Tuesday, April 22, 2008

A Big Win in Pennsylvania -- But Not Nearly Big Enough to Change the Math

Update, May 6: Obama wins North Carolina, squeezing Clinton mathematically even more than this post predicts. Big voter turnouts in both NC and Indiana, which bodes well for Obama (and the party's chances in November).

Americans, schizophrenically, love two things: winners, and quixotic heroes who do great things in a losing cause. Last night in Pennsylvania, Hillary Clinton was both: the winner of what in an ordinary election year would be a tremendous victory, and the protagonist of an unequivocally lost cause.

Clinton won Pennsylvania. But in the national Democratic primary election overall -- and by that I mean the go-to-a-polling-place-and-cast-a-ballot part of the nominee-selection process -- Pennsylvania put the last nail in Clinton's hopes of winning anything resembling the popular vote or popular delegate count nationwide.

Before I go further, please understand: this post isn’t about hating Hillary, but about math. It’s no secret that I support Obama, -- but I honestly can’t help but admire any candidate who can win Pennsylvania by ten points (which, as of the time I'm writing this with 99% of precincts reporting, appears to be Clinton's margin of victory). It’s a great victory in anyone’s book.

And yet mathematically, Pennsylvania didn’t move her forward; it actually put her further behind. That’s what makes her win there tragic.

In a post the day before the Pennsylvania primary, I explained in detail what margins Clinton needed in order to win the majority of elected delegates before the last primary election occurs on June 3. This election is like a footrace, I explained; with a relatively small handful of primaries left, and a finite number of delegates remaining to be won, she needs to gain ground with every primary if she wants to make up the ground she lost in the first 40-plus contests.

Before Pennsylvania voted, Clinton trailed Obama in the elected-delegate count by 162. With only 566 delegates left to be won in the remaining contests, some fairly simple math showed that to catch Obama, she needed to win everything from Pennsylvania forward by 28 points – i.e., to win 64% of the elected delegates to Obama’s 36% in all the remaining contests (with the exception of North Carolina, where she currently trails by 17 points; all my math asked her to do there was tie). Again, this isn’t pessimism or misogyny, it’s just a calculation. Here’s the algorithm: (Remaining delegates) - (Obama’s lead in delegates) ÷ 2 + (Obama’s lead in delegates). You can do the math yourself.

If she didn’t win Pennsylvania (or any other primary) by 28 points, she’d only fall farther behind. If she won Pennsylvania by ten points, Clinton would actually have lost ground. In my post before the vote in Pennsylvania, I explained it this way:

Think of it like a hundred yard dash. Catching up to Obama after a ten point “victory” in Pennsylvania would be like standing on the starting line and expecting to win the race – with your opponent having a 36 yard head start. And every step you take that doesn’t gain you ground puts you closer to defeat: every time Clinton falls short of the requisite 64% or 68% or even higher margin, the margin she needs in the remaining states goes up even more. Or, as Richard Durbin put it, Clinton is “running out of real estate.”

Hillary didn’t win 64% of the vote in Pennsylvania. She only won about 55% to Obama’s 45% – the ten-point spread I predicted, about two-thirds short of the 28 point spread she needed. Accordingly, she’ll only net about 16 delegates (87 for her, 71 for Obama) – not enough to stay on pace to win. After her win in Pennsylvania, Clinton now has to win 68% of the vote in all the remaining primaries -- up four points from the 64% she needed just two days ago.

In the real world, this is an insurmountable problem for Clinton. In some states, she may have had a little wiggle room; if she fell a little short in Indiana she might make it up by winning extra delegates in Puerto Rico. But Pennsylvania was Clinton’s best shot at a big win in a populous state – her “if you can’t make it there, you can’t make it anywhere” test (apologies to Sinatra). A month ago, a PPP poll showed Clinton leading in Pennsylvania by 26 points. Pennsylvania’s primary came after the Reverend Wright and “bitter” brouhahas. Clinton has family in Pennsylvania; her father and brother went to school and played ball in Pennsylvania; she spent vacations in Pennsylvania; her grandfather taught her to shoot in Pennsylvania. And Pennsylvania has one of the last great Democratic political machines – read this frustrated post by Chuck Pennacchio, a great Democratic candidate who lost a Pennsylvania primary because that machine was aligned against him, if you want a taste of how powerful the Pennsylvania machine is – and that machine was overwhelmingly in Clinton’s camp. If she couldn’t make the requisite margin there, she won’t be able to make it in state after state after state, without any major slips, from now til the end of the campaign. (In fact, even if Michigan and Florida were miraculously counted in Clinton’s favor, she still would have needed 12 point wins from here on out – but she fell short of even that lower standard. So not even Michigan and Florida could help her win the nomination democratically.)

No: Pennsylvania was her best shot, and she fell short. Hope is a wonderful thing, but no amount of blind optimism can change the reality: Clinton’s not going to win the majority of democratically-elected “pledged” or popular delegates. More broadly: no logical person can continue to argue that Clinton can win in any popular or democratic sense of the word; it’s inevitable that she will lose the popular vote and the popular delegate count.

That doesn’t mean she can’t win the nomination. It does mean that the only way she can win the nomination is if the unelected Superdelegates overwhelmingly and unexpectedly decide to disregard the wishes of their collective constituents and hand the nomination to the candidate who lost the popular delegate count (and the popular vote, and the majority of states).

Here’s the important thing to take away from Clinton’s win/loss in Pennsylvania: because she no longer has any realistic chance of winning the “election” phase of the nominating process, the rest of us need to insist that the politicians, pundits and prognosticators stop putting so much undeserved attention on the upcoming primaries, and focus instead on the single issue that could decide this election in Clinton’s favor: the likelihood, the moral right, and the wisdom of allowing the Democratic Party’s aristocrats to override the will of millions of Democratic voters.

Personally, I don’t think it’s likely, moral, or strategically wise for the Supers to exercise a veto of the voters’ choice. I think Obama has already won this election, and inevitably will win the nomination, and that Clinton’s just the last one to realize it. But I also understand that many of her supporters disagree, and feel strongly that it’s both meet and proper for the Supers to do whatever they want. I’m willing to agree to disagree on that question, at least for now; I don’t really want to have that argument today, because it, too, is a distraction at this point.

Instead, all I’d like, from Clintonites and Obamanuts alike, is an agreement, based on simple logic, that the issue is no longer whether Clinton can win the election – she can’t, even if we count Michigan and Florida – but rather whether she can, and should, win a contrary outcome via a Superdelegate override.

Polls and predictions no longer count. Michigan and Florida, and Indiana and Puerto Rico and North Carolina and my own Oregon, no longer count, simply because their primaries can’t realistically alter the outcome of the election. The only remaining issue is the propriety and wisdom of Superdelegates overriding the voters. So let’s talk about that from now on, instead of wasting time and energy on distractions that make money for CNN and MSNBC and play into the candidates’ spin but aren’t actually relevant to the decision that’s being made.


Rick Taylor said...

There are pro-Hillary sites where they are convinced that Hillary Clinton is currently ahead in the popular vote. Of course that's discounting the caucus states, counting both Florida and Michigan, and awarding Obama zero votes for Michigan as he was not on the ballot. Yes I know it's crazy, but that's how they see things.


Anonymous said...

Are they giving Obama the benefit of the 40% of Michiganders who voted for "other", since his name wasn't on the ballot? Or are they saying he didn't get any popular votes in Mich.?

I'm also interested: if any readers are Floridians or Michiganders, how do you feel about your states' disqualifications, whether you blame your own legislators and party officials for advancing the primaries, how you feel about the two candidates' positions toward your states, etc.?

Rick Taylor said...

"Are they giving Obama the benefit of the 40% of Michiganders who voted for "other", since his name wasn't on the ballot?"

Nope. They're giving him zero votes in Michigan, and saying its Obama's fault for taking himself off the ballot, and for "blocking" a revote in that state; he never had to do that.

Some of the more reasonable ones are hoping she can do well enough to lead the popular vote counting Florida without Michigan. This still ignores or discounts the caucus states (see the previous link for details on how the various versions of "popular vote" are computed).

Rick Taylor said...

The link in my previous post seems to have been snipped. Here's the missing bit.


Anonymous said...

Thanks, Rick! By the way, you can have long urls shortened at tinyurl.com. Also, the html code for turning a url into a link is this:

< a href = http://URL >LINK TEXT< / a>

Remove the spaces -- they just keep the website from reading it as a link.

I've gotten pretty quick at it! I'll visit your link...

Rick Taylor said...

And now the Clinton campaign has made an announcement they've won more votes than Obama. Counting both Michigan and Florida of course. Ridiculous, but that's the spin, and her supporters are buying it. I doubt the super-delegates will. They even say ABC reported they'd pulled ahead in the popular vote, which ABC is disputing.

Anonymous said...

Obama's people were right on top of the ABC piece: this morning they sent a press release that reads as follows:

ABC NEWS: Clinton Camp Misrepresents ABC News Report
April 23, 2008 10:09 AM

In today's edition of "The Note," ABC News' Rick Klein wrote that "By one (rightly disputed) metric -- the popular vote, including Florida and Michigan -- Clinton has pulled ahead of Obama. But without the rogue states, Obama is still up by 500,000 -- and if you can find another objective measurement by which she’s in the lead, let us know."

Including the popular votes from Florida and Michigan -- which were not sanctioned Democratic National Committee primaries, where the candidates did not compete, where Sen. Barack Obama, D-Illinois was not even on the ballot in Michigan -- is a sketchy notion, and Rick was conveying that with the proper air of skepticism.

Somehow, the Clinton campaign took his report and twisted it into this: "ABC News reported this morning that 'Clinton has pulled ahead of Obama' in the popular vote."

That is a false reflection of what ABC News reported.

So I think this one may rebound against Clinton.

Rick Taylor said...

Since it's up to superdelegates, now I'm curious what the math looks like there. Of the 795 superdelegates, how many are still uncommitted? Of course this is a loose term because even if they've endorsed a candidate, they could change their mind; however with Obama winning the pledged delegate count, it's more likely for more of them to go from Clinton to Obama than the reverse. Leaving that aside though, how many uncommitted superdelegates are there? And assuming average results in the upcoming primaries, how many of them will Obama have to persuade, versus Clinton?

Anonymous said...

My starting point for analyzing the undecided supers would be the Huffington Post Superdelegate Project. (I'm going to do a new "supers" post, but need to do some paying work first for a change!) Like you, I'll be curious to watch as more and more Clinton supers switch to Obama; I'm doubtful that any Obama supers will move in the opposite direction.

Rick Taylor said...

Here's a video with some commentary about what Hillary would have to do to win the popular vote under various scenarios (including one that includes Florida, excludes Michigan and the some of the caucus states). Short answer, it would be very difficult, but not as difficult as winning pledged delegates.

Rick Taylor said...

Real Politics is reporting that Clinton is currently ahead of Obama in the popular vote. Talk Left is repeating that as fact.

rojo7449 said...

Drummajor | 04.28.2008 - 5:49 pm | #

T D - I was intriqued by your exchanges over on Taylor Marsh and wonder why you chose to sign off rather than respond to the post of Drummajor (date and time shown above). He asked you some very valid questions, and gave you some first-hand information in response to your question.

I must tell you that you were treated very well over there. I'm a solid, unwavering Clinton supporter and that group made me feel so unwelcome, I only visit once a week to see who they are trying to bully now. Fortunately, my commitment to Clinton is not dependent on that very small group who live on Taylor's site all day and night.

As for Obama. Never will I vote for him. His behavior is unbecoming the Commander in Chief of this great country. Not sure which of his many mistakes clinched it for me, but the whining with accompanying hand gestures against a woman who is higher in stature than he is tells me he is not mature enough to hold even the office he has, let alone the highest one in the free world.

Anonymous said...

rojo: thanks for coming here, and leaving a comment. (For others, we're talking about this thread on Taylor Marsh's blog.) I never signed off; I just haven't geared up to answer all those questions yet (it's a ten-minute job to ask that list of questions, a couple hours to answer them responsibly). But as I said over there, I plan to remain engaged as long as I'm allowed.

About how I was treated there: some folks were extremely disrespectful, some were very welcoming. I.e., it appears to be part of the blogosphere! But Taylor, in particular, couldn't have been nicer, and I hope we can keep the dialogue going.

Again, thanks.

rojo7449 said...

Thanks for responding. I agree, Taylor is exceptionally respectful and calm in her support of both Hillary, and free speech :)

Do you mind if I stop by your blog now and then to see how some of the calmer voices for Obama are thinking? If he gets the nomination, we're all going to have to try really hard to get past some of the things we feel were way out of line, or very evasive. It's hard to get to the soul of who Obama is when it's being screamed at us (like much of the posting on HuffPo). Reasonable voices will be key in reuniting the party.

Anonymous said...

Do you mind if I stop by your blog now and then to see how some of the calmer voices for Obama are thinking?

Rojo, I'd love it. It's sad how many voices over there are assuming I'm an Obama campaign plant trying to waste their time, but I'd really like to build bridges. Truth is, I'm having a hard time understanding Clinton's supporters -- the choice of Obama seems so clear to me! -- but merely taking sides doesn't do the country any good. There's no doubt in my mind that electing a Democrat is the main thing right now, and we will have a hard time pulling that off if a quarter of either side will peel away just because the primary has been acrimonious.

So yes, let's keep the lines open. Drop by anytime, and also feel free to email me (vichy at safe-mail .net). I'm glad to know you!