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February 7, 2008

Delegate Math Looks Bad For Democrats

The delegate assignments have mostly shaken out from the Super Tuesday contests, and the situation looks even more grim than yesterday for the Democrats. Barack Obama now has a narrow five-delegate lead among non-superdelegates, 635-630, at roughly the halfway point. The remaining state delegates will now have to break markedly in favor of one candidate over the other in order to avoid making the superdelegates select the party nominee:

The race for the Democratic presidential nomination between Senator Clinton and Senator Obama of Illinois is becoming a pitched delegate-by-delegate battle, which is likely to drag out for months and may even be unresolved heading into the Democratic National Convention in Denver in August.

"It is likely that no side will gain an appreciable or significant advantage in overall delegate counts between now and March 4, past March 4, even past April because of the way our party allocates its delegates," Mrs. Clinton's communications director, Howard Wolfson, told reporters yesterday. "For all of those who for cycle after cycle wished for a battle that goes to the convention, in terms of neither side definitively wrapping this up, you could be looking at such a contest here."

Wolfson's open discussion of this topic reflects the dawning reality of the race. For months, the media speculated that the Republicans might have to deal with a brokered convention, but their primaries are designed to avoid it. John McCain has likely taken a commanding lead in the race, and unless Mitt Romney can start churning out 3-1 wins in the remaining proportional states, he won't have much hope in a convention fight, let alone an outright win.

Democrats have 4,049 delegate that will attend the convention, but 796 of these are superdelegates. That leaves 3,253 elected delegates, of which 1,291 have already been assigned to one of the candidates. That leaves 1,961 delegates left, and the winner has to have 2,025 to gain the nomination. Both Hillary and Obama would need almost 1,400 of them to win -- or 69%.

One of them would have to start winning all the proportionally-allocated states by more than a 2-1 margin the rest of the way through the calendar, at least if they wanted to win without the superdelegates. That looks like a complete impossibility. The Democrats will have to either broker a deal between Hillary and Obama to avoid a floor fight, or they will have to have the party establishment pick the winner. And the closer the two candidates are at the end of the process, the more divisive that outcome will be.


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