Friday, April 25, 2008

PA Primary Wrap-up

Better late than never:

Tuesday night Sen. Hillary Clinton won the Democratic Pennsylvania primary, beating Sen. Barack Obama by 9.4 points, which was enough of a margin for the Clinton camp to round it up to ten, making it the double-digit win they had needed. Undeniably, this will continue this long and brutal campaign, but in actuality did this primary change the big picture? Did her win help make her case that she would be the better Democratic nominee? And how important was race in this contest? These are all questions we’ll be unwrapping in this primary edition of Election ’08.

By the numbers Clinton made small gains. She picked up 12 elected delegates, 200,000 more votes, and one contest, but Obama is still the overall leader. He has 1,719 delegates to her 1,586; he’s won 29 contests to her 15 (not counting her ‘wins’ in Florida and Michigan), and he leads in popular vote by roughly 300,000 to 400,000 votes. So though Hillary may claim that, ‘the tide is turning’ this was by no means a sea change. In fact as the numbers stand she might be worse off today than she was yesterday. Why? Because yesterday it was possible that she might have taken a huge win giving her 20 to 30 delegates and 300,000 to 400,000 more votes. Then she would have been in a much stronger place to ride out the rest of the primaries and hope to at least pull even with Obama come convention time. If that had been the case she would have had a much, much stronger argument to make to the Super delegates to vote for her since Obama and her would have been in a statistical dead heat. But as Ambinder noted,

Clinton's chances of winning the nomination based on pledged delegates is effectively over tonight.

If Obama keeps his pledged delegate lead to around 150, Clinton needs to win 70% of them on May 6 -- and if not, 80% of them after May 6.

That's more than next to impossible.” [Boldface mine]

So by the numbers Clinton’s campaign is done. Now all that’s left is spin, and there is a lot of it.

On Clinton’s side they are stressing two key points. The first is that delegate numbers don’t count, but it’s the popular vote that matters. In that case Hillary does have a tiny chance to eke that out but considering that most new voters go to Obama (In PA he beat Clinton in new voters 59-39) she has an uphill battle. The second point is that Obama outspent Hillary in PA paying over 11 million for ads in PA. The idea behind that is that she wins contests even when she’s coming with less cash. Of course that leads to another fact that’s problematic for Clinton. Right now her campaign is flat broke, and when that happens to campaigns they usually end. Of course Hillary could Bloomberg it, and pay for it herself, but like Bloomberg she knows doing so would risk her really becoming a vanity candidate, a title few politicians would embrace.

Meanwhile, in the Obama camp, their spin seems unduly optimistic though their fundamental premises are sound. Their argument is that they did much better in PA then they did in another Clinton stronghold, Ohio, especially pointing to their statistical gains with white men and older people. Of course that didn’t really help on the PA county map, where Obama pretty much was boxed in by the outlining suburbs, though I’m sure it does help to counteract Clinton’s popular vote argument.

Ultimately and unfortunately, as Josh Marshall stated, “I'd say the real story is that this leaves us basically where we were.” If you’re a Clinton supporter you have a reason to get up today, and if you’re an Obama supporter you have a reason to get up today. The delegate math is a little tighter than it was pre-PA primary, but it doesn’t substantially change the overall shape of things and it looks like were still heading towards a Super delegate fiasco.

The last thing I want to note about this Primary though could be the thing that least affects the candidates, but is the most telling about American politics and culture. If you look at yesterday’s exit polls you’ll notices some pretty interesting lines that have been drawn in places you might have expected them to be. While it was projected that the black and white vote would be stark (Obama took blacks 84-16), what wasn’t as apparent was that the clearest divide was among age. Basically, as people got older in PA they went for Clinton, this also explains why Obama gets such a boost from new voters—they tend to be young. What this says about race quite possibly supports the argument that Obama made in his ‘We the People’ speech that says that today’s racial disputes are generational. This isn’t to say that older voters vote for Clinton because she’s white, but there does seem to be some proof that it is a factor. How this info will change the dynamic of the campaigns is anyone’s guess but this nuance will have to be addressed in some manner by the Obama camp.

Things to look forward to: More super delegates will flock to Obama by the end of the week, and they might be tied in that category by the beginning of May. Should that happen, or he takes the lead then Hillary will be forced out.

UPDATE: The above prediction is a bit optimistic. Yes, should they go for Obama Clinton will be forced out, but that defection doesn't seem to be happening. Along with the 10 million they just earned, the Clinton's have shown that they're in it till the end.

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