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Hillary and Obama, metrics… and when will it end? April 24, 2008

Posted by WorldbyStorm in US Politics.

…actually quite soon. In a way Clinton maintaining a 10 point lead in Pennsylvania is not quite as impressive as the fact that Obama, despite everything, Wright, bitterness and whatever else you’re having, managed to bring it to a 10 point difference. After all, not so long ago Clinton’s margin was vastly superior.

Chris Bream on Slate does a good small piece about this issue and how, suddenly it’s no longer about states won (which of course was the dynamic up to Super Tuesday) but is shifting towards the popular vote…

As we and everyone who can read knows, Clinton has no shot of closing Obama’s pledged-delegate lead. Her candidacy therefore depends on convincing superdelegates to vote for her despite that lead. But vague claims of “electability” aren’t enough. She needs numbers on her side, and the popular vote is her last shot at beating Obama by a legitimate metric. With Pennsylvania under her belt—the primary netted her a little more than 200,000 votes—Clinton now trails Obama by about 500,000, according to RealClearPolitics. And that’s before the spin. If you count Florida’s and Michigan’s votes, which she no doubt will, Obama’s popular-vote lead shrinks to about 100,000. Whether or not she closes that gap, she’s close enough to argue that they’re tied.

Sweet, isn’t it? There’s just enough political space there for her to mount a last stand despite the fact that Obama remains ahead. And then she can go to the super-delegates arguing that she, and she alone, has what it takes, guts, determination, tenacity, experience, to be handed the crown.

That this is perhaps typical of a campaign that has been… well, oddly difficult to pin down (or not so oddly considering that the need to win seems to have pushed all else aside as a governing approach) is noted in another Slate piece by Timothy Noah (which has the beautifully composed line ‘As Clinton’s prospects dim, her preferred metrics grow more rococo.’ – indeed):

Anyway, it isn’t completely true that the Clinton campaign no longer believes in arithmetic benchmarks. It would be more accurate to say that it no longer believes in the ones that matter. Clinton is still more than happy to sling irrelevant metrics. And the damned things keep changing! When Hillary started falling behind in primary delegates, her campaign emphasized her lead in superdelegates, the cigar-chomping party pros of yore who know a thing or two about electability. They gave that up when superdelegates started drifting Obama’s way. (At the moment, Hillary has only 25 more superdelegates than Obama.) Then the Clinton campaign started arguing that you can’t nominate for president someone who lacks a popular-vote majority in the primaries.

It’s a nice plausible little narrative, or bundle of narratives with one key message (at least if you want Clinton to win), which only breaks apart if one considers just how it might impact on the Democratic party. Because while I always thought the idea that the two contenders tearing chunks out of each other was overblown (there is definitely something in the idea that foreshadowing troubling issues may well defang them), by contrast the idea that a Clinton coup d’etat, or installing by machination rather than clear unequivocal victory is rather less so. What happens if she is installed to the Obama base? The point isn’t that the supporters of one side or another are more or less virtuous, simply that the optics would be gruesome and this would be more likely (as far as I can see) to impact on the Obama voters than the Clinton voters.

The Obama non-electability argument is far from fully persuasive. Indeed I’d very much like to see it articulated in a definitively convincing fashion (although Eagle has touched on it in a way which may go some way towards that).

Indiana is now primed to be the showdown. Bream suggests that while the polls aren’t telling a clear story: Clinton has reason to fear Obama in the Hoosier State, where basketball chops are as important as stimulus packages.

But in a way I can’t help feeling that she has more to fear about herself and the way her campaign has been played. She has been right to push forward, but wrong to keep pinning her hopes on shifting metrics. It is, as someone noted, ‘fairweather’ and self-serving. A bit of consistency goes a long way, even in politics.


1. Garibaldy - April 24, 2008

Given that lots of governments are elected without winning the majority of the popular vote (including I think Bush) this seems to me to be a red herring. What Hilary should be saying to convince the superdelegates is that if Obama can’t win the big states necessary to be elected in democratic primaries against her, what chance will he have against McCain, given that some of them went for Bush, and McCain is much more Democrat-friendly than Bush. I can’t see Obama beating Mc Cain without a major mistake on Mc Cain’s part, or medical mishap leading to his age becoming a major liability.


2. yourcousin - April 25, 2008

On election night in Pennsylvania I read an article on politico.com in which it was stated that while 1 in 7 Obama supporters would defect to McCain if Hillary were to become the Democratic candidate, a whopping 1 in 4 Hillary supporters would defect if Obama got the nod. Haven’t been able to find it since, but will try this weekend.


3. JL Pagano - April 25, 2008

There is another reason Clinton has to fear Indiana – it’s right beside Illinois, Obama’s home state.

Geography plays a large part in these contests, a fact often overlooked by media commentators particularly in this race. It definitely contributed to Hillary’s head start in Pennsylvania, which, as you rightly point out, her opponent did well to keep honest.


4. Phil - April 25, 2008

The Obama non-electability argument? He’s black, so that’s the racist vote gone. He’s a bit posh, so there goes the “Okie from Muskogee” vote. Plus he’s thoughtful, and nobody likes an intellectual (the political machines included).

Really, the fact that he’s as popular as he is says a lot for him – and the fact that Clinton’s trailing says a lot for how unpopular she is. If we’re talking non-electability – Clinton’s style would be a bit of a handicap even if she weren’t (a) female and (b) called Clinton, but if you put the three together you get a candidate who’s almost guaranteed to lose to any half-decent Republican candidate. But then, whether McCain is that candidate is an open question, too.


5. ejh - April 25, 2008

nobody likes an intellectual

Mind you, they voted for Mr Hillary twice.


6. Phil - April 25, 2008

Maybe that should be, nobody likes an intellectual who acts like one (cf. Rowan Williams).


7. Ed Hayes - April 25, 2008
8. Ed Hayes - April 25, 2008
9. CL - April 25, 2008

After the roughest few weeks of the campaign Obama did marginally better in Pennsylvania than in Ohio. But Clinton remains undead. She has checkmated Obama since New Hampshire, so the super-delegates can’t move en masse towards Obama. Attempting to alter the metric criterion for victory is just trying to change the rules in the middle of the game. The only metric that counts is the number of delegates. If they break even in the remaining primaries Obama will emerge needing less than 100 extra superdelegates for victory, while Clinton will need about 230.
But Obama needs to give the superdelegates a reason to move decisively in his direction. Wins in N. Carolina and Indiana would probably clinch it. But Clinton remains in the game because she has a slight chance to win. But absent a double win in N.Carolina and Indiana her only hope is a major blunder by Obama. And although he has sounded peevish lately he has kept his cool.
His relative lack of working class support is disturbing. Perhaps Obama would connect better with working class voters if he did not have as his main economic adviser a believer in the ideology of Milton Friedman.
The electability argument will not work, its too weak. There is an undercurrent of racialism to it. Huge increases in Democratic registrations and a falling-off in Republican does not portend well for Republican prospects. And Obama has the ablility to turn purple states and some red states blue.


10. ejh - April 25, 2008

She has checkmated Obama since New Hampshire

Ah, if it was checkmate the game would be over.


11. CL - April 25, 2008

No, because each primary is a new contest and Hillary’s wins have checked Obama’s momenturm. And the ‘stalemate’ continues until..Queen Hillary is deposed or..


12. CL - April 25, 2008

Besides this is not chess: more like mud-wrestling.


13. ejh - April 25, 2008

And the ’stalemate’ continues

Stalemate doesn’t continue either: when it occurs, one side can no longer move.


14. PamDirac - April 25, 2008

**In a way Clinton maintaining a 10 point lead in Pennsylvania is not quite as impressive as the fact that Obama, despite everything, Wright, bitterness and whatever else you’re having, managed to bring it to a 10 point difference. After all, not so long ago Clinton’s margin was vastly superior.**

True – and he made Clinton spend a lot of dough and time there she would rather not have spent — but on the other hand Obama crisscrossed the state and spent many millions with the intention of finishing Clinton off in Pennsylvania. He failed in a big battleground state, as he failed in Ohio. A win or a closer result in either state would have forced Clinton out. I can’t believe his campaign feels good about that.

I tend to discount the ‘electability’ arguments in either direction. There’s no conclusive evidence either way. Both Obama and Clinton have large potential liabilities in the general election. Both of them also have considerable assets. The polls go back and forth.

(Every Presidential cycle presents us with endless Democratic handwringing over which candidate is truly electable, while the Republicans take flyers with untried governors from Texas with famous names without thinking too much about it and do qute well.)

**Given that lots of governments are elected without winning the majority of the popular vote (including I think Bush) this seems to me to be a red herring.**

I agree, Garibaldy – after all, Obama doesn’t have what he needs to win the nomination, either — but it’s a matter of perception. If the superdelegates make that call for Clinton without her having the delegates or the popular vote, there is a big risk of alienating the African-American vote, which is going 80-90% for Obama. I think their current calculation is that the working class voters now hanging in there for Clinton will stick if she loses. I don’t know if they’re right.

**Plus he’s thoughtful, and nobody likes an intellectual (the political machines included).**

Clinton’s pretty thoughtful, too. And she continues to sweep the floor with him in the debates, which is why Obama pulled out of the debate planned for North Carolina.

As for the chess metaphors, Hillary’s not in zugzwang yet, but she’s getting there.


15. CL - April 26, 2008

Stalemates, impasses, draws, eventually are resolved. As will this one. The question is how soon. Will the stalemate last until the Convention? What’s been called the ‘inexorable logic of the arithmetic’ won’t determine the outcome if Obama keeps on losing. He’s well ahead in N.Carolina in the polls but the ‘undecided’ is also high. A loss there would spell disaster for him. The tension of the unresolved conflict seems to be getting to him and he seems fatigued. But at least he doesn’t have to debate Hillary again.
In just 4 years Obama has come from nowhere to now be on the verge of taking control of the Democratic party, and his prospects against McCain look very good. Not bad for a black man in America.


16. Ed Hayes - April 28, 2008
17. CL - April 28, 2008

The Clintons too are playing that race card.
As Gary Younge writes:
“Unable to beat Obama on delegates and still unlikely to beat him in the popular vote, Hillary Clinton has just one strategy left – to persuade superdelegates that Obama is unelectable. She has tried branding him as inexperienced and slick-tongued, and neither of those have worked. At this stage she has just one argument left: his race. For several months now, her aides have been whispering to whoever would listen that America would never elect a black candidate. In desperation, some are now raising their voices.”


18. Ed Hayes - April 29, 2008

Speaking of the US of A, this made me sit up and take notice. If true its remarkable for this day and age.



19. CL - April 29, 2008

Wright thrown under bus: is Obama finished?


20. WorldbyStorm - April 30, 2008

I was wondering that. Was it deliberate CL?


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