POLITICS
03/28/2008 02:46 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Obama Still Faces Red State Challenge

For Democrats desperate to reclaim the White House, the numbers have been tantalizing.

In winning Tuesday's primary in the key swing state of Wisconsin, Sen. Barack Obama drew support from tens of thousands of Republicans and independents. He pulled off the same feat in his landslide victory in the Virginia primary the week before, suggesting he could win the state in November. In South Carolina, he had more votes than the top two Republican contenders put together; in Kansas, his total topped the overall GOP turnout.

All along, Obama has argued that he can redraw the political map for Democrats by turning out unprecedented numbers of young voters and African Americans, and by attracting independents and even Republicans with his message of national reconciliation. But the picture emerging of his appeal in GOP strongholds and in swing states, even as he widens his delegate lead over Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (N.Y.), is more complex than his claim to broad popularity in "red state" America would have one believe.

Obama (Ill.) posted big wins over Clinton in caucuses in Plains and Mountain states such as Kansas, Nebraska and Idaho, but Republicans in those states scoff at the suggestion that victories in the small universe of Democrats there translate into strength in November. In Tennessee and Oklahoma, Obama lost by wide margins to Clinton, who lived in nearby Arkansas. He narrowly won the primary in the swing state of Missouri, but did so thanks to the state's solidly Democratic cities, losing its more rural, and more conservative, areas to Clinton.

"If he's the nominee . . . he'll start off with a good urban base, but he'll have to get out and develop these other areas," said former Tennessee governor Ned McWherter, a Democrat and Clinton supporter.

Clinton has been making her own electability case, saying she is more tested against Republican attacks and more able to turn out large numbers of women and Latinos.

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