Decisively winning North Carolina, Obama effectively ends the primary race

By now, Iowa seems like the most distant of memories, Super Tuesday appears like the most anticlimactic election day, and we can barely remember what all that fuss around driver's licenses was about. It took more than five months of voting, calculating delegates, caucusing, campaigning, counting supers before Democratic voters deigned putting an end to the cruel game that they had been playing since the beginning of March by refusing to put the candidates' out of their miseries and giving just enough to both for the race to go on unaltered. Yesterday, their verdict was more decisive.

Obama's first two match points were on Hillary Clinton's serve, and she saved them both. In North Carolina, Obama finally got to serve out the match, managed to do what he had not done since Wisconsin -- win big when he needed to. Clinton's Indiana win was too narrow to offset the North Carolina blowout, as Obama put an effective end to the race for the Democratic nomination.

Just like on March 4th and April 22nd, I had outlined three thresholds Clinton had to pass: (1) Will she be able to stay in the race? (2) Will her victory be credible? (3) Will it change the fundamentals of the race? Clinton's win in Indiana (51% to 49%) and loss in North Carolina (56% to 42%) make the answers very clear: Those 2 percent in Indiana allow her to stay in the race if she so chooses but her victory was certainly not credible enough for her path to the nomination to remain viable.

Clinton needed a comfortable victory in Indiana and at worst a narrow loss in North Carolina; she also needed exit polls to tell the story she wanted, namely that Obama's numbers among blue-collar white voters had collapsed so low that superdelegates should rally around her. None of these things happen. Obama's total among NC white voters (37%) was lower than previous Southern states (he got 43% in Georgia, fir instance), but it was not a significant margin. And Obama managed to overperform once more among black voters, sealing Clinton's fate. Obama's showings guarantee that he will clinch a majority of pledged delegate and make his popular vote lead unassailable. In fact, the Obama campaign is now reportedly considering striking a deal on Florida and Michigan to take those issues off the table. That should tell us how confident they are that the race has stopped being competitive.

With very little good news out of yesterday's results, Clinton lacks a rationale to present to superdelegates; perhaps most importantly, she also lacks a way to continue fundraising when her campaign is clearly in financial trouble (it was revealed today that Clinton had loaned her campaign more than $6 million over the past month, most of it before Pennsylvania).

Clinton is vowing to press on and let the remaining states to vote, fighting on until "there's a nominee." In an email to supporters in which she repeatedly references the last "28 days of voting," she writes, "I'm going to keep fighting for what I believe in until every voter has had his or her say." But Clinton seems to have given up on a confrontational attitude and they are unlikely to try to draw major contrasts from now on. Ben Smith reports the lack of contrasts in Clinton's stump speech this morning. This is essentially the position Huckabee was in before he dropped out on March 4th.

The question, of course, is whether superdelegates, the media, and Democratic elders will let her go on. The Obama campaign has clearly chosen to not pressure her at all, allowing her the space to come to her decision by herself without feeling that she is being forced out. Senator McCaskill insisted that it was absolutely not time for Clinton to drop out. Rep. Clyburn, who remains uncommitted but has been very critical of Clinton recently, said the same thing.

Will superdelegates start rapidly moving towards Obama? Former presidential candidate George McGovern, a prominent Clinton supporter, urged her to drop out this morning and announced he was endorsing Obama. McGovern is not a superdelegate, but his switch could influence other Democrats. Obama already picked up four superdelegates since last night and this despite reports that his campaign is holding on to superdelegate announcements to avoid putting too much pressure on Clinton when the results speak for themselves. And Clinton actually got a new superdelegate herself as North Carolina Rep. Heath Shuler announced he was backing her.

Obama is now looking to turn his attention to the general election, with his campaign announcing that he would be traveling other places than primary states in the upcoming states. But Obama should be aware that Clinton retains the ability to damage him in the weeks ahead if she stays in. Even if Clinton gives up on an intense campaigning schedule, she would remain heavily favored to win West Virginia and Kentucky big, forcing Obama to defend his appeal to blue-collar white voters once again and putting him on the defensive, however close he has to finalizing his nomination. (Marc Ambinder points out that it could be worse for Obama if Clinton drops out tomorrow and still ends up winning WV and KY; so perhaps the Obama campaign wants Clinton to stay in two more weeks, at least nominally. He also points to another reason Obama might want Clinton to stay in a bit longer: If Clinton campaigns amicably for the next month it would help heal the party and it could also allow the Obama campaign to pretend to resolve the Michigan and Florida mess while the race is still technically competitive.)

Finally, Clinton's results last night deal a harsh blow to her chances to be Obama's vice-presidential pick. Had she stayed in until the summer, Obama would have had no choice but to select her. Now, Clinton will not remain a powerful enough force for Obama to have to pick her. Yet, Obama will have to get to work as soon as possible to reconcile his party. Yesterday's exit polls pointed to the urgency of his task, with less than half of Clinton supporters in both Indiana and North Carolina staying that they will vote for Obama in the general election.

But Obama can start worrying about that in a few days. For the night undoubtedly belonged to Obama. Despite all the gloomy forecasts and his supporters' conviction that Clinton's quest was ruining Democratic chances, the primary's competitive stage is over with still 4 months to go before the convention. And the remaining uncommitted superdelegates who wanted to avoid picking a side at all costs (see Emanuel, Rahm) probably got their wish.

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  • Ha ha ha ha ha.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, At 07 May, 2008 15:15  

  • McGovern doesn't want a rehash of his miserable failure and retelling the history of how and why the superdelegates were created to overthrow the pledged delegates to avoid his particular scenario is rubbing his nose in it. Sorry George, it's too late for that. Obama's going to trash you again either way.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, At 07 May, 2008 15:29  

  • So the reign of McGovern continues. Disaster.

    By Anonymous animal crackers, At 07 May, 2008 15:35  

  • It is still to soon to annoint Obama the nominee, but I do think that Clinton is the Democratic version of Huckabee as he was was after Super Tuesday: The frontrunner still doesn't have the delegates to cinch the nomination but with little chance for the canidate in behind to catch up. One thing that many other bloggers are saying on other sites is that Clinton will get out of the race at the EARLIEST on May 20th, there is little reason for her to drop out if she is so favored to win WV and KY and it would be very damaging if she dropped out today but Obama still loses those states. At the latest would be June 3rd after MT and SD vote (both Obama leaning states) and many bloggers say that at this point she will SUSPEND her campaign, not totally drop out (and release her delegates). The reason for this is that by suspending she will allow Obama to start to bring the party together so McCain can be taken out but if some other scandal comes out that severly damages his credibility and especially the support that blacks have of him, Clinton would be able to go to the SDs and ask them to give her the nomination. There is little chance of something new happening because I believe that with Obama no longer being squeezed on a two front war he will be less likely to make gaffes that would destroy him politically. So yeah, the race is effectively over, but not until Clinton says she is suspending (or dropping) her campaign.

    By Anonymous jaxx raxor, At 07 May, 2008 15:40  

  • So the reign of McGovern continues. Disaster.

    It would be nice if these comments were backed up by supporting evidence. The polls show Clinton and Obama doing about the same against McCain. So I see no reason to suppose one would be a disaster and the other would not.

    By Blogger dsimon, At 07 May, 2008 16:01  

  • I think the nomination was effectively decided after Texas and Ohio. The math was just too tough. I think the race still appeared close because some people weren't willing to look objectively at the numbers, discussing instead things like "momentum." There has been no momentum; with the exception of Iowa, the candidates have won just about every place they've been expected to win.

    Clinton got a 9% win in PA, but the numbers said she really needed about 20% to change the math. But the win kept things going, even if it wasn't enough to do her much good. Same goes for all the attention to who was going to win Indiana; whatever the outcome, it wasn't going to change the delegate count by more than two or four. Either side declaring the "win" to be significant is spin; it's the delegates that matter.

    As for Clinton being the VP, I think that notion never made much sense. To the extent that the selection makes a difference (and I read a NY Times article that said only 1% of voters said it affected their vote, though perhaps this year will be different), I didn't see Clinton as offering what Obama needs. Someone like Sam Nunn or Jim Webb would provide more national security heft as well as geographical diversity, as would many other candidates.

    By Blogger dsimon, At 07 May, 2008 16:13  

  • of the 33.4 million participants in this nomination race so far, 28.4 million will vote for Clinton while only 25.1 million will vote for Obama. (RCP 33,475093, O-16,836569,C-16638524,) I think the math proves it decisively.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, At 07 May, 2008 17:14  

  • dsimon, yes the nomination battle was over after Texas/Ohio but no one would listen.

    By Anonymous mpd, At 07 May, 2008 17:14  

  • of the 33.4 million participants in this nomination race so far, 28.4 million will vote for Clinton while only 25.1 million will vote for Obama. (RCP 33,475093, O-16,836569,C-16638524,) I think the math proves it decisively.

    I'm not sure what the claim is. Is it based on the polls that say X% of Clinton voters won't vote for Obama and Y% of Obama voters won't vote for Clinton in the general election? If so...

    First, the only math that matter for selecting the nominee are delegates.

    Second, it's a long way to November and I doubt the numbers about who will refuse to vote for whom will hold up after tempers have diminished and people face the real choices on Iraq, the economy, health care.

    Third, in many states (such as NY), independents and crossover Republicans couldn't vote at all in the Democratic primary. So the numbers provided don't take those potential voters into account.

    Fourth, the numbers cited assume zero votes for Obama (and every candidate except Clinton, Kucinich, and Gravel) in Michigan, which obviously does not reflect reality in Michigan.

    By Blogger dsimon, At 07 May, 2008 17:46  

  • Delegate math is useless when 800 votes are wildcards and the rest are only pledged to the extent of their consciences. It would be very foolish to bet on shifting sands. This setup is remarkably unpredictable with two viable winners. I don't think the odds of such a close race were high enough to make fixed goalposts in this event. It still all boils down to who is the strongest candidate standing by convention time. Bean counters beware.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, At 07 May, 2008 18:07  

  • The math gets extremely easy at this point.

    PD margin: Obama +166
    Number of PDs left to reap: 217

    What does this mean for Clinton?

    It means that she must earn a MARGIN of 167 in the PDs to surpass. 167 / 217 = 76.96% MARGIN. In order to get a 76.96% margin, which means a 88.48%. This means, thinking proportionally, that Clinton must now win the remaining six contests with 88.48% of the vote in order to get 192 of the 217 PDs.

    Mathematically possible.
    Statistically practically impossible.
    After 5/20, it will be physically impossible.

    According to RCP, Obama is now 177 delegates from the nomination.I will put out a write up (on my blog) over the last 6, just as I did for the last 12 and the last 10, over the weekend, including my projection of what the PD count will look like after June 3rd.

    By Blogger Mark, At 07 May, 2008 18:07  

  • 25.3 million if you give Edwards' votes to Obama. Insignificant as the pledged delegate count.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, At 07 May, 2008 18:08  

  • The only way Clinton will be the Democratic nominee is if something incapacitated Obama.

    Obama is the winner--please step in line to kiss his ring!

    By Anonymous Anonymous, At 07 May, 2008 18:10  

  • You guys are all living by numbers that aren't fixed. None of these delegate math scenarios are fixed in stone. I hope you guys all read your credit card agreements before budgeting their use. A lot of people are losing their homes because they didn't understand how wildly unpredictable their loans were.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, At 07 May, 2008 18:12  

  • Delegate math is useless when 800 votes are wildcards and the rest are only pledged to the extent of their consciences. It would be very foolish to bet on shifting sands.

    I think it would be very foolish for superdelegates to declare publicly and then switch. Many of them represent districts or states who have supporters in both camps, so I'd think they'd think carefully about their selection instead of risking antagonizing both sides.

    Also, I doubt those who committed later on in the process--mostly Obama supporters--would have done so without a firm decision to do so. Yes, they could change their minds, but I think the chances are slim.

    (And the only two I know of that had committed and flipped so far have been from Clinton to Obama.)

    By Blogger dsimon, At 07 May, 2008 18:13  

  • dsimon knows everything! If you don't believe me, ask him yourself!

    By Anonymous michael moon, At 07 May, 2008 18:17  

  • 25.3 million if you give Edwards' votes to Obama. Insignificant as the pledged delegate count.

    I note no response to all of my prior points.

    And I don't get the claim that the pledged delegate count is insignificant when delegates decide the nomination--and were the focus of the candidates' campaigns.

    By Blogger dsimon, At 07 May, 2008 18:17  

  • dsimon knows everything! If you don't believe me, ask him yourself!

    I know only what I know. And I know that I don't know if it's everything. Actually, I suspect no one knows everything, but I could be wrong.

    By Blogger dsimon, At 07 May, 2008 18:19  

  • dsimon is the rain man of campaign diaries. Let him have his way--it's comical.

    By Anonymous gus, At 07 May, 2008 18:19  

  • If MI and FL are counted, then the delegates needed to win would increase to about 2200 or so. Clinton would narrow the gap but would still be behind. The only possible way for her surpass Obama would be if some of the "uncommitted" Michigan delegats go for Clinton in enough numbers to give her the lead, and I seriously doubt Obama would let that happen.

    By Anonymous jaxx raxor, At 07 May, 2008 18:58  

  • Once again, please keep comments civil and there's no need to go personal against other posters. Thanks.

    By Blogger Taniel, At 07 May, 2008 19:01  

  • Taniel, Please answer a question for me. I heard one of the "pundits" say on TV last night that in exchange for Clinton's full support that the Obama campaign would have to pay off her campaign debt. As someone who sent the Obama campaign several hundred dollars, please tell me it ain't so. Is this politics as usual?

    By Anonymous stone621, At 07 May, 2008 21:11  

  • dsimon is the rain man of campaign diaries.

    Since Rainman knew how to count, I'll take that as a compliment! :-)

    By Blogger dsimon, At 07 May, 2008 21:54  

  • Stone 621,

    I did hear that rumor myself when Kos was talking about it. I have not heard more about it, so I am for now unable to confirm where that speculation is coming from or whether it is at all serious. I'll update if I find out anything!

    By Blogger Taniel, At 07 May, 2008 22:02  

  • Taniel, Thanks for more info on this paying off of Clinton's debt by the Obama campaign. If it is true that I gave money to Obama only to be spent paying off Clinton's debt I will be devastated. The Clinton's are multi-millionaires and can pay it themselves or she can give speeches 'till kingdon's come to pay it off. The irony of this will be more than I can handle. My money is handed over to Clinton, while she is trying to destory my candiate with the money I and many thousands of other people gave to Obama. I will not give another dime until I know the whole outcome of this sordid mess.

    By Anonymous stone621, At 08 May, 2008 00:52  

  • The Huff post is reporting the Clinton debt may be 20 million; much owed to Mark Penn. This would be money well spent if it ends the race. Some of the reasons why this is so are: 1) Hillary would be able to devote her efforts to working full time for Obama and not spend the next six months fundrasing to pay off her debt. 2) For her supporters, this gesture would ease the pain of her loss and make them more likly to vote for Obama. 3) It allows Obama & Clinton to concentrate on McCain and ends her attacks on him. 4) It allows Obama to start the GE fundraising and build his GE war chest. 5) This move is done quite often; although not for this amount; by winners to end the fight and the money would be pocket change for Obama.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, At 08 May, 2008 07:41  

  • Obama will get no money from me if Mark Penn gets a dine

    By Anonymous stone621, At 08 May, 2008 16:40  

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