February 06, 2008

A Tsunami Tuesday Primer: As much as I hate to say this, you really can't call last night a "victory," or even a draw, for Senator Obama, as Prof. Kleiman does here. And contrary to the impression left here, simply holding down Clinton's margin of victory from what she was pegged to receive back when she was the best-known name in the race is not a "victory." There simply aren't enough primaries left for the Obama Magic to work. Sip will I not thy KoolAid, Professor.

Every state where the battle had been joined last night was won by the former First Lady, in most cases by surprisingly large margins. Irrespective of delegate counts from states like New York and California, Clinton's decisive wins will give her a big head-start in terms of capturing those state's SuperDelegates, that motley collection of political hacks and elected officials who will attend the summer's convention free of any electoral mandate to vote for a specific candidate. Being the popular choice of the party in those states will better enable Senator Clinton to pick up the support of those pols, who will comprise a fifth of the delegates in Denver, and whose influence will become more decisive as the primaries continue to produce an even split in elected delegates. And due to the party's arcane rules, SuperDelegates disproportionately represent states that have reliably voted for Democrats in the past, so Clinton's edge will be more decisive.

Obama needed a decisive, sweeping win on Tuesday, and he didn't get it. That isn't to say he's out of the running, since he does have a financial edge (although it has not helped him that much so far) and wins in Ohio, Texas and Pennsylvania in the next two months would create a sense of inevitability in his nomination, as well as giving him actual, real-life "large states" in his column, rather than the assortment of caucus states and regions where Democrats don't have a chance this November (ie., who knew the first major black Presidential candidate would have such an appeal in states with large Mormon populations?). But in spite of what Prof. Kleiman and others say about delegate counts, the real battle will be for the SuperDelegates from the large states, and Clinton's wins last night are way more important in that battle than the even split in elected delegates allocated to the candidates last night.

Which is a shame, since he's clearly shown himself to be the more electable of the two candidates, and the one who promises to have the more historical Presidency. While most eyes were on California, New York and Massachusetts last night, Obama narrowly won the four "Purple" states up for grabs, the contests where the last two Presidential elections have been decided by razor-thin margins: Missouri, Minnesota, Colorado, and New Mexico (UPDATE: New Mexico still hasn't been called, as of 10 p.m. Wednesday). Clinton, on the other hand, continues to be more adept at capturing the low hanging fruit among the base of the party, voters who will vote Democratic no matter who the nominee is, and thus less valuable in choosing a winning candidate. Obama also kicked some serious ass in Georgia, a southern state that any Democrat seeking a large national mandate would love to pick up.

A Clinton-McCain match-up in November has always been the nightmare scenario for Democrats. Although much attention was played to The Maverick's win in California, which effectively ended Romney's candidacy, the tipping point was probably his extremely narrow win over Huckabee in Missouri. In spite of it being one of the closest battles of the night, he ended up winning every delegate in the Show Me State, giving him a decisive total for the night. He now has a comfortable, and probably insurmountable, advantage.

McCain has done much better in Purple States than his likely Demcratic opponent, and his defiance of his own party on symbolic issues gives him greater credibility with swing voters than Clinton, a bland but partisan technocrat. Since he's not identified by the media or the public as a run-of-the-mill conservative, and he's distrusted, even hated, by much of the VRWC, he can begin making centrist appeals almost immediately, while Hillary Clinton has to fight and scrape for the backing of SuperDelegates. An Obama nomination would have drawn a much brighter line between the two parties, and been a decisive break from the Clinton-Bush Era. While he could still win, the chances of that happening are less than they were twenty-four hours ago.

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