Hillary courts Deep South vote in Obama's backyard

Scan the crammed exhibition hall in downtown Atlanta where a beaming Hillary Clinton is on stage selling herself to more than 5,000 cheering Georgia activists and you will know at once that not everyone is ready to buy. Barack Obama's supporters are a little quieter – he is not in town tonight – but they are surely here.

"We know that change is on the way," Mrs Clinton declares in the opening line of a speech that, as it goes on, increasingly borrows from themes practised by Mr Obama. "Are we ready for a change?"

No one can have missed the fact that of the eight men who had escorted her to the microphone, seven were African-Americans, among them John Lewis, a famed Georgia congressman and a hero of the civil rights movement.

Between now and "Super Tuesday", the two candidates left standing in the Democrat nominating contest are left grappling with a three-dimensional jigsaw puzzle. It is all about the constituencies they can count on – of age, race, gender and also geography – and which will deliver the most votes to them.

Here in the Deep South, four states – Georgia, Alabama, Arkansas and Tennessee – all vote next week, offering a booty of 296 convention delegates. That is more, for instance, than the 281 up for grabs in mighty New York. Mr Obama will be counting on doing well here to counter a possible Clinton deluge elsewhere.

That the black vote will help him is not in dispute, in Georgia especially, where, as in South Carolina, Democrat voters will again be majority African-American. Young people are for him. Yet polls here show a tight race. Mrs Clinton has other constituencies to help her here, including women and perhaps white men once with John Edwards. And there is the state's fast-growing Hispanic community.

Having black support may not be enough for Mr Obama therefore, even here. The Democrats believe that in November they can recapture the South – and particularly its white moderates – which defected to the Republican column back in the Reagan years. But are white moderates Obama fans?

If he doesn't win in Georgia on Tuesday, where will he? "The challenge for him is to improve his standing with white voters," said Merle Black, a widely respected political scientist at Emory University here. "The black vote is too small in other states to produce a victory for him. He has to expand his base."

That Mr Obama may be vulnerable even in the Peach State is evidenced by the candidates' schedules. Though absent tonight, he spent the early part of the week here.

And Mrs Clinton is in town because she smells opportunity. This has, in fact, been a two-event day for her. Hours before, in the same Georgia World Congress complex, she addressed a huge convention of southern Baptists.

A champion of the Baptists here is the former President Jimmy Carter. An endorsement by him would surely boost Mr Obama. In comments this week, he almost obliged, but not quite. Now 83, Mr Carter called his campaign "captivating" and "titillating". He added: "I think that Obama will be almost automatically a healing factor in the animosity now and the distrust that relates to our country."

Picking at his chicken wing at the Democratic dinner, Willy Mosley, 45, an African-American who has fought for office in DeKalb County, in suburban Atlanta, thinks that Mr Obama will prevail in Georgia, at least, but not by much. "It will be a fight and it won't be a landslide," he says, but adds that Mr Obama has his ear to the ground and sees him catching ground "by leaps and bounds".

Lynn Roberts, 62, a retired teacher, is sharing her table with Democrat officials from Dawson County, north of the metropolis. She identifies herself as precisely the kind of white swing voter both candidates crave by wearing two buttons on her blouse – for Mr Obama and for Mrs Clinton. She voices a common reservation about the former. "I like him but I wonder if he really has the experience for government."

So what of her table mates – all white middle-aged Deep South Democrats? In a pause between speakers they agree to vote by a show of hands. How many like Mr Obama better than Mrs Clinton and, secondly, how many think he can actually win the state? It is six votes to three in favour of Mr Obama for each question. Ms Roberts abstains both times, but concedes: "Yes, he might very well win Georgia."

Might, not will.

For rolling comment on the US election visit: independent.co.uk/campaign08

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Senior IT Support / Projects Engineer

£26000 - £29000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Bench Joiner & Wood Machinist

£20000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This busy local Joinery company...

Recruitment Genius: Financial Adviser

£20000 - £60000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you recently QCA Level 4 qu...

Recruitment Genius: Senior Director - Product Management

£75000 - £85000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They are the largest and fastes...

Day In a Page

Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

How a costume drama became a Sunday night staple
Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers as he pushes Tories on housing

Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers

Labour leader pushes Tories on housing
Aviation history is littered with grand failures - from the the Bristol Brabazon to Concorde - but what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?

Aviation history is littered with grand failures

But what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?
Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of Soviet-style 'iron curtains' right across Europe

Fortress Europe?

Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of 'iron curtains'
Never mind what you're wearing, it's what you're reclining on

Never mind what you're wearing

It's what you're reclining on that matters
General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

Marginal Streets project documents voters

Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

The real-life kingdom of Westeros

Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

How to survive a Twitter mauling

Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

At dawn, the young remember the young

A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

Follow the money as never before

Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

Samuel West interview

The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence