Democratic Race Tighter Than Ever

6 02 2008

Super Tuesday’s over and it’s clear who won…or is it?

According to the New York Times Editorial Board, the winner was:

Hillary Clinton. She is ahead in overall delegates and convincingly took the night’s big prize, California. And her not-close victory in Massachusetts was a rebuke to Senator Edward Kennedy, who campaigned heavily for Mr. Obama.

Or Barack Obama. He took the most states last night, he continues to build momentum, and there’s starting to be talk that the nomination is his to lose.

Or it was a tie. But as commentators are pointing out, a tie goes to Mrs. Clinton. Or make that Mr. Obama.

In other words, the near-national primary that was supposed to settle the Democratic nomination settled nothing.

Where do we go from here? To “Sub-Super Saturday” February 9, when Louisiana, Nebraska, Washington, and the Virgin Islands vote. Then Maine, the so called “Potomac Primary” of Maryland, Virginia, and the District of Columbia; and Hawaii and Wisconsin. Two more heavyweight states vote on March 4: Ohio and Texas (along with Vermont and Rhode Island).

Mr. Obama’s supporters say the schedule favors him. They are even talking about him sweeping on Feb. 9, which would set him up nicely for the states to follow. They also argue that the polls have been moving in his direction, that the establishment has been lining up behind him and will continue to, and that he is far ahead of Mrs. Clinton in fundraising.

Mrs. Clinton’s camp insists that she will do well in the delegate-rich states that matter like Ohio and Texas, where the Latino vote, which rallied to her in Nevada and California, could again be dispositive. In Pennsylvania (April 22), she has Governor Ed Rendell backing her.

There’s already talk of journalists’ favorite primary-season subject: the brokered convention. Pundits love the thought because there are so many wild scenarios to spin out.

What if there are multiple ballots, as in the conventions of yore — like the 1924 Democratic convention, which chose a nominee on the 103rd ballot? What if John Edwards, with his tiny number of delegates, ends up being a kingmaker? What if a hopelessly divided convention turns to someone other than Mr. Obama or Mrs. Clinton — oh, say, Nobel Prize winner Al Gore?

Despite all of the chatter, the odds against any kind of a brokered convention are steep.

There is, however, one nightmare convention scenario worth thinking about. Michigan and Florida were stripped of their delegates because they held their voting earlier than Democratic Party rules allowed. Mrs. Clinton, who won both states, has said she will fight to have the delegates from those states seated.

If she and Mr. Obama are still neck-and-neck, there could be a donnybrook. The Clinton camp will argue that it is not fair to the voters of those states to deprive them of representation simply because their legislatures jumped the gun. But seating the delegations would be wrong, because it would fly in the face of party rules. And if Mrs. Clinton won the nomination ugly, the effect could be so bitterly divisive that the nomination would not be worth much.

So who will win going forward? Mrs. Clinton may well take the majority of the remaining delegates on the strength of her lead nationally, which Gallup puts at 5 points. Or Mr. Obama could be powered to a series of new victories, based on his lead nationally, which CNN puts at 3 points.

Which is to say, the contest does not look a whole lot different today from how it looked yesterday.

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