6.03.2008

It's the last voting day: What's next? (Updated: AP hints at concession tonight, CNN disagrees)

Welcome to the last presidential voting day until November 4th. The last presidential primary is upon us, and yet all eyes are fixed on New York, not on South Dakota and Montana. There have been no Zogby tracking polls, no wall-to-wall CNN coverage from Helena or Rapid City. Instead, every single one of Hillary Clinton's movements has been scrutinized for clues as to her plans: Will she drop out tonight? Will she give an uncommitted speech and drop out in the coming days once Obama reaches 2,118 delegates? Or is her campaign serious about its repeated threats to continue their quest all the way to the Denver convention?

There no longer is an obvious route for her campaign to take. For the past three months, Clinton had been avoiding the pressure to drop out by claiming she had to stay in until every voter was able to vote and she kept herself busy by campaigning full time, traveling to states that were holding primaries (even Puerto Rico last week-end).

After tonight, she can continue her quest for the nomination, but with what rationale? In a statement yesterday, Clinton laid out the case for her candidacy:

Tomorrow is the last day of the primaries and the beginning of a new phase in the campaign. After South Dakota and Montana vote I will lead in the popular vote and Senator Obama will lead in the delegate count. The voters will have voted and so the decision will fall to the delegates empowered to vote at the Democratic Convention. I will be spending the coming days making my case to those delegates.

Clinton is trying to put herself on par with Obama, as if both had won one of the counts, putting them on equal footing. But the popular vote argument is a difficult one for her to make as she would have been in a stronger position had she surpassed Obama with a count that includes all the caucus states. Instead, the best count in which Clinton is ahead is one that includes Michigan and grants the uncommitted to Obama but does not include estimates for four caucus states that have not released raw numbers. Note that these numbers could change again tomorrow.

Meanwhile, the Obama campaign will try to make it easier for Clinton to take her decision by ensuring that the third option no longer be on the table once Hillary, Bill and her team meet to discuss the end game. They do not want to appear to be pressuring her to drop out, but they are working overtime to ensure that enough superdelegates endorse them from this afternoon to tomorrow evening for the threshold to be crossed sometime soon. And there are many reports circulating that dozens of superdelegates -- particularly House members but perhaps even Senators, as Ken Salazar and Tom Harkin (both undeclared right now) are pressuring their colleagues -- will rally behind the Illinois Senator starting tonight.

In other words, Obama is likely to surpass 2,118 in the coming days -- and probably open up a substantial margin. The question then for Clinton is no longer to justify to superdelegates why they should endorse her (and thus have a reason to stay in the race) but justify why she is staying in the race after Obama has clinched a majority of delegates.

Her first rationale is Michigan, which does remain on the table, but that would only give Hillary so many delegates. And remember that her statement after the Rules & Bylaws meeting appeared to suggest that she would not push for a full seating of the Florida and Michigan delegations, concentrating instead only on the allocation of Michigan delegates. Second, her claim that superdelegates can change their mind offers her an argument that is technically true, though it is difficult to see why supers would cross back to the Clinton camp once Obama is declared the winner both by his own campaign and by the media.

She can still travel around the country, but what would she be campaigning for? Is she supposed to pretend like she's concentrating on the general election and hold events in the fall's battleground states? Should she try and put pressure on uncommitted delegates by traveling to their district?

Thus, Clinton will be in an even more difficult position than she has been these past few weeks once Obama substantially crosses 2,118, as that would remove the two arguments Clinton could have to stay in the race beyond that point, superdelegates changing their minds and the Michigan delegation. Perhaps the Clinton campaign can hope that two giant upsets tonight in SD and MT would give pause to the superdelegates, but those two states are not big enough to shift numbers much.

Of course, the Clinton campaign probably feels frustrated that it has done so well in so many states since the beginning of March without it having changed anything to the equation. But her challenge had become clear as soon as the dust settled on Obama's February streak. She needed to make something happen and she had no room for a single error. Her victories in Ohio, Pennsylvania were not big enough to satisfy the former condition, and her stumble in North Carolina was all Obama needed to wrap this up.

Update: Well, it looks like there is less suspense about Clinton's plans than expected, as the AP is reporting that Clinton will concede that Obama has enough delegates to win the nomination in her speech tonight (presumably under the condition that Obama lives up to his favorite status in SD and MT?). The WaPo reports that five Montana superdelegates, including the governor and the two senators, will endorse the winner of their state's primary as soon as it is called, confirming that we are likely to see a lot of endorsements starting tonight (Politico suggests as many as 28 look set to endorse by the time Obama speaks tonight) and Terry McAuliffe said today that, as soon as Obama gets a majority of delegates, "I think Hillary Clinton will congratulate him and call him the nominee."

But CNN is reporting that the Clinton campaign is denying the AP report and says they have no plan to concede the delegate race tonight. It indeed seems likely that such plans would be set in stone before it becomes clear whether Obama will reach 2,118 today. In any case, all this talk confirms that Clinton is unlikely to try to hard once her rival reaches that number and clues of a Clinton concession tonight or at least in the coming days are accumulating.

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10 Comments:

  • Yes it is possible that the Clinton campaign feels bad that they have done well since March and haven't the nomination.
    However she did crap in the post super Tuesday primaries in February losing such key Democratic states like Wisconsin and Maryland. She was also beaten in Super Tuesday, remember she was expected to win the tri-state area - NY, NJ and CT. She lost CT. CA she won by single digits.

    By Anonymous Mike, At 03 June, 2008 09:04  

  • This comment has been removed by the author.

    By Blogger Daniel Greenfield, At 03 June, 2008 10:53  

  • Obama's candidacy is premised on the idea of changing course in the USA, and in support of that is his view that we should sit down and talk with the enemy, and also reach across the aisle in congress to form coalitions -- in order to get things done. So, it is going to be interesting to see how he deals with Clinton and her ardent supporters. Many of them are bitter, and feel that the nomination has been stolen from them. How is Obama going to deal with them? It will tell a lot about his ability to form a coalition: can he unite the democratic party, or will he fail. If he fails, and the democrats go into November badly splintered, then how will he succeed as president in forming a coalition? In light of this, I think he needs to really reach out to Clinton, and yes, put her on the ticket as his VP. But more than that, he needs to announce this early, well before the convention. Furthermore, he needs to promise Clinton an important role in his administration. He could make her the point person involved in reforming the health system. Giving these concessions to Clinton will insure a united party. But will he??? I am doubtful about Obama and his mantra of Change. Without coalition building there will be no change and there will be no democratic victory in November. I am reminded of a very similar situation in Ukrainian politics that exists between Victor Yuschenko and his Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko.

    By Blogger Daniel Greenfield, At 03 June, 2008 10:55  

  • Taniel, don't you mean Clinton's stumble in Indiana? Obama was expected to win NC, and he did; it was Clinton's far-too-close win in IN that really sealed her fate. (Well, taht and the fact that she never treated the caucus states seriously.)

    Dan Greenfield: The choice of whether Clinton will be VP in an Obama administration is not Obama's alone. I simply don't see Hillary accepting such an offer. Here are her scenarios, ranked from best to worst.

    1. If Obama loses this fall without her on the ticket, she would be the presumptive frontrunner for next time, and probably wouldn't have a hard time clearing the field. Standing in her way would be either a 76-year-old John McCain (unlikely) or his vice president (not only more likely, but an easier challenge).

    2. If Obama beats McCain and his presidency is unpopular enough to open the door for a primary challenge, then she stands a far better chance to win the Presidency outside the West Wing--not to mention, the Democrats would stand a better chance of retaining the office.

    3. If Obama beats McCain and his first term is reasonably popular, then it doesn't really matter where she is. Clinton's earliest shot at the nomination would be in 2016, and she would still be the nomination frontrunner no matter what office she held.

    4. If Obama loses the general election and she is on the ticket, the odds against her ever winning the office are long. There are only four people to lose as a vice-presidential candidate on their party's ticket, and then win the party's nod for president later--Adlai Stevenson, Franklin Roosevelt, Walter Mondale, and Bob Dole. Three of the four never became President, and even the one who did--Roosevelt--had 12 years in which to reinvent himself and make powerful friends. She simply doesn't have that kind of time. (Even if she did, it didn't help Stevenson or Dole.)

    By Anonymous Mr. Rational, At 03 June, 2008 12:33  

  • Mr. rational: Your comment is that of the typical sour-grapes Clinton supporter and only shows why Obama needs so badly to mend fences in the party, and give Hillary an offer she cannot reasonably refuse. She loses nothing by agreeing to VP. If Hillary refuses and appears reluctant to endorse and actively support Obama, she will have earned a bad name for herself, and there will be a backlash next time around by grass-roots left-wing groups like moveon.org and others. Ultimately it is up to Obama to provide the sugar to make her come to heel, and if he doesn't the election is his to lose.

    By Blogger Daniel Greenfield, At 03 June, 2008 12:57  

  • One nitpick on Mr. Rational's post -- the Adlai Stevenson who ran for President in the 50's never ran ran for VP -- that was his grandfather of the same name (who actually served as Vice-President under Cleveland).

    By Anonymous Chicago Joe, At 03 June, 2008 13:37  

  • Mr Rational I seriously doubt that Clinton would be the inevtiable frontrunner in 2012 if the Democrats lose in 2008, comparable to her frontrunner status in the beginning in 2007. She has been part of the very strong divisioness among the party and I predict that she will never again have the universial appeal among democrats that she had througout most of 2007 where she dominating leads. Unless she exits out of the race before the end of June AND she campaigns tirelessly for Obama in GE, I would see her being much weaker as a primary candidate in 2012 based on the premise that Democrats would be blaming her, not Obama, for losing the 2008 election. Even if she does bow out gracifully and campaing hard for Obama, there would still be resentment there from the 2008 election that would keep her from being the prohibitive frontrunner.

    As for Obama, he is young enough to run again for President if he fails in 2008, but if wanted to he should follow the path Nixon took: in which after he lost in 1960 he skipped the 1964 election so he could work gaining influence in the party so he could reemerge in 1968. Obama could do the same thing, which would mean that he would skip the 2012 election but try again in eiether 2016 or 2020.

    On tonight's primary, I postulate that if Obama wins both SD and MT by comfortable margins that she is more likely to throw in the towel, however if she scores an upset, especially if the margin is lopsided in SD like a recent poll showed, then there is no way she leaves the race this week: a huge upset win in a state where the CW says its favors Obama would be good enough to delay the SDs from flooding to Obama, althrough ultimatnely not enough for them to go to Clinton based on the small delegate count and populations that these states have.

    By Anonymous jaxx raxor, At 03 June, 2008 13:44  

  • Clinton on the ticket would be awful. I *dont* want to have to hold my nose when voting for Obama... that was the point in voting for him in the first place. Clinton is the anti-Obama. She represents everything we're trying to move beyond.

    By OpenID st-ranger, At 03 June, 2008 13:52  

  • Mr. Rational,

    I did mean her stumble in North Carolina. More than her narrow victory in Indiana (after all, she was not particularly favored in the state which demographically favored neither candidate), it is her failure to get close at all to Obama in North Carolina that sealed her fate.

    By Blogger Taniel, At 03 June, 2008 14:07  

  • Dan Greenfield: I already said this in response to another post, but let me say it again for your benefit. I am not a Clinton supporter. I have never voted for her, I never will, and I can't think of even five American public figures for whom I have less respect.

    As for her losing nothing by agreeing to be Obama's veep, I have said all that I have to say on the subject, and I think you're quite plainly wrong. If reports of an hour ago are to be believed, however, Hillary is considering quitting the race and exchanging that consideration for the number-two slot. This saddens me, as I thought she was smarter than that.

    Chicago Joe: Thanks for the correction. I must not have been looking carefully enough.

    Jaxx Razor: Oh, I think that you're right when you assert that Clinton will probably have to do some campaigning for Obama. But I don't think it will need to be tireless to make her the frontrunner. She is still the Democrat with the greatest name recognition, and she has, at least by one valid interpretation, won more primary votes than anyone else ever. She'll be back, and I can't see anyone else who would be in a position to challenge her.

    And if Obama loses, there'll be plenty of blame to be spread around the Democratic Party--not all of it will find its way onto Clinton, believe me. You are, however, absolutely right again when you say that Obama will have another shot at the Presidency should he lose, and that Nixon's strategy is the way to get there.

    Taniel: Fair enough, but I personally think her campaign was doomed when she performed far below expectations in Indiana. Difference of interpretation.

    By Anonymous Mr. Rational, At 03 June, 2008 19:24  

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