Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Still not exactly losing

Byron York nails it in a column today about Hillary Clinton's continued presence in the race:

If the Democratic presidential race were a runaway, if Barack Obama were, say, 1,500 delegates ahead of Hillary Clinton, then there would likely not be so many anguished cries for Clinton to quit the race.

Right. The reason everyone is calling for her to concede is because she does stand a chance, albeit not a very encouraging one. And Democrats are kidding themselves if they think this division means nothing with regard to their chances in November. Clinton won West Virginia with 67% of the popular vote - more or less exactly my prediction of "close to 70%", and a landslide by any measure. West Virginia is about as rock-solid Democrat as they come. Clearly, there is a not-insignificant demographic among the Demcrats' "base" that considers Obama unacceptable.

Not fair? Oh, but it is. Clinton cinched this victory a week after everyone pronounced her campaign dead. And a week during which large numbers of superdelegates jumped to Obama. If "momentum" were really on his side, Clinton's win in West Virginia should've been feeble. These people went to the polls to say they don't want Obama on their ticket; there is no other interpretation.

Oh yeah, and about those superdelegates. Notice that there wasn't a flood of them. There were enough to square with the interpretation that they wanted to jump ship (declare early, whatever) to be on the nominee preumptive's good side, but hardly enough to support the theory that the DNC was acting behind the scenes to bring the campaign to a close. Don't forget that even though Obama is the nominee presumptive (at the moment), it's far from clear that he can hold his own in the national campaign. Winning a primary as a dark horse candidate and going on to lose the general eleciton - a la George McGovern in 1972 - is not a good recipe for future influence in the party. Hell, even one-time election-winners like Jimmy Carter get sidelined in this party if they fail to deliver. Carter's been redeemed a bit in the meantime, of course, but he spent most of the 80s in the wilderness. So even with his "nominee presumptive" status, Obama isn't exactly a risk-free superdel magnet. He's still a gamble, as an individual bid. Which is why the fact that there hasn't been a flood of superdelegates to his camp ahead of yesterday makes it fair to say that the DNC isn't sold on him yet. They may not be sold on Clinton either, but I'm guessing they'd still rather hand it to her than to him if at all possible.

Of course, it's looking less and less possible. Even so, the contest is far from over. York is right on the money when he says that if it were over, no one would care that Clinton were still in the game.

The rest of York's column is pretty much tripe, though. There's the usual math tricks to illustrate how weak Obama's lead actually is ("He's the 'president of Chicago!'"), and then a series of cheap shots at the Democrats' supposed inconcistency between counting votes in 2000 and not wanting to count them in Michigan and Florida now that don't quite add up. I mean, I get that there's a certain amount of hypocrisy in the Democrats' sudden insistence on sticking to the rules. After all, most Democrats you talk to think Al Gore won in 2000 because he won the popular vote - i.e. they aren't too concerned with playing that contest by the rules. Suddenly delegate counts are more important than popular votes - at least to Obama supporters, and I too am enjoying the rich irony here. But there are nevertheless important differences between the 2000 general election and the 2008 primary election that York chooses to gloss over.

But whatever. Hillary is still in the game, the Democrats' ship is still sinking, and the continuing mess bodes well for McCain in November.


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