Increasing the confusion, Democrats refuse to settle

Democratic voters do not want this race to end. Given the opportunity to hand the nomination to Barack Obama, they rallied behind Hillary Clinton and made sure the race would go on until -- at least -- April 22nd. So however burned out you feel, prepare for more debates, more Election Nights, more primary polls and more delegate counts. We are in this for the long haul.

There were two separate questions to be answered last night: First, would Clinton be able to survive and stay in the race? Second, would she be able to change the fundamentals of the race and win comfortably enough to get herself back in the nomination battle? The answer I offered yesterday to the latter -- more interesting -- question was that she needed "to triumph in Ohio by double-digits and win Texas comfortably enough to get a delegate lead (and probably win Rhode Island as well). A tall order for the New York Senator."

Incredibly enough, Hillary pulled that off: She won Ohio by 10%, posted an unlikely triumph in Rhode Island (by a margin bigger than in New York) and while she only won the Texas primary by 4%, she managed to pull out a delegate lead thanks to unexpectedly strong numbers in a handful of border districts where she managed to gain 3 out of 4 delegates. Boosted by those very strong results, the Clinton campaign powers on.

So this means that Clinton now has a stronger chance to become the Democratic nominee, right? Not so fast, things could never be that simple in this Democratic primary. Campaign Diaries's count prior to March 4th gave Obama a 148 pledged delegate lead. The compilation of yesterday's results shows that Clinton netted between 15 and 19 delegates -- without counting the Texas caucuses since results are still unknown at this hour. That's a much larger number than was expected, and credit goes to the Clinton campaign for having pulled that out. It is also the first Election Day in which Clinton nets a delegate gain (New Hampshire splits its delegates equally and Obama got one more in Nevada)! But those numbers also mean that Clinton was only able to cut into a very small fraction of Obama's overall lead.

The math is overwhelmingly against the Clinton campaign: They have to count on huge margins in all upcoming states (starting with Pennsylvania) and prevent falling behind in states that Obama is heavily favored in (such as Mississippi). Clinton simply does not have a path that gives her a pledged delegate lead right now. Now, the campaign will push for revotes in Florida and Michigan. Adding those states to the mix would give Clinton a reservoir of delegates to still be awarded, increasing her chances of cutting into Obama's lead.

This is what has made the Democratic contest into such a paradox: Mathematically speaking, Obama is the overwhelming favorite to win the nomination. But how can he convince superdelegates to join him and the party to coronate him without winning important occasions such as this? And on the other side we have Clinton, a candidate who is very unlikely to get the nomination but who can now press ahead with new-found momentum.

To make matters worse for Obama, yesterday's vote uncovered a certain number of weaknesses that the Clinton campaign will point to in the coming days in an effort to freeze the superdelegate migration towards the Illinois Senator. The exit polls showed that Clinton held her demographic group very well. She won the Latino vote in Texas nearly 2:1. In Ohio, the groups that had abandoned her in Wisconsin were back in her corner: She won by 18% among those with no college degree, triumphed among the female vote and regained a significant edge among white males. And this time, she cut into Obama's demographics groups: She won the male vote by 3% in Ohio, forced a tie among Republican and independent voters, as well as among the high-income electorate. Obama's demographic coalition was the one that trembled, and his weakness among blue-collar voters and Latinos was once again on full display. This will be Argument A in Clinton's case to superdelegates.

Finally, there is the question of how Clinton pulled this off. In New Hampshire, she had benefited from a last minute boost among the female vote. In Ohio and in Texas, her comeback was fueled by last-minute deciders as well, as she posted some massive leads among those who had decided in the past 3 days. The two stories that dominated the last few days of campaigning were first the questions about Obama's national security credentials (fueled by the red phone ad) and second the controversy surrounding Obama's stance on NAFTA.

Which of these factors was determinant in yesterday's vote? The one hint we have is that Clinton's victory was more overwhelming in Ohio than in Texas, pointing to the NAFTA story being more important. And the Obama campaign should use that as a lesson in crisis control, as they messed up their response to Canada's allegations, not settling on a coherent defense for long enough to make the story even more damning than it was.

The Clinton campaign, however, will probably point to the red phone ad and the spot attacking Obama's Senate record as factors as well. They will take comfort in the late decider breakdown and take that as encouragement to step up attacks on Obama's credentials. Last night's results could prompt Clinton to go much more negative than she has up to now. Given that the press is turning the spotlight increasingly on Obama, the Illinois Senator could be in for a rough 6 weeks.

And this is why Obama will regret yesterday's results for a long time to come. He is still the overwhelming favorite to win the nomination, and should only increase his delegate lead next Tuesday in Mississippi. But instead of turning his attention to John McCain, he will spent the next 6 weeks being questioned by the media and attacked by Clinton. And keep in mind that she is as trapped as her rival is: She must realize how unlikely her path to the nomination is, but she cannot possibly drop out with this kind of results.

Two months after Iowa, Democrats are continuing to go through the motions of a competitive race that could take the intra-party fight all the way to Denver in late August 2008. By all measures, it is difficult to identify a scenario in which Obama loses the nomination. But it is as difficult to see how he can put an end to this race any time soon.

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  • Oh, come on, you cant be serious.

    TX win = Latino (No way in shit im voting for a black guy) vote.

    OH win = Blue collar (No way in shit im voting for a black guy) vote.

    This whole election is "Identity Politics". Which is a nice left wing phrase for "Race and Gender".

    Obama will win Wy and Miss. the next week for the exact same reasons.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, At 05 March, 2008 15:09  

  • anonymous of 15:09:

    I wouldn't be so sure of that. Hillary pulled off some incredible wins with last minute voters; "identity politics" would indicate long seated sentiments that would have been at odds with those results.

    The fact remains that Obama's campaign, much in regards to Plouffe and Axelrod, has been stumbling all week and it seemed to really resonate with voters.

    I think the media also played a major role in two separate ways. First, it absolutely bristled at the lampooning it got from Saturday Night Live's 'does Barack want a pillow?' bit, and second, because voters seemed to resent the fact that so much of the major news gleefully centered on the final demise of Clinton.

    The short and simple might just be that campaign and media politics happened and the voters reacted. Taniel really nails it at the top: "Democratic voters do not want this race to end. Given the opportunity to hand the nomination to Barack Obama, they rallied behind Hillary Clinton and made sure the race would go on until -- at least -- April 22nd."

    I would slightly amend that, though, to simply specify voters regardless of being Democratic or not, as the Republican race has almost felt like a prolonged Looney Tunes episode, what with yoo-hoos like Huckabee and Ron Paul running, not to mention the farce of a campaign that Giulianni waged. Thompson? Yeah.

    And seriously, it makes me sound like a total nerd, but this whole thing makes stuff like the Oscars and the Super Bowl look like child's play. I hope this election goes on forever and ever and ever and ever.

    By Anonymous animal crackers, At 05 March, 2008 15:41  

  • Nice analysis; the best I have read so far on last night's results. The question that remains to be answered is How Tough Is Barack? Can he stand up to the assaults that will be leveled at him by the Clinton campaignn? Does he have the ability to get scrappy just like his rival? If he can't, and postures himself above the fray, he won't cut it in the fall when McCain swiftboats him. We all remember Kerry's refusal to stand up to the accusations leveled again him. We surely don't need another candidate like that. So, although I'm an Obama supporter, I want him to fight for this nomination, and not act like he's entitled to it by some princely birthright.

    By Blogger Daniel Greenfield, At 05 March, 2008 15:46  

  • I actually have more to add on how things turned out last night, but me? I'm slightly hungover from watching the evening's results on my computer while I quietly drank alone in the darkness.

    You're a vocal bunch, so dish. Why do think the March 4th elections turned out the way that they did?

    By Anonymous animal crackers, At 05 March, 2008 15:50  

  • I think you're last sentence sums up the race going forward perfectly.

    By Blogger Political Realm, At 05 March, 2008 16:14  

  • Oops. Last two sentences, I guess.

    By Blogger Political Realm, At 05 March, 2008 16:14  

  • I don't buy all this the press was too hard on Hillary stuff. Yes, there was a lot of rooting for Obama and lots of Hillary putdowns but they took her seriously. If Obama's delegate and popular vote leads were switched with Hillary's the press would have treated Obama much like they treated Huckabee.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, At 05 March, 2008 16:57  

  • One answer to the question at the end of the blog is that if Obama wins PA then game over form Clinton. Of course this is difficult because the governor is supporting her (much like his Ohio counterpart). PA is similar demographics to Ohio but Obama did win Wisconsin by 17% and that has similar demographic - poor white, very few latino's etc.

    The next 7 weeks may do Obama a favor in that he can show he can stand upto tough questioning - time will tell.

    I agree that if the press had been hard on Clinton she would not have been allowed to stay in after losing 11 straight contests - caucuses, primaries, east, west, all over the place.

    By Anonymous Guy, At 05 March, 2008 18:26  

  • Obama is far from the likely nominee. It's still Clinton. Obama had a chance but blew it by proving once and for all that he has no credibility. Time and time again he's been shown to have lied. He doesn't learn from the same mistake that he keeps repeating of denouncing allegations that turn out to be true. If by some miracle he survives and becomes the nominee, this will be his downfall.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, At 05 March, 2008 19:33  

  • What lies? The meeting with the Canadians - wow one possible lie.
    How many lies have the Clinton's made?? We know Bill Clinton has lied - he has admitted it after wasting at least 1 year of his presidency.

    So stop attacking Obama for something the Clinton's are ever more guilty of.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, At 05 March, 2008 20:58  

  • Clinton is behind in the number of states won, the popular vote (even including FL) and pledged delegates. What part of behind do Clinton supporters not understand?

    By Anonymous Anonymous, At 05 March, 2008 20:59  

  • anonymous of 20:59:

    Clinton has momentum which translates to deliverance in the general come November. The Democrats want the White House; why split hairs on delegates, states, etc. Politics is about winning, plain and simple.

    And that's correct; 'pledged delegates.' No candidate has delegates because they have yet to be awarded, making it possible for Hillary to push Barack out and still claim the nomination at the Democratic convention if the powers that be decide that it's the most effective strategy for winning against McCain.

    By Anonymous animal crackers, At 06 March, 2008 03:32  

  • I should have pointed out that my proposal in my last post hinges on Hillary winning Pennsylvania, and then taking wins out of 're-votes' in Michigan and (most importantly) Florida.

    I should have noted also that Barack may be called as a witness in the Rezko trial (for the defense!). That could prove to be enough to shake the confidence of future super delegate support to Hillary's side, while leaving a sense of indifference in the minds of voters.

    What exactly comes of the Rezko matter is anyone's guess, but the very implication or association could prove detrimental to the party's chances of securing the nomination in the eyes of Democratic insiders. That might be enough to force Barack to step back and let the convention rework the math for a Clinton nomination.

    A bit wild, yes, but theoretically it's now become a plausible scenario.

    By Anonymous animal crackers, At 06 March, 2008 04:09  

  • I wouldn't be so sure of that. Hillary pulled off some incredible wins with last minute voters; "identity politics" would indicate long seated sentiments that would have been at odds with those results.

    And you believe polls???? Face it, this race has NO mo, its 100% Identity politics.

    Lets run down the last 12 races.

    Wyoming = Obama by 15.
    Mississippi = Obama BIG 30% or so.
    Pennsylvania = Clinton by 10. Ed Rendell (PA Gov.) is 100% correct. PA whites will NOT vote for a black man. The REAL reason Obama lost in OH also.
    North Carolina = Obama by 10-15
    Guam = Dunno, have no idea of the Race makeup.
    Indiana = Obama (Very Close though
    ) Could go wither way.
    West Virginia = Clinton 10-15
    Oregon = Obama 10-15
    Kentucky = Clinton 10+
    Montana = Obama Big
    South Dakota = Obama
    Puerto Rico = Dunno. That have a VERY odd system thats impossible to figure out. Its all "Party Bosses of 2 opposing parties". Kinda like the USA 150 years ago.

    Mark it, This will be the results of the last elections.

    Big Obama Voting blocks. Blacks, "Rich" educated Whites. College kids.

    Big Clinton Voting blocks. Latinos, Blue collar Whites. Jews.

    Just find the states with these groups and average them out.

    So far ONLY WI has not followed this very simple pattern.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, At 06 March, 2008 05:01  

  • Why the hell is Puerto Rico allowed to vote - it cannot in the General Election. The CLinton campaign should say it doesn`t count because red states do not. She will be going for a 270EV strategy only - leaving no room for error. An Obama-McCain contest would at least be a 30-35 state affair and could yield some unusual results rather than take us back to the 90's rigidity.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, At 06 March, 2008 07:58  

  • 20:58-You have a selective memory. Bill was impeached for lying under oath and Libby was indicted for the same. When Barack gets under oath,his fast and loose with the facts will end his career for sure. It's a certainty. He doesn't have the skill to not lie while avoiding touchy issues. Fitzpatrick is a shrewd man. Obama is toast.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, At 06 March, 2008 19:23  

  • Obama is not even being called. You admitted Bill is a proven liar. Says a lot about the Clinton's character!!

    By Anonymous Anonymous, At 06 March, 2008 20:23  

  • Obama is not even being called. You admitted Bill is a proven liar. Says a lot about the Clinton's character!!

    By Anonymous Anonymous, At 06 March, 2008 20:23  

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