Primary gets New Jersey Dems talking

(Published in The Press of Atlantic City on Thursday, April 24, 2008.)

Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton’s Democratic presidential primary win Tuesday in Pennsylvania has some New Jersey Democrats looking warily to the general election.

“This is a very risky situation for the Democratic Party,” Cumberland County Democratic Chairman and Freeholder Director Lou Magazzu said. “The Democratic Party is poised to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.”

Like many New Jersey Democrats, Magazzu believes Clinton, D-N.Y., should stay in the race at least until the June 3 end of the primary season. Clinton narrowed her 131-delegate deficit by nine, with three delegates still to be determined from her win Tuesday. Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., remains in the lead in delegates, popular vote and total contests won.

“The pendulum, quite frankly, didn’t swing either way,” said Donald Norcross, a New Jersey superdelegate and labor leader who backs Obama. “For those who were hoping Hillary Clinton would get a knockout, it didn’t happen. For those who were hoping Barack Obama would get a knockout, it didn’t happen.”

In the end, Clinton won 54.6 percent of the vote to Obama’s 45.4 percent, according to Pennsylvania state tallies. Clinton went into the race heavily favored.

Critics say that’s why her victory was a pyrrhic one at best and continued to press for her to withdraw from the race. Many Democrats believe an agreement should be brokered between the two candidates shortly after the June 3 primaries in South Dakota and Montana, at the latest.

“She didn’t have to win,” said New Jersey Senate President Dick Codey, an Obama supporter. “She had to win huge. She didn’t.”

Codey said he believes Clinton will be forced to drop out after the May 6 primaries in Indiana and North Carolina.

“It’s just impossible for her to win the popular and electoral votes,” Codey added. “So what are we fighting over? It’s old math. It doesn’t work for her.”

Prominent supporters such as Gov. Jon S. Corzine remain behind Clinton.

“I think the case for superdelegates and voters is who’s most electable in November,” Corzine said.

Corzine, who supports Clinton, continued to press for a revote in Florida, which has seen its primary results invalidated by the Democratic National Committee for flouting party rules in scheduling its primary too early. Florida Democratic leaders decided last month not to revote.

“If that’s the only read on which the Clinton supporters are relying, I think it will fail in the end,” countered U.S. Rep. Steve Rothman, D-9th, Obama’s campaign co-chairman for the Northeastern U.S. “I think it’s a fantasy, and like many fantasies — not all –it’s not based in reality.”

In the overall race for the nomination, Obama leads with 1,723.5 delegates, including superdelegates. Clinton has 1,592.5, according to the AP tally. Three Pennsylvania delegate votes still need to be apportioned, because state election officials were still working Wednesday to assign votes from split counties to the proper congressional districts.

It will take 2,025 delegates to secure the Democratic nomination. Mathematically, neither candidate can reach that amount without the backing of superdelegates, Democratic office holders and party officials who have votes in the primary unbound by results of primaries or caucuses.

Some have begun to press for an Obama-Clinton ticket against U.S. Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., in the general election, but Obama has shown no indication he’s willing to accept that.

“If either of them were to even hint they would take the vice president (position), there would be enormous pressure for a joint ticket,” said state Sen. Jim Whelan, D-Atlantic, who backs Clinton.

Obama and Clinton now have eight primaries remaining, as well as caucuses in Guam, which are up next on May 3. Pennsylvania is the last so-called “big” state to vote, having had 158 delegates at stake. On May 6, 187 delegates will be up for grabs in the Indiana and North Carolina primaries. After that, the last 162 pledged delegates will be chosen in the West Virginia, Kentucky, Oregon, Puerto Rico, South Dakota and Montana primaries, with the latter two closing out the state votes on June 3.

Clinton has won large states such as New York, California, Ohio and Pennsylvania. Obama has taken key swing states such as Missouri and Colorado, as well as numerous states typically ceded to Republicans in the general election, such as Kansas and Mississippi. Because of Democratic Party rules, votes are assigned proportionally according to the margin of victory in each state, which has prevented either candidate from pulling far ahead of the other.

“The only thing that’s clear is that nothing is clear,” Magazzu said. “Somebody has to win somewhere they’re not supposed to win.”

To e-mail Daniel Walsh at The Press:


– May 3: Guam caucuses

– May 6: Indiana and North Carolina primaries

– May 13: West Virginia Democratic primary, Nebraska Republican primary

– May 20: Kentucky and Oregon primaries

– May 27: Idaho Republican primary

– June 1: Puerto Rico Democratic primary

– June 3: South Dakota primaries, Montana Democratic primary, New Mexico Republican primary