Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Post-March 4th Analysis

I'm having a very significant revulsion reaction right now to the talking heads. The campaigns- all of them- are just repeating their same old talking points over and over, and none of them are willing to answer any questions that might challenge their position.

Yesterday was the worst-case reasonable scenario for the Obama campaign. Reasonable means that nobody expected Clinton to win 60-40 in either Ohio or Texas or better. This was as bad as anybody who watched the contest would reasonably expect it to end up from the Obama camp's point of view. They lost their momentum, ending a twelve-contest winning streak. Furthermore, they failed to defeat Clinton's big-state strategy- and thus failed to force her out of the race.

So far as I can tell this morning, Obama's rumored announcement of fifty superdelegate endorsements isn't going to happen. Bill Richardson's endorsement of the candidate ahead in the delegate count isn't going to happen. A Democratic party leadership intervention isn't going to happen. This race doesn't just go to Pennsylvania; it goes on clear to the convention, plain and simple.

The popular talking point among the media is that Clinton won by regaining her base of support, reversing the inroads Obama had made into that base. That doesn't explain, though, why that base went back to Clinton in Ohio and Texas.

Clinton's attacks worked. Beginning in the Ohio debate- which I didn't score, and in retrospect maybe I should have- and continuing with attack ads and insults and borderline slander on the stump, Hillary kept Obama on the defensive all week, resulting in nearly a two-to-one advantage among those who decided their candidate in the last three days (and a 60/40 split of those deciding in the past week). This especially hurt Obama in Ohio, where the NAFTA-Canada story allowed Clinton to misrepresent what actually happened as Obama himself double-talking on the NAFTA issue.

Ben Smith at also suggests that race favors Hillary; as many as one in five voters are still voting based on race, and Clinton wins that vote by a stronger margin than the overall result. The difference, though, isn't enough to change the outcome in yesterday's results, if the MSNBC exit polls are accurate.

Obama has to not just counter Clinton's attacks; he has to find a way to take the initiative. His attempt to attack Clinton on NAFTA backfired big time; never attack your opponent's weakness in an area where you, yourself, are also weak. Clinton has shored up her vulnerability on Iraq and is seen as the most qualified to keep America safe; Obama has to undermine this, especially since Iraq is the one and only issue-based advantage he has. He also has to demonstrate that he has experience and substance- an argument Clinton has been winning despite the facts.

Now, here's my own delegate count at present. It's looking like, at best, Obama will win the Texas caucuses by 55-45. Of course, those delegates won't be decided pro forma until June, three rounds of county and district and state conventions later. Despite that, I'm going to project that Obama gets 36 delegates to Clinton's 31.

That makes the delegate math from yesterday, by my best estimate (and using projections from various sources on district-based delegate counts):

OHIO - Clinton 77, Obama 64
TEXAS PRIMARY - Clinton 65, Obama 61
TEXAS CAUCUS - Clinton 31, Obama 36
RHODE ISLAND - Clinton 13, Obama 8
VERMONT - Clinton 6, Obama 9

MARCH 4 TOTAL - CLINTON 192, Obama 178

In other words, Clinton nets a total of fourteen delegates.

Adding these in to my own running total, I get the following totals:

TODAY'S TOTAL, PLEDGED DELEGATES: Obama 1,380, Clinton 1,236 (Obama up by 144)
TODAY'S TOTAL, PLEDGE PLUS ESTIMATED SUPERDELEGATES: Obama 1,574, Clinton 1,477 (Obama up by 97)

Now, looking forward, here's the good and the bad news. Bad news first.


1. Pennsylvania is a closed primary. That means that Obama supporters must register as Democrats not later than March 25. I'm going to go a step farther and make this prediction, barring a Clinton disaster: Obama loses Pennsylvania. He'll win Pittsburgh (narrowly) and win Philadelphia (strongly), but the rest of the state is mostly rural, mostly conservative, and mostly white, with a strong racist tinge. Obama has a definite ceiling in the Democratic race there, and I'm setting it at 45%. I'm predicting Philadelphia's 158 delegates to go 87 to Clinton, 71 to Obama.

Obama will have to dump a lot of resources into Pennsylvania to make it this competitive- and to avoid appearing to turn his back on what will be a battleground state. That will be wasted money, for the most part. For the moment Obama has it to waste... but he should set some aside for post-Pennsylvania contests, because he's going to need those contests badly.

2. Michigan and Florida may come back into play. The Republican governor of Florida, Charlie Crist, has offered a state-funded re-do of the Democratic primary. If a similar movement comes up in Michigan, it will be difficult to stop a re-do from happening. Obama is not likely to win either state- Michigan is Ohio only more so, and Florida's results are not likely to change from the original in any meaningful way. Bringing these two states in more or less erases Obama's current delegate lead, if the numbers from January hold up- not just in pledged delegates, but in superdelegates who currently have no vote, and who are unanimously in Clinton's back pocket. My view is, if Michigan and Florida count, Clinton wins.

3. There's only one caucus left- Wyoming. After Wyoming, with only twelve delegates, the rest of the contests are primaries. Obama doesn't have any substantial blowouts coming to him. (I'm still predicting that racial polarization will lead to a Clinton narrow win in Mississippi, although I'll be very glad to be wrong.)

4. It is mathematically impossible for either candidate to win without superdelegates. Obama has, by my estimate, 1,380 pledged delegates. The goal to reach, remember, is 2,025. There are only 613 pledged delegates left, and Obama needs 645. It is now official; superdelegates will decide this election.

Now the good news:

1. Without Michigan and Florida, the math does not favor Clinton. There are only 613 pledged delegates left. What's more, there are only about (by an average of estimates) 361 neutral superdelegates remaining. That's less than a quarter of the delegate total currently in play (although, remember, the superdelegates can potentially shift at any time).

By my calculations, Obama currently needs 451 delegates (46% of the total number remaining) to reach the magic number of 2,025; Clinton needs 548 delegates (56% of the total number remaining). Clinton would have to win all the contests like she won Ohio last night and like I feel she's going to win Pennsylvania- and she's not going to be able to do that- and she needs to pull down a lot more superdelegates.

If you do away with superdelegates altogether and focus on pledged delegates alone, as the website does, the magic number is 1,627 delegates. Obama needs only 247 of the remaining 613 pledged delegates to reach this number (40%). Clinton needs 391 (64%). In order to get 64% of the delegates, Clinton is going to have to get substantially more than 65% of the actual vote to get those delegates.

2. More of the contests remaining favor Obama. For a concise rundown, Hillary must be considered favored in Pennsylvania, West Virginia (rural, poor, bigoted) and Kentucky (ditto). Obama is favored, and pretty strongly so, in North Carolina (the second largest remaining contest, with 115 delegates in play), Oregon, South Dakota, and Montana. Indiana could be an even split (red state, adjacent to Illinois, v. large rural white vote and large "rust belt" constituency), but a poll from mid-February showed Obama with a 40-25 lead (and a massive undecided). And Puerto Rico, the last contest, cannot be called for Clinton, because...

3. All the heavily Latino states have spoken. The Latino vote has been pretty consistently 2-1 Clinton- with Obama's support coming almost universally from the youngest Latino voters. However, the one contest remaining with a large Latino vote is Puerto Rico... and Puerto Ricans are not the same, by any means, as the Latino vote here in, for example, Texas. Puerto Rico politics is vastly different, based on a combination of patronage and internal statehood v. commonwealth arguments. What's more, the governor of Puerto Rico has endorsed Barack Obama. Finally, Puerto Rico has a large minority of citizens of African descent. Puerto Rico could go either way, or split right down the middle, depending on circumstances.

4. Obama is still winning the money race. Obama is still out-raising Hillary; rumor has it, he raised over $50 million in February to Clinton's $35 million. If he uses his money advantage wisely, he can compete in more contests than Hillary- enabling him to take an advantage.

Balancing the bad and the good, here are my current projections for the remaining contests:

WYOMING - Obama wins 9 delegates, Clinton 3 in the final caucus.

MISSISSIPPI - Clinton edges out Obama, winning 18 delegates to his 15.

PENNSYLVANIA - Clinton wins handily, 87 delegates to 71.

INDIANA - Clinton closes a bit but not enough; Obama wins this neighboring state, gaining 41 delegates to Clinton's 31.

NORTH CAROLINA - Obama wins North Carolina on the black vote, gaining 64 to Clinton's 51.

WEST VIRGINIA - Absolutely overwhelmingly Clinton. I think the best Obama can hope for is what I'm giving him- an 19-9 delegate split in Clinton's favor.

KENTUCKY - Also strongly Clinton, but not quite as much as West Virginia, thanks in large part to Louisville. Clinton picks up about 31 delegates to Obama's 20.

OREGON - The Washington caucus was overwhelmingly Obama; the beauty-contest primary was an even split. To my mind Oregon is more liberal, and thus slightly more Obama. Obama gets 29 delegates to Clinton's 23.

MONTANA - A substantial Obama win, but not many delegates- Obama 9, Clinton 7.

SOUTH DAKOTA - Another Obama win, but one fewer delegates. Obama 8, Clinton 7.

PUERTO RICO - Your guess is as good as mine, especially since there are rumors that the delegates will be picked without regard to the primary vote. I'm splitting them evenly for now, giving Clinton the edge, 32-31.

Add all of these together and you get a pledged delegate vote (by my estimate) of Obama 1,686; Clinton 1,545. Obama beats Clinton by 141 delegates in the pledged vote, but just BARELY gets over 50% of the pledged delegate total. If all of Puerto Rico's votes go to Clinton, Obama still beats her and still gets 50%... but by such a small margin as to call it a tie.

Factor in superdelegates currently endorsing candidates and the overall totals are:

OBAMA 1,880: CLINTON, 1,786.

That's just under a hundred-delegate difference; that's well below the 2,025 needed to wrap up the nomination. Obama falls 165 delegates short.

Barring an overwhelming and firm turn of the Democratic leadership towards Obama, this goes all the way to a brokered convention in Denver in August...

... where the machine, the environment, and the tactics all favor Hillary Clinton.

Those of you who fear a repeat of 1968 have every right to do so.

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