a handful of caucus states, t he Clinton campaign dismissed Obama’s victories since it hadn’t invested resources there. In Wisconsin, that won’t be an option. Similarly, Obama can’t say he isn’t trying in Texas. (Given his bulging coffers, not trying would be dumb.)

Expectations management isn’t everything. In the Democratic primaries, which allocate delegates proportionally, it doesn’t pay to ignore a state entirely. Better to reduce your opponent’s margin and delegate take as much as possible. But campaigns always have to factor spin into strategy. And this time, both camps will have trouble brushing off the coming races.