08 February 2008

Why the Democrats could lose

The current Republican occupant of the White House has had approval ratings in the low 30s for years now.

The GOP's presumptive nominee in the race to replace George Bush is the biggest hawk on the most divisive issue in the country - the Iraq war.

And that likely nominee - John McCain - is despised by a large and vocal pillar of the party's base.

Meanwhile, the Democrats started the nominating process with five or six candidates that most everyone seemed to like. It was like a candidate candy store.

Weeks later there are two candidates still standing and the Dems like them both so much they just can't seem to decide who to choose.

And therein lies the problem.

It is pretty much a mathematical certainty that neither Hillary Clinton nor Barack Obama will have enough committed delegates in their corner to win the nomination when the primaries and caucuses have all come to an end.

Since I've previously mentioned my shortcomings in math, you don't have to take my word for it.
Here's the argument, as made by washingtonpost.com's Paul Kane:

We've done a bad job of explaining this, but it is now basically mathematically impossible for either Clinton or Obama to win the nomination through the regular voting process (meaning the super-delegates decide this one, baby!).

Here's the math. There are 3,253 pledged delegates, those doled out based on actual voting in primaries and caucuses. And you need 2,025 to win the nomination.

To date, about 55% of those 3,253 delegates have been pledged in the voting process -- with Clinton and Obamb roughly splitting them at about 900 delegates a piece.

That means there are now only about 1,400 delegates left up for grabs in the remaining states and territories voting.

So, do the math. If they both have about 900 pledged delegates so far, they need to win more than 1,100 of the remaining 1,400 delegates to win the nomination through actual voting.

Ain't gonna happen, barring a stunning scandal or some new crazy revelation. So, they'll keep fighting this thing out, each accumulating their chunk of delegates, one of them holding a slight edge and bothing finishing the voting process with 1,600 or so delegates.

And then the super delegates decide this thing.

That's the math.

Ah the super delegate thing again.

Face it folks of the Democratic Party. It ain't going away.

So far in the Democratic contests, thousands of new voters have come into the process, excited - presumably - by the chance to vote for potentially the first women or first African American president. Or perhaps because they are just plain excited by two solid candidates.

Whatever the reason, Democrats are excited.

But, as we saw in the days before South Carolina, Democratic voters seem to be strongly attracted to "their" candidate, and when push comes to shove the heat starts to rise and bad blood boils to the surface.

There are people who are staunchly behind Clinton. And there are clearly "Obama" voters.

Before the race got so tense, many Democrats would probably have told you they'd be happy with either.

But now they seem to have taken sides.

And, these new, turned-on and very partial voters are going to have their decision made for them by 800 or so professional politicians.

All those folks - or more accurately half of them - who sent $50 Obama's way, or came to Clinton's rescue when they found out she was lending her own campaign lots of money are going to see that their money went down the drain.

The volunteers who knocked on doors, harassed commuters at the train station or manned phones at the corner campaign office will see that their work was for naught.
How many of those folks do you think will repeat those important tasks in November if "their" candidate is shown the door by the politicos?

And then we have the question of Florida and Michigan.

Like most of us, I have to presume the big-wigs at the Democratic National Committee never imagined the race would last past Tsunami Tuesday, and so stripping the two rogue states of their delegates as punishment for scheduling their primaries too early seemed like a good idea.

Who knew those delegates would be critical?

And now one of the candidates - the only major candidate to keep her name on the ballot in Michigan and the only major candidate to visit Florida during the primary period - is pushing to count those votes.

That puts the party big-wigs in the position of taking sides.

If they stand their ground, they're taking Obama's side.

If they relent and seat the delegates at the convention, they're taking Clinton's side.

Once again, how will that play with the supporters of the candidate who "lost" on that one?
There is some talk of a re-vote, or of holding caucuses in the two states, to make the results more equitable. This isn't a great solution, but it may be better than the alternative.

Most news organizations agree that Clinton is favored by more of the super delegates who have already declared their preference (but are free to change their minds), so that gives her a bit of an upper hand.

Yet most polls conducted over the past several months -
including one released today by Time magazine - have shown Obama doing better in one-on-one match-ups with McCain in November.

So while the party regulars favor Clinton at the moment, they may be doing so at the expense of the candidate the polls say may be a slightly stronger choice for the general election.

Even the results of the GOP primary season have conspired to throw a clinker into the campaign that the Dems "can't possibly lose."

Although he has tried furiously to prove otherwise to conservative GOP voters, McCain is probably the most center-right of the candidates on the Republican side. (Although with Mitt Romney it was pretty difficult to tell where he actually stood on the issues, regardless of what he was saying on the campaign trail).

McCain's work on campaign reform and a reasonable solution to the problem of illegal immigrants are just two examples of his tendency to head to the center ground.

McCain has two choices for November.

He can continue to stay to the right and try to win over and turn out the right wing of his party. If he can excite that group, he improves his chances.
But the evidence of the past few days indicates that he will have a hard sell.

Also, if he stays to the right, he leaves the center and left wide open for one of two Democrats who won't have much trouble filling that space.

McCain's other choice is to veer back toward the center.

If he does, the right flank will stay home in November but he'll pick up some votes in the center, the very same votes he'll be taking away from his opponent.

So which strategy do you think he'll follow?

There has been talk - mostly wistful longing for the old, old days by students of political history - of a compromise candidate (Al Gore?) emerging from the back rooms at the convention.

It seems doubtful the Democrats would take that option, but right now I don 't see an easy way out of the dilemma the party pooh bahs created with the super delegate system.


By the way, if you're a Democrat and wondering who your congressman, governor or other local party pooh bah is supporting - if anyone -
click here.

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