Well, today is the big day. The Democratic primaries in Indiana and North Carolina - two of the states least likely to matter in a presidential contest ever - will in all likelihood decide the Democratic nominee for 2008.
Yes, I'm aware that there aren't enough delegates between the two states (NC has 115, IN 72) to put either Obama - with 1736 - or Clinton - with 1599 - over the critical 2205 mark. But these are the last primaries that matter. West Virginia - the next primary on the 13th - has only 28 delegates to offer. There are a total of just over 100 available on the 20th, when Oregon and Kentucky vote, and then a 55-delegate cherry on top when Puerto Rico has its say on June 1. But let's be realistic - everyone is tired of this, and especially the folks at the DNC who have a national election to run that they were hoping would have been well underway by late March. Someone needs to stand - or more likely be politely shoved - aside, and since these are the last couple of "big-stakes" states in the contest, now is the time to make it happen.
I'm going to stick my neck out and call it for Hillary. Yes, I'm all too aware of how dedicated some of Obama's followers can be. I know that he has a more comfortable lead in the bigger prize of North Carolina than Hillary has in Indiana. And we've all heard about the high-profile superdelegate defections of the last couple of days.
It's this last point that's the stickler. It's ultimately the party elite, and not the gumshoe voters, who are going to crown the nominee. The popular vote is so convincingly split, and the remaining delegates up for grabs so paltry, that it's unlikely one or the other can pull ahead the good-ol-fashioned way at this point. So it's up to the party core - and I'm guessing they're hoping for Hillary.
Why? Several reasons. First, in spite of Obama's delegate count, she's the more convincing winner. Obama's current position is a product of the Democrats' bizzarro eletions process more than a convincing show of popular support. The Democrats do a lot of delegate-splitting, which should, in theory, mean a more reflective process. But they also have a lot of caucuses, and it's in these that Obama initially pulled ahead. The proportional representation system means that he was able to keep afloat once the big states started voting - but those states, the ones that matter in November, mostly went for Hillary.
The one thing that Obama's got going for him is the black vote. This is the Democratic bedrock. Blacks vote Democrat by almost unbelievable margins. Ah, but do they turn out to do it? That's always the big question. Being so solid for the Democrats was a good idea back when the Dems were unquestionably the majority party - but now that America is less of a one-party state (which it never was convincingly anyway), it turns into a liability. Blacks can be trusted to vote Democrat, which means the DNC has little incentive to cater to them. And recently, Obama's huge support from the black community has been something of a liability with the rest of the voters. This whole "Jeremiah Wright" thing has been singularly putting Hillary back in play.
The trouble is that black community leaders can't be trusted to stand behind Obama - as the Wright fiasco displays in spectacular fashion, but even so this isn't news. Obama's had trouble picking up key black endorsements from day one. As much as the DNC wants black voters to actually turn out - which presumably they would with an Obama on the ticket - it's not worth it if their candidate has skeletons in his closet that frighten off everyone else, and especially not worth it if the very black leaders they need to line up the troops insist on being accomplices in exposing them.
There have been a couple of conspicuous superdelegate defections to Obama's camp in the last couple of days, but none of them felt like DNC setups. What it felt more like was individuals jumping ship based on their personal predictions to promote their political careers. There's huge incentive to do this now: being kingmaker to the eventual nominee looks really good on the resume when that person is in charge.
But here's what I think's happening in the smoke-filled back rooms of the DNC even as I type this. The other superdelegates will more or less all declare after today, and they'll want to declare for Hillary if at all possible. All she has to do is give them an excuse to do so. If she wins Indiana and gives Obama a run for his money in North Carolina, I think that will be enough. If she manages to win both states (and both, let's not forget, are statistical ties at this point, so it's possible), it's DEFINITELY over, and the superdelegates will hand it to her. By contrast, I think Obama has to win Indiana (chances are still good he'll win NC regardless) outright to get the same effect. And even then, I think you'll see some willingness to hang on to the next round in some quarters.
Of course I don't know. And I realize this is a risky prediction. But I think it will go for Hillary. I think today she will give the DNC the excuse it needs to crown her.