Notching his ninth straight win in roughly a period of two weeks, Barack Obama forged another broad coalition of whites, blacks and political independents to cruise to a resounding victory over Hillary Clinton in Wisconsin on Tuesday. The streak continued with a tenth win in Hawaii later that day. Obama's victories, though widely predicted, were by a wider (double-digit) margin than many had expected in Wisconsin, lending him an unusual and enviable momentum as the race turns now to Ohio and Texas on March 4.
Obama told supporters in Houston Tuesday night that he was grateful to the voters in Wisconsin but added that "the change we seek is still months and miles away and we need the good people of Texas to help us get there."
Meanwhile, Arizona Senator John McCain was on his way to another victory over former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee. "Thank you Wisconsin," said McCain, speaking in Columbus, Ohio Tuesday night, "for bringing us to the point where even a superstitious naval aviator can claim with confidence and humility that I will be our party's nominee for President of the United States." McCain spent a good deal of his victory speech framing an attack strategy against Obama, declaring that "I will fight every moment of every day in this campaign to make sure Americans are not deceived by an eloquent but empty call for change."
Outspending Sen. Hillary Clinton by a margin of about three to one in Wisconsin, Obama constructed a sturdy coalition of Democrats and independents that could reshuffle the race in Ohio and Texas. Exit polls suggested that Obama continued to make strides against what had been Clinton's last line of defense until recently; they split evenly among female voters, voters in union households, voters with no more than a high school education and voters making less than $50,000 a year, while Obama carried men and independents by a rate of almost three to two.
The Wisconsin win was just the latest in a series by Obama in states where he trailed Clinton on New Year's Day, and raises the possibility that he could follow the same come-from-behind path in some, if not all, of the March 4 states, which also include Rhode Island and Vermont. Little is known for certain about the two campaigns' competing strategies in Texas and Ohio, and there was some evidence early this week that neither had settled on a clear game plan yet.
But a few hints are visible. Obama decamped to Texas after Wisconsin, where he plans on spending a few days and where polls show he is much is closer to catching Clinton than he is in Ohio. Texas Democrats have for a generation been the minority party in Texas: Obama begins with strong base among African-American voters in Houston and Dallas; Clinton enjoys a head start among the state's Hispanic population, which numbers close to 7 million. Obama noted in Houston on Tuesday night that early voting has already begun in the state and he urged a crowd of more than 15,000 to start voting immediately.
He also implored the crowd to make sure to attend the caucuses after voting earlier in the day, a nod to Texas' uniquely complex contest. It is actually a hybrid system made up of both a primary, where the bulk of the state's 228 Democratic delegates are decided, and an evening caucus. Further clouding matters is that delegates are not awarded proportionally along congressional district lines, but instead are done based on state senate districts, with areas that had higher turnout in recent presidential and gubernatorial elections getting bonus delegates. That could mean that Obama could snag more delegates than expected by doing well in places like inner-city Houston and liberal Austin, while Clinton's supposed advantage with Latinos in South Texas might not provide her with as big as a windfall as she might hope.
Complicating both Clinton and Obama's calculation is the fact that Texas has not voted for a Democrat in a fall presidential campaign for decades. Ohio, on the other hand, is a battleground state every four years. And, at least on paper, Ohio looks like a state that should work better for Clinton. It is a far more conservative state than Wisconsin, and lacks Wisconsin's deeply Progressive tradition. Its eight million voters are a stubbornly diverse mix of farmers, factory workers, and white-collar professionals split up among a half dozen large cities, a score of midsize towns and another 50-odd largely rural counties. The Northeast quarter of the state, which includes the old blast furnace towns of Cleveland, Akron and Youngstown, is a Democratic stronghold; the Southeast quarter that hugs the Ohio River is a far less populous slice of Appalachia that owes more to Kentucky than Cleveland. Southwest Ohio, anchored by businesslike Cincinnati, is Republican country, where George W. Bush won huge margins and narrowly captured the state in 2004. That leaves white-collar Columbus and table-flat northwest Ohio, the reliable battlegrounds in both primaries and general elections.
Ohio has been hit hard by a series of economic shocks that began in the late 1970s and continue through today, as the state's once formidable steel, automobile and rubber products sectors have seen plant after plant close down, move overseas and not return. Ohio was in Republican hands for much of the 1980s and 1990s; it lacks the broad vein of white, affluent liberals that have helped lift Obama to victories in Connecticut or Maryland; in Ohio, affluent whites tend to be Republican. In 2006, the state elected its first Democratic governor, Ted Strickland, in a generation. Most polls, at the present time, show Clinton 10 to 20 points ahead in Ohio, and Clinton was in Youngstown Tuesday night to try and widen that gap. "The best words in the world are not enough," she said, "if you don't match them with action."
Still, Ohio has some advantages for Obama if he decides to exploit them. It is rich in college students, who number well in excess of 125,000; it has twice the number of African Americans that Wisconsin has as a percentage of its overall population (11.4% vs. 5.6%) and a smaller percentage of Hispanics, who have in other states produced strong margins for Clinton. Through last weekend, Obama was outspending Clinton by about three to one in the state's pivotal Northeast quadrant, where the largest share of Democrats live. Clinton aired her first Ohio spot starting Tuesday.
And then there are some X Factors.
X Factor #1 goes to Obama: Except for a few quick stops here and there, like his visit to Youngstown Monday, Obama has not yet dropped into Ohio and stayed for a few days. When that has happened elsewhere, his numbers have improved dramatically.
X Factor #2 works for Clinton: Ohio's primary was for years much later in the spring than it is this time around; the parties moved it up this year to be more of a factor in the nominations, but registration closed on February 4. In addition, because Ohio now has a no-fault absentee law, the voting has been under way for some time now. Which means some early voters may have made up their minds before Obama's surge began and hit its stride.
X Factor #3 could favor Obama: Ohio is an open primary, which means just about any registered voter can walk into a polling place and request a Democratic ballot. A state Democratic party official told TIME he expects expect turnout to reach or exceed two million votes more than twice the turnout in the 2004 primary. One Ohio labor official, who is unaligned with any campaign, summed up the uncertainties: "Is Ohio going to go like the rest of the country or will it be its typical conservative self?"