On the morning after Tuesday's coast-to-coast marathon of 22 primaries and caucuses, the fierce Democratic presidential race between Sens. Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York and Barack Obama of Illinois looks much as it did before the voting began yesterday -- only more so.
Clinton's victories in big battleground states, including Arizona, Massachusetts, New Jersey and above all California, allowed her campaign to plausibly claim a slight edge on the evening over Obama -- even though he won at least 13 states -- and at presstime the two appeared to essentially divide in half the 1,678 pledged delegates at stake.
But the continent-sized competition did more to reconfirm than realign the basic contours of the Democratic race. The two candidates emerged from the unprecedented test still running virtually step for step overall -- and still dividing the party along the same lines of gender, education, income, age and race that have shaped their duel through the first contests.
"Basically what you saw is pretty much the same patterns that we have seen all along," said Democratic pollster Mark Mellman, who is not affiliated with either campaign. "He has got a coalition of upscale whites and African Americans; she's got a coalition of downscale whites and Latinos and those two coalitions are holding, and as you move from state to state in some places that coalition is going to advantage her and in some places that coalition is going to advantage him."
The final distribution of the pledged delegates at stake Tuesday, which was unavailable early this morning, might slightly change the perception of which candidate emerged from the voting in the strongest position. But however those final numbers divide, they seem unlikely to alter the bottom line: With each candidate displaying such distinct -- and durable -- strengths, Democrats face the prospect of a contest that is likely to extend at least until Ohio and Texas vote on March 4 -- and conceivably well beyond that.
"This contest is going to continue and it likely will continue for some time," said Howard Wolfson, Clinton's communications director, in a conference call with reporters Tuesday night.
Likewise, David Plouffe, Obama's campaign manager, told reporters late Tuesday night: "The fact that we may come out of here with a draw or even a little better... sets us up... very well for what comes in the rest of February."
In almost every respect Tuesday, Clinton and Obama displayed mirror-image and offsetting strengths that point to a lengthy competition. The two partitioned the map into clearly defined spheres of influence.
In addition to capturing California, the night's richest prize, Clinton won the major contests in the Northeast -- including Massachusetts, New York and New Jersey. Clinton also dominated the outer South, where she captured Tennessee, Oklahoma and Arkansas, on the strength of commanding margins among blue-collar voters.
In addition to his home state of Illinois, Obama carried the Deep South states of Alabama and Georgia with overwhelming support from black voters; swept caucuses through the center of the country in Kansas, North Dakota and Minnesota; and won Mountain State contests in Colorado, Idaho and Utah.
Only rarely did candidates break this regional divide. Clinton captured Arizona; Obama took Connecticut and Delaware and won Missouri by a razor-thin margin.
The two divided the electorate even more sharply and consistently along demographic lines. From almost every angle, the Edison/Mitofsky exit polls conducted in 16 of the 22 states voting Tuesday reaffirmed the contrasting patterns of support that have defined the Democratic competition in surveys since early 2007.
Race & Gender
The gender gap apparent in the first states that have voted this year generally reappeared Tuesday. According to exit poll results posted by CNN, Obama carried men in 12 of the 16 states surveyed. Clinton carried women in nine states and led among white women in several more. In Massachusetts, New Jersey, Oklahoma, Tennessee, New York and California, she won women by about 20 percentage points or more; in Arkansas she carried them nearly 4-to-1. Still, Obama's success among women in states that he carried, such as Missouri, Delaware and Utah, represented one of the few alterations in the patterns established in the first contests.
The exit polls also illuminated the contest's continuing racial divide. Obama won at least two-thirds of black voters everywhere except New York, and even there he carried three-fifths of them. His share of the black vote exceeded 80 percent in several states. Clinton, conversely, won white voters in every state except Illinois, New Mexico and Utah, although Obama ran nearly even among whites in California.
Clinton captured California -- probably the closest thing to a must-win state for her last night -- largely because she carried Latinos there by 69 percent to 29 percent, and they turned out in enormous numbers. In the 2004 California Democratic presidential primary, Latinos cast just 16 percent of the votes; this year, they constituted fully 29 percent, according to the exit poll. Clinton also benefited from a much less-discussed constituency in California: Asians. Although they cast just one in 12 ballots, they preferred Clinton over Obama by more than 3-to-1.
Elsewhere, Obama made some progress among Latinos, but not enough to capture key states that last weekend appeared to be moving within his reach. Obama ran even among Latinos in his home state of Illinois. He held Clinton's margin among Latinos to 55 percent to 41 percent in Arizona, but Clinton's advantage remained large enough to help her carry that critically contested state. In Massachusetts, she carried Latinos by 20 points; in New Jersey by almost twice that.
The partisan splits in the race followed familiar patterns, too. Obama won self-identified independents in 12 of the 16 states, often by resounding margins. He carried them in Missouri, for instance, by 2-to-1 and by margins exceeding 20 points in Connecticut, Georgia and California. Clinton, by contrast, won self-identified Democrats in 10 of the 16 states, in several cases (such as New Jersey, Oklahoma and Tennessee) by similarly lopsided margins.
Age & Affluence
The generation gap evident throughout the race's first contests also continued. In every state except Arkansas, California and Massachusetts, young voters aged 18-29 preferred Obama, often by commanding margins. What's more, he continued to demonstrate a magnetic pull for those voters, who increased their share of the vote from 2004 in every state for which comparable data is available. In states as diverse as Georgia, Tennessee, Missouri, Massachusetts and Connecticut, the youth vote increased as a share of the total by at least 55 percent.
But in each of those states, and almost all of the other major contests on the board, seniors over 60 cast a larger percentage of the vote than young people did. And those voters almost invariably preferred Clinton: She won seniors everywhere except Illinois, Georgia and Connecticut. In hotly contested states such as Massachusetts, Missouri, New Jersey, Oklahoma and Tennessee, Clinton won about three-fifths or more of the vote among seniors.
Most significantly, Tuesday's results reconfirmed the upscale-downscale divide that has shaped this race as much as any other single factor. Obama won voters with a four-year or post-graduate degree in 11 of the 16 states, by wide margins in states such as Missouri, Alabama, Georgia, Delaware and Utah. In the night's most important contest, though, Clinton ran even with Obama among college-educated voters in California and carried the critical swing constituency of well-educated women -- the target of the Obama campaign's high-profile rally at UCLA last Sunday with Oprah Winfrey, Caroline Kennedy and Maria Shriver.
Clinton won voters without college degrees in 12 of the 16 states surveyed. In many instances, she carried these downscale voters by even larger margins than Obama amassed with his upscale supporters. Clinton won non-college-educated voters by 20 points in New Jersey, 22 points in California and Tennessee, 32 points in Massachusetts, 48 points in Oklahoma and 54 points in Arkansas. In California, exit polls found she carried non-college-educated white women -- the "waitress moms" who constitute her bedrock constituency -- by about 2-to-1.
More than anything else, Clinton's downscale strength explained her strong showing in most interior states. In places such as Oklahoma, Tennessee and Arizona, voters without a college education significantly outnumbered those with advanced degrees. Conversely, in Connecticut, the one state in the New York City metropolitan area that Obama won, college graduates cast nearly three-fifths of the vote.
The same trend was evident on income. Obama won voters earning $100,000 or more almost everywhere; Clinton, in mirror image again, carried those earning $50,000 or less almost everywhere. Further reinforcing that pattern, in nearly two-thirds of the states, voters who said their primary concern was the economy preferred Clinton over Obama. In a similar share of states, voters who cited Iraq as their top concern picked Obama over Clinton.
A Long Road Ahead
These divergent patterns of support frame the coming competition between the two competitors. Even the Clinton campaign acknowledges the next round of contests should favor Obama. On Saturday, he will be favored in the primary in Louisiana, with its large black population, and the Nebraska caucus -- where he has the support of Democratic Sen. Ben Nelson. Obama also demonstrated Tuesday that his army of volunteers provides him an edge in caucus states.
On Feb. 12, Obama's campaign expects to capture primaries in Washington, D.C., whose large black population makes Obama a prohibitive favorite, as well as Maryland and Virginia, whose blend of upscale whites and black voters seems tailored precisely to Obama's strengths. A week later comes a caucus in Washington and primaries in Wisconsin and Hawaii. On that list, Wisconsin seems the most likely place for Clinton to make a stand: It is a predominantly downscale, overwhelmingly white electorate, although its large student population will help Obama. Overall, though, few analysts dispute Mark Penn, the Clinton campaign's chief strategist, when he says, "The period between today and the time when we get to the larger states clearly favor Obama... more so than us."
Acknowledging that Obama may gain the momentum in the coming weeks, Clinton's team is counting on March 4 as its opportunity to recover. The key contests on that day will be Texas and Ohio. In both states, the upscale white voters who have bolstered Obama are scarce; just 10 percent of Ohio Democratic primary voters in 2004, for instance, earned $100,000 a year or more. (The comparable figure in Connecticut Tuesday night was 40 percent.) In Texas, the large Latino population, which cast one-quarter of the vote in the 2004 primary, will compound Obama's challenge.
But the way this race is progressing, it's not clear that even Clinton victories in Ohio and Texas could knock out Obama -- especially given his remarkable fundraising success. Both sides are talking about contesting the race until Pennsylvania (which doesn't vote until April 22) and even beyond.
Pressure from party leaders to end the race before then will probably grow now that Arizona Sen. John McCainseems on the brink of securing the Republican nomination. But no one, including the candidates themselves, may be able to force an early resolution to a contest between two combatants who have divided their party as sharply, and as evenly, as Clinton and Obama have so far.