Barack Obama (D-IL) had said that IN would be the tie-breaker, after Hillary Clinton (D-NY) won PA and he won NC as he was expecting to. And so the tie was broken – but just barely. Hillary won IN 51 percent to 49 percent, and lost NC by 41 percent to 56 percent.

Hillary’s disappointing showing in IN means that she could not whittle away at Obama’s lead in pledged delegates or popular vote totals. However, Hillary will likely decide to stick it out until June 3rd, as she expects to split the final cluster of primaries with her rival – WV, KY and PR for her and OR , MT and SD for him.  

Hillary has the cohones to argue that IN is the third large industrial state he lost – the razor-thin margin notwithstanding – because the white working-class workers needed to win against John McCain (R-AZ) in November are in her corner. But the closeness of the race – and a measurable amount of her support apparently coming from mischief-making Republicans who have no intention of voting for her in the general election – undermines her case to the superdelegates. (There are even rumors of a “crisis meeting” to beg superdelegates who’ve already declared their support for her from switching sides.)

Writing for the New York Times blog, “Campaign Stops,” Ron Klain – Al Gore’s chief of staff when he was VP – noted that “Indiana may be the most level playing field the two campaigns have confronted in this see-saw contest.” He explained:

For Senator Clinton, the demographic profile of the state is very similar to other middle-America industrial states that she has won. The heart of the state is its small, economy-in-transition, blue-collar towns – like Muncie, New Castle, Anderson and Kokomo – that look very similar to the places where she did well in Ohio and Pennsylvania. The rural expanses of southern Indiana also resemble portions of other states where she has run up large margins.

But Senator Obama also has some important assets in the Hoosier state. The northwestern portion of the state falls with his home media market of Chicago – a huge leg up for him. He also has strong support in Indiana’s major cities: few in number, but significant in Democratic primaries. And Bloomington is the sort of college town where Senator Obama has won his most enthusiastic backing.

With this in mind, the big news in IN would have been if either candidate poached voters from the other’s core base, or if some other factor skewed the expected results. For the most part, that didn’t happen.

Exit polls of 1,738 voters were conducted in 35 precincts across IN. Black voters made up roughly 14 percent of the electorate in IN, and Obama got 90 percent of their votes. Hillary won 60 percent of the white vote overall, including 58 percent of white men, and 65 percent of voters who didn’t attend college. She also won the votes of seven out of 10 rural and small town voters, who comprised 30 percent of the electorate.  

Thirty percent of IN voters said the Rev. Jeremiah Wright was a “very important” factor in their vote, while 18 percent said he was “somewhat important”; 69 percent of them voted for Hillary. Another indication that Wright had some impact: One in four voters made up their minds in the last week, and 59 percent of them chose Hillary.

Unlike NC, the Dem primary in IN was open to all voters. However, The Indianapolis Star reported that “Republicans appeared to be crossing over in droves today in Marion County and suburban counties”:  

Among them was Meghan Ward-Bopp, 24, who went against family tradition and asked for Democratic ballot so she could vote for Barack Obama; she plans to vote for Republican John McCain in November.

Ward-Bobb did not admit to be executing Rush Limbaugh’s “Operation Chaos” strategy (“I’m a hardcore Republican, but it’s about who I wanted in second place in case McCain doesn’t make it.”), but fellow Republican and McCain supporter Jim Adams, 36, voted for Hillary to keep her candidacy going.  

Overall, an estimated 11 percent of Republicans crossed party lines and 52 percent of these crossovers voted for Hillary; Obama eked out 51 percent win amongst independents, who made up 23 percent of all voters. (BTW, McCain won 77.6 percent of Republicans who did not vote for one of the Dems; he won 73.5 percent of the Republican vote in NC.) 

Exit polls of 2,271 voters in NC, were conducted in 35 precincts across the state, along with a telephone poll of 400 absentee voters. Blacks made up a third of all voters in NC, and Obama captured 92 percent of this group. Hillary won 54 percent of the white male vote, and 67 percent of white voters who did not have a college education - but she would have needed 70 percent of the total white vote to overcome Obama’s advantage of having a near-lock on the black vote. 

A third of voters said Wright was “very important” and 15 percent said he was “somewhat important”; Hillary got 62 percent of their votes. But Wright was not as big a factor amongst late deciders in NC, as he appeared to be in IN: One in five NC voters decided between the two candidates in the last week, and these voters split (49 percent for Obama, 48 percent for Hillary). 

According to exit polls in both states, nearly two out of three of those who voted for Hillary said they would be dissatisfied if Obama were the nominee – and a third of them claimed they would vote for McCain in the general election. By the way, some 20 percent of Obama supporters say they will vote for McCain if Hillary is the nominee.

In his victory speech in Columbia, NC, Obama looked past the remaining contests and addressed these partisans:

[A]s contentious as this campaign may get, we have to remember that this is a contest for the Democratic nomination, and that all of us share an abiding desire to end the disastrous policies of the current administration. …

[A]s we leave this state with a new wind at our backs, and take this journey across the country we love with the message we’ve carried from the plains of Iowa to the hills of New Hampshire; from the Nevada desert to the South Carolina coast; the same message we had when we were up and when we were down – that out of many, we are one; that while we breathe, we hope; and where we are met with cynicism, and doubt, and those who tell us that we can’t, we will respond with that timeless creed that sums up the spirit of a people in three simple words: Yes. We. Can.

For her part, in Indianapolis, IN, Hillary gamely vowed to keep going “full speed ahead” and renewed her call to count the votes in FL and MI, suggesting it would be “a little strange” to choose a nominee without them:

Fundamentally, I believe that Americans need a champion in their corner, that for too long we’ve had a president who has stood up and spoke out for the wealthy and the well-connected. …

And I am running to be the president of all of America: north, south, east and west, and everywhere in between. That’s why it is so important that we count the votes of Florida and Michigan. …

We’ve got a long road ahead, but we’re going to keep fighting on that path for America, because America is worth fighting for. And we believe in America’s potential and possibility that has so ignited hope and the dreams of people throughout our country and around the world.

By MSNBC’s count, Obama gained nine pledged delegates between the two states, for a total of 1,876 to Hillary’s 1,729. But in light of these latest primary results, enough undeclared superdelegates could decide to throw their support to Obama before the last vote is cast in the final primary – or Hillary could lose enough of the ones she thinks she has – to get Obama so close to the 2,025 delegates needed to clinch the nomination that what fight she has left will be knocked out of her.

Note: The Stiletto writes about politics and other stuff at The Stiletto Blog, chosen an Official Honoree in the Political Blogs category by the judges of the 12th Annual Webby Awards (the Oscars of the online universe) along with CNN Political Ticker, Swampland (Time magazine) and The Caucus (The New York Times).

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