The End Game, Part I
Why Hillary Should Win(According to Hillary)
Hillary's key arguments will grow stronger as the week's events unfold. South Dakota is in play. If Obama does not appear to clearly win and Clinton does not appear to clearly lose, the race will go on. Perception will trump reality, giving Clinton a final chance to change reality.
This may be the last week of the 2008 Democratic Primary, but not if Senator Clinton’s best arguments prevail. Her arguments are not new, but they should grow much stronger as this week unfolds. She used them all in her May 28th “Letter to Superdelegates.”
Her first argument concerns the priority of pledged delegates. This argument is as American as Tom Paine. Representatives of the people derive legitimacy from the people. The will of the people is first and sovereign. Based on this principle, convention delegates could be divided into two groups: pledged delegates (those elected by the people) and superdelegates (those appointed by the party or by virtue of their office). Consistent with the idea of popular sovereignty, elected delegates are more legitimate than superdelegates. That is not to say that superdelegates are not legitimate, only that they are less legitimate. The people should be allowed to express their will first (by electing the pledged delegates), and then the superdelegates –informed of the people’s will – can weigh in. Indeed, some uncommitted superdelegates, including Speaker Pelosi, indicate that they will respect the will of the people.
Of course, the Founding Fathers rejected popular sovereignty, Tom Paine sailed to France, and Hillary rolled out 200 superdelegates faster than Barack did. Still, the argument serves her purpose. It provides “democratic” cover for superdelegates who are holding out for political reasons, as some delegates from swing states appear to be (CO, LA, MO, OH, TN, and VA, see POLITICO). It allows Clinton to focus media on pledged delegates rather than total delegates at a time when Obama has taken the lead. As of May 28, Obama has 160 more pledged delegates than Clinton. Florida and Michigan should reduce that lead to 136. A big win in Puerto Rico could reduce it to 116. If Clinton steals South Dakota and stays close in Montana, she should keep the spread under 120 (3% of pledged delegates) and close enough for her to claim a virtual tie.
Clinton’s second argument is similar to the first. It asserts the primacy of the popular vote over delegate count. Her logic is, just as pledged delegates ought to have priority over appointed delegates, popular vote should have priority over delegate count. This argument is, like the first, based on popular sovereignty. In this case, the week’s numbers will certainly favor her. As of today, Obama has a 458,000 lead in the popular vote (Real Clear Politics). Restoration of Michigan and Florida votes on Saturday should wipe out his lead and give Clinton a 165,000 margin. Obama supporters will note that unpublished caucus results erase that margin. It’s of little consequence. On Sunday Puerto Rico will boost Clinton’s lead in popular votes to over 250,000, perhaps to 350,000. Montana and South Dakota might reduce this slightly. Either way, Hillary winds up several hundred thousand votes ahead of Barack.
Clinton has four key audiences: the media, supporters, donors, and superdelegates. The popular vote argument will be spun by media as evidence that Clinton is still alive and by core supporters that the campaign continues. Superdelegates might see it as evidence that Barack cannot put Hillary away, and a few may use it as reason to endorse her. This is essentially a moral argument. How can the party reject the candidate who received the most votes? It matters little that Obama’s name was not on the Michigan ballot or that caucus states (where he did better than her) are grossly short-changed in a count of the popular vote. Some may note that her lead is based on Puerto Rico, a commonwealth that has no electoral votes, or that in National Polls, Obama leads Clinton by an average of 49% to 43% (Real Clear Politics). These are mere details. What matters is that the argument adds up in her favor, sounds strong, and is insulated from criticism by its populist rhetoric.
The first two arguments will have their greatest effect on Clinton’s hard core supporters. Donors and politicians don’t care about populism; they just want to win. Clinton’s third argument is pragmatic. “Obama can’t win. I can. Even if Obama has the delegates, even if he had the popular vote, he can’t win. As donors and delegates, you understand that Democrats must win the White House this year. The economy, the global environment, health care, and women’s reproductive rights depend on it. You know what you must do. You know why you exist – to make sure that our party fields the best candidate to defeat McCain. I am that candidate.”
This argument is rather cynical since it suggests that the popular vote and pledged delegates – both praised above - can get it wrong and that superdelegates with their political savvy must put things right. “Barack’s idealism masks an extraordinary naivety," she implies. "I know DC, I know politics, I know how to get things done. People in my recent primaries understand this. They are unsure about Obama. He is untested. I won in the swing states. He can’t. The trope-meister might sink threes from the corner, but I have a better inside game. I know how to fight. I know how to score.” Clinton makes such arguments in her “Letter to Superdelegates.” Her claim of an advantage in key electoral states is strongly supported by a May 28th analysis by Lydia Saad of Gallup. Clinton’s spokespeople will cite it. This will not cite her sky high unfavorable or Obama’s superior performance against McCain in National Head-to-Head Polls (Real Clear Politics).
Clinton’s fourth and final argument is her persona. Her behavior in the contest demonstrates the very traits many people seek in a President. They believe that she knows policy and is right on policy. She is a person of ideas and action. She is tenacious. She does not quit. She ignores criticism, builds alliances, and forges ahead. Her candidacy exemplifies the energy and drive she will bring to the office. She models commitment, confidence, and success. Indeed, if things go well this week, if Florida and Michigan are reinstated, Puerto Rico runs up a large margin, and South Dakota comes through, Clinton will look like the candidate. Still, her arguments will not be as formidable as Obama’s. Next Wednesday, he should have enough total delegates to clinch the nomination - still winning numbers may not be enough.
If Obama does not appear to clearly win and Clinton does not appear to clearly lose, the race will go on. South Dakota is in play. If Clinton upsets Obama, perception will trump reality, giving her one final chance to change reality. Dean, Pelosi, and Reid may be resolved to end the game, but a South Dakota surprise could spoil their plan.