Many starts and stops for rival Democrats

Gleanings from the Indiana and North Carolina primaries:

* Momentum remains an elusive -- perhaps nonexistent -- dynamic in the Democratic presidential race.

After Hillary Rodham Clinton's decisive win in April's Pennsylvania primary, and amid the problems plaguing Barack Obama over the Rev. Jeremiah A. Wright Jr., the wind seemed at the New York senator's back. Instead, Tuesday's results left the Clinton campaign becalmed, at best.

What has counted most in the Clinton-Obama face-off, time and again, has been how a particular state's population matches the seemingly set-in-stone blocs backing each candidate.

Indiana, for instance, lacked the black population to produce a North Carolina-sized blowout for Obama. But its economic growth has been more robust than that of neighboring Ohio, undercutting the chances for a sizable Clinton win fueled by disenchanted blue-collar workers. The result: a near tie.

* An endorsement from a governor leaving office soon (i.e., North Carolina's Michael F. Easley) carries much less clout than one from a governor in the middle of a term -- with his hands still on patronage goodies (i.e., Pennsylvania's Edward G. Rendell and Ohio's Ted Strickland). All three pushed for Clinton in their states, but Easley's help seemed to count for little.

* The policy differences between Clinton and Obama, aside from the flare-up over suspending the federal gasoline tax, may be minor, but one little-noted exit poll result Tuesday speaks to a visceral divide between their forces that will challenge the push for party unity.

In Indiana, when voters in the Democratic contest were asked whether a candidate shared their values, 82% of the Clinton supporters answered "no" about Obama. And 93% of Obama's partisans answered negatively about Clinton. Comparable results were recorded in North Carolina.


Don Frederick

Frederick is one of the writers of The Times' political blog, Top of the Ticket, at

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