One of the aspects of the 2008 primary campaign that I have not enjoyed is that I repeatedly have to disagree with friends and colleagues who I respect quite a bit. During the 2004 primaries, I was a relative unknown in politics blogging out of my bedroom, and did not know a single staff member for any of the Democratic campaigns. Four years later, even though I still blog out of my bedroom, I know multiple staff members on every campaign, and had relationships with them before they even joined the campaign. Mainly, we got to know each other during the 2004 general election and the 2005-2006 midterm cycle, when we were always pretty much on the same page. In 2007-2008, it has not been fun to disagree with these same friends and colleagues in public on a regular basis.
A case in point comes from a recent memo by Peter Daou, a member of Hillary Clinton's senior staff who I consider both a colleague and a friend. Two days ago, he released a memo entitled "Three Myths About the Democratic Race", that included a section arguing that "the delegate 'math' works decisively against Hillary" is a myth. This just isn't true, and let me explain why as simply as I can:
Myth: The pledged delegate count is close
Fact: Obama leads pledged delegates by 6.0% with only 17.4% remaining
According to the best available count, Obama currently leads among pledged delegates 1,415.5 to 1,253.5, a margin of 162 with 18 delegates currently for Edwards and 566 left to be determined. In terms of percentages, this translates to Obama 52.7%--46.7% Clinton, with 82.6% reporting. In any other campaign, if a candidate led by 6% with 83% reporting, all major news outlets would project that candidate as the winner. 6.0% is greater than the margin by which Bill Clinton won the 1992 election, and also greater than the margin by which Republicans won the 2002 midterms. I don't know anyone who follows politics who considers those close campaigns.
Myth: Clinton can use Michigan and Florida to catch up
Fact: The Obama campaign will dictate what happens in Michigan and Florida
Some delegate totals include the Michigan and Florida delegations projected based on the result of the January primaries in those states. This is a mistake, and not because of any arguments about democracy or rules or whatever. Instead, it is a mistake simply because it is inaccurate. The fact is that there will be no revote in Michigan and Florida. The fact is that any pre-June deal on the Michigan and Florida delegations will have to be approved by the Barack Obama campaign. The fact is that after June 10th, the credentials committee takes jurisdiction over the matter. The fact is that Barack Obama will control the credentials committee, since its members are elected by pledged delegates. The fact is that even if the credentials committee submits a minority report on the Michigan and Florida delegations to the floor of the convention, Florida and Michigan delegates will not participate in that vote. In other words, the fact is that unless Clinton catches Barack Obama in non-Florida and Michigan delegates, then Obama will be able to dictate how Florida and Michigan are seated at the convention. As such, Clinton cannot use Florida and Michigan as a means to catch up unless the Obama campaign allows her to do so.
Myth: Clinton can use a combination of pledged and superdelegates to catch Obama
Fact: There are only 841 delegates left, and Obama leads by 141
As already mentioned, there are only 566 pledged delegates yet to be determined by primaries and caucuses. It should also be noted that there are only 263 superdelegates left to be determined, and that 455 of the 718, or more than 63%, of the superdelegates have already endorsed. This is because 76 of the superdelegates are actually "add-on" delegates, that are basically the same as pledged delegates in terms of campaign vetting and intense loyalty to a given candidate. Because he has won more states, currently Barack Obama is projected to win 40 add-on delegates, Clinton 24, and 12 are still to be determined by states that have yet to hold primaries or caucuses. Overall, this means that Barack Obama only needs 42.7% (359.5 of the 841) of the remaining pledged, add-on, and undecided superdelegates in order to reach 2,024, at which point he can dictate favorable delegations from Michigan and Florida and secure the nomination.
Here is an example of just how bad things are for Clinton. Even if Obama loses Pennsylvania by 20%, and then only draws even in Indiana and North Carolina, two states where he currently holds double-digit leads, then Obama will need less than 40% (196.5 of 492) of the remaining delegates to reach 2,024. If a 20% Pennsylvania victory and ties in both Indiana and North Carolina actually put Clinton further from the nomination than she currently is, then yes, the delegate math is decisively stacked against Clinton.
In summary, reaching 2,024 will give Obama the nomination, and he has an extremely low bar to reach 2,024. The Clinton campaign seems to be banking almost entirely on the fanciful notion that they can convince pledged and super delegates who have declared their support for Obama to switch. Consider the following remarks from Hillary Clinton herself when asked about the delegate math:
Neither of us will reach the number of delegates needed. So I think that that is, you know, the reality for both of our campaigns. And all delegates have to assess who they think will be the strongest nominee against McCain and who they believe would do the best job in bringing along the down-ballot races and who they think would be the best President. And, from my perspective, those are all very legitimate questions, and as you know so well, Mark, every delegate with very few exceptions is free to make up his or her mind however they choose. We talk a lot about so-called pledged delegates, but every delegate is expected to exercise independent judgment.
The actual Clinton delegate math is convincing Obama delegates to switch. Whenever a campaign is stating that it needs to flip delegates from an opposing campaign in order to win, it has admitted that existing delegate math is decisively stacked against it. If you need your opponent's delegates to win, then you can't win with just your delegates.
Now, as long as she wins Pennsylvania, I still don't think it is justified for Clinton to drop out before Indiana and North Carolina. However, it is necessary to point out that there is no realistic path to the nomination for Hillary Clinton. Preventing Obama from securing 42.7% of the remaining delegates, and / or convincing Obama delegates to flip to Clinton, are both fantasies. It is about as realistic as John Boehner arguing that Republicans won't be in the minority in 2009-2010 because, even if Republicans take their expected beating at the ballot box, he is going to convince 30 or so House Democrats to become Republicans. That just is not going to happen.