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The Fallout

Thursday, February 07, 2008
I didn't write about the Super Tuesday results yesterday out of combination of exhaustion and consideration. I wanted to take some time to figure out what it all means, and to learn how the media was going to spin the outcome.

As it stands now, the Obama and Clinton campaigns are tied in pledged delegates, with Obama having a small lead. How is this possible, since he lost California, New York, and New Jersey? Well, delegates are apportioned proportionately, with most selected at the congressional district level. This means that even a candidate that loses will still get a lot of delegates in a 2 person race. Also, the number of delegates allocated to each congressional district is based on the population, not the number of primary voters. Since Obama does very well among Democrats in heavily Republican areas, he tends to get more than his share of delegates even when he loses - hence his 1-delegate win in Nevada. Obama also simply crushed Clinton in Midwest/West caucus states - by something like 2-1.

The overall Clinton delegate lead being reported in the papers and tv is due to endorsements by super delegates - elected officials and party leaders who make up 20% of the delegates at the convention. They can support whoever they like, and can also change their minds.

On Tuesday night, Obama won more states and by bigger margins, while Clinton won bigger states, generally speaking. Given the even number of delegates for each candidate, and the nearly identical total popular vote, they probably appropriately labeled the night as a tie. Surprisingly, it turns out that the Super Tuesday was a close escape for Clinton. Apparently she was so broke that she had to loan her campaign money. If Obama had won California, I think she would have been finished.

The big question, of course, is what happens now. There are three different scenarios - the clean Obama win, the clean Clinton win, and the disaster.

The most favorable Obama scenario is to sweep the rest of the primaries and caucuses in February, all of which appear to be good states for him. He uses these victories to build up momentum and brand Clinton as a loser, which should threaten her already straightened finances. Obama then wins either Texas and Ohio on March 4th, or wins Ohio and Pennsylvania (on April 22). In either case, Clinton would have lost so many consecutive contests that she would come under enormous pressure from the party to withdraw.

The best scenario for Clinton is to win at least 2-3 of the primaries in February, probably Wisconsin and Virginia, and then defeat Obama in Ohio, Texas, and Pennsylvania. Her momentum would then be sufficient to win most of the remaining states (like Indiana, Kentucky, and North Carolina). Even if Obama stayed in the race, Clinton would enjoy a substantial delegate lead and would probably attract enough superdelegates to clinch the nomination, or at least to seat the Michigan and Florida delegations (more on that in a sec).

Then there's the disaster scenario. Obama sweeps February, Clinton wins 2 of the big three (Ohio, Texas, and Pennsyvlania), and they split the remaining states. A race this close and this long will doubtlessly also get very negative. Both candidates enter the Convention with roughly the same number of delegates, with Obama probably having a small lead. Clinton wins the credentials fight, seats the Michigan and Florida delegations, and wins the nomination. Obama's supporters are outraged because they think that Clinton has unfairly stolen the nomination, depressing youth, liberal, and black turnout in November. Clinton is also portrayed by the media as totally ruthless and willing to do whatever it takes to win. The general election is then only 8 weeks away, and (after enjoying the bloodletting on the Democratic side), McCain probably wins over an exhausted and divided party.

Each of these scenarios seems equally likely to me. I suspect (hope?) that eventually one candidate or the other will start to build up some momentum. Because Obama and Clinton both have high favorable ratings among Democrats, it isn't hard to imagine that one candidate's supporters might start to bleed over to the other if their first choice looks like he/she is losing. But they both have strong campaigns and committed supporters, so this might go all the way to the convention, leading to scenario #3.

As you can tell, Clinton receives the nomination in 2 out of 3 of these scenarios, which means that until I learned of her financial troubles, I figured Clinton probably was still a slight favorite to win the nomination. On the other hand, Obama's cash advantage, demonstrated skill in winning over voters the more time he has to campaign, and the favorable calendar, all give him a perfectly reasonable chance as well.

So basically I have no idea what's going to happen. I'm just hoping that one or the other wins in the primaries rather than at the Convention. Cause I just hate John McCain, the crazy old geezer.
Posted by Arbitrista @ 12:33 PM
  • It's actually quite easy to predict what will happen. The pattern of the past month will continue: where Obama wins, he wins big, especially in normally Republican states, and where he loses, he splits the delegates with Clinton. Seeing this obvious trend, the superdelegates in the normally Republican and Swing states will make the following observation: A Clinton nomination will cost them their jobs in November, even if she wins the presidency, and so the Democrats will probably lose the House, Senate, and other state offices. An Obama nomination will put normally Republican states in play because so many Republicans are desperately hoping to vote for Obama, even hard-core conservative Republicans, and this will turn Kansas, Nebraska, Indiana, and possibly even the Carolinas Democratic. In other words, the superdelegates will see the realignment that will occur under Obama. In order to protect their jobs, they will align with Obama, handing him the nomination.

    By Blogger Marriah, at 2:08 AM  
  • That's certainly a potential scenario (scenario #1), but it remains to be seen whether a) Obama can gather an appreciable amount of momentum, b) he can win over key constituencies in Ohio, Texas, and Pennsylvania, and c) the superdelegates will use that particular reasoning. I'm just not as confident as you that scenario #1 will play out. We've all been burned one too many times in this cycle.

    By Blogger Arbitrista, at 10:58 AM  
  • Oh, and by the way, if Obama wins South Carolina and Kansas in the general election, I will eat brussel sprouts. And I hate brussel sprouts.

    By Blogger Arbitrista, at 10:59 AM  
  • You're treating all three scenarios like they are equally plausible, and this is simply not the case here. The superdelegates who have endorsed Obama have nearly all been from traditionally Republican or Swing states. The exception of course is PA's governor. This shows that they are following the logic I outlined. Second, neither Clinton nor Obama will be able to win converts from each other's base, and Clinton's base is very concentrated in the big states while Obama's base is spread out (check out Brooks' column on the central importance of education). All we have to do is count how many more states have a high concentration of black, educated, and young voters, as well as how many states have caucuses, and you can determine precisely which states Obama will win as well as the margin of victory. Since Ohio, Texas and Pennsylvania are the only three big states left, it is easy to predict that Obama will win the rest, except for Puerto Rico. Look at the numbers. Assume that Obama wins, on average, 60% of the delegates for the small and caucus states, while splitting PA and OH, and getting 40% in TX. That produces 767 delegates. Next, assume that the superdelegates from those small states go for Obama while the superdelegates from PA, OH, and TX go for Clinton. That's 266 Superdelegates. The total number is 1,033, and that clinches the nomination because he already has 1,007. The demographics give him the nomination.

    By Blogger Marriah, at 9:47 PM  
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