Clinton barely manages a win in Indiana and is trounced by Obama in North Carolina.

A summary of what's in the major U.S. newspapers.
May 7 2008 6:27 AM

The Beginning of the End?

All the papers lead with yesterday's Democratic primaries, where Sen. Barack Obama trounced Sen. Hillary Clinton by 14 percentage points while the former first lady only managed to win Indiana by two percentage points. The Los Angeles Timeseasilywins the headline-of-the-day award: "Obama cruises; Clinton clings." It was a devastating night for Clinton because yesterday's primaries made up the largest remaining Democratic contests and were her last real chance to close Obama's lead and convince party leaders that voters are turning her way. If there's one clear theme running through all the papers it's that this may really be the beginning of the end for Clinton, who vowed to continue in the race.

The Washington Postpoints out that even though Clinton managed to win Indiana, "the night produced a far different outcome than the Clinton campaign had hoped for." Expectations were high that her margin of victory would be larger in Indiana and that she would be able to cut into Obama's lead in North Carolina. But that didn't happen, and Obama's victory address sounded a lot like a general-election speech. The New York Timesnotes that due to delays in one county in Indiana, "Clinton did not appear on television until well after Mr. Obama, allowing him to put his stamp of victory on the evening." And while Obama "seemed relaxed and triumphant," as USA Todayputs it, the LAT points out that "there was a note of wistfulness to [Clinton's] remarks. Clinton lingered over thank-yous to her family and supporters even as she promised to continue campaigning."

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Besides being a big night for Obama, the Wall Street Journal is quick to point out that the results "underscored some of the Illinois senator's weaknesses and the party's fissures." Almost half of the voters in both states said the controversy over Obama's former pastor, the Rev. Jeremiah Wright, was an important consideration when picking a candidate, and the majority of them supported Clinton. Also, as has become a pattern in the later contests, about one-quarter of each candidate's supporters said they would either vote Republican or not at all if their first choice doesn't end up being the Democratic nominee. And specifically in Indiana the numbers were even starker, as less than half of Clinton's backers said they would vote for Obama in November. Besides these nuggets, the exit polls don't have any huge revelations as each candidate won by mostly holding on to his or her reliable base of support. Strangely enough, the exit polls didn't ask about the gas tax issue, so there's no real new insight into whether it swayed voters in either direction.

It's worth pointing out, as the NYT does in a Page One analysis, that winning Indiana was no small feat for Clinton, since Obama had once expected to easily win the state. But, ultimately, Obama managed to show he could survive some of the roughest weeks in his campaign, while Clinton "gained no new argument to make to the superdelegates," writes Slate's John Dickerson. And in some important ways, making that argument is now even harder. Following the racial divide that has become common in this contest, more than 90 percent of African-Americans voted for Obama, and superdelegates aren't eager to anger one of the Democratic Party's most reliable bases of support. If the margin would have been greater in Indiana, or smaller in North Carolina, it would have been easy for Clinton to dismiss calls that she drop out of the race. But now, the calls are likely to get louder, and she's likely to have a hard time raising money for the remaining contests. The WP notes inside that even Clinton aides were sounding pessimistic yesterday about her chances to win the nomination. Regardless, Slate's Christopher Beam writes that Clinton isn't likely to drop out yet if only because she will probably win the primaries in West Virginia and Kentucky in the next two weeks.

In a front-page analysis, the LAT says that yesterday's results leave "Clinton with one overriding task: to make the path longer." Everyone points out that Clinton's campaign is clearly turning its attention to pushing for a resolution of the dispute regarding the delegates in Michigan and Florida. "It would be a little strange to have a nominee chosen by 48 states," Clinton said last night. In this effort, Clinton's aides are hammering home the idea that the number of delegates needed to win the nomination is 2,209, instead of the 2,025 that would be required if Michigan and Florida are left out. According to the Associated Press, Obama now has 1,815.5 delegates and Clinton 1,672, with 55 still to be divided.

In other news, everyone fronts the latest from the cyclone that devastated Burma on Saturday. Burma's state television announced the estimated death toll has risen to 22,000, and there are still 41,000 missing. In addition, an estimated 1 million survivors are thought to have been left homeless. Some aid began to flow, and the Burmese government has said it will allow international relief organizations to enter the country. But there were complaints yesterday that the Burmese government isn't doing enough to speed up the aid-delivery process and is still requiring foreign workers to obtain visas before they can enter the country. The Post notes that it seems "little or no aid reached the Irrawaddy Delta," the worst-affected region.

The United States offered $3 million in aid, an increase from the $250,000 that was announced on Monday. After signing legislation to award a Congressional Gold Medal to Burma's most famous political dissident, Aung San Suu Kyi, President Bush criticized the military junta and pleaded with the Burmese leaders to "let the United States come to help you help the people." The WP and NYT point out that foreign leaders and aid groups criticized the Bush administration for mixing a political message into the relief talk. "The priority now is rendering assistance to thousands of displaced people who urgently need our assistance," Australia's foreign minister said.

In a Page One story, the WSJ points out that in addition to all the devastation, the cyclone is also likely to create "a second crisis: one of deepening hunger" not only in Burma but across the region. Burma expected to export rice this year, but the cyclone devastated the rice-growing areas, which not only means there will be less food inside the country but also that the rice supply in several neighboring countries could be affected. This, in turn could lead to higher rice prices, which had already been skyrocketing lately.

While the Democratic presidential contenders continue to fight for the nomination, Sen. John McCain is busy trying to unify the Republican Party. Yesterday, McCain tried to reassure conservatives who may be nervous about his record that if elected president, he's committed to appointing justices with "a proven commitment to judicial restraint." McCain vowed to appoint Supreme Court justices that follow the mold of Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Samuel Alito Jr. The NYT's editorial board is thankful for the speech, which helped put back into focus "what this year's presidential race is all about." The NYT hopes it will work as a cue for the Democratic contenders to begin explaining to voters "what is truly at stake in this election." Obama and Clinton "can continue to tear each other up and fight over each superdelegate, or they can debate the issues—for the sake of the voters."

Daniel Politi has been contributing to Slate since 2004 and wrote the "Today's Papers" column from 2006 to 2009. You can follow him on Twitter @dpoliti.