Now that Texas and Ohio (Fine, Rhode Island too.) have sent the Democratic nomination race back into undecided territory, the focus shifts to the next round of states. [Didn't I lament the tendency to do this in my Nevada caucuses post-post-mortem?] Let's have a look at the particulars for Wyoming, Mississippi and Pennsylvania (A tip of the cap to thegreenpapers.com is warranted here. The information is from them.):
Mississippi's contest is like many of the other contests across the deep South: the electorate is heavily African American tilting the state in Obama's direction. He won those states by an average of twenty-five percentage points (AL +14, GA +36, LA +22, SC +29--source: NYT Election Guide). The focus for the Obama camp will be on turning out the vote in the state's 2nd congressional district where most of the African Americans are and thus the largest piece of the delegate pie (7 delegates. The other four districts have five delegates each.). Applying the 25 point margin to Mississippi would give Obama a roughly nine delegate advantage coming out of the state which would get back a third of the net delegates he lost to Clinton during yesterday's contests (according to the AP delegate count). So while 40 delegates (minus seven superdelegates) seems like a drop in the bucket and can bolster the delegate advantage he holds currently.
The one quirk in Mississippi is that the contest is an open one. Now that the GOP race is over, could some Republicans cross over and vote for a candidate they feel would not stack up well against McCain? And could it amount to a difference in the outcome? Outcome, as in statewide percentage breakdown, slightly. Outcome in terms delegates netted, certainly. And the delegate count matters because things are so close.
But that leads to Pennsylvania. The six week charge to the Keystone state after Mississippi would be an intense one (One that party insiders may like to avoid. Could superdelegates intercede? Obama and the DNC may hope so, for different reasons.). [I find it interesting that Pennsylvania insists on being called a commonwealth, yet the commonwealth's nickname is the Keystone state.] That time span between contests becomes as important, if not more so, than the contest itself. I can't imagine a scenario where the tensions between the two campaigns doesn't turn extremely negative. It won't be a McCain-Huckabee affair. And that negativity could affect Pennsylvania in ways that no one could even begin to predict (Well, someone could try, I suppose.).
What I believe we'll begin to see though is that the candidates will begin to micro-target some of the congressional districts where the most delegates are at stake. The distribution of delegates within those nineteen districts ranges from three to nine. Over a six week stretch, you'll begin to see more attention paid to those delegate-rich districts. Another thing that has not been mentioned is that this stretch allows for a return to retail politics; negative retail politics, but retail politics nonetheless. Six weeks is a long time. And with only seven contests remaining after Pennsylvania (plus Guam and Puerto Rico), it isn't far-fetched to imagine an awful lot of focus on the commonwealth.
The rules in these three states are not unlike what we've seen in earlier primaries and caucuses, but the timing of them on the calendar leaves a lot of room for interpretation.