Sunday, March 02, 2008

Place your bets

Going into this week's primaries, Barack Obama is holding about a 100-delegate lead over Hillary Clinton, depending on whose scorecard you read.

I did an examination of the varying totals a while back. The amounts of pledged (won) delegates are solid, but the super delegates aren't required to honor any stated preference to a candidate. Even so, we can assume the majority of super delegates who have pledged to vote for a candidate probably won't change unless something major happens.

On Tuesday a total of 444 delegates will be in play, with each state awarding delegates based on districts won by the candidates.

Based on the latest trends, we see Hillary leading slightly in Ohio and overwhelmingly in Rhode Island, while Vermont is firmly in Barack's favor and Texas is basically a toss-up. Using the most recent polls and extrapolating the percentages into delegates, we can expect Clinton to get around 224 delegates and Obama 220. Of course, my calculations don't take district projections into account, so I'll probably be off somewhat.

A result like that could be a disaster for Clinton. She needs a significant victory in the delegates to stay viable, something like 300 to 144. Or even 280 to 164. Anything less than about a 100 delegate net gain would keep Obama firmly in the lead, and we'll start hearing calls for Clinton to drop out of the race for the sake of the party's chances in November.

Looking ahead, the Democrats only have a few big states left. Obama will probably split delegates with Clinton in Saturday's Wyoming caucus (18 delegates) and win heavily in next Tuesday's Mississippi primary (40 delegates), and then there's another chance for Clinton to gain, in the Pennsylvania primary (188 delegates).

The problem is, can the party tolerate this bitter contest continuing for at least another six weeks, since the Pennsylvania primary isn't scheduled until April 22nd?

Then we have Indiana and North Carolina (218 total) on May 6th and a handful of smaller contests after that which equal roughly 274 delegates. But if it goes that long, we'll absolutely see it go to the convention in late August, where the super delegates will in effect be appointing the nominee. Also, the question of Michigan and Florida will come back to haunt the party.

And that would be the worst possible scenario.

I know what I'd like to see happen on Tuesday. A decisive victory by Obama, something like 270-174. That would probably be enough to generate widespread calls for Clinton to throw in the towel.

And then we can start working on how to beat John Sidney McCain III in November.

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