Thursday, February 14, 2008With typical recklessness, the national press corps is depicting the Democratic nomination race as just about over. According to the official account, Barack Obama's dramatic victories on Tuesday, where he ran up outrageous 25/30 pt margins in Maryland and Virginia and won among key Clinton base demographics (the elderly, working class, latinos), makes him the definitive frontrunner. Clinton's money woes and shrinking electoral base spell doom for her in the future primaries. Obama's campaign has promoted this narrative, arguing that Clinton has almost no mathematical chance of winning more pledged delegates than Obama before the convention.
Blah blah blah.
Certainly Obama's victories were impressive, and his 8-0 record since Super Tuesday makes the Scenario I I described a few days ago seem the most likely outcome. Clinton indeed has problems. She could very well lose Wisconsin, meaning that she would enter the all-important Ohio and Texas primaries down 0-10 since last Tuesday. If these repeated defeats result in a decline in her fundraising relative to Obama, Barack may be able to blanket the very expensive Texas and Ohio media markets with tv ads and erode the Clinton advantage in those states. In addition, if Obama is seen as the inevitable nominee and Clinton as a goner, then her supporters (most of whom like Barack, even if they prefer Clinton) could defect to the frontrunner. This is precisely why Obama's campaign is pushing the inevitability argument so hard - they want to make it a self-fulfilling prophecy.
BUT: Clinton is by no means dead. Obama's successes in winning Clinton base voters on the Potomac does not necessarily point to a long-term trend. And the one one bright note in an otherwise dismal evening was that (as far as I can tell) Obama performed very poorly among rural whites in Virginia - voters that, like Latinos, are very prolific in Texas and southwestern Ohio, as well as later states. Recent polls show Clinton with substantial leads in Ohio & Texas, and if these hold up, she will be very much back in the race. A dramatic comeback on March 4th could help her win Pennsylvania, and after that she has a good chance of winning most of the remaining primaries in Indiana, Kentucky, and West Virginia (Barack is probably favored in North Carolina). Should she do so, she could close the delegate lead Obama currently enjoys to almost nothing, and make a reasonable argument that Obama cannot win big state primaries - which could be a persuasive argument to Superdelegates as she tries to seat the Michigan and Florida delegations.
Does the latter scenario seem improbable? Well, it's certainly seems unlikely, but not dramatically so. The Obama people (and the press) have asserted that Barack can endure narrow defeats in Ohio, Texas, and Pennsylvania and still end the race with more delegates. But will he really be the frontrunner if he has failed to win a single large state (other than Illinois)?
I think Ohio is potentially decisive. If Obama can win there, he can probably win Pennsyvlania and the nomination. But a loss in Ohio would seriously curb his momentum. If Barack wins Ohio AND Texas, (which is certainly not out of the realm of possibility), even by small margins, then this thing is totally over.
Of course, Clinton could surprise everybody and win Wisconsin next Tuesday and throw everything up in the air all over again.