Wednesday, May 21, 2008

the state of the nomination

The crypt of the Condes de Buenavista, in the Santuario de la Virgen de la Victoria, in Malaga, Spain. Really, this has nothing to do with the blog post -- I was googling "Santa Maria de la Victoria" to look for an image since Obama's winning, etc., but really that doesn't work for me because that devotion usually has to do with a bellicose and imperialist idea of Catholicism that's a wee bit distasteful, but at the same time I found this image and had to put it up because, dude, it is so cool...

So what's going on? Obama's people say he has won the majority of pledged delegates, Clinton's say she has won the popular vote. What does all this mean? Well, it's confusing as all hell, but let's take a look at it.

Pledged (and super) Delegates

Officially, the party's nominee is chosen at the convention. Each state party picks delegates that pledge to vote for a candidate based on results from the state's nominating process, either a primary or a caucus (I don't think any states pick delegates at state conventions any more, but I could be wrong). The results are rewarded proportionally (as opposed to what the GOP does -- winner-take-all), though each state has it's own (usually extremely convoluted) way of counting and rewarding them. Since the system is so complicated, no one knows exactly how many pledged delegates each candidate has, though the tallies are close. For example, RealClearPolitcs gives Obama 1652 and Clinton 1496 pledged delegates. The New York Times provides both their own estimation of delegates (Obama, 1625; Clinton, 1481) and the AP's (Obama, 1649; Clinton, 1497). The difference between the two candidates in the respective estimations are 156, 144, and 154. The remaining three primaries -- Montana, South Dakota, and Puerto Rico -- offer a grand total of 86 delegates. So, according to party rules as they currently stand, even if Clinton were to get every single delegate from each of those primaries (practically impossible, especially since Obama does well in western states), she still couldn't win the majority of pledged delegates.

The wrench in the works here is the question of Michigan and Florida. These two delegate-heavy states held early primaries in defiance of Democratic National Committee rules, rules to which none of the candidates (including Clinton) objected at the time. When those primary elections were held, it was understood that their delegates would not be seated at the convention. The candidates agreed not to campaign in these states (Hillary followed through on this promise in letter, but her "fund-raising" trips to Florida make one wonder if she did so in spirit) and all the major candidates except Hillary took their name off the ballot in Michigan. It was not even possible to write-in Obama in Michigan.

On May 31, the DNC will meet with the campaigns to make a ruling on Florida (211 original delegates) and Michigan (157). The Florida results were: Clinton, 50%; Obama, 33%, and Edwards (who has since endorsed Obama), 14%. In Michigan, Clinton won 55% of the vote, while "uncommitted" won 40%. So, if these two states were given all their delegates, and if Obama was not awarded the "uncommitted" delegates from Michigan, Clinton may be able to barely overtake Obama in pledged delegates. Especially in the case of Michigan, it goes without saying how wrong this would be. Although the DNC has every right to exclude the delegates of the these states, I would like to see some time of compromise that allows their delegates to participate, but in a reduced way (the GOP, for example, cut their number of delegates in half). I cannot see a reasonable situation that would allow Clinton to take the lead in pledged delegates.

The superdelegate count -- that is, the delegates who have a vote in the convention because they are party insiders or elected officials and whose purpose is to keep the party from nominating an egregiously unacceptable candidate, the people's will be damned -- is somewhat fluid, since at this point they only state their intention and do not have to commit in any institutionally binding way. Still, almost all stick to their original endorsement. Right now, the count is estimated like this: RealClearPolitics -- Obama, 305; Clinton, 279. NYT -- Obama, 304.5; Clinton, 272. AP -- Obama, 307; Clinton, 279. Don't even ask me what that .5 delegate means. According to the NYT, there are only 181.5 superdelegates that are still uncommitted. The times has a nifty little interactive toy that you can manipulate to see different scenarios that would allow each candidate to win the nomination. Right now, if Clinton were to win 50% of the remaining pledged delegates, she would still need 96% of the remaining superdelegates. If, impossibly, she were to win 100% of the remaining pledged delegates, she would still need an overwhelming majority -- 68% -- of the undecided superdelegates, and the common wisdom is that superdelegates would be very unlikely to overturn the popular vote.

In short, at this point it really is next to impossible for Hillary Clinton to win the nomination. Even given more primary victories, even given an unlikely surge in superdelegate support, even given a way to include Florida and Michigan that would seem at all acceptable to all parties involved -- Obama will still be the nominee. When an Obama supporter claims that Obama has won the nomination, she or he is not being arrogant or democratic, or "dismissive" of Clinton's voters or the states to come, it's just the reality of the situation. It has been for some time, but at this point it's very hard to argue.

The Popular Vote

Clinton's campaign keeps talking about how she won, or will win, the popular vote. This is very misleading for three reasons:

1. It wouldn't matter anyway, because that has nothing to do with the rules that everyone agreed upon at the outset. Obama's people have made a good point in saying that that if that were the case, they would have run a different campaign -- concentrating on running up the vote in Illinois, for example.

2. There is no popular vote tally. Because Iowa, Nevada, Maine and Washington have caucuses -- meetings across the state instead of primary elections with ballots -- they do not release a vote total. Results can be extrapolated, but it's not like a national election with countable ballots. The system doesn't work that way.

3. Only by the most tortured accounting involving Michigan and Flordia can Hillary Clinton claim to have a substantial lead in the popular votes. According to RealClearPolitics's analysis,
Obama wins the popular vote unless you count Michigan but do not count "uncommitted" as votes for him. Counting the popular vote total without caucus states or FL & MI, Obama wins by almost a half million votes. Extrapolate the caucus and that's over a half million votes. Even with Flordia (but without the 100,000 vote lead he has in the caucus extrapolation), he wins by almost 150,000 votes. Only by counting Michigan without "uncommitted" does Clinton win (by 181,000 votes) and if you take away the caucus estimation, it's more than 100,000 votes less.

So by the best-case scenario, Clinton comes out 181, 523 votes ahead. "Uncommitted," however, received 238,168 votes in Michigan. It's true that there are still three primaries ahead, including Puerto Rico which Hillary should win handily, but the math by any metric is not only not in her favor, but overwhelmingly against her.

Should Clinton give up? Well, that's up to her. Her campaign is in debt, she can't win, and it's essential that the Democrats win the White House this year. Her attacks on Obama have calmed down, but still her surrogates like Geraldine Ferraro are calling Obama "sexist" and questioning whether or not they would vote for Obama in the fall. I won't even go there, since this post has been long enough.

One more thing: I, like many Obama supporters, have often been very disgusted at how Hillary Clinton has run her campaign (just do a search on "Hillary" for my blog for details). Still it's been a very close race and it's time to relax a bit. It's also time to think back on the campaign and to realize that for all the race-baiting and sexism that have sprung up over the past year or so, it has been a close campaign between two ground-breaking candidates. Arianna Huffington, who has never been hesitant to criticize Clinton, had a nice column on what she has achieved in this campaign:
I have regularly criticized Clinton over the course of her campaign (and long before it, starting with her vote to authorize the war), but there is no question that she has forever altered the way women running for president will be viewed from here on out. In the words of the Times, Clinton has established "a new marker for what a woman can accomplish in a campaign -- raising over $170 million, frequently winning more favorable reviews on debate performances than her male rivals, rallying older women, and persuading white male voters who were never expected to support her."
Of course, I say this from the perspective of one who has supported the winner. Although I respect what she has achieved, I still deplore the Rovian methods she often used to achieve it. I hope this is that last time I will be writing about Hillary Clinton unless I am commenting on how she is throwing all of her support to the person who is without doubt the nominee.

UPDATE: Perhaps Arianna and I have gotten too sentimental. Via The Late Adopter, Allison Benedikt in Village Voice tears apart the idea of Hillary Clinton as a victim of sexism:
Here’s the thing: There is plenty of sexism—more than enough, thank you very much—in this country. Which is why it’s so sad to see Hillary’s supporters (and lately even her female detractors, and way too many column inches) elevate her to some kind of goddess warrior, symbolizing the decades-long fight for gender equality, absorbing the entirety of history’s catcall in one massive blow, and then standing tall again because that’s what women do. Powerful stuff, except that she’s a lying, race-baiting insult to our collective intelligence. Powerful, if she and her husband hadn’t sold out poor people in the ’90s or if she had stood tall like a woman against the war in Iraq or if she wasn’t right now trying to change the rules of the game and stir up the worst kind of identity politics. Powerful, if her most fervent supporters weren’t threatening to vote for John McCain out of spite, Supreme Court justices be damned.
Benedikt refers to a NYT article I had already read that shows some remarkable views of certain Clinton supports:

Cynthia Ruccia, 55, a sales director for Mary Kay cosmetics in Columbus, Ohio, is organizing a group, Clinton Supporters Count Too, of mostly women in swing states who plan to campaign against Mr. Obama in November. “We, the most loyal constituency, are being told to sit down, shut up and get to the back of the bus,” she said.
"Get to the back of the bus." Interesting choice of words, considering the context. There are more, including Ferraro's comments.


cowboyangel said...

While I appreciate all of the time and effort you obviously put into your analysis, you left out one crucial piece of news that just came out last night: G-d told me in a dream that Willie Nelson was going to become President and Emperor of the United States.

Change is coming to America.

cowboyangel said...

And G-d is the Ultimate Super Delegate.

Liam said...

Yeah, it's amazing how much time you'll spend when the alternative is finishing the section of your dissertation on the translation of St Isidore. And then I finished it anyway. And had lunch.

crystal said...

It [the popular vote] wouldn't matter anyway, because that has nothing to do with the rules that everyone agreed upon at the outset.

I know it isn't fair to change rules in the middle, but the popular vote should still matter, if for no other reason than it gives a hint as to which nominee might best beat McCain (unless popular vote doesn't matter in that election either? ..... is there a Politics For Dummies book? :)

Liam said...


Obviously if the popular vote were dramatically different (say 60%-35% and some change), it would be a situation to worry about. But the pledged delegate system isn't so screwy that someone could win the delegates while that far behind. As it stands now, Obama has won the popular vote by any sane way of counting it.

I don't think the primaries give that good an idea who will vote for McCain. Most people who voted for one of the candidates in the Democratic primary will vote for the other in the election. They're more alike one another that either is like McCain. There are surveys out there that say a certain percentage would not vote for the other candidate in a general election, but I don't think they're very reliable -- I don't know how much the grudge will last after the nominee is chosen.

I also think it's very hard to know whether Hillary or Obama would necessarily do better than McCain. Each has his or her strong points and his or her weaknesses. I personally feel Obama would be a much stronger candidate purely from the point of view of electability, but I can see the other argument as well.

cowboyangel said...

Powerful stuff, except that she’s a lying, race-baiting insult to our collective intelligence. Powerful, if she and her husband hadn’t sold out poor people in the ’90s or if she had stood tall like a woman against the war in Iraq or if she wasn’t right now trying to change the rules of the game and stir up the worst kind of identity politics.

My wife would agree with Benedikt. As I do. While it's true that Clinton has raised the ceiling for women running for president, I think she's also done harm to the feminist movement, if such a thing really exists as a movement anymore. Many younger women have been totally turned off by the kind of language used and attacks by Clinton and her older "feminist" surrogates like Steinem and Ferraro. Alex has been raging for two straight days about Clinton and Ferraro. And you know what she's like when she gets really pissed.

She has a good point, I think, saying that the whole "feel sorry for me because I'm a woman" line of argument is actually a sexist maneuver. And it only perpetuates ugly stereotypes and negative concepts that women have worked hard to overcome - everything's wrong because Hillary's a woman - not because she ran a terrible campaign or lies or votes for Iraq or switches position depending on which way the polling winds blow. She's been a terrible example of the kind of woman my wife wants to be and wants other women to be.

And Hillary and her surrogates have had no problem using gender when it suits them - as in crying before New Hampshire. It makes women look bad and actually muddies the waters of what should be a real critique of sexism in the media and in the country.

Really, really deeply ugly stuff from Clinton and Ferraro.

cowboyangel said...

Obama and the Media also need to call Clinton on the outright lie that she's leading in popular votes. It's utter bullshit and they're all letting her get away with repeating it over and over again. That's only going to make it harder to unite the party down the road.

Yet another Rove/Bush tactic - simply keep repeating that you won Florida. (And Michigan.)

Garpu the Fork said...

Another thing is that I know a few PoC who're turned off to feminism because of Clinton's campaign. Whatever happened to allies? The whole "us vs. them" mentality rampant in this country these days isn't helping anyone.

crystal said...
This comment has been removed by the author.