Still no resolution in sight
The race for the Democratic presidential nomination was far from resolved on Tuesday after Hillary Clinton won the crucial Ohio and Texas primaries over chief rival Barack Obama.
Clinton’s victory gave new hope to her Hollywood supporters that she can shift the contours of a race that has favored Obama for the past month.
Two other states also went to the polls, and there were no surprises in the results: Vermont, which Obama won, and Rhode Island, which Clinton won.
Meanwhile, as expected, John McCain clinched the Republican nomination when he won all four contests and surpassed the 1,191 delegates needed.
His emergence as the nominee is worrisome for Democrats, especially since their race shows few clear signs of being resolved anytime soon. Based on many network projections, there’s a very high possibility that neither candidate will have enough pledged delegates by the time contests are over in June.
Obama had outspent Clinton in Ohio and Texas, and had hoped to score a knockout blow that would force her from the race.
But with help from a distinctive campaign ad and a “Saturday Night Live” skit, Clinton appears to have slowed Obama’s momentum, especially in the final days before Tuesday’s contests. Clinton hammered Obama on his experience and readiness to be commander in chief, and exit polls showed that an overwhelming number of so-called “late deciders” favored her.
In all, there were 370 Democratic delegates at stake between the four states, but it was still uncertain how they will be awarded. Ohio offered the largest prize: 141 delegates. Texas, with its 126 delegates, held a complicated hybrid of primary and caucuses.
Yet even with her wins, some political pundits say it still will be difficult for her to overcome Obama in “pledged” delegates, or those won via primaries and caucuses.
As in past primary races, Hollywood hit the trail for their favored candidates. Forest Whitaker and Halle Berry campaigned for Obama in Texas, and Rob Reiner, Melanie Griffith, Eva Longoria and Sean Astin stumped for Clinton in the state. On Tuesday, Reiner and his political consultant, Chad Griffin, flew with Clinton from Dallas to Columbus, Ohio, where she addressed supporters at a victory party.
“This nation is coming back and so is this campaign,” Clinton told a cheering crowd. “We’re going on, we’re going strong and we’re going all the way.”
Hollywood politicos also capitalized on YouTube. John Krokidas, Reiner, Bruce Cohen and political consultant Griffin unveiled “Jack and Hill,” which featured clips of Jack Nicholson — and the actor himself — making the case for her candidacy. Will.i.am debuted a followup for Obama to his “Yes, We Can” video called “We Are the Ones.”
But it was a traditional 30-second ad spot that drew most of the attention in the days leading up to Tuesday’s contests.
Clinton’s ad, “Children,” depicts children sleeping soundly in their beds as a phone rings. It’s a crisis call, and the ad suggests it’s Clinton who can best answer it. In fact, by ad’s end, she does.
The spot was reminiscent to a similar spot in the 1984 race of Walter Mondale against Gary Hart — another race that pitted a party establishment candidate against a relative upstart. Called “Red phone,” the ad helped Mondale turn the tide against Hart as it suggested he was too inexperienced to handle the White House job.
Clinton perhaps also benefited from so-called “free-media” — appearances on “Late Show With David Letterman” and “The Daily Show With Jon Stewart” that may have helped soften her image.
The “Saturday Night Live” skit mocked the CNN debate in Austin, Texas, by showing how the media deck was stacked against her. Clinton played up the skit as evidence that the media favored an Obama win, and she even cited it during her Ohio debate with Obama on MSNBC last week. Capitalizing on the attention, “SNL” featured another debate spoof on Saturday, this time with a cameo appearance by Clinton herself.
Even though Clinton’s Ohio and Texas victories are certainly a breath of air for her Hollywood donors — who see the race essentially as tied — some have wondered how the campaign got to this place to begin with.
They point to the campaign’s decision to run Clinton as the “inevitable” candidate, a tactic that has proved precarious in so many other primary contests. For instance, her initial slogan, “I’m in to win,” meant little outside Beltway circles. And while Clinton raised a staggering $35 million in February, there are questions as to how effectively finances were handled before then.
More than anything, they fault the failure to fully gauge Obama’s strength and the extent to which he “tapped into the zeitgeist,” in the words of one Clinton supporter.
Clinton’s wins could certainly change the dynamic.
Literary agency partner Mitch Kaplan, a former Richardson supporter now backing Obama, said that Obama spent the better part of the past week on the defensive, and the campain made a few misteps. One may have been not countering Clinton’s exposure on late-night shows, which were repeated extensively on cable news networks. “It just seemed like a very confident thing to do,” he said.
“It certainly has the feeling tonight that the wind is behind her back, but tomorrow is another day,” Kaplan said.
“It is unfortunate, but it is going to be a hard-fought campaign.”
The Obama campaign was looking to future contests in the next week to counter any delegate gains Clinton collected on Tuesday.
Wyoming holds a contest Saturday, and Mississippi voters go to the polls Tuesday. The last remaining big state prize is Pennsylvania, which votes April 22, with primary season ending June 7 in Puerto Rico.
For updates on the primaries, visit Variety’s political blog at www.wilshireandwashington.com.