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Returns are coming in on election night; the race has been close and polls show either candidate could win.  Now, with 83% of precincts reporting, candidate A is leading 53% to 47% over B.  It's an insurmountable lead, and the race is called for candidate A.  That's where the Democratic primaries are: Of the 3253 pledged delegates available, about 83% have already been voted on, and Obama is leading Clinton by about 53% to 47%.  We can call the race now.

Look at it another way: There are 566 pledged delegates left from states that haven't voted yet.  To catch up with Obama, Clinton needs to win about 65% of those, which means she needs to average about 65% of the vote in the remaining states.  She doesn't win by such margins: So far, Clinton has received more than 60% of the vote in exactly one state: Arkansas.  Her second-best result was 58% in Rhode Island.  Her other home state, New York, gave her 57%.

If every state from now on goes as well for Clinton as her home state of New York did, she'll still lose.

[ Note: I didn't write this for a kos audience; most of you already know this stuff.  It's an overview you can point people to. ]

If every state from now on goes as well for Clinton as her home state of New York did, then she will get about 322 of the remaining pledged delegates, and Obama will get about 244, for a net gain of about 78... leaving Obama still ahead by about 80-90 pledged delegates!  Remember, that's what will happen if Clinton gets a New York level win in every state.  Not gonna happen.  She might do that well in Pennsylvania, but the next-biggest state to come is North Carolina.  We also have states like Oregon and Indiana coming.

One way to look at it is this: For every state where Clinton gets less than 65% of the vote from now on, she's losing ground!  Imagine you're a runner 100 feet from the finish line, and there's someone ahead of you who's only 50 feet from the line.  If, in the next second, you run 30 feet while the leader only runs 25, now you're 70 feet from the finish and the leader is 25 feet from it.  Sure, you just ran a little faster, but your chances of overtaking the leader before the finish have gotten even smaller.

In other words, even if Clinton wins Pennsylvania 57-43, that actually puts her further away from catching up to Obama, not closer.  She'll do considerably worse than that in most remaining states.

It's over: Obama will go to the convention with more pledged delegates, and will be the Democratic nominee for President.

What about the Superdelegates?

Democratic members of the US House and Senate, Democratic governors, members of the DNC, and a few other party leaders, are automatically delegates to the convention and can vote for whomever they choose.  They're called "unpledged delegates" or "superdelegates" (informally).  Even though Obama will have more pledged delegates (from winning actual votes in actual states) that Clinton, if enough superdelegates vote for her, she could have a higher overall total and get the nomination, theoretically.

It's extremely unlikely, for two reasons.  First, for superdelegates to overturn the decision of the voters would be a major scandal.  Obama's supporters would not see it as legitimate: they'd mostly feel that he won, and the nomination was stolen from him.  Black voters, in particular, would rightly feel that the system is rigged against them: finally a black candidate manages to win, only to have party insiders take it away.  Superdelegates know this, and of all delegates, they're the ones with the most to care about the party as a whole.  They know that if this happens it will greviously wound the Democratic party, and almost ensure that McCain wins.  They won't let that happen.

Second, there just aren't that many superdelegates left to go, either.  Of the 794 superdelegates, various polls & surveys show about 220-230 say they'll vote for Obama, and about 250-260 say they've vote for Clinton.  That leaves only about 240-250 who haven't chosen yet (plus 68 who haven't been chosen yet).  Clinton would have to get an overwhelming majority of those delegates to make up for Obama's 100-200 delegate lead.  If those remaining 250 feel so strongly about supporting Clinton that they'd be willing to cause such a major scandal, why have they remained undeclared so long?  Obviously, because most of them don't.  Clinton will not get an overwhelming majority of them.

What about Michigan and Florida?

Michigan and Florida held their primaries too early, and according to Democratic Party rules, their delegates are not supposed to count, so they're not included in any of the counts above.  Clinton's campaign is pushing to have them counted, because she won both states.  If they're counted as-is, Obama gets 67 more delegates and Clinton gets 178 more, for a net gain of 111 for Clinton.

That, also, will not happen.  To begin with, Obama wasn't even on the ballot in Michigan, and you can't vote write-in in a primary.  No credible argument can be made that Michigan's election was fair, and there is no way Michigan's delegation will be seated as-is.  They'll probably come up with a compromise, like splitting it 50/50 between the two candidates.  Florida did have both candidates on the ballot, but neither candidate campaigned there, and many voters stayed home because they were told it wouldn't count.  A compromise is likely there too.

Who decides what is to be done with Michigan and Florida?  A committee at the Democratic National Convention, whose membership will be proportional from the pledged delegates: in other words, a committee with a majority of Obama supporters.  There's no way they'll give Clinton the full 111-delegate advantage that comes with counting the entirely unfair Michigan primary.

However, even if they did, 111 still probably won't be enough to overcome Obama's advantage.  He's 160+ ahead of Clinton now; she's not likely to whittle that down to under 120 in the few states left.

Is there any way Clinton can win?

Yes, there are still two possible scenarios in which Clinton gets the nomination, both very unlikely:

  • The "Spitzer" scenario: Something very big and very unexpected happens that destroys Obama's viability as a candidate, or forces him to drop out, before the convention.  Even if that happens after the last state has voted, superdelegates would still switch to Clinton en masse, and she'd get the nomination.  Note, however, that for this scenario it doesn't matter whether Clinton is still running.  She could suspend her campaign right now, and she'd still be in position to step back in and accept the nomination if something of that magnitude occurred.
  • The convention fight scenario: Clinton keeps camapigning all the way to the convention, whittles down Obama's lead to below 140, and tries to get superdelegates to put her over the top.  She can do this with her strategy of racial division.  As I explained, this is also very unlikely, but it's the only thing she has left to try for.

Should Clinton drop out?

Obviously this question would make little sense if the outcome were still unclear.  I wouldn't want any candidate dropping out until it became clear that they couldn't win.  But since it is now clear that Clinton can't win by continuing to campaign, it's a reasonable question to think about.  So here's where I switch from factual argument, to opinion.

Contested primaries have a lot of advantages.  Voter registration drives, activating local networks, volunteer recruitment and training: Obama will benefit from having to campaign for votes in more states, particularly swing states like Pennsylvania and Oregon.  And since Clinton is using a lot of McCain's arguments against Obama, he's also getting practice in dealing with those.  On the other hand, McCain's arguments are getting extra credibility coming from a Democrat, and McCain is getting extra time to establish his message and identity for this election, so it's a mixed bag.  And there's that racial division Clinton is exploiting, which also does long term damage.

For Clinton's own sake, she'd do much better to stop campaigning soon.  The longer she stays in this when people can see she has lost and is only campaigning for a convention fight, the more enemies she makes in the party and the more bridges she burns.  For example, if she wants to become Senate Majority Leader sometime, she's hurting her chances.

But from my point of view, as someone who doesn't particularly care about Clinton's future prospects, I think on balance having a primary in Pennsylvania at least would be good.  And possibly a few more.  Rather than Clinton abruptly dropping out, I think we'd be much better off if she lost some more primaries.  Speaking as someone who wants to see Obama become president, the best thing would be for Clinton to lose more votes.  Not good for Clinton, but good for the Democrats and for Obama.

Why you should still vote

If you want a Democratic president and were planning to vote in an upcoming primary, you may wonder: Why bother?  If Obama has already won, does it matter?  Yes, it still matters, because Clinton is still campaigning.  By doing so, she is preventing Obama from getting a lock on the nomination by getting enough pledged delegates for a solid majority even without superdelegates.  As I described above, there's only one thing she could still be campaigning for: a convention fight, where she can get enough superdelegates to overturn the pledged delegate plurality, and ensure that she will be the loser in November.  The closer to Obama she gets, the more likely she is to think of that as a resonable option; the further ahead of her he is, the more likely she is to give it up.

So you're not voting on whether to nominate Clinton or Obama - as far as the primaries go, that choice is made.  What you're voting on is the probability of Clinton trying to take it to a convention fight she would likely lose.  If you want her to try that, vote for her; if you don't want her to try that, vote for Obama.

In other words, if you want a Democratic president, you should vote for Obama, regardless of which candidate you prefer.

States that still have primaries coming up:
 * April 22: Pennsylvania - 158 delegates
 * May 3: Guam - 4 delegates
 * May 6: Indiana - 72 delegates
 * May 6: North Carolina - 115 delegates
 * May 13: West Virginia - 28 delegates
 * May 20: Kentucky - 51 delegates
 * May 20: Oregon - 52 delegates
 * June 1: Puerto Rico - 55 delegates
 * June 3: Montana - 16 delegates
 * June 3: South Dakota - 15 delegates

[ table of delegate counts by state ]

Originally posted to cos on Wed Apr 16, 2008 at 05:08 AM PDT.

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