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Tuesday, April 08, 2008
 
How Far Ahead of Clinton is Obama? Reflections on the Delegate Math

Recently, Gov. Corzine of NJ caused a bit of a flap when he said that 'if Sen. Obama went to the convention ahead in the delegate count, the popular vote, and the states won, that I [Corzine] reserve the right to switch my vote from Clinton to Obama.'

In another future post, I will address the issue of states won and the popular vote. In this post, I want pass along some very sobering reflections about the delegate math.

Clinton not trailing Obama enough to leave race

BY JAY S. JACOBS

Jay S. Jacobs, the Nassau County Democratic chairman, is a pedged delegate for Sen. Hillary Clinton.

April 4, 2008

Calls for Sen. Hillary Clinton to drop out of the race for the Democratic nomination for president are mostly based on the fact that Sen. Barack Obama is leading in the delegate count.

But Obama's estimated lead of 164 pledged delegates, when fairly analyzed, is not what it appears to be. Out of that margin, only 16 delegates were earned in primaries, while 148 delegates - fully 94 percent of his lead - were earned through caucuses.

That's an important distinction when you consider the disparity of voter representation between primary-elected and caucus-elected delegates.

First, the tallies: According to CNN, Obama has 1,413 pledged delegates and Clinton has 1,249. Breaking those numbers down, in the 28 primaries, Obama has accumulated 1,089 delegates to Clinton's 1,073. Through the 16 caucuses held to date, as well as the Texas caucus, Obama has garnered 324 delegates to Clinton's 176.

According to The New York Times, 25.3 million people have voted so far in the primaries, while only 1.1 million voters have participated in the various caucuses. Obama has captured 63 percent of caucus-goers, but only 51 percent of primary-voters. Clinton has won 36 percent of all caucus attendees and 49 percent of primary voters.

The disparity suggests that there is either something very seriously different about the voters in caucus states, or something very seriously wrong in the representation of voters' interests that comes out of the caucus process.

Caucuses, which are usually held in the evenings, are often complicated and require voters to be present for several hours, exclude many voters - like those who work at night or don't have child care options or are serving abroad in the military. What's more, caucus-goers are often required to make their choices known publicly, a practice that contradicts the American concept of the secret ballot.

And caucuses have an exaggerated impact on the delegate count. Each of the 2,162 delegates earned in the primaries to date represent an average of 11,702 voters. But in the caucuses, each of the 500 delegates represents just 2,200 voters. Each caucus vote is weighted more than 5 times what each primary vote is worth when it comes to allocating delegates.

There seems to be something very unfair about the caucus process. And, if there were any doubts about that, just look to the one state that chose delegates using both processes - on the same day: Texas.

I was an observer at one of the Texas caucuses, or "precinct conventions." While mine was relatively well-organized, many others were not. Reports of verbal and physical fights were rampant. Complaints of a lack of checks on participant qualifications were widespread. There's a reason why, a full month later, the final results have yet to be reported.

What happened in Texas is revealing. In the primary, more than 2.8 million people voted, giving Clinton 51 percent of the vote and 65 delegates. Obama received 47 percent of the vote and 61 delegates.

But the still inconclusive results from the caucuses - conducted on the very same date as the primary - yield a different result. CNN projects that Obama will earn 38 delegates from the precinct conventions, to Clinton's 29 - a margin of nine delegates from caucuses that saw a fraction of the participants in the primaries, where Clinton's margin was only four delegates. In effect, the winner of the popular vote may be the ultimate loser in Texas (sound familiar?).

But what about on Long Island? In Nassau County, 109,721 Democrats voted in the state's primary on Feb. 5. That equals 10 percent of the combined total of voters who participated in the 16 caucuses to date. Just from one county! If we add the 89,490 Democrats who voted in Suffolk, Long Island's vote was more than 18 percent of all the caucuses combined. But our 22 delegates are just 4 percent of the number of the total delegates - 500 - elected from those caucuses. Why don't Long Island's voters count as much as, say, Wyoming's?

Obama's current overall delegate lead is almost entirely based on the less-democratically run caucuses. For those that argue that superdelegates must follow "the will of the people," let's at least compare apples to apples. Give delegates chosen in caucuses the same per-vote weight as that earned by delegates in the primaries.

That democratic adjustment alone would reduce Obama's caucus delegate lead from 148 to 28, reducing his overall lead from 164 to just 44 - certainly within Clinton's reach in upcoming primaries, even without Florida and Michigan. When fairly viewed, the delegate race is far from over - and calls for Clinton to leave the race are clearly premature.
I think Jacobs is exactly correct in her reading of what the delegate lead signifies. It is a bare lead, and his supporters are trying to knuckle her out of the race.