When a win isn't necessarily a win

Today's results could be the most difficult to handicap, and this in a context that has seen 11 Election Days already. Indeed, we are in the very difficult position of asking what it would mean for either candidate to get a "win" out of tonight.

There are two separate questions at play here: (1) What will it take for Clinton to fundamentally alter the state of the race and get herself back in the running? (2) What will it take for Clinton to survive today's votes, i.e. have a rationale to go on with her campaign tomorrow morning? The second question would seem to be dependent on the first, but the Clinton campaign has been giving enough clues as of late that there is a pretty significant gap between the two.

The answer to the first question is rather simple: To have a chance at being the nominee, Clinton needs to triumph in an 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 -- albeit one that the last batch of polls suggest she could pull off.

But if Clinton wins, say, Ohio by 6% and Texas by 4%, these victories will be insufficient to boost her in the delegate chase and would make Obama even more favored to win the nomination -- but they would be good enough that Clinton would probably not drop out.

This would truly be a paradoxical situation: The very same results would both confirm that Clinton has very little chance of becoming the nominee and change the momentum in her favor. This would be an almost unprecedented situation in the history of modern primaries, as a candidate who is increasingly unlikely to get the nomination would press ahead with new-found determination.

This possibility would create a huge headache for Obama: The next opportunity to get Clinton out of the race won't come until April 22nd, and that would mean that Obama would have to fight the primary fight -- and face a lot of new scrutiny since the media appears to have decided to turn the spotlight on him -- in a race that he would have essentially won.

Of course, we aren't there yet. While the in-between scenario (Clinton survives but does not change the fundamentals of the race) is the most likely, I already pointed out that Clinton could potentially make herself relevant if she gets a huge night tonight. And then there is the very plausible scenario that Obama gets to eliminate Clinton tonight: He has a huge opportunity.

What would constitute a knock-out victory by Obama? If he wins Ohio or the popular vote in Texas, it would be very difficult for Clinton to stay in the race and even if she does Obama would have beaten her at her own games, in the states Clinton herself had pointed to as her firewall.

Can Obama hope that Clinton drops out if the decision is more muddled (small wins by the NY Senator in OH and TX)? The campaign knows that its now or... in 6 weeks, and they are pressuring Clinton very heavily to drop out in such a scenario. It looks like they have prepared a major offensive in the coming days: Tom Brokaw is now reporting that Obama has 50 superdelegates ready to endorse him and that have yet to come forward, and many observer are now pointing out that the Obama campaign has still not released its February fundraising figure that was supposed to be so overwhelming. TNR's Mike Crowley is suggesting that they will release all this information in the coming days to force Clinton out of the race.

And this is where things get really complicated: It's going to be very difficult to figure out just how muddied the results are because of... the Texas delegate allocation rules which make it a huge possibility that Obama would get more delegate out of the state than Clinton even he loses by less than 5-6%. So if Clinton gets a 5% popular vote win but Obama gets the delegate lead, both campaigns will claim to have won Texas... Clinton would have a more logical claim to victory (as she did in Nevada), but considering that her challenge today is to cut Obama's delegate lead it will be difficult to cover that as anything than a loss.

And I am not even accounting here for the Texas caucuses that will start immediately after primary polls close. 67 delegate are at stake here... That's almost as much as the entire state of Minnesota, where Obama had triumphed in the caucuses and gotten a 24 delegate lead. Even if Clinton wins the primary vote by a few points, Obama could very well crush her in the caucuses and get a delegate lead big enough to undermine whatever Clinton gets in the Texas primary and in Ohio. Sounds unlikely? There was a 30% gap in Washington between the primary results and the caucus results... If even a third of that happens in Texas, it could become Exhibit A of the Clinton campaign's charge against caucuses, and it's stuff like that they need to provide cover to superdelegates.

Complicated? Certainly. What is most terrifying that the most confusing scenarios outlined here (Clinton gets a narrow TX primary win, loses caucuses, loses delegates) are not the most far-fetched at all, but are more likely than simpler routs

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  • Here's a suggestion for Obama. As soon as Vermont is decided tonight; a likley big win for him; go out and give his victory speech. He will be in prime time and the results in Ohio and Texas won't likely be know until very late tonight maybe not till tomorrow. The speech would get lots of free air play as results slowly trickle in and Hillary would have to speak after him.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, At 04 March, 2008 12:49  

  • And that is why, thankfully for him, you are not his campaign manager. That maneuver is so transparent and childish as to be ridiculous. and then when the numbers start rolling in if they are favorable to Hillary, it will further unmask him as something less that he advertise himself as! Have faith dear Obamabot, he might still pull Texas out of the fire, in which case he can go on national TV and give the proper victorious speech!. Don you have faith in your redemptor and savior?

    By Anonymous Anonymous, At 04 March, 2008 16:53  

  • GAME ON!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    Senator Clinton isn't going anywhere except to the White House!!!!!!!

    She wins where it's necessary for the Dems and is more competitive with McCain than Obama in swing states.

    Winning undemocratic caucases in RED STATES are admirable but not enough to win the White House. I want the Dems to take back the White House and the only way to do that is with Sen Clinton.

    In addition, Obama has baggage of his own that is being blogged about non-stop on news sites....Rezco, NAFTA, Larry Sinclair, Unpatriotic, Muslim ect. Whether these allegations are true or not (which I believe some of them are not), he is still being hurt by them.

    These are the FACTS, and Obama supporters can spin it anyway they want.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, At 05 March, 2008 02:22  

  • Haha. The FACTS, huh? Try this:


    Then tell me how much Hillary can win.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, At 06 March, 2008 15:21  

  • Turns out that the first poster was exactly right, and Obama spoke after VT was in and before OH and TX. So much for poster 2's conventional wisdom.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, At 22 March, 2008 11:59  

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