Obama Seeks To Make New York Primary Competitive

Most media attention in the 2008 Democratic Party presidential nomination battle still centers on South Carolina — but a perhaps even more intriguing political war is starting to rage in New York state, Senator Hillary Clinton’s home turf:

With Senator Barack Obama vowing to challenge Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton on her home turf, the Democratic presidential primary in New York on Feb. 5 is shaping up as the state’s most competitive since 1992, when Bill Clinton took up a rival’s mantra of change to all but cinch the nomination.

Mrs. Clinton was re-elected a little more than a year ago by better than two to one. Before the Iowa caucuses, she had so dominated opinion polls and endorsements by elected officials and powerful unions that many considered her home state impregnable to political interlopers.

But if Mr. Obama wins the South Carolina primary in two weeks, he could develop enough grass-roots support among young people, liberals and black voters in New York to pose a serious threat to her claim to the state’s rich delegate lode, allies of both candidates say.

“The expectation is that Hillary should win in New York,” said Assemblyman Adam Clayton Powell IV of Harlem, an Obama supporter. “As you know, expectations don’t always translate into votes, and so we’re going to fight in New York.”

Particularly after New Hampshire, all these “coulds” in news stories need to be boldfaced.

While Mrs. Clinton’s supporters say they are certain she will win the state and, with it, the bulk of its 281 delegates, they acknowledge that to keep Mr. Obama from running even a close second, she may have to invest more precious time and money here. Twenty-one other states, including New Jersey and Connecticut, also hold primaries on Feb. 5.

“Clearly they’re going to make a humongous effort to make sure that doesn’t happen,” said State Senator Bill Perkins of Harlem, an Obama supporter.

“We’re not taking anything for granted,” said Blake Zeff, the Clinton campaign’s communications director in New York. Representative Charles B. Rangel of Harlem, one of Mrs. Clinton’s earliest supporters, predicted that she would do “extremely well — after all, she’s our ‘favorite daughter.’ She’s better known and she’s earned the right to our support.”

But, Mr. Rangel acknowledged, “Obama’s electric campaign will stimulate a big turnout.”
And the developments in the primaries are breaking quickly.

Meanwhile, you can see some of the themes that will be used in the Clinton campaign against Obama in this post on the New York Time’s blog. Former Senator Bob Kerrey endorses Clinton but says he really likes Obama. But a bit of friendly advice for Obama: with friends like Kerrey you don’t need….(fill in the blank).

Former Nebraska Senator Bob Kerrey was candid about his endorsement of Hillary Clinton, despite what he admitted was an affinity for Barack Obama’s less doctrinaire politics. This was at a breakfast with some fellow-transplanted Cornhuskers (two of us, to be precise).

“Even before John Edwards was chasing ambulances in North Carolina and Barack was voting ‘present’ in the Illinois state senate,” Senator Clinton was involved in major policy initiatives, he said.

Expect to hear this theme a lot.

He cited her history as a pioneer of children’s rights issues and her work on the Congressional Watergate hearings. He also contended that she possessed a superior mental Rolodex to Senator Obama’s should the time come to make hundreds of national-security political appointments.

But discussing the importance American voters place on a candidate’s personal likability, Mr. Kerrey said: “If you’re talking about having somebody in your living room every day for four years — on the television — people are going to have to like listening to them. In that category, I like Obama better.”

He hastened to add: “But I like Hillary a lot too.”

(This from the person who was forced to apologize to Mr. Obama just a few weeks ago after making controversial remarks about the Illinois senator’s heritage.)

In reality, there isn’t a real front-runner in this race yet — but there could be one after South Carolina. That’s why the stakes are so high in South Carolina and in New York. And the Clintons have to walk through the political minefield carefully. They’re already having to do damage control on comments about Obama that have angered blacks — and, if a chunk of black voters decide to stay home in 2008, the nomination won’t do Ms. Clinton any good, even if she gets it.