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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

How Long, O Lord?

The two big questions among Democrats at the moment are (1) whether there is any way to avoid a presidential nomination contest that extends at least into June, and (2) whether this extended contest might ultimately be a good thing.
Given the remorseless mathematics of the nomination process (the link above refers to Chris Bowers’ exhaustive account), this basically boils down to a much simpler question: at what point, if ever, do Democratic Party poohbahs, exercising their power via the news media and superdelegates, force Hillary Clinton out of the race?
Clearly, there are those who think this should have already happened–that HRC’s odds of winning the nomination on the basis of primary and caucus results have gone down to the longest of long shots, leaving her with the Hobson’s Choice of going negative in a destructive way or losing quickly.
The reason it hasn’t happened is pretty simple. What HRC most needed after the March 4 primaries was a hit on Obama that didn’t have her fingerprints. And that’s exactly what she got with the Jeremiah Wright controversy. While you can make the argument that Obama’s dazzling speech in Philadelphia last week mitigated the damage, and just as importantly, may have cauterized the wound by taking the issue off the table for the future, it still represented an unforced error that gave HRC’s campaign some hope that Obama might “crater” without a divisive push from her rival.
On the other hand, the second big development after March 4, HRC’s apparent failure to secure a “do-over” or ratification of the MI and/or FL primaries, is a major blow to her ability to plausibly argue she will wind up the primary/caucus season with a pledged delegate plurality (almost impossible now), or an acknowledged popular vote plurality (still possible but increasingly remote).
But so long as HRC is winning primaries–particularly if Obama’s sag in general election trial heats with McCain continues–Party Poohbahs are very unlikely to intervene to administer a coup de grace.
So: to answer the $64,000 question as to when a concerted effort might be made to squeeze Clinton out of the race, the most compelling answer is that it will happen about fifteen minutes after she loses another primary. Like the participants in the NCAA basketball tournament, she’s into single-elimination territory now.
The good news for her is that it might not happen soon, and theorectically might not happen at all.
If you look at the rest of the primary calendar, after PA, which everyone expects HRC to win, there’s IN and NC on May 6. Obama’s currently favored in both, but not by large margins, and neither is exactly hostile territory. West Virginia on May 13 ought to be Clinton Country, as is KY on May 20. OR also votes on May 20, and Obama’s favored there, but not by a big margin. Obama’s narrowly favored in two of the three final states–MT and SD, voting just after an assumed Clinton win in Puerto Rico.
There’s zero margin for error here for HRC, and even if she ran the table, she probably would not win by big enough margins to take the lead in pledged delegates, and would struggle to gain a popular vote plurality. Moreover, there’s the example of past candidates who won big in late primaries (e.g., Ted Kennedy in 1980 and Gary Hart in 1984) but couldn’t win the nomination. But that’s the strategy she’s left with, and until such time as she loses, don’t expect her to be forced out of the race.

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