After Potomac, Obama is the clear mathematical frontrunner

Barack Obama had never been so close to the Democratic nomination. And this is not so because he won 7 states in a row. Those wins were entirely expected, after all, and while the Obama campaign was confident that it would help them, they were more concerned with holding their own serve, and trying to break Clinton's on March 4th.

Even facing such high expectations, Obama managed to over-perform. As of last Wednesday morning, the upcoming calendar was clearly favoring Obama, but was unlikely to give him a big enough boost to give him an air of inevitability. Yet, he has managed to acquire one after the vote of a handful of states that expectations had already set-up for him.

The Democratic race became nothing more than a delegate chase on Super Tuesday, and the Illinois Senator opened up some big margins first over the week-end and then today: +9 in Washington, + 16 in Maryland and + 24/25 in Virginia. That's a 50 delegates margin just out of the Potomac primary, and it gives Obama a 111 pledged delegate lead overall. More importantly, Obama keeps that lead when the superdelegates are thrown in.

Hillary Clinton was expecting to lose, but not by such margins. Virginia's demographics were playing against her, but they do not justify the magnitude of yesterday's loss, and one which was not necessarily predicted by polls. Most surveys had Obama hovering around 60%. The Clinton campaign had prepared its arguments for why Obama's February sweep did not matter, for why anything was still possible and March 4th would reverse the trend; but it had not necessarily prepared its arguments for why a 111 pledged delegate lead does not matter. And this for a very simple reason, no one -- including the campaign -- really expected Obama's margin to be this big at this point.

David Plouffe, Obama's campaign manager, argued today that, "I don't think it's so much about momentum as the reality of the math." To come back in the pledged delegate count, Clinton has to keep things close in Wisconsin and then get significant victories in Ohio and Texas on March 4th -- a simple victory is not enough. Complicating the problem is the fact that the Texas system is so designed that it will make it very hard for Clinton to get a meaningful delegate lead there unless she really crushes Obama, which she has not been able to do anywhere given Obama's strong base of support among some constituencies.

Of course, pledged delegates aren't everything, and even if she does not catch Obama in that count, Clinton could still pull out a victory thanks to superdelegates. But that scenario implies that the delegate count remains somewhat close which it is not for now. Superdelegates will not go for the trailing candidate if the pledged delegate margin is too large. But depending on how much space there is between the two, Clinton has two arguments she could use: (1) A lead in the popular vote, which she does not have right now but could vault into if she wins OH, TX and PA, and (2) Florida and Michigan. The NAACP has now gotten involve in the latter controversy, demanding that the delegates of both states be sited.

In their speeches last night, Obama and John McCain took shots at each other, in a preview of possible general election themes. Obama sought to link McCain to Bush ("George Bush won’t be on the ballot this November, but his war and his tax cuts for the wealthy will.") and followed that up with what has become his standard McCain attack, "Somewhere along the road to the Republican nomination, the Straight Talk Express lost its wheels." In response, McCain pointed Obama's lack of experience and substantive positions in his own speech, directly attacking the message of hope:

To encourage a country with only rhetoric rather than sound and proven ideas that trust in the strength and courage of free people is not a promise of hope. It is a platitude… I do not seek the presidency on the presumption that I am blessed with such personal greatness that history has anointed me to save my country in its hour of need.

But both are pressing forward much too quicky. The Democratic primary is not over by any means. Yes, Obama is now the front-runner, but he has many significant hurdles left. The one Ohio poll we have seen has Clinton up 17%, and if she can hold herself to double-digits she could have a big enough night on March 4th to stay in the game.

Second, a new poll from Wisconsin has a very tight race. Strategic Vision shows Obama at 45% and Clinton at 41%, and while Clinton will not campaign that much in Wisconsin she is running ads and trying to get the state organized. A win here would obviously give her some relief and, while not closing the delegate count, it would allow her to stop Obama's momentum going into March 4th.

Clinton's biggest problem might be the media now, and whether they bury her under a deluge of question about her campaign, the shake-ups that have been taking place (with Solis Doyle being accompanied last night by deputy campaign manager Mike Henry) and the challenges of the delegate count. If Hillary Clinton stays on message, she could have a good night on March 4th and keep herself in. And she will have two more debates until then to help her and don't underestimate those. Twice already when she was in trouble (in NH and in the days following South Carolina), Clinton relied on a debate to stop the Obama buzz and survive.

Finally, the turnout discrepancy between the two parties is to big to not report. In Virginia, Hillary Clinton got 100,000 more votes than did John McCain, and Barack Obama got 100,000 more votes than all the Republicans combined. Virginia is no longer a strongly red state, but you would not expect this kind of gap there either. One of the reasons for this is surely that the GOP race is less contested now, but keep in mind that the Republican base clearly went out to vote yesterday -- which is what got Huckabee so close. What was missing were the moderate Republicans and independents.

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  • The media are already burying HRC just like they did after Iowa. They imagine themselves the deciders when it should be the people that decide. As for Florida and Michigan, the people did decide, but those delegates should not be seated. That is tantamount to changing the rules of the game after the game has been played. And Chris Matthews sucks!

    By Anonymous Floyd the Barber, At 13 February, 2008 15:53  

  • It's bad news for the party if Obama wins and those votes in Fla. and Mich. could have put Hillary over the top. That pressure will weigh upon the superdelegates heavily. Hey remember how hard he press tried to bury Bill? It resulted in a 65% approval rating. I wouldn't worry too much about the negative effects of the press. It's their positive spin that seems to hurt the most. We're a pretty cynical nation.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, At 13 February, 2008 20:02  

  • On June 7, 1.5 million Puertorricans will vote in their primary, a winner takes all afair. Hillary's surrogates there are highly organized, and worst for Obama, both bitter factions of the Democratic Party there are firmly behind her. There are 63 delegates contested in that primary, enough to wipe out half the lead Obama has now. Ironic, isn’t it?

    By Anonymous Robert_V, At 13 February, 2008 20:37  

  • Si, dos cervesas por favor.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, At 13 February, 2008 21:21  

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