Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Clinton's Delegate Situation

As I write this, Barack Obama leads Hillary Clinton in the Democratic primaries by 135 pledged delegates. Presuming Hawaii's 20 delegates are distributed more or less according to the popular vote (i.e. Obama's way by a ratio of more than 3 to 1 with 68% counted), he could break the 150 delegate lead by the end of the day. Given the way delegates are distributed in the Democratic race (proportionally, rather than winner-takes-all) Clinton now faces an extremely steep challenge to recover the lost ground.

As I described in my earlier post, after mixed results on Super Tuesday the Clinton campaign decided to focus their efforts primarily on winning Texas and Ohio on the 4th of March, effectively conceding all the races in the month until then. While lack of finances are as much a reason for this move as poor strategy, it is undeniable that the past two weeks have seen a sharp shift in momentum towards Obama. During this time, he has won ten consecutive states for a net advantage of 113 delegates (not including Hawaii) and has now won the popular vote in exactly half the states in the union (including Hawaii). The basic maths now tell us that this race is almost beyond Hillary's reach.

In Texas and Ohio, Hillary now needs to win big. Even if she wins 60% of the delegates in these states (a net advantage of 59 delegates) and ties the others on the day, she will still trail Obama by about 90 delegates. Even if we include present pledged superdelegates in this count (who, remember, can change their vote at any time they wish), Obama still comes up on top. This is bad news for Clinton in itself, but it gets worse.

First of all, the polls don't indicate that she will win Texas or Ohio by anywhere near this hypothetical 20 points. Leaked Obama internals put the margin in Ohio at just 7 points and two indpenedent polls in Texas suggest that the race there is a dead heat. It's also worth keeping in mind that these numbers were taken before the Wisconsin and Hawaii primaries (and so don't reflect any momentum that might have gained from his wins there), were taken before he had set foot in these states (he has generally been successful in states where he has been able to campaign at length) and don't reflect the fact that support tends to break for Obama in the last week or so before the primaries. Wisconsin was a statistical dead-heat a couple of days ago, remember, and Obama ended up winning by 17 points!

Texas especially presents a challenge for the Clinton campaign. Firstly, although the specifics of the process are completely mystifying to me, part of the primary is caucus-based. Owing in no small part to his superior grass-roots organisation, Obama has destroyed Clinton in the seven caucuses held up until now. With the exception of American Samoa, Obama has so far won every caucus (in terms of pledged delegates won) by a ratio of at least 2:1. As if this and the lukewarm poll-numbers weren't enough to give Clinton cause for concern about Texas, it now emerges that the manner in which delegates are distributed there is likely to favour Obama as well:

Supporters of Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton are worried that convoluted delegate rules in Texas could water down the impact of strong support for her among Hispanic voters there, creating a new obstacle for her in the must-win presidential primary contest.

Several top Clinton strategists and fundraisers became alarmed after learning of the state's unusual provisions during a closed-door strategy meeting this month, according to one person who attended.

What Clinton aides discovered is that in certain targeted districts, such as Democratic state Sen. Juan Hinojosa's heavily Hispanic Senate district in the Rio Grande Valley, Clinton could win an overwhelming majority of votes but gain only a small edge in delegates. At the same time, a win in the more urban districts in Dallas and Houston -- where Sen. Barack Obama expects to receive significant support -- could yield three or four times as many delegates.

Everything in this key state - if not the race itself - seems to be breaking Obama's way.

Given all this, if Clinton is to get anywhere near the nomination it is clear that she will be heavily dependent on the votes of superdelegates. As I mentioned in my previous post, the Clinton camp has already suggested that she "will not concede the race to Obama if he wins a greater number of pledged delegates by the end of the primary season, and will count on the 796 elected officials and party bigwigs to put her over the top, if necessary". Apart from the reprehensibly undemocratic nature of this push, the numbers tell us - yet again - that this is not a particularly viable strategy, especially in the long-term.

Put simply, many of the superdelegates who pledged support for Clinton early in the race are starting to switch to Obama. There have been many recent examples of this published in the press. Clinton once had a lead of around 100 superdelegates, that number is now below 80. Up to date numbers are available here, but the trend is clear:

So it doesn't look like superdelegates can help her either, but that still doesn't exhaust the questionable methods the Clinton campaign may employ to get her elected. This next, last-ditch victory strategy should offend the sensibilities of anyone who supports the integrity of the democratic process and is clear sign of the desperation in Hillary's camp at this point in time.

Are you ready?

Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign intends to go after delegates whom Barack Obama has already won in the caucuses and primaries if she needs them to win the nomination.

That's right. Clinton's campaign intends coerce Obama's pledged delegates - delegates that have been democratically selected by voters in primaries and caucuses all over the country to cast a vote for Obama on their behalf at the DNC - into voting for her instead. Just let that sink in for a moment.

Essentially, Hillary is willing to completely subvert the democratic process if it helps her to get elected. She is willing to ignore the will of the people if it results in her ascension to a position of power. The superdelegate policy was sketchy enough as it is, but this one - if genuinely reflective of her intentions - really does take the cake. If even the suggestion of stealing delegates doesn't make the bile rise up in the back of your throat then I really do question the orientation of your moral compass.

But still - for all there is to get riled up about at this stage in the primary process - I think it's all probably moot. Yes, that's right. At 11pm, Wednesday 20th February I'm ready to make the call:

Barack Obama will be the Democrats' nominee for 2008

Bring it on, Mr. McCain!

(With credit to Goons For Obama.)

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