Why Should Clinton Pack It In When Nothing is Decided?

Real Clear Politics; Stuart Rothenberg; April 11, 2008

The calls for New York Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton’s exit from the Democratic presidential race have appeared from members of the national media, as well as from some within her own party. She can’t possibly win, they say.

When I asked one veteran Democratic insider in the past few days about the likely outcome of the race, the Clinton-supporter put Illinois Sen. Barack Obama’s chances at “95 percent … maybe higher.”

The Washington Post has Clinton trailing Obama by 136 delegates (1,638 to 1,502), while NBC has her down by 135 (1,642 to 1,507). ABC has the Illinois Senator leading Clinton by 137 delegates (1,633 to 1,496), while CBS News has Obama up by 138 (1,631 to 1,493). Finally, The New York Times shows the delegate race as 1,627 to 1,471, a lead of 156 for Obama.

Given the Democratic Party’s rules, which allocate delegates proportionately to the popular vote, it’s virtually impossible for Clinton to overtake Obama between now and the end of the primaries in June, even if Michigan and Florida were to revote.

So Clinton will trail in delegates after all of the primaries are over, which means that superdelegates (call them automatic or unpledged delegates, if you’d prefer) will put either Obama or Clinton over the top.

As others have pointed out, Obama has the delegate momentum since Super Tuesday (picking up more than four dozen new superdelegates while the New Yorker has lost a handful of those who previously had been committed to her), and there is no reason to expect a radical change in that.

According to ABC News’ calculations, Obama has received about 100,000 more raw votes than Clinton (13.8 million to 13.7 million). While Clinton may well narrow that gap, it isn’t clear that she can erase it completely.

All of this explains why Clinton is the decided underdog. But does it also mean that she should simply accept defeat now and end her candidacy? Absolutely not.

The New York Senator’s critics — and there are a lot of them on both sides of the aisle and in the national media — insist that if she has no realistic chance of winning, her candidacy does little else than divide her party and enhance the chances of Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) winning in the general election.

New Republic’s Jonathan Chait, for example, equates Clinton’s chances of being nominated with Ralph Nader’s of being elected president, a ridiculous comparison because there is a qualitative difference between having some chance and no chance of winning.

The Obama-Clinton race remains incredibly tight. The difference between the two in the popular vote is slightly less than four-tenths of 1 percent (50.185 percent for Obama to Clinton’s 49.814 percent). The difference in committed delegates between the two Democrats is roughly 140 delegates out of more than 3,000 who already have committed.

Certainly, many undeclared superdelegates are swayed by the argument that superdelegates cannot “overturn” the decision of primary voters and caucus goers, and that’s a significant asset for Obama. But other superdelegates firmly believe that additional considerations, such as their own opinions of the candidates as potential presidents and the electability of the two Democratic hopefuls, should have an effect on their decisions.

Clinton has spent more than a year of her life running for president, and some of her supporters have given more than a year of their lives. Given the closeness of the Democratic contest, it’s hard to see why, at this point, Clinton should simply walk away. She and her supporters have too much invested in her candidacy to accept defeat before Obama has the 2,024 committed delegates he needs to guarantee his nomination.

Clinton’s upset scenario is based on two hopes. First, she must hope that Obama makes another mistake or that information surfaces that so far has not. Given the Illinois Senator’s relatively brief time under the national microscope, that certainly is possible.

And second, Clinton must hope that before Obama locks up the nomination, national polls show that she has a much better chance of beating McCain than he does. The “electability” issue remains a wild card in the Democratic contest, and it could well be the Clinton campaign’s best hope.

Finally, it’s more than a little amusing that some observers are calling for Clinton’s exit given the twists and turns that we have seen during this campaign. Obama wasn’t expected to win Iowa. After he did, Clinton was widely regarded as DOA in New Hampshire, which she won. McCain’s candidacy was all but over in July and August.

You’d think that we’d all be a bit more humble and modest given the presidential elections we’ve witnessed over the past decade, especially since there are just a couple of months to go until the primaries are over.

Clinton should play every card she has in her hand. She owes it to herself and, even more important, to all of her supporters.

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