Michael Barone

In contrast, Obama's demagoguery on trade failed to attract white working-class voters: He ran far behind Clinton in Mahoning County (Youngstown) and the west side of Cuyahoga County (Cleveland). In southeast Ohio, settled originally by Virginians and still Southern-accented today, Clinton carried all-white counties with 70 percent to 80 percent of the vote -- more than she was carrying nearly all-white counties in central Texas. That raises doubts that Obama could run well in these counties, which provided critical votes in Bill Clinton's wins in Ohio in the 1990s and Jimmy Carter's narrow win there in 1976.

But Clinton is still about 100 delegates behind, and the Democrats' proportional representation rules make it impossible for her to close the gap in the remaining primaries. Her only plausible path to the nomination is to win a majority of super-delegates (party and public officials) and, perhaps, to reverse the party's decision disqualifying the Michigan and Florida delegations -- i.e., overruling the voters in one case and changing the rules after the game has been played in the other.

This might pass muster if the national polls show an unambiguous and substantial move toward Clinton. Otherwise, in more likely and ambiguous circumstances, a Clinton nomination will seem illegitimate to many who have been swooning over Obama and streaming into polling booths because he alone offers hope.

The March 4 exit polls show increasing percentages of Democratic primary voters unwilling to accept the rejection of their candidate. Both candidates have an incentive to attack on grounds that will weaken the other in the general election, as Clinton has already started to do with her "red phone" ad.

All of this is a windfall, surely, for McCain -- unless he forgets that his party is in trouble and that he needs to make an affirmative case for himself and his policies. And loudly enough to overcome the din as Clinton and Obama pummel each other.

Michael Barone

Michael Barone, senior political analyst for The Washington Examiner (www.washingtonexaminer.com), is a resident fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, a Fox News Channel contributor and a co-author of The Almanac of American Politics. To find out more about Michael Barone, and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at www.creators.com. COPYRIGHT 2011 THE WASHINGTON EXAMINER. DISTRIBUTED BY CREATORS.COM