Election 2008 Analysis: Ohio And Texas

Ken AshfordElection 2008Leave a Comment

Well, you have to doff your hat to the Hillary.  Not so much because she won Ohio and Texas (although, as you know, she did win those two), but because she’s got the media barking the right narrative.  Right for her, that is.

After all, "winning" states only means that you got more than 50% of the votes.  And that certainly gives the winner something — specifically, the ability to say "I won those states".

But the nomination is about delegates.  I’ll say that again: it’s all about the delegates.  The media has been VERY BAD about keeping its eye on that ball — they’re are (typically) caught up in the whole win/loss horserace of each state.

After all, jst because Hillary "won" Ohio, that does not mean she gets all of Ohio’s delegates.  She gets some; he gets some.  She’ll get more than Obama (for that state) but is it enough to make a difference in the total tally?

Probably not.  Obama has a sizeable lead in the delegate count.  People who have done that math all agree — barring some implosion by Obama, which causes Hillary to win overwhelming in the rest of the primaries, she simply cannot come out ahead as far as pledged delegates.

In short, simple math is Hillary’s enemy, no matter how well she did yesterday, or in the primaries to come.

Hillary’s strategy, however, is all about the superdelegates — the unpledged party leaders (state governors, state senators, etc.) whose votes count at the convention.  She’s hoping to make an argument at the convention that she "won" the big states (Ohio, Texas, New York, California, etc), and those superdelegates should support her.  She also hopes to argue that she has more votes than Obama overall, based on the popular vote throughout the entire country (she can’t claim this yet — according to MSNBC, he’s won 12,920,961 votes to Clinton’s 12,322,695 votes out of more than 26 million cast so far.  But those numbers are a lot closer today than they were 48 hours ago).

By making these argument and persuading superdelegates that she has the better support of the nation and party, Hillary hopes to come out ahead of Obama in the delegate count (when you add the superdelegates and the pledged delegates together).

A bit of a longshot, but a decent strategy.

MSNBC has a good summary of where the candidates stand on delegates.  Remember, the magic number to win is 2,025 (that’s delegates plus superdelegates):

Based on preliminary results of last night’s contests (the Texas caucuses are not yet factored in), here’s where the Democratic delegate count stands: Obama 1,518, Clinton 1,429. The NBC News Hard Count has Obama at 1,307 to 1,175 for Clinton after last night’s voting. The superdelegate count stands at Clinton 254, Obama 211. Here’s how the states broke down: VT: Obama 9-6; OH: Clinton 73-62 (six unallocated); RI: Clinton, 13-8; TX: Clinton 46-34 (113 unallocated). That’s a net gain of 23 pledged delegates for Clinton. But before figuring out the Texas mess, Clinton had a net of approximately 13 delegates. If Obama wins the delegate battle in Texas (which the allocation formulas seem to indicate), he’ll cut that 13 net by as many as 6. However, one estimate in Texas has Obama netting no more than one after the caucus, giving Clinton the possibility that she’ll net more than 10 delegates when March 4 is all said and done. While not MAJOR progress on the pledged delegate front, it’s impressive nonetheless since so many folks predicted her not even netting 10 delegates last night.

Another estimate says that Clinton, who was behind Obama by 159 pledged delegates 24 hours ago, is now, as a result of yesterday, 157 pledged delegates behind.  So for all her "big wins" yesterday, it really didn’t get her very far.

It’s important to remember that superdelegates are not committed.  They can change their mind at anytime.  Many are still on the fence.  A few, like John Lewis, have flip-flopped.

Also important: some "pledged" delegates are also uncommitted, and will be decided at state conventions.  (see this NY Times chart for details).

And then there’s Michigan and Florida, whose delegates were "stripped" from the tally, because they moved their election dates early in violation of the Democratic National Committee rules.

So even though the math looks good for Obama, there are still a lot of unknown variables out there.

What happens next?  Wyoming and Mississippi have their primaries within the next seven days, although both in terms of delegates and prestige, they won’t have an impact.  Obama is expected to win in both those plaves, and it might blunt some of victory party that Hillary is (finally) experiencing now.  The next big prize is Pennsylvania (on April 22) with 79 delegates.  And then, on May 6, Indiana and North Carolina, with 36 and 58 delegates at play respectively.  Interestingly, the last primary is Puerto Rico, on June 7.  Wouldn’t it be interesting to see the two candidates scrambling for those delegate votes (28 of them)?  It could happen.  It’s that close.

In the meantime, the Clinton campaign is going to turn up the heat on Obama, something they have done effectively these past two weeks.  The sheen of Obama is a little damaged.  I’m sure right now the Obama campaign is regrouping, just as they did after their unexpected loss in New Hampshire.  The nomination is still theirs to lose, and there is a scenario in which it is possible he might.  Josh Marshall weighs in on this:

Let’s hypothesize for a moment a scenario in which March 4th broke the back of Obama’s campaign. He emerges bloodied and doesn’t seem to be able to stand up to Hillary’s assault. His delegate margin is big enough that she can’t catch up. But she runs through the next dozen or however many remaining contests there are making up steady ground on the pledged delegate front. I don’t think a small margin of pledged delegates will be enough if Obama looks like a damaged candidate who seems unable to fight off a determined and ruthless opponent. Just hanging on to the margin he banked in February won’t be enough because fundamentally, if neither candidate has it locked by the convention, the super delegates will want to pick the candidate who looks like the general election winner and is the favorite of Democrats at the time of the convention, two qualifiers which are in practice two sides of the same coin.

I don’t think the above is a likely scenario. In fact, I think it’s quite unlikely. Almost everything remains stacked against Hillary. There’s no denying that. But I think this does point to what this debate — literal and meta — will turn on over the next couple weeks.

A Marshall suggests, there’s going to be the "shadow campaign" by both camps to win over the superdelegates.  Of particular interest is the rumor, reported by Tom Brokaw, that the Obama camp claims to have commitments from 50 additional superdelegates ready to go public soon.  If that’s true, that might be the final nail.

But as for yesterday, Clinton did what she needed to keep on going.  Her back against the wall, her campaign effectively pulled out some big "wins".  She’s still damn close to that wall, but she’s far from dead.  In fact, while nobody was looking, Gallup released a tracking poll yesterday showing Obama and Clinton dead even in national polling — both at 45%

Buckle your seatbelt, indeed.

P.S.  On the GOP side, McCain reach the "magic number" for the Republican nomination.  Huckabee, who never stood a chance, is out.  It’s officially McCain now (but for the actual banging of the gavel at the GOP convention).

UPDATE:  Ezra Klein is saying what I have been saying, only better:

Clinton’s problem now is that she doesn’t need to beat Obama, she has to convince the superdelegates to beat Obama for her. And this requires a different sort of argument. Even under assumptions very favorable to Clinton, Obama is likely to end the primaries with 100-or-so more pledged delegates than she has. Her only hope is that the party elders, the so-called superdelegates, will grow so uncomfortable with Obama’s weaknesses that they’ll intervene on her behalf, risking the ire of their constituents, the fury of African-American voters who feel betrayed by their party, and a convention storyline that blames a smoke-filled backroom for overturning the will of the voters. That’s a tall order.

To convince them to do so, she’ll need to fatally wound Obama. But attacking that ferociously will destroy her candidacy, too, and infuriate superdelegates who see her irreversibly bloodying the Democrats’ likely nominee, and thus hurting the party’s chances for victory. What she really needs is for Obama to independently collapse, so the superdelegates have a reason to turn on him. But that’s exceedingly unlikely. The only close contender for unsettling the superdelegates is if Obama, rather than collapsing, proves himself passive and vulnerable before Clinton’s continuing assault, and thus suggests that he’ll be shredded by the Republicans’ fusillade. Democrats, after years of cowering before the right wing’s attacks, will not send a political pacifist into the general election.