Hillary Clinton’s campaign knew this one was going to be tough for her. Internal polling has shown for weeks that Obama was headed for a big win, and there were those in her campaign hierarchy who had argued that it was not worth the time and money even to put in a serious effort there. After much back and forth, they finally decided to make a late push in Wisconsin–if only to try to cut into his margin.
It didn’t work. Last night’s 17-point victory was even bigger than most people expected, and the real warning signs were in the crosstabs of the exit polls. If Wisconsin is any indicator of what is happening in the rest of the country, Obama is making big inroads into the constituencies that Clinton has considered her own. He fought her to a tie among women, beat her by 13 points among voters who do not have a college degree, by 10 points among those making less than $50,000. He won the overall white vote by 9 points, and nearly tied her with white women–a constituency she has generally been winning by double digits. (Obama won white men by 36 percentage points.) She still wallops him among those seeking experience as their top qualification for a President, but those voters only numbered 22% of the electorate in Wisconsin. Meanwhil, 54% said they are voting for change, and he carried those voters 77-22%.
The other thing that happened in Wisconsin was a sharply negative turn in the tone of the race. The Clinton forces threw everything they had a Obama: plagiarism charges, accusations that he has been hypocritical about campaign finance and negative advertising that accused him of ducking debates. That didn’t work, either. But does that mean Obama is impervious to attack? The Clinton forces don’t think so. As one official noted to me, those hits came late, and negative messages take a while to “seep in.”
Thursday night’s debate in Austin should be interesting to watch.
UPDATE: In a conference call with reporters (still going on as I type this at noon Eastern), Clinton’s chief strategist Mark Penn dismissed the inroads that Obama made with Clinton’s core constituencies in Wisconsin, saying this is “a reflection of the investments the Obama campaign made in organization and other resources.” He says this will not happen in Texas and Ohio, where Senator Clinton has “strong constituencies and strong organization.” He also says the two upcoming debates will give Clinton a chance to change the dynamic.