A week ago, a surging Barack Obama looked towards today’s primary races in Ohio, Texas, Rhode Island and Vermont as deal closers — the elections that would send Hillary Clinton packing and seal his drive towards the Democratic Presidential nomination.
Today, with lingering questions about his ties to a corrupt Chicago deal maker and conflicting reports about what his trade adviser may or may not have told the Canadian government, Obama could hit a roadblock on his road to inevitability.
As in past elections, Obama’s chances for another round of primary wins depends heavily on turnout. Early voting in Texas shows signs of a record count and long lines at polling places are expected in the other states but polls in Ohio and the Lone Star state show a race that is deadlocked.
Tracking polls suggest Obama’s race may be stuttering under the glare of increased scrutiny but — as New Hampshire and other states have shown in this unpredictable primary season — polls don’t always predict the final outcome.
Still, Clinton has vowed to stay in the race no matter what happens on Tuesday and she appears to have renewed energy on the campaign trail.
Reports Tom Raum of The Associated Press:
Barack Obama approached Tuesday’s voting in Texas, Ohio, Rhode Island and Vermont as a chance to drive rival Hillary Rodham Clinton out of the Democratic presidential contest for good. Clinton looked at the same contests as a way to end Obama’s streak of 11 straight victories and keep her candidacy alive.
Spending the night in the same Texas city, both expressed confidence in their chances. But both teams acknowledged that split decisions and close votes could prolong the battle for at least another month — or more.
“We know this has been an extraordinary election. It continues to be. We’re working hard to do as well as we can,” said Obama, who planned to await Texas returns in San Antonio.
“I’m just getting warmed up,” Clinton told reporters, a clear sign that she expects to press the campaign on beyond Tuesday no matter the outcome.
She was opening Election Day in Houston, but then heading back to Ohio for more campaign events. She will await results in Columbus before returning to Washington.
Polls show tight races in both Texas and Ohio. The Obama campaign saw Texas as their best opportunity, while the Clinton campaign saw Ohio as theirs. Texas offers 228 delegates, Ohio 164.
“Your voice can win an election,” Obama told a noisy late-night rally in Houston. Repeating a signature election refrain, he shouted: “I have only one question for you: Are you fired up? Ready to go?” When the crowd roared its approval, he added: “Let’s go change the world.”
His wife, Michelle, had a more subdued message for the cheering supporters: “We have a lot of work to do.”
Obama spent Monday campaigning in Texas, emphasizing his readiness to take over as commander in chief.
But he was dogged by allegations that he had overstated his opposition to the North American Free Trade Agreement to win votes in Ohio; and his ties to Chicago businessman Antoin “Tony” Rezko on the day that jury selection began in the political corruption trial of the real estate developer and fast-food magnate.
“Tony Rezko was a friend and supporter of mine for many years. These charges are completely unrelated to me, and nobody disputes that,” Obama said at a news conference in San Antonio.
Obama did receive a $10,000 contribution made by a Rezko associate that is mentioned in the indictment. But Obama’s campaign has long since sent the money to charity.
“There’s no dispute that he raised money for us, and there’s no dispute that we’ve tried to get rid of it,” Obama said.
John Whitesides at Reuters writes that Clinton may have slowed Obama’s momentum:
Hillary Clinton gained ground on rival Barack Obama to take a slim lead in Texas and pull even in Ohio before their crucial Democratic presidential showdowns, according to a Reuters/C-SPAN/Houston Chronicle poll released on Tuesday.
Clinton needs victories in both big-state battles to keep her candidacy alive and halt Obama’s string of 11 consecutive victories in the race to choose the Democratic nominee in November’s presidential election.
The New York senator took a 47 percent to 44 percent lead on Obama in Texas, reversing Obama’s 3-point edge on Monday. The lead was within the margin of error of 3.4 percentage points.
The race in Ohio was deadlocked at 44 percent in the polling by Zogby International, a slight gain for Clinton from Obama’s 2-point edge on Monday.
Clinton has hammered the Illinois senator for days over his readiness to be commander in chief and the sincerity of his pledge to renegotiate the North American Free Trade Agreement, an unpopular deal in economically hard-hit Ohio where it is believed to have cost the state manufacturing jobs.
The arguments appear to have helped Clinton make inroads with male voters, particularly white and Hispanic men, as Obama’s big early leads among men have dwindled, pollster John Zogby said.
“Her gains have largely been from growth among men,” he said. “It looks like the argument about strength and the questions raised about Obama are paying off.”
For Obama, questions about his relationship with corrupt Chicago real estate developer Tony Rezko continues to raise doubts about his claims as a candidate of change.
Writes Peter Slevin in The Washington Post:
For businessman Antoin “Tony” Rezko, the goal was to get close to politicians who might matter someday. He targeted a raft of up-and-comers, including a young state senator named Barack Obama.
The trial is also expected to fill out the portrait of Rezko, a onetime investor, restaurant owner and Obama fundraiser who contributed to his campaigns and sold the senator from Illinois a piece of property in 2005 on Chicago’s South Side.
Obama is expected to be no more than a footnote to the three-month trial — Rezko allegedly contributed $10,000 in extorted funds to Obama’s campaign — yet Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton’s campaign has bombarded reporters with Web links and word that the proceedings are beginning.
Searching for an advantage after 11 straight primary losses, Clinton strategists said Obama should be questioned more closely about his relationship with Rezko, who faces a separate trial on charges of swindling $10 million from a financial institution.
For his part, Obama has called the 2005 real estate deal with Rezko’s wife “boneheaded” and has donated to charity $149,585 in contributions linked to Rezko. The campaign said the money came from Rezko, his family and employees, as well as guests at a fundraiser held at his home.
Rezko sought to hire Obama out of Harvard Law School in the early 1990s and later donated to Obama’s successful runs for the Illinois and U.S. senates. They occasionally socialized before Obama first consulted him on the house purchase, but the senator has said he did no favors for Rezko.
Ethics watchdogs in Chicago accept Obama’s account, noting that he was instrumental in passing the strongest state ethics law in 25 years as a freshman state senator. But they have called the real estate deal and his failure to distance himself from Rezko a lapse in judgment.
In 2005, Barack and Michelle Obama and Rezko’s wife, Rita, bought adjacent properties near the University of Chicago. The Obamas bought a $1.65 million home and Rita Rezko the vacant lot next door for $625,000.
The Obamas, wanting a larger yard, later bought one-sixth of the Rezko lot for one-sixth of the price. Obama said in an interview in December 2006, as he prepared to launch his presidential bid, “There’s no doubt I should have seen some red flags in terms of me purchasing a piece of property from him.”
“It wasn’t something we needed to have,” Obama said of the larger yard.
Rezko’s trial, opening on the week of the crucial Ohio and Texas primaries, is also Obama didn’t need to have, along with questions about what one of his senior advisors may or may not have told Canadian officials about the Senator’s “real” stance on the North American Free Trade Agreement.
Writes Nedra Pickler of The Associated Press:
Barack Obama said Monday that his campaign never gave Canada back-channel assurances that his harsh words about the North American Free Trade Agreement were for political show – despite the disclosure of a Canadian memo indicating otherwise.
According to the memo obtained by The Associated Press, Obama’s senior economic adviser told Canadian officials in Chicago that the debate over free trade in the Democratic presidential primary campaign was “political positioning” and that Obama was not really protectionist.
The adviser, Austan Goolsbee, said his comments to those officials were misinterpreted by the author, Joseph DeMora, who works for the Canadian consulate in Chicago and attended the meeting.
In Carrollton, Texas, Obama told reporters: “Nobody reached out to the Canadians to try to assure them of anything.”
Asked why he had appeared to deny a report last week that such a meeting had taken place, Obama said: “That was the information I had at the time.”
The Canadian SNAFU is a rare glitch in the usually smooth-running Obama campaign machine but it could hurt him in both Ohio and Texas where NAFTA are hot button issues. His backtracking on an earlier denial that such a meeting ever took place also races questions on how his campaign will deal with increased media and public scrutiny in a campaign season that seems to never end.