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
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
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: Sales Executive - OTE £30,000+

£16000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They are looking for individual...

Recruitment Genius: IT Project Coordinator / Manager

£25000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Project Coordinator is requir...

Recruitment Genius: Mortgage Advisor - OTE £95,000

£40000 - £95000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Trainee Vehicle Inspectors / Purchasers

£20000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Trainee Vehicle Inspectors / Pu...

Day In a Page

Greece debt crisis: EU 'family' needs to forgive rather than punish an impoverished state

EU 'family' needs to forgive rather than punish an impoverished state

An outbreak of malaria in Greece four years ago helps us understand the crisis, says Robert Fisk
Gaza, a year on from Operation Protective Edge: The traumatised kibbutz on Israel's front line, still recovering from last summer's war with Hamas

Gaza, a year on from Operation Protective Edge

The traumatised kibbutz on Israel's front line, still recovering from last summer's war with Hamas
How to survive electrical storms: What are the chances of being hit by lightning?

Heavy weather

What are the chances of being hit by lightning?
World Bodypainting Festival 2015: Bizarre and brilliant photos celebrate 'the body as art'

World Bodypainting Festival 2015

Bizarre and brilliant photos celebrate 'the body as art'
alt-j: A private jet, a Mercury Prize and Latitude headliners

Don't call us nerds

Craig Mclean meets alt-j - the math-folk act who are flying high
How to find gold: The Californian badlands, digging out crevasses and sifting sludge

How to find gold

Steve Boggan finds himself in the Californian badlands, digging out crevasses and sifting sludge
Singing accents: From Herman's Hermits and David Bowie to Alesha Dixon

Not born in the USA

Lay off Alesha Dixon: songs sound better in US accents, even our national anthem
10 best balsamic vinegars

10 best balsamic vinegars

Drizzle it over salad, enjoy it with ciabatta, marinate vegetables, or use it to add depth to a sauce - this versatile staple is a cook's best friend
Wimbledon 2015: Brief glimpses of the old Venus but Williams sisters' epic wars belong to history

Brief glimpses of the old Venus but Williams sisters' epic wars belong to history

Serena dispatched her elder sister 6-4, 6-3 in eight minutes more than an hour
Greece says 'No': A night of huge celebrations in Athens as voters decisively back Tsipras and his anti-austerity stance in historic referendum

Greece referendum

Greeks say 'No' to austerity and plunge Europe into crisis
Ten years after the 7/7 terror attacks, is Britain an altered state?

7/7 bombings anniversary

Ten years after the terror attacks, is Britain an altered state?
Beautiful evening dresses are some of the loveliest Donatella has created

Versace haute couture review

Beautiful evening dresses are some of the loveliest Donatella has ever created
No hope and no jobs, so Gaza's young risk their lives, climb the fence and run for it

No hope and no jobs in Gaza

So the young risk their lives and run for it
Fashion apps: Retailers roll together shopping and social networking for mobile customers

Fashion apps

Retailers roll together shopping and social networking for mobile customers
The Greek referendum exposes a gaping hole at the heart of the European Union – its distinct lack of any genuine popular legitimacy

Gaping hole at the heart of the European Union

Treatment of Greece has shown up a lack of genuine legitimacy