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Clinton, Obama in last-ditch Connecticut fight

Image: Hillary Clinton Campaigns
Democratic presidential hopeful Sen. Hillary Clinton speaks during a discussion at the Yale Child Study Center on Monday in New Haven, Conn.Justin Sullivan / Getty Images
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Connecticut has only 48 delegates to offer to the victor of Tuesday’s Democratic primary, a far cry from California’s 370.

But with only hours left before the voting begins, both Sen. Hillary Clinton and Sen. Barack Obama each demonstrated how significant they think the state is on the Super Tuesday battlefield.

Clinton brought her campaign to the Yale Child Study Center in New Haven, and Obama addressed a rally of about 15,000 shouting people in Hartford Monday evening.

Clinton proved with a New Hampshire victory on Jan. 8 that women are her key demographic, comprising nearly 60 percent of that state’s electorate.

Clinton won 46 percent to Obama’s 34 percent, according to exit poll interviews.

Timed for local TV news
So it made sense that the Yale event — well-timed for mid-day and 6 p.m. local news broadcasts — showcased a dozen women, flanking Clinton around a table, as they discussed family and health care policy.

On the wall, behind the former first lady were home-made signs reading, “My mom says Hillary,” “Hillary Cares” and “Kids for Hillary.”

For an hour and 40 minutes, an exhausted looking Clinton (who appeared to be battling a cough) talked health insurance, child abuse, domestic violence, obesity, lack of child care for working mothers, the subprime mortgage crisis, the lack of family physicians, and the high cost of student loans.

The topics were decidedly less than upbeat.

She underscored how long she has been waging legal warfare against Republicans, mentioning that during one law school summer she worked “trying to prevent the Nixon administration from giving tax-exempt status to segregated academies in the South” in 1971. 

The point was to show her mastery of the details of social policy. For one listener, at least, she succeeded.

Gladys Deutsch, director of the Leila Day Nursery school in New Haven, gave a glowing review of the entire event. “She was knowledgeable, articulate, she just was excellent.”

But Deutsch was not completely convinced that she'll vote for Clinton on Tuesday. “I’m sort of still wondering, but I was very, very favorably impressed with her demeanor, the way she connected with people. I think I was surprised” at how well Clinton established rapport with the dozen women. 

“I was leaning toward Obama before I came here, and I just was very favorably impressed with her, so I’m still thinking. I’m going to do a little soul-searching tonight,” Deutsch said.

Once in a lifetime Seven hours later, Rep. Rosa DeLauro, one of the introductory speakers for Obama, told a crowd of people filling the XL Center in downtown Hartford, “This is a once-in-a-lifetime moment, my friends.”

Obama’s stump speech was almost identical to the one he gave in North Charleston two days before the South Carolina primary — “I can’t do this by myself; you need to be ready for change!” The difference in Hartford was that the crowd was four or five times bigger and even more frenzied than the one in North Charleston.

And Obama added a few flattering lines about Sen. Chris Dodd, the state’s senior senator who dropped out of the presidential race last month. A Dodd endorsement of Obama would be dramatic, but time may have run out for that move.

In the crowd was Wilma Torres, a product demonstrator from Bristol, Conn., who said she brought her grand-daughter to see Obama “so she could see what rallying is all about.”

She said, “I think it’s time, like he said, for the low-income people to get ahead and I think with him being the president, maybe my grand-kids will be better off. He talks like he’s going to help all the low-income people get ahead.”

Connecticut’s primary will serve as a test case for gauging whether Obama can put together the coalition that will allow him to wrest the nomination from Clinton.

Unlike Massachusetts, this is not a state where most of the state’s senior Democratic elected officials have endorsed Obama. And unlike New York, it's not Clinton’s home turf.

Obama's coalition
Obama’s South Carolina victory and his second-place finish in New Hampshire made clear that he has drawn most of his support from a coalition of highly educated, affluent professionals, young voters, and African-Americans.

If Obama can assemble that same winning coalition in Connecticut, he is likely to do it again in Maryland, Pennsylvania, and other states that vote after this week.

And Tuesday's outcome in Connecticut is likely to be broadcast even as voters in Arizona, California and other western states are still casting their ballots.

A big victory in Connecticut could ripple 3,000 miles to the Pacific Coast on Tuesday.

The prototype for how Obama could win Connecticut on Tuesday? The 2006 Senate primary.

The Establishment candidate was Sen. Joe Lieberman, the Democratic Party’s 2000 vice presidential nominee; the insurgent was Ned Lamont, a mostly self-financed antiwar candidate. Lamont won the primary with 52 percent of the vote.

In Tuesday’s primary Clinton is playing the Establishment favorite; Obama is taking Lamont’s role as the insurgent.

Lamont sees parallel with 2006 victory
Lamont, who is co-chair of Obama’s Connecticut campaign, sees the similarities between his win in August 2006 and Obama’s campaign: “Same grassroots/netroots energy and support. Barack is doing better with institutional support — party brass and unions — than I did in the primary.”

He added that, “seniors tend to lean towards the incumbent; I was crushed by age 60 and older voters and most of them see Hillary as the incumbent, so Barack may need more time to make that sale.”

Lamont added that Obama “will do great with younger voters, ethnic voters, and better educated voters which helped me win the primary. The emphasis is making sure they vote; we know that seniors vote.”

Clinton supporter Richard Blumenthal, the state’s attorney general, who attended Monday's event in New Haven, rejected the idea that the Lamont 2006 prototype is the model for an Obama victory Tuesday.

“There’s no comparison,” he said. “Lamont-Lieberman was about the war; it was not just a difference in style or personality. It was a really stark difference on a predominant issue. This one is totally different. I think this is really about experience and qualifications, and about the economy.”

Lamont’s victory hinged on these cities and towns, places where Obama’s chances of success will  be decided as well on Tuesday:

  • Hartford: The state capitol and a city with a population that is 40 percent black and 40 percent Latino. Lamont carried it with 51 percent; Obama should do at least as well. 
  • West Hartford: An affluent suburb where 25 percent of the population has graduate or professional degrees. This town of 63,000 people has ten Jewish synagogues, temples, and congregations. It should be a good test case of Obama’s appeal to Jewish Democrats. Lamont narrowly carried West Hartford in the 2006 primary.
  • Waterbury: An old industrial city and the place where former president Bill Clinton came to rally support for Lieberman two weeks before the 2006 primary. Clinton helped: Lieberman carried Waterbury by a landslide over Lamont. Hillary Clinton needs a similar margin in Waterbury in order to win statewide.
  • Middletown and New Haven: Academia, home to Wesleyan University and Yale University, respectively. Bastions of Lamont strength in the 2006 primary. They should provide lots of votes for Obama.
  • Wilton, Westport, and Greenwich: Blue-chip communities in the Fairfield County suburbs of New York City, home to investment bankers, lawyers, doctors and other wealthy Democrats. Lamont easily carried all three places in the primary and these should be Obama territory as well.
  • Bridgeport: Once an industrial powerhouse of America’s World War II crusade, this is now a gritty, struggling city with a population that is one-third African-American and one-third Latino. Only four percent of the population has a graduate or professional degree.

Lieberman narrowly carried Bridgeport in the 2006 primary.