Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama faces tests in the North Carolina and Indiana primaries this week that will help determine whether he has survived a rough patch and can finally defeat Hillary Clinton.
Democratic strategists believe Illinois Sen. Obama has weathered the worst month of his campaign as well as could be expected, given the attention over his former pastor's racially charged rhetoric and his own comments that small-town Americans are bitter and cling to guns and religion.
"He has taken a real hit, no question about it," said Democratic strategist Jim Duffy. "But he seems to be righting himself."
There was no bigger hit than a publicity tour by his longtime preacher, the Rev. Jeremiah Wright.
Wright resurrected many of the themes that Obama thought he had already dealt with, including Wright's notion that the U.S. government spread the AIDS virus to wipe out black people. Obama, who would be the first American black president, was finally forced to make a public breach with Wright.
The blow to Obama's image prompted a fall in his overall numbers in national polls. A Pew Research Center poll last week said his 10-point lead over Clinton in March dwindled to between 45 and 47 percent.
All this has given New York Sen. Clinton reason to hope that she might find a path to overtake Obama's slim lead in nominating delegates who will determine which Democrat will face Republican John McCain in the November election.
Democratic strategist Liz Chadderdon said Clinton has dwindling options, and that her strategy is simply to hang around and hope Obama will encounter some new problem that will bolster her argument she is the more electable Democrat.
"She is waiting for the buyer's remorse," Chadderdon said. "She's desperate for the big gaffe, and here's what's interesting: It hasn't happened yet."
North Carolina and Indiana on Tuesday will provide Obama with an opportunity to silence the critics.
Many analysts are forecasting a split decision -- he winning North Carolina, she taking Indiana. That would mean America's lengthy Democratic feud continues, but that Obama remains in position ultimately to win.
Twin victories by Obama would be even more reassuring to the party's superdelegates who can vote for the candidate of their choosing at the Democrats' August convention.
But the opposite outcome, Clinton victories in both states, would further muddle the picture and give her supporters ammunition to argue to the superdelegates that she is the best candidate to face McCain.
Democratic strategist Doug Schoen, who worked in President Bill Clinton's White House, said there was enough uncertainty surrounding Obama that he was reluctant to predict how the contest was going to end.
"I think there is still a storm going on," Schoen said. "We won't know until Tuesday whether the storm has passed over or if Barack is still caught in a squall."
Obama acknowledged in Indianapolis the Wright flap has been unhelpful to his campaign, but he did not know to what extent. "How it plays itself out I can't tell," he said.
He did not sound as though he expected the Democratic struggle to be over any time soon.
"We'll see what happens on Tuesday and then we're going to we're going to keep on going to the next contests," he said.
Experts predict that if Obama wins the Democratic nomination, he will face a ready-made mix of problems in the general election against McCain.
"In a general election this is the best thing that could happen to McCain," said Andy Smith, a political science professor at the University of New Hampshire.
Last Mod: 05 Mayıs 2008, 17:33