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Friday, March 14, 2008

Democratic Primary Standings, Trends, and the Ferraro Strategy

As the days, weeks, and primaries pass, Hillary Clinton has seen a steadily widening gap between herself and Barack Obama. Here is a look at the pledged delegate standings as of each Wednesday since the Iowa Caucus.

January 9 - Obama +1 (25-24)
January 16 - Obama +1 (25-24)
January 23 - Obama +2 (38-36)
January 30 - Obama +15 (63-48)
February 6 - Obama +37 (910-873)
February 13 - Obama +141 (1141-1000)
February 20 - Obama +159 (1197-1038)
February 27 - Obama +159 (1197-1038)
March 5 - Obama +153 (1379-1226)
March 12 - Obama +160 (1405-1245) (Current pledged delegate count)

This trend does not bode well for Clinton when examining the Democratic Primary projections. Obama is winning the short-term, mid-term, and long-term pattern. The deeper the primary gets, the wider his lead.

What's worse for Clinton is that as the states and delegates steadily go to Obama, her grip on superdelegates loosens. Through February 5th's Super Tuesday, her superdelegate lead was, by most counts, over a hundred. This lead kept her in the overall delegate lead, which in turn buoyed her popular vote numbers and delegate count.

However, for the balance of February after Super Tuesday, Obama ran off 12 straight contests. His lead in states, popular vote, and most importantly, pledged delegates, gradually grew. Concurrently, thanks to this success, he chipped away at Clinton's superdelegate stranglehold, which by most counts is now about 30 to 40, which puts his overall lead at approximately 120-130.

The horserace coverage that plagues all primaries has clearly produced a runaway effect in favor of Obama. The more he wins, the more he wins.

What clearly compounds Clinton's steady loss of ground is that there is so little time remaining in the Democratic Primary. It becomes increasingly difficult for her to make up the ground, especially as she falls further behind with all but three primaries since Super Tuesday. She needs to win almost all of the rest, and she cannot wait any longer to do so. Here are the ten remaining primaries:

April 22 - Pennsylvania - 158
May 3 - Guam - 4
May 6 - Indiana - 72
May 6 - North Carolina - 115
May 13 - West Virginia - 28
May 20 - Kentucky - 51
May 20 - Oregon - 52
June 1 - Puerto Rico - 55
June 3 - Montana - 16
June 3 - South Dakota - 15
Total remaining pledged delegates - 566

For Clinton to overcome Obama's 160 pledged delegate lead, she must win 363 remaining pledged delegates to Obama's 203, or 64% to Obama's 36%. She must out-delegate Obama by 203 of the remaining 566 delegates, after Obama needed 2,650 delegates to build up a lead of 160. Clinton must do this with less money, momentum, media support, and moxie than her opponent.

That is not happening.

Winning Pennsylvania by anything less than 20 points will not be enough, and Obama has always shown that he closes well in a state if given enough time to do so. Realistically and optimistically, she wins Pennsylvania by 10 points, which will translate to 14-18 delegates (I'll go with 16). If she only clears 16 delegates in the biggest state remaining out of 10, it is not remotely realistic that she erases the 160 delegate deficit.

What makes this all the more pressing for Camp Clinton is that she cannot count on superdelegates to be her saving grace. If Barack Obama wins the state count (clinched - 26 as of Mississippi), the popular vote (close - 13.2 million to 12.6 million, not including unreleased totals from the Iowa, Nevada, Washington and Maine Caucuses, all of which Obama won), and the pledged delegates (looks solid - see above), then there is simply no way the superdelegates would overturn the decision made by the voters. It would be a surprise if Clinton even allowed them to do so, despite what many Clinton-haters might imply.

Therefore, to turn the tide, it is absolutely necessary that the Clinton campaign makes a huge splash. Again, winning Pennsylvania is not enough. She has to change the entire feel of the campaign.

Such a massive shift in momentum will only occur if a massive block of voters decide on Clinton. This usually happens when a particular demographic starts trending in a new direction, like the youth and blacks to Obama, the less-educated and women to Clinton. These solidified trends are another problem for her. It seems as if so many voters have made up their minds. The exit polls from state to state show similar voter inclinations. How can she change the minds of multiple demographics, or, if only one demographic, a large one?

The difficulty level is high. As I wrote on Wednesday, any Clinton stump speech or "leaked" campaign memo that specifically recruits a large demographic runs the serious risk of alienating other demographics. Remembering that she needs to win 65% of the remaining delegates, she cannot afford to hemorrhage too much support from any other areas.

So she needed someone else to take the fall. It had to be someone notable, not an unheard underling of the Clinton campaign. It had to be someone with influence, experience, and the ability to articulate an issue that would strike a chord with many Americans. However, it could not be be someone too close to Hillary (Bill, Chelsea, top-tier staffers), nor someone who is in political office. It also had to be someone trustworthy; someone that had a history with the American people.

It had to be - had to be - Geraldine Ferraro.

The target demographic was white voters. They have always broken towards Clinton, but not nearly by the margin that black voters break towards Obama. (The reasons for this I will leave to psychologists and cynics.) However, despite the country being 73% white and 13% black, the Democratic Party is not nearly so.

In states like Mississippi or South Carolina, African-American voters make up about 50% of the vote in the Democratic Primary. Of those black voters, close to 90% have gone to Obama. In Mississippi for example, he won 91% of blacks while she won 70% of whites. (As I've said before, I'm not here to comment on the despicable split, just what it means in the race.) In a state that is mostly white, she would win with those numbers. In a state with an even split, he trounces, as he did in Mississippi.

Ferraro's comments - that Obama is doing so well because he is black - are meant for white voters to take a step back and examine whether that is true or not. The Clinton strategy is that if some part of the white voter thinks Ferraro's comments have validity, they will try to counteract the trend by supporting the white candidate, if for no other reason than to make it fair. If Clinton wins a few hundred thousand whites this way, it might be enough to swing the national popular vote to her favor, and close the ground in pledged delegates enough to give superdelegates a reason to vote for her by the convention.

Predictably, Ferraro stepped down from her honorary post with the Clinton campaign. Clinton could have fired her immediately, but that would have ended the story far too quickly. So Ferraro resigned, but her message - especially with the media hype that came with it - may have sunk into some white voters.

We have nearly six weeks before the next primary, but polling will be revealed in the weeks to come. Keep an eye on the demographics. If Clinton's white support climbs, her mission was accomplished, and there is still an avenue for a Hillary Clinton nomination.


Back Monday.

3 comments:

Justin said...

Fantastic breakdown. It seems that there's really no way Hilary is coming back, white voters or not.

Keep up the great work, IC. I read nearly everyday.

Philip said...

Yes, I love this blog. It's refreshing to not read someone who just sucks up to Obama or Hillary the whole time.

joreko said...

The real issue is not how well Clinton, Obama, or McCain might do in battleground states, but that we shouldn’t have battleground states in the first place.

We should have a national popular vote for President. The candidate who receives the most votes in all 50 states should win. Then, everybody’s vote would be equally important throughout the country. There would be no red, blue, or battleground states.

I read about the National Popular Vote bill in the NY Times and at http://www.nationalpopularvote.com. When this bill is enacted by states possessing a majority of the electoral votes (270 of 538), these electoral votes would be awarded to the presidential candidate who receives the most popular votes in all 50 states (and DC). This change to a national popular vote can be accomplished state-by-state, and Maryland and New Jersey have already passed this legislation.

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