Wednesday, February 13, 2008

More Wobbly Wagon Wheels on the Clinton Campaign?

Gallup and Rasmussen both show Barack Obama leading Hillary Clinton in the nationwide tracking polls for the first time ever.

In Puerto Rico, where U. S. News reporter Michael Barone speculates the 63 delegates will be picked not by popular vote but by the local political strongmen, governor Anibal Acevedo-Vila is endorsing Barack Obama. (The New Republic, in a screed meant to make Clinton look weak on terrorism, gives a possible reason without intending to: Hillary talked her husband into pardoning members of a Puerto Rican terrorist group.)

Matt Cooper points out that, in the Potomac Primaries yesterday, Obama took away most of Clinton's political base, including women and Latino voters, leaving her only with poor, uneducated, rural white people.

Clinton's big-state strategy has been approved and endorsed... by the man who ran Rudy Giuliani's campaign.

And finally, other reporters are picking up on the New York Times theme of possible superdelegate defections. Liberal writer Chris Bowers reports:

Even more on super delegates respecting the will of the voters. A blogger asks a pro-Clinton super delegate if she thinks there is a chance super delegates would defy the will of the voters:

Elaine Kamarck, a senior DNC official and super delegate herself, told me Thursday that it would never happen. "Super delegates are cowards - we would never do that." This, by the way, from a woman who has endorsed Hillary Clinton.

Meanwhile, Ron Fournier at the Associated Press reports:

"If (Barack) Obama continues to win .... the whole raison d'etre for her campaign falls apart and we'll see people running from her campaign like rats on a ship," said Democratic strategist Jim Duffy, who is not aligned with either campaign.

. . .

Two senior Clinton advisers, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss the race candidly, said the campaign feels the New York senator needs to quickly change the dynamic by forcing Obama into a poor debate performance, going negative or encouraging the media to attack Obama. They're grasping at straws, but the advisers said they can't see any other way that her campaign will be sustainable after losing 10 in a row.

Clinton strategists are famous for poor-mouthing their own campaign in order to lower expectations, but these advisers have never played such games. They're legitimate, and legitimately worried.

. . .

"I would make the assumption that the ... superdelegates she has now are the Clintons' loyal base. A superdelegate who is uncommitted today is clearly going to wait and see how this plays out. She's at her zenith now," Duffy said. "Whatever political capital or IOUs that exist, she's already collected."

It's possible that rumors of Clinton's demise are greatly exaggerated. She's currently slapping together a last-minute effort to compete in Wisconsin, which she had all but abandoned until today. She still leads handily in polls in Ohio and Texas. John Edwards is rumored to be leaning towards endorsing her. And she has the support of the NAACP in her fight to allow delegates from Michigan (where Obama wasn't on the ballot) and Florida (where Obama wasn't allowed to campaign) to vote at the Democratic convention.

But even given all that, Hillary still has a steep uphill fight ahead of her to revive her campaign.

Let's take it for granted that the vast majority of superdelegates- even those currently endorsing Clinton or Obama- will fall in line behind the candidate who wins the pledged delegate race. To win only the pledged-delegate race, the magic number is not 2025; it's 1,627 (omitting Florida and Michigan). By my calculations- including delegates not yet allocated by states pending recounts or state conventions- Obama has 1,141 delegates. Clinton has only 1,004. (Yes, that includes last night's results.)

So- in order to get a clear win of the pledged delegates, Clinton has to get 623 delegates... out of the remaining 1,079. That's 57.7% of the remainder.

But wait- she's not going to do that, not at all. First, we can take it for granted that she'll lose Wyoming, a caucus state by about 65-35; Hawaii, another caucus state, by 60-40; and let's be kind and say that the Puerto Rico caucus- the very, very last contest- splits evenly rather than going two-thirds Obama. Those three contests leave Clinton with, by my math, 580 delegates to go... with 984 delegates remaining. That requires her to pull in 59%, not 57.7%, of those states' delegates.

But wait: two of those states are Montana and South Dakota. Clinton's going to lose those, although not by as much as she lost all those caucus western states. Let's call it 55/45 Obama to Clinton- a narrow win for Obama in both primaries. Those are tiny contests taken by delegate count, so they don't matter too much, but...

... let's look at two states which DO count for much. Wisconsin next week has 74 delegates; North Carolina, 115. They're the two largest states outstanding that don't vote March 4. Recent polls show Obama leading by ten points in both states, and no signs that the trend is reversing. Presuming John Edwards endorses no one- quite possible- and those stats hold up, then that means Hillary loses both states substantially. Factoring in delegate distribution based on the polls, those losses, plus losses in Montana and South Dakota, leave Clinton with 482 delegates to go... and only 764 delegates unaccounted for. That takes Clinton's goal percentage in the states we haven't written off yet clear up to 63%.

Clinton's vote has exceeded 60% in only one state- Arkansas.

She has to pull down 63% or more of the delegates in the March 4 states- Ohio, Vermont, Texas and Rhode Island. Then she has to do it again in Mississippi, Pennsylvania, Indiana, West Virginia, Kentucky, and Oregon.

Mississippi, Indiana, West Virginia, and Kentucky haven't had a Democratic presidential poll in this calendar year. The most recent Pennsylvania poll, taken in the wake of New Hampshire, showed Clinton at only 40% (leading a combined Obama-Edwards vote by only nine points). The most recent Oregon poll, taken just before South Carolina, showed Clinton leading Obama 36-28, with Edwards holding more than enough support to push Obama ahead. A pre-Super Tuesday poll in Vermont showed Clinton at only 37%- higher than Obama and Edwards combined, but not by much. Rhode Island shows Clinton ahead of Obama only 36% to 28%... with fully one-third of the electorate uncommitted or undecided.

And as for the two big states she's counting on as her "firewall" March 4... she leads by only 10% (48-38) in a Texas poll taken the day of the South Carolina primary, before results were known. In Ohio the margin is larger- 56% to 39%, taken Feb. 9-10)- but that's still not enough to make up the difference.

So, it doesn't look good at all for Hillary, unless something very large happens to torpedo the Obama campaign. Considering reports that say Hillary is going negative with ads in Wisconsin, Ohio and Texas, it's not inconceivable.

But comparing the odds of an Obama scandal or meltdown with the odds of a Clinton scandal or meltdown... well, I've already made my bet...

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