With an emphatic win of 14 percentage points in North Carolina and a good showing in Indiana, the Democratic presidential candidature prize is now just an inch away from Barack Obama’s grasp. Tuesday’s twin primaries had been the last hope Hillary Clinton had of being able to win the nomination on the basis of popular support or party delegate count. Mr Obama’s lead in both has now widened. What counted as much as the actual victories was their margin. The North Carolina victory underlined that Mr Obama is still able to summon his winning coalition of solid black American support and about half the white vote. The 2 percentage point by which Ms Clinton secured Indiana laid threadbare claims that the electoral momentum was now with her.
Strikingly, Mr Obama was able to raise three times more money in Indiana than Ms Clinton could. Voters cast ballots to reflect present sympathy, but put their money with future expectation. It will not be lost on Democratic super-delegates, mostly elected party officials, that Mr Obama was able to end his losing streak despite being battered by questions about his patriotism, the return of his controversial pastor, and being tarred by his own gaffes as an ‘elitist’. Ultimately, the campaign has not been about race or gender. It has been about the differing messages of the candidates. Mr Obama’s message has been that the US polity has to end the bitter partisanship of the past 15 years. Ms Clinton’s has been about pressing forward the ideological wars because the right-wing is on the defensive. Mr Obama’s message has successfully withstood two months of fierce attacks from both Ms Clinton and Republican contender John McCain. Ms Clinton is still expected to win two or three more primaries, but pressure on her to step down will now mount.
Mr Obama must increasingly divert some of his healing powers to neutralise the political polarisation within his party. Polls now show that the number of Hillary Clinton supporters who claim they will not transfer their vote to him is more than half. About a third say they will defect altogether and vote for Mr McCain. The battle with Ms Clinton may now be in its last leg. But the struggle for the Democratic Party still has many months to go.