Tuesday, May 06, 2008

What will today's Democratic primaries mean?

Hard to say, really. It's a good bet that the results won't be decisive, but then who knows?

The official results won't be announced until tonight. But in the meantime, here is a useful overview of the main possibilities from Adam Nagourney in the New York Times. Some highlights:
It’s almost over.

Well, not quite. But the Democratic presidential primaries taking place on Tuesday in North Carolina and Indiana have more delegates up for grabs than any of the remaining contests. For political, demographic and mathematical reasons, those states have the potential to reshape the competition between Senators Hillary Rodham Clinton and Barack Obama.

It will be an opportunity for Mrs. Clinton to make the case that Democratic sentiment is swinging in her favor, and to slice into Mr. Obama’s lead in pledged delegates and in the popular vote (putting aside the disputed contests in Florida and Michigan). For Mr. Obama, it is a chance to tamp down talk that Mrs. Clinton has exposed him as a flawed general election candidate.

[....] But to say that both sides are anxious would be an understatement, and with that in mind, here are three possible outcomes to watch for Tuesday, in no particular order: Mrs. Clinton wins both states, Mr. Obama does, or they split:

1) Mrs. Clinton wins Indiana and North Carolina.

Given the obstacles that face her, a sweep by Mrs. Clinton on Tuesday is one outcome that could, to borrow a phrase from Mr. Obama, change the world, or at least begin to. [....]

2) Mr. Obama wins North Carolina and Indiana.

A double Obama victory would almost certainly mean lights out for the Clinton campaign. [....]

3) A split decision.

The most likely split would be Mrs. Clinton winning Indiana and Mr. Obama winning North Carolina. That would almost surely mean the race would go on.

But it would not be easy for Mrs. Clinton to fight on if she cannot use Tuesday to make some progress in the battle for pledged delegates and the popular vote. Her own advisers say her best hope of getting superdelegates to vote against pledged delegates is if, after the final primaries on June 3, she is close to Mr. Obama in pledged delegates and ahead in the popular vote. [....]

It is not impossible for Mrs. Clinton to catch up, but it would require a series of lopsided victories — or a successful effort by the Clinton campaign to convince superdelegates and the party at large that the popular vote totals in Florida and Michigan should count in determining the will of the people, even though Mr. Obama’s name did not appear on the ballot in Michigan and neither candidate actively campaigned in either state. (If Florida and Michigan are counted, Mrs. Clinton has a slim lead in the popular vote by some calculations.)

“The math still favors Senator Obama, no matter what happens Tuesday,” Mr. Klain said.

But then he offered a caveat that could work in Mrs. Clinton’s favor. ‘This is the ultimate what-have-you-done-for-me-lately business,” he said, “and the more recent victories are going to count in people’s mind more than those older victories.”
Stay tuned. The rest is below.

--Jeff Weintraub
==============================
New York Times
May 6, 2008
For Primaries in 2 States, a Variety of Scenarios
By Adam Nagourney

It’s almost over.

Well, not quite. But the Democratic presidential primaries taking place on Tuesday in North Carolina and Indiana have more delegates up for grabs than any of the remaining contests. For political, demographic and mathematical reasons, those states have the potential to reshape the competition between Senators Hillary Rodham Clinton and Barack Obama.

It will be an opportunity for Mrs. Clinton to make the case that Democratic sentiment is swinging in her favor, and to slice into Mr. Obama’s lead in pledged delegates and in the popular vote (putting aside the disputed contests in Florida and Michigan). For Mr. Obama, it is a chance to tamp down talk that Mrs. Clinton has exposed him as a flawed general election candidate.

You can tell where Mrs. Clinton and Mr. Obama think they have their best shot by where they will be on Tuesday night: Mrs. Clinton has a hotel ballroom in Indianapolis, and Mr. Obama, after some last-minute debate, finally decided on a rally at a coliseum in Raleigh, N.C. But to say that both sides are anxious would be an understatement, and with that in mind, here are three possible outcomes to watch for Tuesday, in no particular order: Mrs. Clinton wins both states, Mr. Obama does, or they split:

1) Mrs. Clinton wins Indiana and North Carolina.

Given the obstacles that face her, a sweep by Mrs. Clinton on Tuesday is one outcome that could, to borrow a phrase from Mr. Obama, change the world, or at least begin to.

“That’s a sign that she is gaining momentum in the race,” said Ron Klain, a Democratic consultant who has not taken sides. How much such a result would change the race would depend on the contours of her victories.

A month ago, Indiana was considered relatively even, with perhaps a slight edge to Mr. Obama, of Illinois.

“Indiana is the first state that borders Illinois, and 25 percent of our primary electorate get their television news out of Chicago,” said Dan Parker, the Indiana Democratic chairman, who is backing Mrs. Clinton.

By contrast, Mr. Obama seemed to hold such an advantage in North Carolina that Mrs. Clinton’s aides debated making only a token effort there.

Now, though, both campaigns see both states as highly competitive, as evidenced by the amount of time Mrs. Clinton and Mr. Obama have spent there in recent days. Mrs. Clinton has said she expects to win in Indiana; candidates do not normally do that.

If Mr. Obama loses in Indiana because of white blue-collar support for Mrs. Clinton it would be the third time in a row, after Ohio and Pennsylvania, that he has lost a big state because of an inability to win over enough of those kinds of voters.

Mrs. Clinton has argued that those losses in a primary augur poorly for Mr. Obama in the fall; historically that is debatable, but another defeat at the hands of middle-class white voters in Indiana would add to the perception that he could lose in the general election.

And should Mrs. Clinton win North Carolina, or come close, with white support for her overwhelming Mr. Obama’s presumed strength among blacks there, that would fuel the argument that he has been hurt by his ties to his former pastor, the Rev. Jeremiah A. Wright Jr.

Steve Jarding, a Democratic consultant who has not taken sides in the race, said, “If he loses both — and don’t forget he had a 25-point lead in North Carolina — then you’ve got to look at what has happened over the past four weeks, and Reverend Wright comes to the fore.”

The race at this point is at least as much about superdelegates as it is about voters in the remaining primary states, and a double Clinton victory could bolster her argument to superdelegates that Mr. Obama may struggle in November against Senator John McCain, the likely Republican nominee.

Whether that is enough to get them to make the leap of voting for Mrs. Clinton if Mr. Obama leads her after June 3 in the overall popular vote and pledged delegates is another question, which is why her campaign has renewed efforts to get Florida and Michigan delegates, elected in primaries carried out in defiance of the Democratic Party rules, seated at the convention.

One thing to keep in mind: the next contest is a week from Tuesday in West Virginia, another state where the demographics would seem to favor Mrs. Clinton.

2) Mr. Obama wins North Carolina and Indiana.

A double Obama victory would almost certainly mean lights out for the Clinton campaign.

“That would signal the end of the Clinton campaign,” said Jerry Meek, the chairman of the North Carolina Democratic Party, who has not endorsed anyone in the race. “I don’t see how she could continue.” He added, “She’d be fighting a losing battle.”

The ever-tenacious Mrs. Clinton has proven so eager to keep fighting that she might try to soldier on. It could be a tough, lonely road. Several of her advisers have said they would counsel her to quit the race if she lost both.

Even if she resisted, twin victories by Mr. Obama would go a long way to addressing concerns about the damage Mr. Wright inflicted on him, as well as his ability to “close the deal,” as Mrs. Clinton likes to say.

It is difficult to envision what her argument would be to stay in the race should that happen. More than that, Mr. Obama would no doubt encourage superdelegates, many of whom have been holding back to see how the voting plays out, to rally around him and bring the race to a close. And if there ever was a moment for the party’s big leaders to step forward, this would be it.

Matthew Dowd, the senior strategist for President Bush’s campaign in 2004, said, “It makes it almost impossible for her to win the Democratic nomination.”

3) A split decision.

The most likely split would be Mrs. Clinton winning Indiana and Mr. Obama winning North Carolina. That would almost surely mean the race would go on.

But it would not be easy for Mrs. Clinton to fight on if she cannot use Tuesday to make some progress in the battle for pledged delegates and the popular vote. Her own advisers say her best hope of getting superdelegates to vote against pledged delegates is if, after the final primaries on June 3, she is close to Mr. Obama in pledged delegates and ahead in the popular vote.

Mrs. Clinton now has 1,338 pledged delegates, according to a count and projection by The New York Times, compared with 1,493 for Mr. Obama. On Tuesday, another 187 delegates will be chosen, and after that, there are only 217 left. Under Democratic delegate allocation rules, Mrs. Clinton would have to win most of the remaining states by huge margins in order to chip into Mr. Obama’s delegate lead.

Mr. Obama’s total popular vote, including projections from the caucuses, is 14.8 million, compared with 14.2 million to Mrs. Clinton, not counting the votes in Florida or Michigan (his lead is slightly smaller if the caucus states are excluded).

It is not impossible for Mrs. Clinton to catch up, but it would require a series of lopsided victories — or a successful effort by the Clinton campaign to convince superdelegates and the party at large that the popular vote totals in Florida and Michigan should count in determining the will of the people, even though Mr. Obama’s name did not appear on the ballot in Michigan and neither candidate actively campaigned in either state. (If Florida and Michigan are counted, Mrs. Clinton has a slim lead in the popular vote by some calculations.)

“The math still favors Senator Obama, no matter what happens Tuesday,” Mr. Klain said.

But then he offered a caveat that could work in Mrs. Clinton’s favor. ‘This is the ultimate what-have-you-done-for-me-lately business,” he said, “and the more recent victories are going to count in people’s mind more than those older victories.”

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