Let’s take a breath and remember that a couple of weeks ago, Hillary Clinton was supposed to win the Wisconsin primary. Then Barack Obama survived Super Tuesday, swept 10 contests in a row, and out-campaigned Clinton in the Badger State. All of a sudden, Obama had the momentum, and it was his state to win—not Clinton’s.
But there’s a real chance the state will revert to the former conventional wisdom and Hillary will win. It’s also likely that Obama will continue his assault on the pledged delegate ledgers. It all depends on your half-glass tendencies going into tonight’s results. Here’s why Clinton might win and why Obama may not lose:
Clinton will win:
- Demographics: Obama’s recent wins have started infringing on Clinton’s normal demographics (women, whites, and middle-class voters, primarily), but Wisconsin is her chance to reclaim her turf. Ninety percent of the state is white; in 2004 , half the electorate made less than $50,000, and most of the residents called themselves moderate or conservative. If Clinton can’t retain these voting blocs, then she has bigger problems than Wisconsin on her hands.
- Polls: The people paid to know what’s going on don’t know what’s going on in Wisconsin. In American Research Group tracking polls , Clinton was up by six points, only to be down by 10 points a day later. If that trend holds, then she’ll be up again by the time polls close. ( Other polls show Obama comfortably ahead.)
- Negativity: Hillary didn’t quite get mean as she did get critical. First came the televised repartee over Obama’s refusal to debate in Wisconsin. Then Clinton controlled the news cycle for 36 hours with allegations that Obama "plagiarized" a speech from longtime friend and supporter Deval Patrick. It may not make Obama’s core supporters switch to Clinton’s side, but it may make some of his independent newcomers flake away and stay home today.
- Backlash: Obama has jumped the shark among the political elite, and that may start to trickle down to the average voter. If the cheese heads in Wisconsin think Obama is too cocky, they may punch him in the ego and tell him to suck it up. Let’s see Barack Obama be the country’s new bicycle after that.
- Republicans: Wisconsin’s primary is super-duper open, so independents and Republicans can vote in it. If Republicans want to prolong the Democrats’ nightmare, they’ll cast a Democratic ballot for Clinton rather than a relatively meaningless vote for John McCain.
Obama won’t lose:
- Independents: Republicans aren’t the only non-Democrats who can vote for a donkey. So can independents. And with McCain’s all-but-nomination, free-agent voters don’t have to rally to the maverick’s side anymore. They can all flock to the Democratic side, where their vote really matters. Polls suggest Obama does significantly better among non-Democrats.
- Neighbors: Wisconsin is bordered by four states, three of which have voted for Obama. The only one that didn’t was Michigan, and Obama’s absence from the ballot may have had something to do with that. Moreover, nearly every county that directly borders Wisconsin favored Obama over Clinton. (The only one that didn’t was a Minnesota county that had Clinton and Obama tied.) Plus, Wisconsin’s southern border is snuggled right next to Illinois’ northern edge. Not even a border fence could stop Obama’s homeland love.
- Weather: It’s frozen-tundra cold in Wisconsin today. Single-digit temperatures hovered outside of polling stations, which means Clinton’s elderly voters may not be able to brave the chill. Fewer old people means more celebrations for Obama.
- Stumping: Obama campaigned twice as much as Clinton in Wisconsin. Absence probably won’t make the heart grow fonder.
- Shmoshmentum : Previously, momentum hasn’t meant squat, because voters didn’t want to coronate a winner too soon. Now, the Democrats may be worried about choosing a nominee too late. If there’s ever a point where Democrats are going to rally behind a candidate, it’s now.