Friday, May 2, 2008

"We'll know it when we see it."

Ever mindful of the potential magic numbers, goalposts and other measuring sticks, the Clinton campaign* is now attempting to "undefine" what victory is in the race for the Democratic nomination. Weeks ago, I wrote that 100 was the final delegate deficit for which Clinton was hoping in terms of framing an argument to the late deciding superdelegates. [Of course, if superdelegates are like primary voters in Pennsylvania, Ohio and Texas, they may break for Clinton in the end. The news on that front isn't all that rosy for Clinton though.] As the race has changed, though, so too have those markers. The decision-making calculus is relatively straightforward for the superdelegates now. It comes down to delegates, popular vote and states won. And if you want to extend it to general election prospects against McCain you could factor in national polls and state polls/electoral college projections. Obama is ahead in delegates, popular vote and states won, and the Jeremiah Wright flap has not really affected Obama in the national polls and only moderately in the state polls/electoral college (much of that is in states that were already very close and are still close but favoring McCain).

So what does, "We'll know it when we see it," mean? Ultimately it is going to mean that the marker of success in this race for Clinton is no longer on the field of play. That what they "see" is the writing on the wall.

Having said that though, there are two races coming up on Tuesday (and one tomorrow. Hey, eight delegates is eight delegates in this race.). How will the race be affected by the potential outcomes in North Carolina and Indiana?

Obama sweeps: Equals curtains for Clinton. Whether she gets pressure to drop out or not, the superdelegates will begin flocking to Obama at that point.

Obama in NC and Clinton in IN: The status quo result. The Clinton campaign would argue a small margin in North Carolina is a win for her. And one could argue that a win is a win for Obama in the face of the Wright situation. That's a slippery slope though, and is tantamount to saying that it affected the race (Not the message they want to send to the GOP). On the flip side, if Obama matches or surpasses the "expected" barrier (We've called it ten points in the UGA discussion group and I'll adopt it here.), he can make the argument, that despite Wright, he still did well. In Indiana, a win is a win for either candidate. A NC win for Obama and a Clinton win in IN will keep the contest going and push the nomination decision back to after June 3.

Clinton in NC and Obama in IN: This one hasn't really been talked about anywhere and probably is the least likely outcome (even less so than a Clinton sweep). If it were to come to pass though, it would likely send the press off trying to find new story lines. They'll manage. This gives Clinton a win on Obama turf, but would give him a win in a competitive state. I don't know. I'll yield to the comments section on this one. Thoughts?

Clinton sweeps: A Clinton sweep on Tuesday likely would cause a great many superdelegates (both those who are undecided and those who back Obama) to rethink their feelings on the race. With Clinton-friendly West Virginia and Kentucky up next, a sweep would make for a nice little streak of victories for Clinton since Texas-Ohio. Like the both the split decisions above, this outcome keeps the contest going through June 3, but also nudges this race ever closer to Carter-Kennedy territory. And that divisiveness is not where the DNC likely wants to be heading into the general election.

Four possibilities. Three keep the race going and one likely ends it. Which way will it go? If the Real Clear Politics averages today are any indication: Obama takes NC and Clinton wins IN. Those margins, though, would leave a lot of room for interpretation from both campaigns.

*Well, Clinton campaign strategist, Geoff Garin is at least.

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Robert said...

I basically agree with your assessment with one caveat. I think if Obama wins by more than 10% in NC and loses by less than 5% in IN you will still see many superdelegates start coming out for Obama. When the flodd begins I believe that Rendell, Corzine and other Hillary supporters will give her the opportunity to withdraw from the race. If she continues to hold out, I think they will declare Obama the winner and start deserting her, and she will be left hanging.

Josh Putnam said...

If Indiana keeps trending her way (and the data today was more toward even there) then that 5% may be right on. If things get close to tied then he may have to win it outright.

Robert said...

I think that the IN expectations will remain a toss-up with a slight edge to Clinton. The edge of victory by Clinton in PA exceeded expectations and have raised her expectations this go-around. If she does not continue to exceed expectations on Tuesday, she is in trouble.