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Mississippi takes center stage in tight Democratic race

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Author Topic: Mississippi takes center stage in tight Democratic race  (Read 15 times)
Monique Faulkner
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« on: March 11, 2008, 01:22:57 pm »

Mississippi takes center stage in tight Democratic race

Story Highlights
NEW: Mississippi Secretary of State's Office reports light to moderate turnout

Next president must serve "all communities," Obama says

Mississippi holds Democratic, GOP primaries; 33 Democratic delegates at stake

State's large African-American population could help Obama win

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From Paul Steinhauser
CNN Washington Bureau

(CNN) -- One of the most Republican states in the nation takes center stage Tuesday in the battle for the Democratic presidential nomination.

Sen. Barack Obama leads in the overall delegate count, according to CNN calculations.

Sen. Hillary Clinton is hoping to come out of Tuesday's contest with a decent amount of delegates.

1 of 2 Mississippi, which has not voted for a Democratic candidate in a presidential election in 32 years, holds a Democratic primary Tuesday.

Between 125,000 and 150,000 voters were expected to cast ballots Tuesday, predicted Pamela Weaver of the Mississippi Secretary of State's Office.

While the number would represent a 25 to 50 percent increase in turnout from the 2004 primaries, Weaver still described the voting rate as light to moderate.

Sen. Barack Obama touched on the Mississippi Delta's economic struggles during a final campaign stop in Greenville, according to the Associated Press.

"We just haven't seen as much opportunity come to this area as we'd like," he told those gathered at a restaurant, the AP reported. "And one of the challenges, I think, for the next president is making sure that we're serving all communities and not just some communities."

With the campaigns of Sens. Hillary Clinton of New York and Obama of Illinois battling for every delegate, the political spotlight is on a state not used to being the center of such attention.

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Obama campaigned in Mississippi on Monday and will spend part of Tuesday doing the same, while rival Clinton made a swing through the state on Thursday and Friday.

In addition, former President Bill Clinton made the rounds for his wife in Mississippi over the weekend. Not bad for a state that has only 33 delegates up for grabs.

Obama leads in the fight for delegates, 1,553 to 1,438, but neither candidate is close to the 2,025 delegates needed to clinch the Democratic presidential nomination.

With the stakes so high, every state matters. In fact, both candidates traveled to Wyoming last week, to battle for just 12 delegates.

Obama won the caucuses in Wyoming on Saturday, taking seven of the 12 delegates at stake.  Watch more on Obama's win in Wyoming

Mississippi could make it two for Obama -- he has a double-digit lead over Clinton in the latest state opinion polls.

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The state has a larger proportion African-Americans (36 percent, according to the 2000 census) than any other state in the country. And black voters make up nearly 70 percent of registered Democrats. Those numbers appear to benefit Obama, who's overwhelmingly won the African-American vote so far this primary season.

Mississippi also holds open primaries, which means independents and Republicans can vote in the Democratic contest. Exit polls indicate that Obama is winning the votes of independents and Republicans who cross over and cast ballots in Democratic contests.  Watch what Mississippi voters say is the top issue

But Clinton is not conceding. While the odds are against a victory in Mississippi, her campaign is hoping they can come out of Tuesday's contest with a decent amount of delegates.

Another thing to keep an eye on is turnout. Jesse Jackson grabbed 45 percent of the vote in the Mississippi Democratic primary when he ran for the White House in 1988.

Al Gore, at the time a senator from Tennessee, came in second with 33 percent of the vote. More than 359,000 people voted in that year's Democratic primary. Only 76,000 people cast ballots in the 2004 contest, which John Kerry won overwhelmingly.

For Mississippi, it's a moment to bask in the national spotlight. And for a state with images of a strictly segregated past, the Democratic primary is a chance to alter some long held stereotypes.

"We're seeing a contest where I think you're going to see a huge turnout of voters voting either for a woman or an African-American, and that gives us a chance to make a statement," said Marty Wiseman, a professor of political science at Mississippi State University. E-mail to a friend

CNN's Eric Marrapodi contributed to this report.
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