Mark your calendars: The Dem race has no end in sight

Super Tuesday is gone and has resolved nothing. As of yesterday, there was an end in sight; now, no one knows how long this could last and if there are plausible scenarios in which the nomination is settled prior to the convention.

Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton essentially split the states and the delegate count. No definite delegate estimation is being offered at this time, but Obama looks to be ahead by anywhere between 4 to 20 pledged delegates out of Tuesday's results. If you throw in the results of the states that voted in January and the endorsements of superdelegates, the delegate count becomes indecipherable.

Both Obama and Clinton have many reasons to be satisfied. On the one hand, Clinton won the most votes and the biggest states. She held her own very well, especially considering the powerful narrative of the surging Obama momentum; the Kennedy endorsements and her South Carolina debacle were supposed to bury the New York Senator. Instead, she held to states that polls showed to be agonizingly close and she did so comfortably. And in the major states she lost -- Missouri and Connecticut, perhaps New Mexico (with 98% reporting, Obama is up by 71 votes) -- she trailed by tiny margins, making them essentially symbolic victories for the Obama camp. Clinton managed to lead or tie Obama among the late deciders, those who decided who to vote for in the past three days. That allowed her to blunt whatever momentum Obama had going in the week-end and enabled her to survive in many states she was getting shaky about.

Clinton can be especially proud of its showing in Massachusetts, where she won by 15%, not a small feat considering the supposed impact of Kennedy's endorsement. California, of course, was the big prize; Obama could have delivered as much of a knock-out blow as Super Tuesday woud have allowed if he had won the Golden State. Polls showed he was very competitive here, but he ended up losing by 10%. Clinton not only survived here, but she got a sizable victory which is likely to dominate some of the coverage in the coming days. And the four victories she got in red states allow her to counter the coming Obama argument that she is too weak in red states and among more conservative Democrats to hope to do well in November.

On the other hand, Obama can claim to have come ahead in the most important measure of Tuesday's results: He won more pledged delegates. This is indeed a very impressive feat given how far behind Obama was in many of these states just ten days ago, especially Missouri or Connecticut. In other states that he lost, he nevertheless dramatically closed the gap in the past week, whether in New Jersey where Clinton only won by 10% and certainly in California as well, where a 10% loss still represents a significant improvement. And Obama's camp will justifiably boast of its candidate's brilliant showings in the red states that were holding caucus states. He demolished Clinton in places like Idaho (79%), Colorado (67%) and Minnesota (82%).

Clinton's neglect for most of the caucus states -- she did not run ads there, while Obama did -- was as much due to her campaign's financial situation than to her admitting that these were not favorable grounds for her. But by letting Obama run big margins, Clinton fell far behind in the delegate count and was unable to make these up on the strength of her own victories. While the campaigns were busy looking at whether a New York district had an even or odd number of delegates, while Obama's victory in Missouri that seemed so significant last night is meaningless delegate-wise (the latest CNN estimate shows a 30-30 split), a small state like Idaho gave Obama 12 delegates more than it did Clinton. And the current CNN estimate of Minnesota allocates 48 delegates to Barack and 24 to Clinton. That's right, Obama made up half of his New York deficit in Minnesota.

Super Tuesday was a draw, and neither campaign is convincing in claiming victory. The Clinton campaign is boasting of its big wins in contested states and argues that it lost no state it was competing in by a large margin, showing California as an example of voters embracing Hillary. But Clinton was not only unable to put Obama away, but she is trailing among the delegate count. And it will take a few weeks before she has a plausible shot at reclaiming that lead.

The Obama campaign argues that Super Tuesday was always meant to be Clinton's day, that Clinton just held serve in states she was supposed to win. That is also unconvincing. As of early December, Clinton still broke 50% in national polls and led by massive margins in most states; everything was "hers to win." By this measure, Clinton was ahead by 20% in New Hampshire so her victory should not have counted; but whether or not it was fair for her to get the buzz she did out of January 8th, she beat expectations and her 2% victory was painted as a triumph. Obama always had to start winning in states that are supposed to be Clinton strongholds, and he only managed to do so in Connecticut last night.

Where does a draw lead us, then? Well, prepare to mark down some dates in your calendar, because this is going the distance. The primary that was supposed to be done on February 5th now has no end in sights, and the odds that it goes all the way to the convention are getting disturbingly high. Here is the calendar for the upcoming weeks:

February 9th: Washington (caucuses), Louisiana, Nebraska (caucuses)
February 10th: Maine (caucuses)
February 12: DC, Maryland, Virginia
February 19th: Hawaii, Wisconsin
March 4th: Ohio, Rhode Island, Texas, Vermont
March 9th: Wyoming
March 11th: Mississippi
April 22nd: Pennsylvania
May 6th: Indiana, North Carolina

The reason why Barack Obama has to be feeling slightly better this morning is that the February batch of states looks very good for him. We saw how well he did in the caucuses and in the South yesterday, which should allow him to do well on February 9th and the 10th. On February 12th, DC is a lock for Obama, and while Maryland and Virginia could be close (neither has been polled since October) the demographics favor Barack. On the 19th, finally, Wisconsin is the type of anti-establishment voting state that Obama wants to do well in (it was meant to be Dean's last stand in 2004), not to mention that it is in a region of the country that Obama is doing very well in (MO, IA, MN).

By the time we reach March 4th, therefore, Obama is likely to have accumulated -- and a rising lead in pledged delegates. If he prevails on March 4th (which presumably means winning Ohio and staying close in Texas) he could become the front-runner; but Clinton has a lot of establishment support in Ohio,and it is a state in which she believes she will do well. But the fact is that March 4th can only be used as survival by Hillary. If she wins OH and TX, she will stabilize the race once more, not knock Obama out. In other words, for Clinton to become the nominee, she will have to wait at least until April 22nd and the Pennsylvania primary, and likely go on to May (unless she does better than expected in Virginia, Maryland and Wisconsin).

To reach a convention majority with pledged delegates only, both Obama and Clinton would have to win an unrealistic proportion of the remaining delegates, so that it will all come down to superdelegates. Will they rally behind a candidate who starts to pull together a string of victories (say Obama sweeping February and winning Ohio)? That is the only way this does not go to a convention at this point, but given how regularly the campaigns have been trading victories since January 3rd, there is no reason to think one candidate will suddenly have the momentum necessary to appear like the presumptive nominee, making a scenario in which both campaigns get to Denver still trying to appeal to superdelegates.

In such a script, the candidate with the most pledged delegates will have the upper-hand, and it is most likely right now that that candidate will be Obama, given the size of his victories in some states yesterday. Clinton will have to argue that she has the pledged delegate lead to avoid charges that she is relying on backroom deals to get the nod, and she has a very easy way of doing that: Appeal to Florida and Michigan. Expect the rogue state controversy to pick up in the coming weeks and potentially lead to monster showdowns down-the-road. The DNC messed this up, and will now pay the consequences.

This is of course the nightmare scenario for Democrats: An August convention at which both camps accuse each other of thwarting the will of voters, either by relying on superdelegates to storm ahead or by seeking to exclude Florida and Michigan (two very important November swing states, by the way). We are not there yet, and such an all-out-war is still very much avoidable. But the odds of a chaotic brokered convention are rising, and John McCain is waiting in the wings.


  • Interesting analysis, and I agree on the disruption if this has to go to the convention. An attempt to seat MI and FL will touch off a scene straight out of Chicago 1968, and more important, a Clinton victory will drive a sizable cohort of younger voters and independents into outright and irreconcilable opposition.

    This is particularly so because while many independents and Demos loathe W and the extreme wing of the GOP, for many of them that loathing doesn't extend to McCain, whom they rather admire while disagreeing on policy. It now appears that the evangelicals are splitting away with Huckabee, and McCain may realize that they're gone and that the best bet is to move towards the center for the general election. That will be a further draw for independents.

    Clinton is the worst possible candidate to face off with McCain in these circumstances. She will come out of Denver tagged as the insiders candidate, with an angry and divided party. A number of her potential supporters will be hostile to her candidacy. The AA community will be dispirited and apathetic. Younger voters will drift away from the process, and independents will migrate to McCain. She'll be back to patching together her original 50% + 1 vote strategy, with a Latino-women-older voters base.

    Obama doesn't face those difficulties. Latinos are not invested in Clinton the way AA voters are invested in Obama. They'd prefer her, but would stick with Obama because McCain comes from a party that is hostile to immigrants whatever his personal views. The choice community would grudgingly support him, because restoring balance on the Supreme Court is the highest priority, and whatever their other reservations, in their hearts they know he'll appoint a moderate.

    Bottom line, even though I support Obama and am convinced that Clinton is the weaker candidate in the general, I hope this is decided definitively based on primary and caucus results. If this falls into the hands of Terry McAuliffe and his crowd in August, we'll pay quite a price in November.

    By Anonymous zoot, At 06 February, 2008 13:39  

  • The idea that because Obama won Democratic caucuses in uber-red states does not mean he has any crossover appeal. I don't say this to demean those Democrats in those states, but it simply does not prove that Obama has any rural appeal, which is necessary come November.

    Look at Missouri and Tennessee - two potential swing states. Clinton slammed Obama in the rural areas - winning roughly 109 out of 114 counties in Missouri. Obama only pulled the largest metro areas. Even Claire McCaskill knows you have to have some rural vote to win in Missouri.

    In Tennessee, Obama won the metro areas - Nashville, Chattanooga, and Memphis. In the rural areas, Clinton's margins were vast - over 80% in some cases.

    I say this because I honestly do not believe that getting 18,000 Democrats to caucus in North Dakota translates into having rural appeal come November.

    If you add up total caucus-goers in Kansas, North Dakota, Utah, Idaho and even Colorado, you still have less total voters than Hillary had votes in Illinois.

    Some don't want to admit it, but Hillary honestly has appeal in rural, mostly white areas and she proved that yesterday. He had a smarter strategy to win delegates, but it proves nothing about crossover appeal.

    By Anonymous app state, At 06 February, 2008 13:43  

  • You left off the Maine Democratic Caucus this sunday!

    By Anonymous chrisrowe, At 06 February, 2008 14:45  

  • Great analysis! Gotta love you, man. I still don't think it will go this far, hopefully. Romney and Huck are not out of this either. The most exciting race in years. At least young people are getting engaged.

    By Anonymous stone621, At 06 February, 2008 14:54  

  • Taniel :
    Definitely one of the best , unbiased
    analysis of the results,I have read since this morning.
    Thanks for the hard work.

    I agree with 'app state' comments posted at 13:43. While Obamas victory was impressive in the red states , it certainly is meaningless come November. I am indeed surprised that Hillary won in the rural white areas (MO,TN,OK etc...esp in the ‘show me’ state of MO , inspite of active canvassing by Sen Claire McCaskill and others for Obama....if it is true indeed that she won most of the rural areas). After the polls coming out the last few days (pollster,the fix,realclearpolitics,zogby,rameussen etc) indicating she would be crushed by the Obama surge, it is indeed a surprise she won that big in CA/MA/NJ and even NY (the last min polls and the genral talk in the blogosphere indicated she would only win by a high single digit or a low teen % in NY).
    It really shows the bias of the media (atleast the ones I follow..I read ..MSNBC,Huffingtonpost,drudgereport washingtonpost,time...).So much for ‘indepndent media’. You just need to watch MSNBC …I used to like watching Chris Matthews and Kieth Olbermann ..But I don’t respect their analysis anymore. And surprise surprise, I think Fox is doing much better analysing when compared to MSNBC. And then thers the alternate media like “Democracy Now” – usually a reliable show on radio – but this morning it was filled with Hillary haters. Strange, to find the right-left-main stream media all getting on the “Bash Billary Bandwagon” (Some deserved, mostly undeserved and meaningless…)

    I really like both the democratic candidates and whoever wins on the democratic side would be ok by me. I do like John McCain (though I dont agree with all his policies l..)as well. It should be an interesting Nov…

    Once again good work with the unbiased reporting. Its worth my time reading your analysis.

    PS – You missed NE - they caucus on Feb 9th as well

    By Anonymous Smiles, At 06 February, 2008 15:07  

  • For those interested in policy and want to understand the small difference between Obama and Hillary - heres an excellent article by Ezra Klein in "The American Prospect "

    The Democrats' Choice: Manager or Visionary

    Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama have two different approaches to fixing the economy, and the country. It's less about what to do than how to do it.


    By Anonymous Smiles, At 06 February, 2008 15:19  

  • I read a work of fiction once, about a great country that was destroyed by dissent and division, when the center could not hold. Activist from the right as well as activist from the left fought it off, and manage to nullify the great center. The crazies from the right won the fight, because they are always willing to use force and overrun everybody that does not agree with them, or so the said the book! And everybody was poorer because of it. I am amaze by the dislike and hatred that I see coming from the “progressive left” against senator Clinton. We all know of the holly crusade the right wing of the GOP has launched against John McCain, but has anybody really listen to progressive radio and compare? Granted, nobody listen to those guys but still, I always wonder what got up Ed Shultz ass, or Norman Goldman, or Stephanie Miller? What we have is a gigantic failure to compromise to advance the common good. And I believe the common good demands a democrat to win in November. And that democrat is not Barack Obama. I just don’t see it happening, as much as I wish for it. People vote their hopes in the primary, but they go with their fears in the general election. I just don know how we got here, were we are about to nominate somebody that will have trouble breaking 40% in the general election. George McGovern all over again. Please do not quote the polls that have him beating McCain. Those polls are from the same guys that had Obama wining in CA by 15 or wining NH by 20 points!!!! A fantasy!

    By Anonymous Robert_V, At 06 February, 2008 18:55  

  • Good article.

    However, you left out one thing. HC is broke. And Obama is raking in a ton of money.

    He has already raised 4Mill since the polls closed last night.

    With HC staffers going without pay, and not much money to campaign, she simply cant afford to go the distance.

    IMHO, she bet it all on a Knockout on the 5th. It didnt happen.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, At 06 February, 2008 23:07  

  • It's not that O appeals to red states but that he's the better performer in swing states.

    By Blogger tom, At 08 February, 2008 01:21  

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