February 12, 2008

The Texas-Ohio Firewall?

Has it come down to Texas and Ohio for Hillary Clinton? That's what the New York Times reports today, and apparently what some in her own campaign believe. Without significant wins there, Hillary will have to pull out of the Democratic primary race:

Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton and her advisers increasingly believe that, after a series of losses, she has been boxed into a must-win position in the Ohio and Texas primaries on March 4, and she has begun reassuring anxious donors and superdelegates that the nomination is not slipping away from her, aides said on Monday.

Mrs. Clinton held a buck-up-the-troops conference call on Monday with donors, superdelegates and other supporters; several said afterward that she had sounded tired and a little down, but determined about Ohio and Texas.

They also said that they had not been especially soothed, and that they believed she might be on a losing streak that could jeopardize her competitiveness in those states.

“She has to win both Ohio and Texas comfortably, or she’s out,” said one superdelegate who has endorsed Mrs. Clinton, and who spoke on condition of anonymity to share a candid assessment. “The campaign is starting to come to terms with that.” Campaign advisers, also speaking privately in order to speak plainly, confirmed this view.

Several Clinton superdelegates, whose votes could help decide the nomination, said Monday that they were wavering in the face of Mr. Obama’s momentum after victories in Washington State, Nebraska, Louisiana and Maine last weekend.

It now appears that the Clinton campaign has all but conceded the entire month of February to Barack Obama. They have begun to spin the remainder of the contests this month as "not especially well teed up" for Hillary, and that may be an understatement. Obama is well ahead of Hillary in the Potomac Primaries today, perhaps by as much as 15 points in Virginia and 20 in Maryland. Hawaii and Wisconsin round out the month, and both have strong leanings towards Obama, the former being his childhood home.

However, does the situation really require the panic seen in this report? After all, none of these states are winner-take-all. If Hillary runs close in them, she can keep the delegate gap fairly narrow. She can't win by losing in a two-person race, but Obama can't win the nomination outright without winning around 70% of the remaining delegates -- a very tall order for states with proportional allocation.

The real battle will be among the superdelegates. She can't keep losing states and keep arguing that she'll be the better general-election candidate. That sounds suspiciously like Mitt Romney's post-Iowa argument that a series of second-place finishes could still win him the nomination in a crowded field. Of course it could work out mathematically, but who wants a nominee that lost more states than he or she won? And since the superdelegates don't have to follow their state's vote, they are in a position to make that determination at the convention, months from now.

Hillary hopes that Obama will have exhausted his appeal after Wisconsin, and that the remaining states, heavily industrial, will start lining up behind her. Either way, this will go to the convention, and no one will be dropping out on March 5th.


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