The New Super Tuesday

Not since Bobby Kennedy campaigned in Indiana 40 years ago have Hoosiers witnessed this much election-year hoopla. Sen. Barack Obama made his debut appearance on March 15, followed quickly by Sen. Hillary Clinton. Last week Bill Clinton campaigned in the northern half of the state, while their daughter, Chelsea, barnstormed campuses like Notre Dame and Butler University with the actor Sean Astin. Both campaigns are opening offices across the state at a furious clip and unleashing canvassers to tramp through neighborhoods. "For Democrats here, it's been so long since [a primary] mattered," said Mark Osbun, a Fort Wayne resident buttonholed by two Obama organizers outside a grocery store. "This is the most emotional cycle I've been through."

Though the next big primary is in Pennsylvania on April 22, the real turning point in the campaign could be the May 6 contests in Indiana and North Carolina. The combined 187 delegates at stake that day account for the largest trove remaining on the calendar. Since most observers fully expect Clinton to carry Pennsylvania, a win there may not do much to sway uncommitted Democratic superdelegates, who will be key to deciding the nominee. That leaves the May 6 states—particularly Indiana, where the two candidates appear evenly matched—as potential game-changers. If Clinton wins both contests, she could argue that momentum has shifted decisively in her favor and silence calls for her to step aside. If Obama prevails, it could be his best chance to persuade superdelegates to end the race early.

The campaigns have dispatched their top organizing talent to the May 6 states. The Clintonites have placed Indiana in the hands of Robby Mook, who was state director in Ohio and Nevada, and North Carolina under the control of Ace Smith, who helped deliver California and Texas. The Obama campaign has assigned the Hoosier State to Mitch Stewart, who was Iowa caucus director, and the Tar Heel State to Craig Schirmer, who oversaw South Carolina and Wisconsin. Still, both campaigns are careful to avoid overemphasizing these contests. "We assume Hillary Clinton is going to stay in this race until the bitter end, and that's how we plan," says Obama campaign manager David Plouffe. Clinton's chief strategist, Mark Penn, points to favorable terrain beyond May 6, including Kentucky, West Virginia and Puerto Rico. "We have a capability to finish very strongly," he says.

In Indiana, Clinton appears to have a slight edge. The state's demographic makeup—comparatively older and whiter, with large blocs of blue-collar workers hit hard by plant closures—favors her, as does the backing of Sen. Evan Bayh. She should find friendly territory in southern Indiana, a region of factory towns and rural expanses that's culturally conservative. But the northwestern corner of the state lies in the Chicago media market; residents there are familiar with Obama, an Illinois senator. He'll likely count on the solid backing of black voters in that area, as well as in Indianapolis. And he'll try to mine support among young voters in college towns like Bloomington and South Bend (hence Chelsea's pre-emptive campus tour).

Down in North Carolina, Obama appears more strongly positioned. A poll released last week showed him leading by 21 points. He benefits from a large population of African-Americans, who could account for one third of primary voters. And he should find bastions of support in areas such as the Research Triangle (Raleigh, Durham and Chapel Hill), with its collection of affluent, educated and young voters. "We have a real uphill fight in North Carolina, no doubt about that," says Smith, the Clinton organizer. The campaign is in the process of opening a dozen offices across the state, and all three Clintons campaigned there last week.

Most of the half-dozen superdelegates interviewed by NEWSWEEK last week expressed concern about the deteriorating tenor of the campaign. "It's a real quandary for all of us who care about party unity," says Muriel Offerman, from North Carolina. A couple said they were open to the idea of resolving the contest before the end of the primary season. One of them, Jennifer DeChant, from Maine, has recently become disenchanted with the Clinton campaign's attacks on Obama. "I was going to wait till all the contests were finished," she says, "but now that's more unclear." The May 6 primaries may help her, and others, make up their minds.