3.25.2008

State of the race: Is support building for... Al Gore?!

Very little has changed in the past few weeks to weaken Barack Obama's firm grasp on the nomination. But the Illinois Senator has been unable to clinch push Clinton out of the race and to win the game-ending contests (New Hampshire, Ohio, Texas and also Pennsylvania if Clinton's large poll lead holds up for the next month).

However confusing the situation, what Hillary Clinton needs to accomplish is fairly clear. Over the next 2 months, she will target superdelegates as much Pennsylvania, North Carolina and Puerto Rico voters. Not only does she need need to post strong victories throughout May and June, she also needs to convince superdelegates that Obama is too risky a proposition heading into the general election. I have been providing updates into these two related but seperate requirements (building momentum is a necessary but not sufficient condition to convince superdelegates) over the past few weeks -- and will do so as long as necessary. Here are the latest news on both fronts.

1. Building momentum

To survive, Hillary Clinton needs to get to the end of primary season (on June 3rd) in a very strong position, posting good result after good result all the way through late April, May and early June. In commenting the latest primary polls this afternoon, I outlined what Clinton needs to accomplish in Pennsylvania (a triumph of larger magnitude than in Ohio) and on May 6th (win Indiana, pretty much tie North Carolina). But what will Clinton do if she does not get what she needs?

Clinton offered a guideline to her plans today:
I think that what we have to wait and see is what happens in the next three months. There’s been a lot of talk about what if, what if, what if. Let’s wait until we get some facts…Over the next months millions of people are going to vote. And we should wait and see the outcome of those votes.

What most people will get out of this statement is that Hillary Clinton appears committed to staying in the race all the way until June 3rd. I do not believe this is the take-home message here: If Clinton loses Pennsylvania or gets a bad May 6th, she will probably exits the race whatever she says today. But what this quote points to is that Clinton is admitting that she will not committed to going all the way to the convention and that what she does depends on the state of the race as of June 3rd. A Clinton withdrawal in early June would not be a particularly bad scenario for Democrats: They will monopolize the attention in months that are traditionally not very covered without the nastiness and chaos that would erupt if the race was not settled after all primaries were over. Until that point, I am still not convinced that a long race hurts the Democratic nominee.

2. Superdelegates

The big challenge Clinton faces is that most remaining uncommitted superdelegates will be very uncomfortable voting for her if Obama has a lead in pledged delegate. Not only that, but some of her own superdelegates are not sure to stick with her if that situation presents herself. Today, Washington Senator Maria Cantwell -- a Clinton supporter who has long been counted as a superdelegate vote for Hillary -- declared that she would vote for whoever ends up with pledged delegate lead. Obama is almost sure now to be in that position (especially if Florida and Michigan are not counted), so Cantwell could soon find herself casting a ballot for Obama in Denver.

But what happens if Obama truly weakens by the end of August, that Wright-type controversies drag themselves out through the summer and that Clinton succeeds in persuading enough superdelegates that Obama should not be trusted with beating Obama? Well, Florida Rep. Tim Mahoney has a solution: Bring in Al Gore! Mahoney outlined possible solutions in an interview with Florida's The Stuart News:

“If it (the nomination process) goes into the convention, don’t be surprised if someone different is at the top of the ticket,” Mahoney said.

A compromise candidate could be someone such as former vice president Al Gore, Mahoney said last week during a meeting with this news organization’s editorial board.

If either Clinton or Obama suggested to a deadlocked convention a ticket of Gore-Clinton or Gore-Obama, the Democratic Party would accept it, Mahoney said.

I fail to understand how bringing in someone who hasn't even won a single vote throughout the primary process can resolve the issue of not respecting the will of voters... The logic probably is that since such a chaotic scenario could only emerge if superdelegates really get their doubts about Obama and want someone else, handing it to Clinton would be privileging someone who had actually come second, wheareas Al Gore has stayed above the fray. Naturally, such a scenario remains extremely unlikely, but the mere fact that it is being mentioned confirms how much of a dilemma many superdelegates feel they are in, unable to find a direction or a rationale to drive their decision.

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