Bill Press (Billpress.com)
American voters have spoken again. Just when the media decides it’s all over, those who actually have a say in the matter speak up and say: “Not so fast.”
It happened first with John McCain. After all the pundits wrote his political obituary, the voters of New Hampshire decided, instead, to keep him around for a while. He’s now the Republican nominee for president.
It happened on March 4 with Hillary Clinton. After the very same pundits agreed that this was the end of the road for her, the voters of Rhode Island, Ohio and Texas decided to give her one more chance. She’s now back in the game and the primary carries on with a full head of steam, at least until June, and perhaps all the way to the convention.
Oh, no, I hear people say. This is terrible. Simple math proves that Clinton can never win the nomination. Since he now has more delegates than she does, Barack Obama should simply be declared the winner. And, besides, it’s getting ugly. Letting this primary battle drag on will only help John McCain and hurt the Democratic party. Right?
Nonsense! An extended 2008 primary may be the best thing that has ever happened to the Democrats. Take voter turnout, for example. A record number of Democrats voted in the Iowa caucuses, and that’s been true of every state since right up to Ohio and Texas. There’s tremendous excitement about this primary. So let’s keep it going. The more states that participate, and the more Democrats who vote, the greater and more motivated the Democratic base will be in November.
As for the math . . . It’s true that, even were she to sweep all the remaining primaries, Clinton can never attain the 2,025 delegates needed to clinch the Democratic nomination. But, truth be told, neither can Obama. Yes, he’d get closer than she would, but he still wouldn’t be there. And the rules only award the prize to the first candidate to reach 2025 delegates, not to the one with more delegates than his competitor.
Which means that neither Clinton nor Obama will be able to wrap up the nomination through the primary process alone. Ultimately, even after eventual repeat primaries in Michigan and Florida, they’re both going to depend on winning a majority of superdelegates — but only after they’ve won as many delegates as possible through the primaries.
There are 794 designated party leaders, or superdelegates (not counting those from Michigan and Florida), with an automatic vote at the convention. The tally changes daily, but according to Democratic Convention Watch, 241 have already pledged their support to Senator Clinton and 200 have signed on with Senator Obama. The rest are uncommitted.
Only when the primaries are over will those superdelegates make their final decision. According to party rules, they are free to vote for whomever they want. But they will definitely be influenced by several factors, including: who won the most pledged delegates; who won the popular vote; who won the most states; who won the biggest states; and which candidate they believe will be the strongest Democrat against John McCain.
That last question — who’s more likely to beat McCain? — is, of course, the most important one. And there’s only one way to find out: Watch how they perform in the remaining primaries. Upcoming primaries in Wyoming, Mississippi, Pennsylvania and beyond are a chance for both of them to show their stuff, debate the issues, develop their campaign skills, rally even more Americans to the need for change, and prove their mettle. Whichever one emerges victorious will be battle-tested and better equipped to take on McCain and the Republican attack machine.
Has the campaign gotten too ugly? Anyone who believes that has never experienced a political campaign before. Remember 2000, when the Bush campaign accused John McCain of fathering an illegitimate black daughter? Remember 2002, when Saxby Chambliss ran ads with a photo of war hero and triple-amputee Max Cleland alongside Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden? Compared to those two campaigns, and many others, this Democratic primary is a church picnic.
There have been a couple of low moments, such as Clinton’s saying that as far as she knew, “Obama’s a Christian.” But for the most part, the campaign has been remarkably civil, focusing on legitimate differences in policy and experience.
Pull the plug on the primaries now? No way. Grab another beer from the fridge. The second half is just getting underway.