2.11.2008

The weekend belonged to Obama. Can Clinton survive?

Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton had been exchanging wins since the beginning of January, leading up to the draw of Super Tuesday. But Obama's sweep of this week-end's four contests (five if you count the Virgin Islands) changes that.

As soon as people turned to look beyond February 5th, it became obvious that Obama was expected to win most of the February states. But even with those high expectations he managed to perform even better by (1) posting huge margins in all three of the Saturday states (Washington, Louisiana and Nebraska) and (2) by taking Maine, which many commentators saw Clinton as having a fighting chance in.

Most importantly, Obama stormed ahead in the pledged delegate count (he was still slightly behind in counts that didn't try and estimate the still outstanding delegates from Illinois and Colorado) and is getting very close to Clinton in the count that includes superdelegates. Odds are that he will even pass Hillary there after the Potomac primaries are in, which Obama is expected to sweep as well, building up to a very impressive 7-0 series.

It is very hard to determine how this might affect the remaining primaries at this point. No candidate has ever been able built to build sufficient momentum, with the two Obama bounces (after Iowa and heading to Super Tuesday) famously subsiding. Can Obama's week-end sweep (combined with his probable wins on Tuesday) finally break the impasse the party is in?

The Clinton campaign had been preparing for this onslaught, and knows that if they "hold serve" on March 4th, they will have prolonged this a few more weeks. (It is worth noting that comparisons to Rudy Giuliani's strategy are not relevant here. Giuliani did not campaign at all in states like New Hampshire in which he was still strong and he had the money to do it. And that caused him to fall entirely out of the media spotlight. Clinton does not have a strategy to ignore the February states, or if she does it is a way of setting expectations. She is clearly not favored in all of them -- not the case with Giuliani -- there is no risk that she might fall out of the media spotlight and, most importantly, she is trying to close margins in those states, she is devoting money and resources and she has not gone off to Ohio the way Giuliani went to Florida. In fact, Clinton is now concentrating her efforts on Virginia ).

The way the Clintonites see it, Obama is simply "holding serve" right now and if Clinton does as well in Ohio and Texas, the campaign will go to the tie-breaker of Pennsylvania. This tennis analogy was indeed a very useful metaphor to figure out the dynamics of race as of Tuesday. But is it still relevant today? An Obama sweep with small margins and a smaller delegate lead could have been nothing more than a hold of serve but with the size of these wins and Obama pulling ahead in all the metrics available (including fundraising), does Clinton have a chance in March?

This question is incredibly difficult to answer given how unpredictable this primary season has been. And if Obama continues to open up a delegate lead, things could go downhill very fast for Hillary, particularly if she loses big in the Wisconsin primary.

But we are not there yet at all. For all of Obama's wins, there is no evidence that the fundamentals have changed. Whenever they have had their back against the wall, both candidates -- especially Clinton -- have stormed back, counting on the support of key constituencies: White men and African-Americans for Obama, women, blue-collar voters and Latinos for Clinton. Ultimately, the electorate has been very loyal to the candidate they support and has shown very little sign of being swayed by momentum. Furthermore, Clinton's hopes lie in Texas and Ohio, two large-states whose electorate might not have entirely tuned in every single campaign development just yet. After all, the polls in the Feb. 5th states only started shifting in the final week or two of campaigning.

It is ultimately doubtful that Clinton will lose whatever support she has in Texas and Ohio because of her losses in February. If anything, the media and the electorate has fully integrated the idea that this will be a delegate war and that individual battles matter less.

That said, the edge people naturally give to Clinton in those two states is probably exaggerated, especially in Texas which has the most arcane and complex voting system of any primary or caucus state in the country, and one that could favor the candidate with the more money and organization (read, Obama). More on the Texas rules in the coming weeks, once I process them myself.

Meanwhile, they are still counting votes in New Mexico...

6 Comments:

  • I did a little number crunching and the answer to your last question appears to be yes. If Obama wins big tomorrow, he could build up such a pledged delegate advantage that it is impossible for HRC to catch him--even if she wins Ohio, Texas and Pennsylvania. That is why Clinton is pushing superdelegates and for the results in Florida and Mighigan to count, it's the only way she can get the nomination at this point.

    By Blogger BG, At 11 February, 2008 11:56  

  • Though I don't live in Wisconsin, I'm in Milwaukee nearly every weekend, and I can just add that Wisconsin is likely going to Obama in a big way. He is massively popular there. I watched an Obama campaign event in Alexandria Va last evening on CSPAN and he had a massive crowd. He was in total command of his audience. It was just amazing. If Edwards endorses Obama, which I expect to happen very soon, it's all over for HRC.

    By Anonymous Lady Luck, At 11 February, 2008 13:51  

  • There are problems with Edwards endorsing Obama because John's platform was for the little guy and Obama's is not. (Yes I read the Blueprint for Change and it strongly reinforced my view on that issue.) As a Hillary leaner, I really can't wait until the scoreboard puts Obama out front for a while to receive the trial by fire Hill has been getting for so long. I'm not worried about Hillary. I'm more worried about Obama if he wins before getting properly cooked. I don't want my leader to be too rare to be safe. McCain is definitely burnt to a crisp.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, At 11 February, 2008 17:48  

  • I think a lot of Super Delegates that lean one way or the other will back the candidate that earned the most votes in primaries / caucuses. Going against the people could hurt the party too much to do otherwise.

    By Anonymous C.S.Strowbridge, At 11 February, 2008 19:25  

  • Going with the number of votes and not delegates will certainly favor Clinton. Especially if Florida and Michigan don't have their delegates counted. At least their vote counts will be included. I know that using vote totals would appear much fairer than delegates pledged in this rtace.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, At 11 February, 2008 21:45  

  • All the candidates, yes all of them, signed pledges saying that they would not campaign in Michigan or Florida. Sen. Clinton herself (way before Super Tuesday) was on record saying that their delegates should not be counted. In Michigan, the only name on the ballot was Sen. Clinton's. Unless they hold another primary or caucus, then everything regarding those two states should not be considered. It is very unfortunate it came to this because those are two large swing states, but it's the fault of the State Party.

    By Blogger penif, At 12 February, 2008 01:50  

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