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Friday, February 29, 2008
Does Sen. Obama Have Momentum?

An interesting, and thoroughly convincing analysis of why the automatic/ super- delegates of the party shouldn't force Clinton out of the campaign early. His argument is basically: " Obama has picked up 196 of his delegates with a total of 5.8 million votes in ten caucuses, a number that Clinton chews up and nearly swallows with her margin of victory in California alone."

Washington state obligingly provided a demonstration with its recent "beauty contest" primary. On February 9th, Washington held a caucus that Obama won by nearly 40 points with 250,000 voters (a relatively small turnout). Two weeks later, the state held a primary that didn't count. The state didn't have any other major issues on the ballot. Voters were forced to sign a declaration swearing they belonged to the party whose primary they were voting in. Finally, the vote occurred after several weeks of solid Obama victories, which would presumably serve to inspire Obama and depress the Clinton vote. All these factors suggest that only the most dedicated voters would turn up, and that any undecided voters would be likely to be swayed towards Obama by the momentum he has built up.

A million voters showed up for the "meaningless" primary. Obama’s margin of victory shrunk to just 5 points. Without exit polls, demographic popularity can’t be assessed with certainty, but many of Washington's counties have nice clean demographic splits. Yakima County, which is 40% Hispanic, went 53-43 for Clinton. Cowlitz County, a white working class county, went 58-39 for Clinton. Overall, Clinton won or tied in 17 counties, which means that the delegate apportioning would have had very different results with a primary--particularly if voters had thought it counted.

Thus, examined closely, Obama's seemingly overwhelming victories show no certain momentum and no measurable progress in the key demographic groups. Democrat voters have now been subjected to a month or more of overwhelming media onslaught about Obama's victories. Yet the Washington primary, held just last week, strongly suggests that white and Hispanic Democrat voters have remained unconvinced....

If the Democratic nomination were the end result of the process, we could all marvel at the Obama campaign's genius at effectively making use of the party's delegate apportionment system and liberal caucuses. However, the nominee in this case only gets the opportunity--and the responsibility--to take on a popular maverick moderate in the general election.

The consistency of the exit polls strongly suggests that a pledged delegate count is almost meaningless as an indicator of the most viable candidate. Whether the Democrats opt for Clinton or Obama, the demographic tradeoffs have thus far proved so unyielding that they should be paramount in the final decision, rendering delegate counts irrelevant.

Any practical assessment of the primary results reveals that Hillary Clinton has won the usually essential demographics consistently and by wide margins. Obama’s coalition of blacks and highly educated voters will not be enough on their own. Against Hillary's demographic support, Obama can offer his strong showing among white independents and Republicans and argue that his support will carry over to the general. However, Clinton has won the independent vote in primaries nearly as often as Obama has, many states by equally large margins, although Obama has won the majority of these voters....

The combination of caucus primaries and strong independent/Republican presence has already overridden the voter will. The candidate who has lost California, New York, Florida, New Jersey, Tennessee, Arkansas, and Okalahoma by substantial margins is ahead on the strength of caucus wins in Kansas, Nebraska, and Idaho, coupled with a combination of white independent/Republican and an understandably skewed black vote in South Carolina, Louisiana, Georgia, and Virginia primaries. Currently, even if caucus votes are added in, Clinton appears to be ahead in total Democat votes. If the entire primary season were to run its course with no significant demographic change, Clinton will win the Democrat vote overall, even assuming all caucus voters are Democrats. It's hard to argue that the party’s popular will hasn't been clearly expressed in favor of Hillary Clinton.

It's a very powerful argument, I think, and one that should give voters a pause about bringing the process to an early close. Moreover, it suggests the importance of a Clinton-Obama unity ticket. And yes, I have been saying this for a while now.