One Last Thing: In answer to the charge of Hillary hackism

When I came onboard in 2006 as The Inquirer’s house fascist, I never imagined that one day I’d have hundreds of readers claiming I was a shill for Hillary Rodham Clinton. War-monger? Yup. Antiabortion nut? You betcha. Reactionary troglodyte? Out and proud!But after last week’s column, in which I argued that Clinton had something like an even-money chance of winning the nomination, many readers insisted I’m a bought-and-paid-for Clinton apparatchik. Which is kind of awesome.

Instead of answering these hundreds of e-mails individually, I thought I’d do a follow-up Q&A to address any lingering questions. Away we go:

You’re a Hillary-loving hack, right? Sort of. I’ve spent enough time following Clinton and Barack Obama around that I’ve grown slightly fond of both candidates and their staffs. Since I also harbor large-scale ideological disagreements with both of them, this doesn’t strike me as a bad thing.

Whatever. You mistakenly contend that Clinton won Texas, when really Obama won, because he got more delegates. Clinton won the primary, Obama won the caucus, and he got a couple more delegates from the state. These facts actually pose a problem for Obama, however, because they undermine his argument that he is the “legitimate” front-runner and worthiest candidate. Winning delegates while losing popular votes probably isn’t something his campaign should brag about.

Obama is going to have the delegate lead when he gets to Denver, so the superdelegates have to vote for him! Really? Can you find that in the Democratic National Committee’s Nomination Rule Book? Superdelegates are, by design, given no binding criteria for their vote. If all they were supposed to do was ratify the delegate leader, then why have superdelegates in the first place?

The explicit role of superdelegates is to render a subjective judgment and tip the balance in case neither candidate is able to cinch the nomination with “pledged” delegates (the kind who basically must vote the way the voters they represent did). Which, remember, both Clinton and Obama will have failed to do. Maybe the superdelegates should vote for Obama. But that’s a very different question from whether they have to.

You seriously think the superdelegates would steal the election for Clinton? Consider a race in which Sen. Andrew fails to win the nomination outright, but has one more pledged delegate than Sen. Donovan. But suppose Sen. Donovan has garnered a million more popular votes during the primary process. Whom do you think the superdelegates would support?

My guess is they would go for the popular-vote leader, Sen. Donovan, and no one would call it stealing. If you think that a 100-delegate lead is different from a 1-delegate lead, understand: You’re just haggling over details.

Sigh. Why do you keep hating on delegates! Listen – I love the delegates. The delegate system is the primary version of the Electoral College, one of the great institutions of our republic. If it were up to me, I’d probably give Obama the nomination based on his delegate lead, even if Clinton were beating him by five million popular votes.

Then again, I was also thrilled to see the Electoral College trump the popular vote in 2000. But this isn’t about making me happy; it’s about how Democrats will ultimately view the contest. Remember all those Democrats grumbling about doing away with the Electoral College back in 2000? Me, too.

So what is going to happen with Florida and Michigan? I suspect that neither candidate really wants a revote. Clinton could only lose ground, but Obama could be hurt, too. Imagine if, after the final primary is held in June, Florida and Michigan revoted, and Obama lost them again. That could seal his fate with the superdelegates.

He’s in a better position with the status quo. Clinton is in a better position with the inclusion of the two results. Both have too much to lose from a do-over. Game theory would suggest that at the end of the day, they either stand pat or split the difference: include Florida, exclude Michigan, and move on to the hunt for superdelegates, each making their respective cases.

Come off it – you want her to win, don’t you? Not especially, although it wouldn’t be the end of the world if Sen. Clinton were president. Ditto Sen. Obama. All things considered, John McCain would be a better president than either of them. But that doesn’t make it likely McCain will win in November. The Democratic nominee will have the stronger hand in the general election campaign, no matter what. And from where I sit, structurally, Obama is the easier matchup for McCain.

All of that said, you should never confuse analysis with wish-fulfillment. And vice versa.

Umm, isn’t it kind of offensive for you to say that African American voters can be taken for granted by whomever the Democratic nominee is? A number of African Americans wrote in to tell me they will vote for McCain if Hillary Clinton is the nominee. I believe them, and I’m sure the McCain camp will welcome them with open arms. But the larger trend of African American voters is unmistakable:

John Kerry took 88 percent of the black vote; Al Gore 90 percent; Bill Clinton 84 and 83 percent. Since 1964, Republican nominees have averaged less than 10 percent of the black vote. This is not a cohort that’s up for grabs.

All voters are, as the redundancy goes, “unique in their own special ways.” But trends are bigger than individual voters. Could Obama win the nomination and even the presidency? Absolutely. But the race is much closer than some would lead you to believe.

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