Thursday, March 6, 2008

Who's Winning?

It's no secret that Americans are witnessing one of, if not the closest Democratic primary contests in recent history. The nightly news is reaching the saturation point for the terms "superdelegate," "do-or-die" and "momentum." Recently, the story of this run-off election has focused on Barack Obama's momentous charge towards 11 straight primary victories, his ever growing list of influential and powerful backers, and his seemingly inevitable march towards the White House.

There is no denying that Obama enjoyed quite a February. Coming into the month trailing Senator Hillary Clinton, with many observers questioning just how long he could hold out, something unexpected, at least to most, began to happen: Obama began picking up some very key endorsements. Most notable were Ted Kennedy and John Kerry, the two U.S. Senators from Massachusetts, both former presidential candidates themselves. The reasoning these two Democratic stalwarts pointed to was that Obama, to paraphrase the two, "felt like a winner." At the time, this seemed an odd notion. Clinton was leading in the polls, had secured strong results in the early primaries and caucuses, and looked to be well on her way to securing the nomination. Then a funny thing began to happen: Obama began winning. He didn't stop winning, in fact, until this past Tuesday, when Clinton defeated him in Ohio, Rhode Island and Texas (more on this in a minute) in what was looked upon by many as a last ditch effort to save her campaign.

Even now, many Obama supporters claim that Clinton's victories this week were "too little, too late," and the time has come for her to step aside and allow Obama to secure the nomination. Indeed, it is hard to argue with Obama's supporters, who can point to 24 primary and caucus victories, including the aforementioned 11 straight, and to a well oiled campaign machine that seems to be impenetrable even to Clinton's fiercest attacks. Then again, a closer look at the numbers to date suggests there may not be an argument at all.

This November, the two (sorry, Ralph) eventual presidential candidates will be vying for the magic number of 270 electoral votes. Each state is worth a predetermined amount of these votes, and in nearly every instance in modern campaign history, it's winner-take-all. Looking at the Democratic primary and caucus results to date, a very different picture than the one being illustrated in the media begins to take shape. If electoral votes were to be handed out right now to Senators Clinton and Obama based upon their victories to date, the results would read like this:
Clinton - 229 Obama - 190
Now, there are a few caveats to these numbers, and they are as follows: The primary contests in Michigan and Florida are currently being withheld from the delegate counts for either candidate. Clinton won both Florida and Michigan, but Obama did not appear on the Michigan ballot, and both contests were disqualified by the Democratic National Committee for taking place too early in the primary season. For the sake of argument, Michigan's 17 electoral votes will be struck from Clinton's tally, bringing her to 212. Next is the issue of Texas, which held both a primary election and caucuses on Tuesday, in a confusing and yet unresolved election process. Two thirds of the states delegates are awarded to the primary victor, while the remaining third are doled out in the caucuses. While the results of this process are still being calculated, one number has been confirmed: Clinton won the popular vote by roughly 100,000 votes.
In the figures above, Texas' 34 electoral votes were not awarded to either candidate, nor are they likely to be in November. In fact, many of the states won by Clinton and Obama will go to neither in November, regardless of who ends up winning the nomination. Texas, like many Southern and Midwestern states, is "red," meaning it will nearly always end up awarding its electoral votes to a Republican.
So what does this mean for Clinton and Obama? Well, looking again at the election results to date, they show Clinton having won two traditional "red" states: Arizona (sure to go to home town favorite John McCain), and Oklahoma. No doubt there are other states, Tennessee, Arkansas and Nevada that teeter on the "purple precipice," if you will, but none of the states is a true home run for Republicans. Taking away the electoral votes of Arizona and Oklahoma drops Clinton to 195 in this tally. Obama, on the other hand, has won a whopping seven "red" states: South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama, Louisiana, North Dakota, Idaho and Alaska. Like Clinton, he was won several "in between" states, but for this argument only the seven states listed will be subtracted. In doing so, Obama's total electoral votes drops to 139.
Granted, this calculation is far from scientific, and if elections were held again today the results may change, but in viewing the statistics in this light, one must wonder who's time has come to step aside, and who, in fact, "looks like a winner."

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