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Clinton's not fighting to win on points

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In boxing, when you win a round, you normally gain one point on your opponent. So what does a boxer do if he figures he’s behind by more points than there are rounds to go? Theoretically, he could try for two-point rounds: if you really smashingly dominate a round, once in a blue moon you’ll be given two points instead of one. But the chances of doing this in more than one round are negligible.

So what does he do? He stops trying to win on points. He puts all his hopes on a knockout.

It’s been evident for some time now that Hillary Clinton is in similar straits. People have long since pointed out that she has no practical chance to win the pledged delegates count. Instead, they’ve argued, she could win the national popular vote compiled from all the primaries and caucuses, and make the case that this represents the true will of the people, which the superdelegates should honor.

Horsepucky. She’s not winning the national popular vote., in an article that expresses skepticism about her prospects of doing it, but not enough skepticism, remarks that

Clinton would need a 25-point victory in Pennsylvania, plus 20-point wins in later contests in West Virginia, Kentucky and Puerto Rico. Even that scenario assumes Clinton, 60, would break even in Indiana, North Carolina, South Dakota, Montana and Oregon — a prospect that’s not at all certain.

It’s not just not at all certain, it’s very unlikely. Indiana is uncertain. North Carolina, South Dakota, Montana, and Oregon are natural states for big Obama wins, based on the pattern so far. In North Carolina, there are even polls to back this up. It would be miraculous if she broke even cumulatively in those states. For that matter, a 25-point win in Pennsylvania would overturn all the polling that’s been done there lately.

And 20-point wins in West Virginia, Kentucky, and Puerto Rico? Well, she’d need 60% of the vote. So far Hillary’s broken the 60% barrier in only one race–her husband’s home state of Arkansas. Obama, meanwhile, has scored over 60% of the vote in 18 races—15 states plus D.C, Democrats Abroad, and an astounding 90% in the Virgin Islands (where his boyish looks apparently enabled him to pass for a virgin).

In fact, the consistent difference in this otherwise very close race has been precisely Obama’s ability to win some races by big margins. Because the delegates are allocated proportionately in each state, you really need this to build up a lead.

Anyway, for Clinton to get 60% in four of the ten remaining races, when she’s only done it once out of more than forty chances so far, is a pretty gigantic stretch. Obama’s consistently shown the ability to use his combination of cash, appealing T.V. ads, and energized base to put up sizable numbers even where he’s relatively weak.

So Clinton’s not going to win the national popular vote, and she’s not winning the pledged delegates either. If she doesn’t win the pledged delegates, she needs a majority of superdelegates. So far, they’re almost evenly divided, so she has to pick up a sizeable majority of the remaining ones. But, she can’t argue to them that she’s the people’s choice unless she wins either popular votes or pledged delegates.

Quite a dilemma, ain’t it?

However, she is a shrewd and experienced enough practical politician to know that there is, in fact, one possibility still open to her. It’s not exactly likely, but it’s by no means impossible either. And although it depends heavily on events beyond her control, she has been moving heaven and earth to make it happen. (Or hell and earth, depending on your perspective.)

Does the delegate count make Obama’s nomination inevitable? Actually, very few things in life are truly “inevitable.” He could suddenly have a heart attack, but that possibility isn’t enough to keep her in the race. More plausibly, something could come up that politically damaged him badly. If the superdelegates thought Obama was unelectable, they would gravitate towards Clinton. Maybe even some of Obama’s delegates would peel away. Sudden falls have been known to happen in the wild and wooly world of politics.

But what about the reaction of the Democratic rank and file? Would they stand for this? Aren’t the superdelegates scared of antagonizing them for life? After all, every poll shows that the people want the superdelegates to pick the winner of the popular vote and/or pledged delegate count, even if that isn’t the most electable candidate.

This is true up to a point. However, if something came up that damaged Obama late–and it’s already late–after most people had voted, they wouldn’t be able to change their votes. Some of them would wish they could, and the pro-democracy sentiment that the popular vote winner should get the nomination might start to yield, not so much to the electability issue, but to the fitness in office issue.

Let’s take an extreme example. Supposing it emerged that Obama had committed a bank robbery in his youth. Do you really think that most Democrats would continue to want him to get the nomination? The popular vote and pledged delegate count wouldn’t matter. The people would not only allow, but DEMAND, that the superdelegates, and even Obama’s pledged delegates, abandon him.

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Michael Lubin served on the first democratically elected governing board in the history of KPFA, the nation's oldest listener-sponsored radio station. There, he was a founding member of the pro-democracy listeners' (more...)

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