3.15.2008

Caucus chaos: Obama gains in Iowa, Clinton contests Texas (Updated with new Iowa numbers)

So much for the pledged delegate count Campaign Diaries and most media groups have been keeping up. More than 13 thousand delegates elected on January 3rd convened today at Iowa's county conventions and they threw the delegate allocation numbers we had all relied on out of the window. (I explained how this was possible, and the stakes of today's convention, in this post yesterday). With all of the county conventions now completed, the Obama campaign can claim a big victory.

Based on the vote at the county conventions, the original delegate count out of Iowa (16 for Obama and 15 for Clinton) will change dramatically and reflect a significant gain on Obama's part: He can now claim 25 delegates out of Iowa, while Clinton lost a delegate and is now at 14 with Edwards losing eight to end up with 6 (these delegates will be up for grabs once again in the next round). With almost all delegates for the state convention selected, Obama obtained 52%, Clinton 32% and Edwards 16%, which more or less means that almost all Edwards's delegates who did not stay with their candidate switched to Obama.

This is obviously a huge gain for the Illinois Senator. His 10 delegate increase alone is superior to Clinton's edge out of Ohio! And this from a much smaller state like Iowa in which Obama got 9% more than his rival: With 38% of the vote, Obama can now claim 55% of the state's delegate, the biggest disparity we have yet seen in a system that looked so strictly proportional. Given that Clinton is already so far behind in the pledged delegate count and that we can hardly imagine her catching up in pledged delegates with all the remaining contests, this is obviously a blow to her chances.

But how is this different from superdelegates deciding to vote for whomever they want without respecting the will of voters? Iowa voted on January 3rd -- but the delegate allocation will not follow the will of that day's voters. And not only because Edwards delegates backed Obama, since Clinton appears to have lost a delegate! After all the vociferation about respecting the will of voters, this does not seem like the logical next step.

The caucus system is looking increasingly disastrous for Clinton. It means not one caucus but a whole series of caucuses, each further diluting Clinton's votes. Fortunately for the New York Senator, she has much less to fear in most other caucuses, for she has already reached such depths in most of them that she can't possibly go much further down (in Idaho, for example, she only has 3 out of 18 delegates). But there are two danger areas: Nevada, where she won the popular vote and has to defend 12 out of 25 delegates, and Texas.

The Texas caucuses are still reporting at 41%... which has prompted me to not include the delegate breakdown of that contest in my delegate count. The projection out of those 41% gives 38 delegates to Obama and 29 to Clinton, but both candidates are too close to the thresholds of one less/one more delegate in too many districts that have barely reported with a third of their precincts for a definite breakdown to make any sense (it is worth noting that some networks, like NBC, are also refusing to project final numbers).

Worried about facing the same problem in Texas that she did today in Iowa, Clinton is now openly contesting the March 4th caucuses as she had been threatening to do for a while. Her move today was to send a letter to the Texas Democratic Party, as reported by the Dallas Morning News, to ask that the March 29th county conventions (exactly what happened in Iowa today) be postponed. Why? Because she wants the identity of caucus-goers to be double-checked, and she cites a number of violations including votes being taken with head counts instead of written rolls.

It is true that the Texas caucuses were a stunningly chaotic affair, with officials having utterly failed at organizing them and preparing for the turnout. They were reports of caucuses starting hours late, voting taking place in parking lots in the dark and with flashlights because there was not enough room in the actual caucus location, etc. There was no evidence of fraud -- both Obama and Clinton threw such allegations at each other -- simply the incompetence of the caucus organizers and government officials. In this context, Clinton's move to contest the county conventions could be interpreted as a delaying tactic and one born out of genuine worry as to what the March 29th conventions could have in store.

To make matters worse, it's hard for us who cover the campaign to know what to expect and what is really going on in Texas when we have no access to the 59% of the results of a contest that is deciding a total of 67 delegates -- and I am very much afraid that most of the precincts which are not reporting are those where media reports say voting took place on parking lots.

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4 Comments:

  • I think the fact that Clinton is "Contesting" the results about says it all.

    I'm sure she knows exactly what the outcome will be. And I bet its a lot more than 9 delegates.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, At 15 March, 2008 20:58  

  • Wow; looking at the Texas caucus helps me to understand what the rest of the country thinks about Florida.

    By Anonymous David, Tallahassee FL, At 15 March, 2008 23:40  

  • It is not unreasonable for Edwards delegates to move to another candidate and in common with most Edwards supporters in the country the recipient is Obama. Clinton has always been in the mid 40's, with Obama catching her, in part using Edwards supporters.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, At 16 March, 2008 06:36  

  • Obama is damaged goods.

    Let's see what happens at the remaining "primary" states.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, At 16 March, 2008 20:23  

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