Two Primaries, Lots of Scenarios

Hey, pal — you want scenarios? The New York Times has scenarios for today’s primary races in Indiana and North Carolina. And right now, most of those scenarios favor Hillary Clinton, who has nothing left to prove, while Barack Obama has to have a big win in North Carolina to keep from looking weak:

It’s almost over.

Well, not quite. But the Democratic presidential primaries taking place on Tuesday in North Carolina and Indiana have more delegates up for grabs than any of the remaining contests. For political, demographic and mathematical reasons, those states have the potential to reshape the competition between Senators Hillary Rodham Clinton and Barack Obama.

It will be an opportunity for Mrs. Clinton to make the case that Democratic sentiment is swinging in her favor, and to slice into Mr. Obama’s lead in pledged delegates and in the popular vote (putting aside the disputed contests in Florida and Michigan). For Mr. Obama, it is a chance to tamp down talk that Mrs. Clinton has exposed him as a flawed general election candidate.

You can tell where Mrs. Clinton and Mr. Obama think they have their best shot by where they will be on Tuesday night: Mrs. Clinton has a hotel ballroom in Indianapolis, and Mr. Obama, after some last-minute debate, finally decided on a rally at a coliseum in Raleigh, N.C. But to say that both sides are anxious would be an understatement, and with that in mind, here are three possible outcomes to watch for Tuesday, in no particular order: Mrs. Clinton wins both states, Mr. Obama does, or they split[.]

I’ll save you some reading. Here’s the thumbnail analysis from Adam Nagourney:

  1. Hillary wins both primaries – Obama stops getting his calls answered by superdelegates.
  2. Obama wins both primaries – Even Hillary’s advisers will start calling for her withdrawal.
  3. Hillary wins Indiana, Obama wins North Carolina – Confusion continues to reign, and media outlets start making travel plans for Puerto Rico in June.

Nagourney makes the common error of analysts these days in breaking down the most likely scenario, #3. He says that Hillary needs a big delegate differential from Indiana to make the victory impactful. At this point, though, delegate splits are almost meaningless. Hillary needs a large popular vote total and demographics from exit polling that shows that she has the best chance to beat John McCain in the fall, and that means the nature of the split decision matters more than anything else.

Here are a couple of sub-scenarios for the split:

  • Hillary wins Indiana big and narrowly loses North Carolina – Barack Obama led in North Carolina by 25 points at one time, and Indiana neighbors his home state of Illinois. In fact, a large portion of Indiana gets its television news from the Chicago market. If Hillary comes within 5 points of Obama in North Carolina while blowing him out by eight or more in Indiana, the perception will be that the wheels have come off Obama’s campaign.
  • Hillary narrowly wins Indiana and loses big in North Carolina – Obama can claim some recovery for his campaign, but Hillary can still show a win, making this a murky outcome for the superdelegates. This would have everyone focusing on the demographics to see where Hillary got her votes and where Obama resonates. Hillary would remind people that North Carolina always looked like a big Obama victory anyway, and that she still demonstrates better strength in middle America.
  • Hillary wins North Carolina and loses Indiana – Extremely unlikely. This would drive everyone crazy and Democrats might consider calling Al Gore as a compromise candidate.

Meanwhile, on the Republican side, we will almost certainly see Ron Paul fanatics capturing double digits again as they did in Pennsylvania, at least in Indiana. Does that mean John McCain should worry about a late-season charge from Paul? Er, no. It means that the Republicans lost interest in the primaries after McCain clinched, and the only voters really motivated to go to the polls are the Ronulans. Their 16% showing under those circumstances was underwhelming, and it won’t get any better tonight.


  • Indiana – Hillary by 8. It won’t be quite as much of a blowout as Pennsylvania and Ohio, but it will be significant.
  • North Carolina – Obama by four. Call it a hunch, but when the gaps narrow, Obama usually underperforms the polling.

We will be live-blogging the results tonight, so stay tuned!