A consensus seems to be forming that Hillary Clinton has only a very slim chance to win the nomination. Recent articles in The New York Times and The Politico are examples of this. Further, the consensus is not only that Clinton has a very small chance, but that what chance she does have requires creating a civil war in the Democratic Party by using superdelegates to overturn the popular vote, deny the nomination to the candidate with the most grassroots support in the history of the party, and cancel out the first African-American nominee, even though African-Americans are the most loyal Democratic voting group of all. In other words, Clinton's only longshot hope is to win the nomination while creating an intra-Democratic civil war that could drive a wedge down the coalition for years.
While I agree with this perspective, I also think it would be bad for Clinton to drop out when she holds an average lead of 16% in the upcoming, major primary of Pennsylvania. Momentum in the general election is often determined by momentum in the primary campaign, and as such it is essential that Obama is not seen as "backing in" to the nomination. For example, in 1984, Mondale lost eight of the last nine primaries, including California, providing him with serious negative momentum for the general election. Also, in our own primary campaign, we have regularly seen the candidate with momentum in Democratic primaries perform better against McCain in the general election. Over the summer, when she was rising in Democratic polls, Clinton performed best against Republicans in general election matchups. During February, when Obama was on a huge roll, he performed about 5% better than Clinton against McCain. Now that no one seems to have clear momentum in the nomination campaign, the two candidates perform about the same against McCain. Clinton needs to exit only after an Obama victory, and when there are no remaining possibilities of future big wins for Clinton.
Between now and June 4th, there are four chances for Obama to earn the sort of victory that would knock Clinton out of the campaign, and provide him with the momentum he needs for the general election. In the extended entry, I provide a quick look at all four:
April 22nd, Pennsylvania: An Obama victory in Pennsylvania would be a huge upset, given that Clinton currently leads by an average of 16% in the state. It would also shoot down every single argument the Clinton campaign has put forth on the electability front. Pennsylvania is a big state, a swing state, a blue state, a state with a large number of working class white voters, and a state with very few independents. An Obama win here would end the campaign, and the articles pointing out that Clinton has only a small chance to win the nomination would turn into articles stating that she has no chance whatsoever. However, Clinton starts out way ahead in Pennsylvania, and it is also one of the demographically favorable states for Clinton in the entire country. A victory for Obama here is very unlikely.
May 6th, Indiana and North Carolina: May 6th is shaping up to actually be much more important than April 22nd. For one thing, more pledged delegates are at stake in Indiana and North Carolina (187) than in Pennsylvania (158). Secondly, while Pennsylvania looks like a blowout, current expectations are for both May 6th states to be reasonably close. Third, May 6th is the first date when Obama can reach 1,627 pledged delegates, or 50% + 1 of pledged delegates. Right now, he needs 173.5 pledged delegates to reach 1,627, or 49.7% of the 349 to be determined between April 22 and May 6. Fourth, after May 6th, only 217 pledged delegates will remain, effectively making it the last major primary day in the nomination campaign.
If Obama sweeps Indiana and North Carolina, while hitting 1,627 on the same day, the campaign is over. Accomplishing both goals means that Clinton will have made up absolutely no delegate ground from March 4th through May 6th, and that her final option will including winning the support of more than 70% of the remaining superdelegates. A sweep on May 6th plus hitting 1,627 would be game, set and match. The latest North Carolina poll shows Obama with a commanding lead.
May 20th, Kentucky and Oregon: May 20th is the latest possible date that Obama will reach 1,627 pledged delegates. If he has failed to reach 1,627 by this point, that means he has not done well in preceding primaries. However, if he wins Oregon and reaches 1,627 on May 20th, there is an outside chance that could end the campaign.
June, reaching 2,024: If the campaign has not ended after all the voting is completed on June 3rd, then the last remaining option for Obama to knock Clinton out of the campaign will be to reach 2,024 at some point in June. To do so will give him control of the credentials committee, and the majority of the non-disputed delegates on the floor of the convention. In other words, he will have secured the nomination whether or not Clinton drops out. Even a worst-case scenario for Obama at this point only requires about 40% of the undecided superdelegates to support him in order to reach 2,024 by the end of June. This would not be the ideal circumstance, and Obama would probably start out behind McCain in the general election, but reaching 2,024 does give Obama the nomination.
Of all these scenarios, #2 is clearly the top option. An absolutely slam dunk scenario for Obama to clinch the nomination on May 7th would be to put up a decent showing in Pennsylvania, sweep Indiana and North Carolina, reach 1,627 pledged delegates on May 6th, and at least draw even with Clinton in superdelegates by May 6th. If he can pull off all four, be will become the presumptive nominee in just six weeks time. Further, he will do so without stumbling across the finish line, or backing into the nomination. As such, while it is still a good idea to keep organizing hard in post May 6th states, the key is end the nomination campaign on the night of May 6th. This requires netting about 40 supers, and drawing even among pledged delegates in the April 22nd to May 6th period. It also probably requires continued pressure on the narrative that Clinton has only a narrow path to the nomination. Whatever strategy can best pull all of this off is the strategy we need to implement as Democrats right away.