|Democrats in Wyoming will hold caucuses today and -- following what is now a familiar pattern -- are expected to give Sen. Barack Obama the majority of their 12 pledged delegates.|
The Illinois Democrat's strength in a Republican state that has not voted for a Democratic presidential candidate since 1964 is the latest example of an ingenious strategy that neatly addresses the advantage Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (N.Y.) enjoys in Democratic strongholds where she and her husband have long-standing ties.
But Obama's losses Tuesday in Texas and Ohio -- coupled with his Feb. 5 defeats in California, New York and New Jersey -- have not only shown the strategy's downside. They have also given supporters of Clinton an opening for an argument that winning over affluent, educated white voters in small Democratic enclaves, such as Boise, Idaho, and Salt Lake City, and running up the score with African Americans in the Republican South exaggerate his strengths in states that will not vote Democratic in the fall.
If Obama becomes the Democratic nominee but cannot win support from working-class whites and Hispanics, they argue, then Democrats will not retake the White House in November. "If you can't win in the Southwest, if you don't win Ohio, if you don't win Pennsylvania, you've got problems in November," said Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.), a Clinton supporter.
Even some Obama advisers see a real problem. "Ultimately, all that matters is how the nominee stacks up against John McCain," said one adviser who spoke on the condition of anonymity, referring to the senator from Arizona and presumptive GOP nominee. "Right now, Barack is not connecting with the children of the Reagan Democrats. That's a real concern."
"It's now a battle between the base and the new young Democrats and Democrats who are more energized than they've been in the past," agreed Sen. Ben Nelson (D-Neb.), an Obama supporter. "I don't know how that's going to play out."
The test before Penn is if the downplaying of the small states work over the next couple of weeks with the media.