Hillary Clinton learned many lessons from her first presidential campaign, but perhaps one of the biggest can be felt here on the eve of the Democratic caucuses: Delegate math.
The Clinton campaign is not projecting the image of fighting hard to win Nebraska — her only visit came last December — but it is fighting hard to prevent a blowout in this and other small states holding contests this month.
In 2008, Barack Obama swept Nebraska, Kansas and several rural states with caucuses, racking up victories that fortified his delegate lead. For Clinton, it was a profound mistake that helped make it impossible to overtake Obama in the epic fight for delegates.
So with a share of Nebraska’s 25 delegates in mind, aides dispatched former President Bill Clinton to Lincoln and Omaha on Friday, a visit that sent Democrats buzzing in this deeply conservative state. His trip came after a two-day stop earlier this week by Chelsea Clinton.
The Clinton campaign — keen on not raising expectations here — did little to promote an endorsement from the state’s largest newspaper. The Omaha World-Herald, now owned by Warren Buffett, praised Clinton as a “stronger choice” than Bernie Sanders.
“Hillary Clinton brings credentials and breadth unmatched by her Democratic opponent,” the newspaper’s editorial said Friday, “as well as a pragmatic ability to get things done in what no doubt will remain a divided Capitol.”
The Clinton campaign has had paid organizers and volunteers on the ground here longer than Sanders, according to Democratic activists here, and she has already spent more than $300,000 in television advertising.
The Sanders campaign holds many advantages in a state where liberals are starved for attention. His advisers believe his strong victory in Oklahoma on Super Tuesday will be reprised in Nebraska and Kansas on Saturday.
When Sanders arrived on stage to a roaring crowd at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, the chants were so loud it seemed to take him by surprise.
“Maybe Nebraska’s not so conservative!” Sanders shouted, his voice overtaken by shouts of “Bernie! Bernie! Bernie!”
The state is, of course, intensely conservative. But the 25 Nebraska delegates — along with 33 in Kansas and 25 in Maine — are up for grabs this weekend. Sanders is counting on a win in all three states, while the Clinton campaign said it is expecting victory only in the Louisiana primary on Saturday.
But considering Democrats award their delegates proportionally, the contests in all four states this weekend will become the latest example of how fine the line actually is between winning and losing.