EVANSVILLE, Ind. — Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama crisscrossed two states Monday, waging a last-ditch push for votes in Indiana and North Carolina even as both vowed to keep campaigning through the month regardless of Tuesday's results.
"This is gonna be a tight election here in Indiana. Every poll shows a dead heat," Obama told union members at an early morning event in Evansville before jetting off to North Carolina.
"We need every single vote."
Clinton launched a new TV ad, pitching her proposal to suspend the federal gasoline tax and ripping Obama for opposing it.
"He is attacking Hillary's plan to give you a break on gas prices because he doesn't have one," said the ad.
Indiana is shaping up as the key battleground, where a Clinton victory in Obama's backyard would be her first in a state bordering the Illinois senator's home and perhaps would reinforce the weakness he's shown in recent contests, where he's lost working-class whites decisively. Clinton led there by 5.3 percentage points in an averaging of recent polls cited by RealClearPolitics.com.
An Obama win in Indiana, however, could signal that he's regained his front-runner footing after a firestorm of criticism over his former pastor and his comment about working-class votes clinging to God and guns out of bitterness.
The contest doesn't appear to be as close in North Carolina, where more than a third of the vote could be cast by African-Americans. Obama leads by 7 percentage points in an averaging of recent polls cited by RealClearPolitics.com.
One prominent and neutral Democrat, former Rep. Harold Ford of Tennessee, said Monday that Clinton appeared to be gaining in both states, thanks to her detailed promise to help working-class voters worried about pocketbook issues, particularly her proposal to suspend the federal gas tax.
"She has found some traction with voters that's giving her momentum here at the end," Ford said.
While a split decision — such as Clinton winning Indiana and Obama winning North Carolina — could leave the contest unchanged, either candidate could change the dynamic of the race heading into the final weeks by winning both on Tuesday.
"If he wins both, it's over for her," Ford said. "If she wins both, I don't know how it doesn't move it to her favor."
Battle-scarred operatives in both camps brushed away any hopes of the long campaign ending any time soon.
"My sense is she is going to play this out regardless of what happens tomorrow," said Obama strategist David Axelrod. "Tomorrow may define how this plays out for the next month, but I think the result (under any scenario) is Obama is going to be the nominee for this party. ...Whatever happens is not going to markedly change the delegate situation."
Indeed, with the 115 delegates in North Carolina and 72 in Indiana likely to be closely split, Obama is certain to still lead in delegates. As of Monday, Obama has 1,743 delegates and Clinton 1,607, according to the Associated Press.
But neither will win enough in the remaining primaries to reach the 2,025 needed to clinch the nomination. The winner must win the rest from among about 230 still-uncommitted superdelegates, all senior party officials.
Clinton aides vowed again Monday that she'll fight on through the primaries regardless of Tuesday's results.
"There are still a lot of people who haven't had the opportunity (to vote) between now and June 3, and Senator Clinton wants to give them the opportunity," said Clinton aide Mo Elleithee. "There is a clear path to victory, and we're going to see the process through."
That path apparently includes fighting to seat contested delegates from Michigan and Florida, where Clinton won unsanctioned primaries. The Clinton campaign told the Huffington Post on Monday that it will take the Michigan-Florida fight to the Democratic National Committee's Rules Committee meeting in late May.
On the campaign trail, Obama told an undecided voter in Durham, N. C., that he's been tested by the recent barrage of criticism and that he passed.
"Senator Clinton, despite what she says about being vetted, she hasn't gone through what I've been going through over the last couple of months because she's not the front-runner. She says she has, but she went through it 10 years ago," Obama said.
Despite the attacks, he said Americans find him more trustworthy than Clinton, that "the core message of this campaign is the right one." He added: "Don't buy into this electability argument. Go with who you think best represents your vision of where America needs to go."
The undecided voter, Diana Allen, said she was satisfied.
"Everything he said I do believe in," said Allen, a semiconductor worker. "I was concerned about electability. I do believe in his ideas, and I believe if the American people can hear his ideas the same way I heard them today, it's hard to believe that they wouldn't feel the same way. Who knows what's going to come between now and then (November), but it's hard to believe it could get worse than it has been so far" for him.
(Thomma reported from Washington, D.C., Talev from Indiana and North Carolina. William Douglas contributed from Indiana and North Carolina.)
McClatchy Newspapers 2008