February 14, 2008

Can Obama Close In For The Kill?

With all of the drama on the Democratic side of the primaries, Barack Obama wants to put it to an end. He hopes to win enough of a lead in delegates so that even without a clinch by the end of the process, he has made enough of a case for his nomination that the superdelegates wouldn't dare swing to Hillary Clinton. Meanwhile, Hillary has had to hustle to get organizations running in the states she claims she'll win to blunt Obama's momentum:

Senator Barack Obama emerged from Tuesday’s primaries leading Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton by more than 100 delegates, a small but significant advantage that Democrats said would be difficult for Mrs. Clinton to make up in the remaining contests in the presidential nomination battle.

Neither candidate is expected to win the 2,025 pledged delegates needed to claim the nomination by the time the voting ends in June. But Mr. Obama’s campaign began making a case in earnest on Wednesday that if he maintained his edge in delegates won in primaries and caucuses, he would have the strongest claim to the backing of the 796 elected Democrats and party leaders known as superdelegates who are free to vote as they choose and who now stand to determine the outcome.

Mrs. Clinton’s aides said she could still pull out a victory with victories in the biggest primaries still to come, including Ohio and Texas next month. But Mr. Obama’s clear lead in delegates allocated by the votes in nominating contests is one of a number of challenges facing her after a string of defeats in which Mr. Obama not only ran up big popular vote margins but also made inroads among the types of voters she had most been counting on, including women and lower-income people.

Hillary's team believes they can close the delegate gap with big wins in Texas, Ohio, and Pennsylvania. But Hillary's aides haven't talked about how unprepared they are to make those victories a reality:

The Texas and Ohio presidential primaries, on March 4, have become must-win contests for Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton, her advisers say. So why is she just opening campaign field offices across those states?

The primary in Pennsylvania, on April 22, is also a crucial battleground. So why is her campaign telling its most prominent supporter there, Gov. Edward G. Rendell, that there is not enough money now for his proposed piece of direct mail to voters?

The entire campaign strategy appears to have been based on a belief that there would be no opponent facing her in February. Even while November and December showed Obama gaining strength, no one thought to start rolling out resources in the post-Super Tuesday states. Now Hillary faces a gap in pledged delegates of 102, according to CNN, and it will get worse in Wisconsin and Hawaii before it might get better in Texas and Ohio. (With the superdelegates committed at the moment, Hillary trails by 42.)

Neither candidate can win in the primaries now. However, they both can better their positions, although Obama looks to the future for that while Hillary wants to go back to the past. She has continued her demand that the DNC seat Florida and Michigan delegates. That would give her 55% of the 128 delegates from Michigan and Obama none, and Florida would give her 50% of the 185 delegates and Obama 33%. The combination would make up almost all of the gap.

However, it would call into question the DNC's tactics and motivation. Julian Bond claims that Florida minorities were disenfranchised by the DNC action to strip the delegates from the convention, but at least in that state, everyone was on the ballot. In Michigan, Obama played by the rules while Hillary left herself on the ballot. Reinstating the delegates from Michigan would essentially penalize Obama for following the DNC's demands and reward Hillary for breaking them.

If Hillary wins Texas and Ohio -- and polls show Hillary beating Obama in Ohio handily, as well as in Pennsylvania -- then she could conceivably pull even with Obama and end the momentum. If that happens, Obama won't have the argument with the superdelegates that he thinks he has now, and we can look forward to a good old-fashioned floor fight in Denver.


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