Sunday, March 23, 2008

The Narrow Path

Hillary's chances are slim, though all sorts of pundits who should know better claim it's over. Sure, she won't catch up on pledged delegates, but that's not the point. Her argument is it'll be close enough that the superdelegates will realize they must decide, and decide for her. (Just convincing the superdelegates from states she won to vote for her might be enough.)

It'll be hard for them to turn away from Obama in large numbers, but if she damages him enough before the convention, it's certainly possible. And I don't mean in reputation, I mean at the polls.

Look at Pennsylvania. It's obviously a must-win for Hillary, but, short of disaster, she will win. What counts is by how much. The polls range from an approximately 10% to 25% lead. If she wins by 10% or less, that's bad news--not beating expectations, and not catching up fast enough. But if she wins by 15%, is that enough? It's doubtful she can win by much more.

The 15% victory would give her, if the turnout is the same as it was in Ohio, a net gain of about 350,000 votes. This would at least put her within reach in the popular vote.

A word about the popular vote. There's no easy way to measure it. The number now is officially about a 700,000 vote lead for Obama. But if you include the unofficial popular vote from Iowa, Nevada, Washington and Maine, Obama has an 810,000 lead. On the other hand, if you throw in Florida--a crucial state, after all, where both were on the ballot--Hillary picks up about 300,000 net. Then there's Michigan, which had Hillary but not Obama on the ballot, where she would pick up another 300,000 or so. While pledged delegates are based on officially recognized votes, superdelegates are able to take into consideration anything, and you'd think they'd want to consider any place that participates in the general election.

Now let's get a little wild and give Hillary a 20% victory Pennsylvania. Once again depending on turnout, this could give her a net pick-up just south of a half million votes. And if Pennsylvania goes nuts and gives her a 25% win, she could gain more than 600,000. Anywhere in the 20%+ range would be such a knockout that Hillary's got a decent argument she's ahead in the popular vote, and makes Obama look like a pretty weak candidate.

Soon after Pennsylvania is Indiana, which is a decent state for Hillary, and North Carolina, which fits Obama's profile. If she can hurt him in Pennsylvania badly enough, North Carolina is not out of reach. Now imagine if she won that state. Suddenly, she's on a streak and the post-Wright Obama looks like a bad bet. Would the superdelegates still go to him?

Hillary's path is tricky, but it's still a lot easier than the path McCain had before him just a few months ago.


Anonymous Lawrence King said...

I agree that your scenario is believable, and her win isn't impossible.

I don't have cable these days, but for the past week I've been staying at a place that does. I am really struck by how radically different the news coverages are. MSNBC has some Obama-lovers; Fox runs the Wright video over and over; the big three networks don't focus on it. And the red/blue divide gets wider when each half of America watches the media that reinforces its views.

Therefore I suspect that the Wright controversy won't hurt Obama enough for him to lose the nomination, but it will hurt him enough to lose the general. (And two weeks ago, if I had to bet, I would have bet on Obama winning in November.)

And many (most?) superdelegates are nervous. If they are in a contested district, they could use your argument to justify voting for the person who got the majority of the national popular vote. Or they could argue that they "ought to" vote however their state went, or however their district went.

But I predict that these three choices will be ignored by the media. Rather, the liberal media will repeat over and over that the "right" thing is for the nominee to be whoever has the majority of the regular delegates.

Of course, this is absurd. Indeed, taking it literally, this would mean that 100% of the SuperDs should vote for the candidate who got 51% of the RegularDs.

But if I'm right that this is how the media will spin it, than any SD who votes against Obama (assuming he has more RegularDs) will be depicted as "denying the Democratic nomination to the first credible African-American candidate in history." And none of them want to do that. (Even though, as you argued in an earlier post, machiavellian Democrats ought to never cater to the Black vote, since they'll get it anyway.)

Perhaps the wild card is not the SDs as a whole, but the subset of SDs who are immune from pressure. Waxman and Berman, for example; I imagine them voting for whoever they prefer.

Still, even Waxman would vote his preference only if he thinks it will make a difference. If, going into the convention, it becomes clear that Obama will in fact win an absolute majority of all delegates on the first ballot, there will not be any move towards Hillary on the floor.

12:48 AM, March 23, 2008  
Blogger LAGuy said...

Good or bad, the whole point of superdelagates is to set the party on the right path if there's a problem. Well, if it's essentially too close to call at the convention, that's the kind of situation they've been created to deal with. And while they're hardly immune to pressure, most of them are safe (they're not all politicians) and will vote 1) with the candidate they strongly prefer or 2) the candidate they think will help the party most.

The Dem leaders want to bet on the strong horse. That seems like Obama now. But imagine--and it's not outrageous--that the tide turns and Hillary wins not only Pennsylvania but also Indiana and North Carolina soon after. Obama may suddenly look like damaged goods.

I think he realizes this. He's now spending his many millions on an ad blitz in Pennsylvania. Defeat may be likely, but he might be figuring a massive defeat would break him.

2:53 AM, March 23, 2008  
Anonymous denver guy said...

My concern is that the Superdelegates will see it the way I see it. If Obama gets the nomination, he will have a good shot at winning the election, depending on his VP choice and of course how the rest of the campaign goes. But the Wright affair shows that Obama can be hurt - and there may be other skeletons in his closet. And then there is Tony Rezco and Illinois politics in general. Obama won't take Hillary as VP, so there will also be the factor of disgruntled female voters, who may view McCain as the better Nat. Security candidate. So Obama can win, but is not a sure thing.

On the other hand, if Hillary gets the nod, she will almost assuredly take Obama as VP. Obama fans will accept this bone (a heartbeat from the White House) and Hillary's current base will be overjoyed. This combination will crush McCain (at least I think this will happen). Only if Hillary and Obama can't make up will there be any dessertion among the ranks of both camp's supporters.

So for the Superdelegates, there is a virtually sure win if they back Hillary/Obama, vs, a chance to win with Obama/?.

9:37 AM, March 24, 2008  
Blogger LAGuy said...

At least one question--will Obama accept a veep slot from Hillary, after all this bad blood. I really don't know.

12:48 PM, March 24, 2008  
Anonymous denver guy said...

I think he would. After all, a heartbeat from the whitehouse is a heartbeat from the white house. Both candidates have assured us "they will be fine" when all this is over. And worse than being VP is going back and being the junior Senator from Ill with a scant 4 years seniority.

4:44 PM, March 25, 2008  

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