HOUSTON, TEXAS -- Sen. Barack Obama on Tuesday night filled the Toyota Center here, home court for the Houston Rockets, right up to the nosebleed sections as he celebrated his Wisconsin win with about 18,000 screaming supporters.
As Obama comes closer to clinching the Democratic presidential nomination, the campaign of Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton is getting more effective in being able to throw Obama off his storyline in the media. All this makes Texas and Ohio even more important.
If Obama can win big when these mega-states vote on March 4, it can moot the debate over the role of the unpledged delegates -- superdelegates to Obama partisans, automatic delegates to Clinton backers. Early voting in Texas started on Tuesday, runs through Feb. 29, and Obama pushed people to not wait until next month.
"I don't want you to wait until March 4th," Obama pleaded Tuesday night, standing on a stage on what would be center court. "I want you to start voting tomorrow." He made a similar request earlier in an outdoor rally in San Antonio, in shirt sleeves, relishing the warmer weather. Early voting helped Clinton in California, locking in people, preventing them from changing their minds, diluting the impact of Obama's big push at the end.
Texas presents its own unique set of politics for Obama and Clinton. The state has a combination system with a primary and a caucus held on the same day. After voters cast a ballot in any of the 8,300 precincts -- or voted early -- they then can show up in person election night to vote for another pool of delegates. There are actually two opportunities to vote. People can do one thing in the day and another at night, when the caucus vote is held. Obama's camp is calling this electoral dance the "Texas two-step," and it involves quite a bit of voter education.
Clinton's Texas campaign director, Ace Smith, said in a conference call that Clinton is making a major run to lock in ballots early. She has an edge because she and former president Bill Clinton have long roots in Texas. "It's not a matter of showing up right before an election," Smith said. "It's a matter of a long relationship that really counts, that counts for a lot in Texas."
Meanwhile, more examples surfaced on Tuesday of Obama borrowing speech passages from Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick. While Michelle Obama scored the cover of Newsweek, she stumbled -- perhaps -- when she said at a campaign event, "Let me tell you something -- for the first time in my adult lifetime, I am really proud of my country." This had no impact in Wisconsin. But as they say here, don't mess with Texas.