Published on TheHill.com on March 6, 2008.
The real message of Tuesday’s primaries is not that Hillary won. It’s that she didn’t win by enough.
The race is over.
The results are already clear. Obama will go to the Democratic Convention with a lead of between 100 and 200 elected delegates. The remaining question is: What will the superdelegates do then? But is that really a question? Will the leaders of the Democratic Party be complicit in its destruction? Will they really kindle a civil war by denying the nomination to the man who won the most elected delegates? No way. They well understand that to do so would be to throw away the party’s chances of victory and to stigmatize it among African-Americans and young people for the rest of their lives. The Democratic Party took 20 years to recover from the traumas of 1968 and it is not about to trigger a similar bloodletting this year.
John McCain’s nomination guarantees that the superdelegates wouldn’t dare. A perfectly acceptable alternative for most Democrats, McCain would harvest so large a proportion of Obama’s votes if Hillary steals the nomination that he would probably win. Even putting Obama on the ticket would not allay the anger of his supporters; it would just make him complicit in the robbery.
Will Hillary win Pennsylvania? Who cares? Even if she were to sweep the remaining primaries and caucuses by 10 points, she would move just 60 votes closer to Obama’s total of elected delegates. And she won’t sweep them all. Even if Hillary wins Pennsylvania, the largest prize up for grabs, Obama will probably win North Carolina, which is almost as large. He’s likely to win Mississippi and Wyoming and has a good shot in Oregon and Indiana. The most likely result of these coming contests is that Obama will be roughly where he is now, about 140 elected delegates ahead of Hillary.
Suppose that Hillary will carry those states by enough to offset Obama’s delegate lead. The proportional representation system makes a knockout impossible and so mutes relatively narrow victories as to make them almost inconsequential. Little Vermont, with 600,000 people, gave Obama a net gain of four delegates, half of what Hillary won from the Texas primary, a state with 20 million residents. Even after Hillary won big-state victories in Ohio and Texas, she drew only 20 closer to Obama’s total of elected delegates.
Hillary won’t withdraw. That much is for sure. The tantalizing notion that 800 insiders can offset a season of primaries and caucuses will drive both Clintons to ever-escalating rhetoric. Will their attacks hurt Obama? Likely all they will achieve is to give him needed experience in the cut and thrust of media politics.
Left out of the entire equation is poor John McCain. Unable to get a word in edgewise and unsure of which Democrat to attack, he will have to watch from the sidelines as Hillary and Obama hog the headlines. If the superdelegates deliver the nomination to Hillary in the dead of night without leaving fingerprints at the crime scene, McCain’s nomination will be worth having. If Obama prevails, it won’t be worth the paper on which it is written. The giant killer, Obama will have soared to new heights of popularity and McCain won’t be able to bring him back to Earth in the nine weeks that will remain.
Suggestion for Obama:
The next time Hillary uses the recycled red phone ad, counter with one of your own. When the phone rings in the middle of the night, have a woman’s voice, with a flat Midwestern accent, answer it and say, “Hold on” into the receiver. Then she should shout, “Bill! It’s for you!”
Because with Hillary’s complete lack of any meaningful experience in foreign affairs, and her lack of the “testing” that she boldly claims, she’ll be yelling for Bill.