Defeats for Clinton could signal end of presidential bid
MILWAUKEE — Undeterred by subzero temperatures and icy conditions, Wisconsin voters streamed to the polls in huge numbers Feb. 19, to give Barack Obama a resounding victory in the Democratic presidential primary. He defeated Hillary Clinton 58 percent to 41 percent.
In Hawaii, where Obama grew up, he won by 50-plus points. Hawaii gave Obama his 10th consecutive win.
As expected, John McCain won Wisconsin’s Republican primary. In his victory speech, featured nasty attacks on Obama, now the Democratic frontrunner.
With an eye on the coming Ohio and Texas primaries, Obama launched his Wisconsin campaign at the 100-year-old Janesville General Motors factory. The plant’s 3,000 workers are being hit by 400 layoffs and buyouts from the new UAW-GM contract.
He called for action against the growing disparity between rich and poor, the foreclosure crisis and the “cost crisis” of health care, credit debt and college tuition facing millions of working families. He called for creation of a National Infrastructure Reinvestment Bank to invest $60 billion over 10 years to rebuild the nation’s crumbling infrastructure.
“It’s time to stop spending billions of dollars a week trying to put Iraq back together and start spending the money on putting American back together instead,” he said.
Obama called for a $150 billion investment to establish a green energy sector that would create up to 5 million new jobs. This, and his proposal for universal health care, would be paid for by ending the Iraq war, closing tax loopholes for corporations, taxing carbon pollution and ending the Bush tax cuts to the wealthiest 2 percent of Americans.
While Clinton spoke on many of the same issues, Obama appeared to demonstrate a unique ability to inspire and unite voters with his message and program.
The “electability” factor – which Democrat could beat the GOP candidate in November — is also emerging as a big motivating factor for many voters, and Obama seems to have the edge.
Unless Clinton wins big in Texas and Ohio, she will be under heavy pressure to gracefully drop out of the race, commentators say.
Wisconsin is in many ways a cross between neighboring Minnesota and Ohio. It has the nation’s second highest percentage of manufacturing jobs (17 percent), but also has a large agricultural economy and numerous colleges. Like Minnesota, it has a broad antiwar sentiment.
Wisconsin is also a political swing state with two opposing traditions — that of people’s champion, Sen. Robert “Fighting Bob” La Follette, and the Progressive Party, and that of anti-communist Sen. Joseph McCarthy and anti-immigrant Rep. James Sensenbrenner.
The progressive spirit prevailed here on primary day. An army of volunteers bolstered voter turnout for the Democrats. SEIU, Unite Here and other unions mobilized their members and went door-to-door for Obama. The AFT and AFSCME did the same for Clinton.
In the end, Obama successfully navigated the crosscurrents of Wisconsin politics with his grassroots approach. Wisconsin allows voter registration the day of the election and has open primaries. Over 30,000 new voters registered in Milwaukee alone.
Clinton lost significant ground among what were considered her core voters: women and blue-collar and union workers. In a troubling sign for the general election, her campaign appeared to all but give up the African American vote, a core voting bloc for any Democrat.
In contrast, the Obama victory coalition here was broad and diverse. He won every age group under 65. He won in every part of the state: cities, suburbs and rural areas. He won every income and education level, union and nonunion households.
It was the highest turnout here in 20 years for a presidential primary. The intense desire for change from the Bush agenda was apparent. Total Democratic primary votes were nearly triple the number of Republican primary votes.
Exit polls indicated that voters were not happy with the Clinton campaign’s negative attacks and divisive tactics, including her 11th hour charge that Obama plagiarized part of a speech and renewed claims that he lacks political substance.
As the campaigns head to the Texas, Ohio, Rhode Island and Vermont, trade and the economy are increasingly becoming central issues. Obama called for eliminating tax incentives to corporations that ship jobs overseas, and for amending NAFTA, and vowed not to sign another trade pact without protections for workers and the environment. Similarly, Clinton called for a “time out” from approving new trade pacts and for a review of NAFTA.
Though the idea of “free trade” in North America was a Republican initiative, Clinton is burdened by the fact that her husband, Bill Clinton, signed NAFTA into law in 1993. Unions, especially in the manufacturing sector, blame NAFTA and similar trade agreements for the massive loss of decent paying jobs.
The Wisconsin primary took place against the backdrop of rising unemployment and poverty. Of the country’s 50 largest cities, only Detroit has a larger unemployment rate than Milwaukee, the seventh most impoverished city in the nation.