Indiana And North Carolina Primaries: What’s At Stake For Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama?

Convincing wins by Obama could seal the deal; Clinton has regained momentum after Pennsylvania win.

It’s been more than 40 years since Indiana voters have gotten this much love from Democratic presidential candidates. But in a battle for the nomination that nobody predicted would go this far, suddenly the Hoosier State is in play, and Senators Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama have been hitting up its heartland voters for weeks.

Along with North Carolina, which also holds a primary Tuesday, Indiana is among the dwindling reserve of primaries left for the bloodied Democrats to tap as each candidate scraps to get closer to the magic 2,025 delegates needed to sew up the nomination.

With 72 delegates (plus 13 superdelegates) at stake in Indiana, and the last big prize of 134 (and 17 superdelegates) available in North Carolina, neither state will allow the warring senators to reach the magic number, but decisive wins by either could bring the race closer to its end.

Here’s what’s at stake in Tuesday’s vote:

For Hillary Clinton

At this point in the game, every win is a must for Clinton. Buoyed by a solid win in Pennsylvania two weeks ago that immediately helped pump up her perilously strapped bank account, Clinton has regained momentum in the race. While Indiana had been polling as a dead heat, it turned into a potential slim victory for Clinton in recent polling. The New York senator also managed to erase Obama’s once-sizable double-digit lead in North Carolina since her Pennsylvania win, picking up an endorsement from the state’s governor, Mike Easley, last week, which could only help her prospects.

A loss in Indiana coupled with a convincing win by Obama in North Carolina, however, could spell serious trouble for Clinton, who, despite the Pennsylvania win, has still been facing constant pressure from some party leaders to concede the race to Obama, who has won more states, more delegates and more of the popular vote. Losses could also impact Clinton’s fundraising, which continues to lag well behind Obama’s as the race limps into the final half-dozen contests over the next four weeks. Some pundits have speculated that if Clinton manages to pull off a win in North Carolina, however, it could set her up to run the table on the remaining contests, ensuring an ugly battle at August’s Democratic National Convention in Denver.

For Barack Obama

It has been a rough few weeks for Obama. Coupled with his loss to Clinton in Pennsylvania, the junior senator from Illinois has twice been forced to speak out about the latest controversial comments from his ex-pastor, the Reverend Jeremiah Wright Jr. The comments appear to have seriously impacted his lead over Clinton in a number of polls. The distraction from his preferred message of bringing the country together and providing economic relief for the middle class has allowed Clinton to claim the momentum mantle. According to a recent New York Times/ CBS News poll, Obama’s national lead as the candidate most Democratic voters believe will win the nomination has shrunk by almost 20 points. Combined with a perceived inability to connect with blue-collar workers in the two states at stake on Tuesday, Obama’s diminished lead in North Carolina has put the senator on the ropes. Those difficulties were offset somewhat by his gains in wooing a few superdelegates his way, including Indiana’s Joe Andrew, who was the head of the Democratic National Committee during Bill Clinton’s presidency and whose defection got a lot of ink this past week.

Though he was ahead by nearly 20 points in North Carolina in early April, that lead had shrunk to single digits in some polls in the days leading up to voting. While the makeup of North Carolina’s Democratic voters is perfect for Obama — a large number of black and affluent middle-class residents — a recent Supreme Court ruling on a voter ID law in Indiana could hurt his chances in that state. One of Obama’s other core constituencies has been young voters, and because of the ruling, which requires Indiana voters to present a valid state photo ID in order to vote, it is believed that a large number of college-age voters who are from out of state may not be able to cast a ballot in this primary. Others who could be impacted by the ruling include poor, elderly and minority voters who lack a driver’s license or other official state photo ID. In Obama’s favor, however, is the fact that Independents and Republicans are allowed to vote in this Democratic primary.

If Obama is able to pull off a double-digit win in North Carolina and take Indiana as well, it could deal a major blow to Clinton’s efforts to stay in the race. The victories could sway more superdelegates his way, which would increase the pressure on her to drop out. Losses in either or both, though, could renew concerns that Obama is not connecting with working-class white voters, a constituency that is seen as critical for whoever is the eventual Democratic nominee.

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