Energized voters are the ‘change makers’

In the wake of the day dubbed “Super Duper Tuesday,” some things seem clear.

One is that, with Obama overcoming earlier double-digit Clinton leads in eight of the 10 largest states and winning a majority of the vote in 13 of the 22 states at issue in the Feb. 5 Democratic primaries, the quest for the Democratic nomination continues, probably well into the spring.

Another is that the Obama campaign’s emphasis on building a broad, united movement for change is profoundly affecting the Democratic Party’s approach to the presidential contest, and the nation’s political map, regardless of who finally wins the nomination.

Despite media efforts to slice and dice the constituencies voting for each candidate, both Clinton and Obama garnered significant support across the spectrum of race, nationality, gender and class.

Obama showed he could win voters from all regions of the country, including traditionally Republican states and those with few minority voters. Many commentators pointed to the significance of his win in Georgia, where he drew 43 percent of the white vote, almost doubling the results in South Carolina. African American support for him around the country exceeded 80 percent, but it was also notable that Obama received 80 percent of the vote in Idaho, which is 99 percent white.

Clinton answered Obama’s victories with a string of wins of her own including the big states of New York and California. She did particularly well among women, where Obama trailed by as much as 10 points. But Obama increased his backing among women since the previous contests, with more than four in 10 supporting him.

Clinton won a majority of Latino voters in California and elsewhere, but Obama made significant gains among this constituency, particularly in the Southwest.

Much attention was focused on California, where 441 of the 2,025 delegates needed to nominate were at stake. Clinton carried that state 53 percent to 38 percent. Millions had cast absentee votes there before the recent nationwide surge in support for Obama.

In a cliffhanger that kept observers on the edges of their chairs, Obama won Missouri, a bellwether state that has often foreshadowed the ultimate nominee.

The delegate totals are now 823 for Clinton and 741 for Obama. Those totals include “superdelegates” (party leaders and elected officials, not chosen in primaries or caucuses) — 193 backing Clinton and 106 backing Obama. Of the 4,049 delegates who will attend the convention in August, 800 are superdelegates.

Without superdelegates, Obama now has 635 and Clinton has 630. These numbers are important because these delegates are committed, while superdelegates can change their allegiance.

On the Republican side, John McCain has become the clear front-runner, though Mitt Romney and Mike Huckabee remain in the race.

Before polls opened, both candidates predicted a long campaign still to come. At the end of the evening, each emphasized the need for a united movement for change.

Yet the movement that has exploded around Obama’s campaign is emerging as the “change maker” in U.S. politics.

Obama pointed to this in his Super Tuesday night speech, saying, “[I]n states north and south, east and west, what began as a whisper in Springfield, Ill., has swelled to a chorus of millions calling for change. It’s a chorus that cannot be ignored, a chorus that cannot be deterred. This time can be different because this campaign for the presidency of the United States of America is different. It’s different not because of me. It’s different because of you.”

Clinton has altered her message to respond to this new phenomenon. “Tonight we are hearing the voices of people across America — people of all ages, of all colors, of all faiths, of all walks of life,” she said in New York, Feb. 5. “Tonight, in record numbers, you voted not just to make history, but to remake America,”

A change in the campaigns’ tone, and a heightened concentration on the issues was evident in the Jan. 31 debate in Los Angeles. There, both Obama and Clinton stressed the need to resolve critical issues including the Iraq war, the economic crisis devastating the lives of millions of Americans, health care and immigration reform. Each acknowledged that whoever wins the nomination, it will be historic.

On the eve of Super Tuesday, a 16-state survey conducted by Edison Media Research and Mitofsky International for the Associated Press showed voters of both parties most concerned about the economy. Among Democrats the war in Iraq and health care came next, while Republicans listed immigration and the war.

It is clear that voters are taking their passion to the polls in record-smashing numbers. This, more than anything else, is worrying Republicans looking ahead to November.

CNN surveyed six states on Super Tuesday night: Illinois, New York, New Jersey, Massachusetts, Missouri and Arizona. With only two-thirds of the vote counted in Arizona, for example, turnout had already exceeded by more than 80,000 in all previous elections.

mbechtel@pww.org. John Wojcik contributed to this article.