Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Prelude to the End of the Game

Days Until Bush Leaves Office = 257

Last night's primary results from North Carolina and Indiana provide one of the campaign's more resonant moments. Hillary Clinton's whisker-thin win in Indiana, coupled with Barack Obama's decisive win in North Carolina, looks as if it may have the potential to recast the Democratic race to a degree not seen since the first contests in January. And, yes, if I could make that statement any more qualified, I would.

The problem with making unqualified, sweeping statements is, of course, that the race itself has tended so little toward the definitive. Even so, some factors are beginning to jell that portend the shape of the campaign at its final conclusion.

There's the math, to begin with. According to AP, Barack Obama took 94 delegates last night, compared with Hillary Clinton's 75, which leaves him about 185 delegates short of the 2,025 needed to nominate (the delegate score now is Obama 1,840 - Clinton 1,688). There are six contest remaining, with a total of 217 pledged delegates up for grabs. The Obama campaign circulated a memo earlier today claiming that Clinton would need to win 65% of the remaining pledged delegates in order to draw even with Obama; thanks to the proportional award rules of the Democratic party, such overwhelming victories would only be likely in the event that Obama's name disappeared from the ballot altogether.

And then there are the remaining uncommitted super delegates, about 270 of them. One of the most damaging aspects of last night's results for Hillary Clinton is the weakening of her case to this audience. Consider that in the run up to the Indiana and North Carolina primaries, Clinton had the wind at her back coming out of Pennsylvania, and Obama had been enduring the most miserable four weeks of his political career. And the result? Obama crushed Clinton in North Carolina, where her campaign, and her husband the former president, had been working frantically to engineer an upset victory, and Clinton came out the winner in Indiana by a mere 18,440 votes out of 1,265,028 total votes cast. That is a margin of 1.4%, and that was the good news for Clinton last night. Given the the favorable political environment for Clinton, a question being asked today is if Hillary couldn't land a body blow on Obama in these circumstances, when could she be expected to do so? That doesn't lend itself to the electability argument Clinton has been pressing on the super delegates.

Finally, there's the money, or, in Clinton's case, the lack of it. It emerged earlier today that Clinton has made loans of a further $6.4 million to her campaign, on top of the $5 million she had already loaned back in January. Following last night's results, and in light of the fact that many of her biggest donors have already contributed the maximum possible amount toward the primary campaign, where will the money come from to fund Hillary Clinton's campaign?

To sum up: in order to turn things around and deny Barack Obama the nomination, Hillary Clinton needs primary votes that aren't there, super delegates that aren't being persuaded by her electoral performance, money that can't be found and time which has all but run out.

But, this campaign being what it is, those factors are unlikely spell the immediate conclusion one might think. Lurking in the calendar is a May 31 meeting of the Democratic Party rules committee, where the issue of what to do about leapfrogging Michigan and Florida will be, to put it mildly, debated. And then there's the party's Credentialing Committee meeting later in the summer. And then there's the convention in August.

It ain't over 'til it's over. And over. And over...

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