Tuesday, March 04, 2008

What does “win” mean?

Today will see primaries and caucuses in four states – Vermont, Rhode Island, Ohio and Texas. The polls, of course are all over the place but as of this morning it looks like Obama will take a solid win in Vermont, Clinton will take a solid win in Rhode Island, Clinton will likely take a narrow win in Ohio, and Texas is a toss up. However, please remember when the networks tonight are “calling” this state and that state for one or the other candidates that what this race is all about delegates. Then remember that there are no winner-take-all contests in the Democratic primaries or caucuses – the rules call for proportional allocation of delegates. Then remember only a proportion of the delegates are allocated statewide – half or more are allocated by the results in each Congressional District. You then top that off with the Texas Rube-Goldberg-inspired system of a primary followed by caucuses by state senate districts. Conceivably there can be two "winners" under the Texas system.

So the question, “What does ‘win’ mean?” isn’t as absurd as it may sound.

That said, Senator Clinton is behind in the delegate race because she has lost most of the primaries and caucuses to date. Even a string of back-to-back wins in the remaining 17 contests will not put her ahead unless she wins by landslides from now on out. (Slate has a delegate calculator here. Plug in your own numbers and see the results.) There are, of course, the 795 superdelegates who are not bound by any set of rules. Senator Clinton has a larger share over Senator Obama of those who have made their preferences public but given the recent controversy over the role of superdelegates it is unlikely they will swing the convention away from the candidate who comes to Denver with a clear lead.

Marc Ambinder has this Q&A on where the race is at this point:
Q. What does "win" mean?

A. The winner of the Democratic nomination is not the person who wins the most states, not the person who wins the most votes, is not the person who gives the best speeches... it's the person who wins 2024 (25? -- we're not sure yet) delegates at the Democratic National Convention in Denver.

Q. Can Hillary Clinton win the nomination?

A. Maybe.

Q. Can you be more specific? Is it mathematically possible for her to win the nomination?
A. Yes.

Q. Is it likely that she will win the nomination?

A. Based on the math alone and a reasonable projection of external events, no.

Q. But you said it's possible.

A. Yes. But lots of things have to break her way. If, say, voting ends and the press discovers that Obama has a secret second family in Idaho and all his superdelegates abandon him; if, for some reason, she wins 75% of the popular vote in the states after Ohio and Texas and half the remaining superdelegates; if, by slow attrition, he closes the delegate gap to about 70 and picks off two thirds of the remaining superdelegates; if the pledged (Obama) delegates concur with the credentials committee and seat the
(Clintonian) Florida and Michigan delegations) -- then, yes, it's possible.

Q. So should she drop out?

A. I don't know. Obama's campaign emphasizes the math. The Clinton campaign emphasizes... well, the more external factors.

Q. Well, does Barack Obama's current pleged delegate lead reflect a big lead in terms of the preference of Democrats?

A. It reflects an edge -- but not a big one. According to Real Clear Politics's calculations, even without the votes of Floridians and Michiganders, for every ten Democrats who've voted for Barack Obama, nine have voted for Hillary Clinton. With the votes of Michigan and Florida Democrats factored in, the gap narrows to 288,476
-- or less than 2% of Obama's totals.

Q. Why is the pledged delegate gap so big, then?

A. Strategy and momentum and enthusiasm. Obama's campaign had the foresight to run up the delegate count in the organizable caucus states, betting on the fact that Clinton would not compete there. Obama's support seems to follow some sort of political's Boyle's law: as the pressure increases, the volume increases -- the more contained the support is, the more concentrated it is.

Q. Did HRC fail to live up to her own expectations?

A. Unquestionably. That's one of the main reasons why the Clinton campaign is having trouble selling their spin today. As the Obama campaign pointed out today, numerous Clinton officials projected that, by March 4, the campaigns would be roughly equal in terms of the delegate count.

Q. Will the Democratic Party unite, its expected nominee despite this infighting?

A. Unquestionably.

Q. Will the Democratic Party be hurt in the fall if Clinton stays in the race?

A. Hard to say. On the one hand, that's spin designed to pressure HRC to get out. On the other, if Obama wins the nomination, he may well have been softened up a bit by Clinton's frontal assault on his national security credentials.


Justine Urbikas said...

funny, that title is very similar to the Chicago Tribune's cover story today: http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/politics/chi-viewers-guidemar04,1,6053826.story
which in print had a good picture of Obama above the fold, and below it an equally good picture of Clinton (though smaller in size)

Comrade Kevin said...

A party against itself cannot stand.