3.31.2008

Clinton struggles to counter superdelegate flight

Hillary Clinton has a superdelegate problem. Her only path to win the nomination has long been to convince superdelegates that she is the more electable and the more reliable candidate, in the hopes of riding a last-minute summer scandal about the Illinois Senator to snatch more supers and get the nod. But for this plan to remain at all plausible, Clinton has to find a way to convince superdelegates to give her a chance and wait before joining Obama.

She has been increasingly unable to do that, which is what made the Casey endorsement matter as much as it did last week. And news only worsened today. First, Senator Amy Klochubar of Minnesota is ready to announce she is rallying Obama, which means that the two Democratic candidates each have 14 senatorial endorsements. Given that most uncommitted superdelegates are likely to look at how their state voted, Klochubar's decision is not necessarily a big surprise since Minnesota has been one of the most pro-Obama contests.

But the most stunning superdelegate news is reported today by the Wall Street Journal: North Carolina's entire House Democratic delegation (seven members) has decided to come together and endorse Barack Obama. We had not yet seen such a diverse group get together to endorse en masse before: There are progressives, members of the black caucus and conservatives like Heath Shuler.

The Obama campaign is now telling TPM that they have not locked up all these endorsements, "None of them has told our campaign that they are ready to announce their endorsement of Senator Obama." Not to parse words too closely, but saying that superdelegates are not "ready" to announce their endorsement is not the same as denying that Obama is looking to receive their support soon.

If the move is confirmed, count that many more votes on the convention floor for Obama and that many less available for Clinton to draw to her camp. Furthermore, North Carolina is still very much a contested state and, while Obama is favored, I explained last week why this primary could be crucially important: If Obama manages to win big or if he makes a dent in Clinton's electoral coalition by improving among downscale whites, it would be very hard for Clinton to implement her strategy. The rallying of seven House members would help Barack satisfying both those goals.

Whether or not Obama's denials are sincere, the fact that such stories are running shows that CLinton's worst enemy right now is impatience; she is spending so much time justifying her decision to stay in the race that she hardly has time to do much else. The deluge of stories about her struggles to remain relevant are bringing us back to the run-up to NH and to March 4th. But for all the anxiety Obama supporters are feeling, the primary season started less than three months ago and the convention is five months from now, suggesting that things have really not dragged on for as long as we sometimes think.

Unfortunately for Hillary, that might not matter if superdelegates continue to rush towards Obama -- and if reports of Clinton's troubles persist. Politico reported this week-end that the Clinton campaign was not paying all of its bills, choosing to spend whatever funds it has left on media. The piece explains that Clinton ended February with $11 million in the bank usable in the primary but almost $9 million in unpaid bills she reported as debts. It is important to note that Clinton had improved her fundraising pace after March 4th, but the last thing Clinton wants right now is for her campaign to be painted as that desperate and broke.

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