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January 20, 2008

The Democratic Replay Of 2000, And Its Uselessness

One reason pollsters avoided Nevada was because of its first-ever attempt at caucusing for the presidential nomination process. Unlike Iowa, which has honed its system for decades and has a certain amount of predictability, Nevada started from scratch in 2007 to stage their caucuses. Pollsters and the media expected strange behavior -- but they didn't expect the Democrats to re-enact their political bete noir, the 2000 election.

After Hillary Clinton won a six-point victory over Barack Obama yesterday, the Obama campaign unexpectedly announced that they had actually won more delegates. The complicated formula for distributing delegates turned out to give Obama a one-point advantage. The Clinton campaign immediately denied this, but as NBC reports, the loss of the popular vote has not kept Obama from winning the election:

The Nevada Democratic Party just issued this clarification (emphasis is ours): "No national convention delegates were awarded. That said, if the delegate preferences remain unchanged between now and April 2008, the calculations of national convention delegates being circulated by the Associated Press are correct. We look forward to our county and state conventions where we will choose the delegates for the nominee that Nevadans support."

What does this mean? It looks like the Obama camp's math (as well as the AP's and NBC's) is correct.

Ah, the irony! Shall we call Lawrence Tribe and Al Gore to Carson City for a replay of Florida 2000? The rules which the Democrats themselves wrote gave the opportunity for exactly this scenario -- which shows why the media and the pollsters didn't invest much of their time in analysis of Nevada's caucuses in the first place.

More importantly, the caucus didn't actually assign delegates at all, a fact that sometimes got lost in the coverage it did receive. The results are more or less pledged, but not confirmed. The candidates can talk about delegate totals as if they exist, but as of now, they're essentially meaningless. This is true in both parties.

Next up for the Democrats is South Carolina. Obama has a substantial lead in that state in almost all the polling and could wind up with the lion's share of delegates. In at least that sense, he may ride into Super Tuesday as the actual frontrunner in delegates, pledged or actual. He will almost certainly not hold that status on February 5th, but he is making and obstacle course out of the coronation that Hillary envisioned this time last year. And Lawrence Tribe can't help her with that, either.


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