Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Instant Replay

Tuesday saw an important, if unnoticed event in the ongoing Democratic primary election. Hillary Clinton's victory in Pennsylvania not only served to re-legitimize her campaign beyond any spectre of a doubt, but it also provided Clinton supporters with a key statistic that even her befuddled campaign simply cannot ignore: Barack Obama's lead in the popular vote has disappeared. With Tuesday's 1,260,060 votes in Pennsylvania's primary, Clinton moved ahead of Obama in total votes cast by a count of 15,116,076 to 14,417,134. Now, as usual in this primary contest, these numbers are accompanied by a host of caveats.

Most notable and most important is the issue of Michigan and Florida. Both of these states are having their popular vote counts, along with their delegate votes, withheld due to their violation of DNC rules regarding the timing of their respective contests. The total popular vote totals above include the tallies from both of these states; however, a major point remains. While in Florida both Clinton and Obama appeared on the ticket, in Michigan Obama was absent. Obama chose not to campaign in the state with the knowledge that the process would likely be all for naught. In doing so, though, his campaign provided definitive evidence that if there are no delegates to gain, the state is not a priority.
Campaigning directly to electoral votes, or in this case delegates, is a hot button issue and causes many to question the process of the electoral college. In this primary contest, where delegates replace electoral votes, the same principals apply, causing states to vary in importance in vague proportion to the number of delegates they carry. Through the years, various candidates have pledged to ignore this process and give each citizen of each state their proper attention regardless of the number of delegates - or electoral votes - their state carries. Obama has been mum on the topic, but his campaign strategy in Michigan does plenty of talking.

So what about November, when the votes at stake are electoral, and not delegates? A previous post on this blog points to the nature of victories achieved in the primary so far, and how they may translate come November. To recap (with updated numbers), to tally the electoral votes for each state won by the respective candidate shows the following totals:

Clinton: 284 Obama:193

Allowing for the fact that many of these votes will be gobbled up by John McCain in November is a fact that only further serves to support Clinton, as she has won far more traditional "blue" states, and Obama has been very successful in "red" states, likely to go to McCain in November. When presented with this case, Obama supporters have been quick to point to two arguments: Michigan and Florida should not be included in the counts, and Obama has a strong lead in the overall popular vote. It will be very interesting to see if Clinton's campaign can capitalize on the fact that Obama's argument concerning the popular vote is simply no longer valid, and the argument concerning Michigan and Florida is simply too petty a claim to stake in the face of such an important general election. By abstaining from the Michigan contest to focus on states where the delegates would count towards his tally, Obama acknowledged the very principle that cements Clinton's legitimacy: There are certain states that, for better or for worse, carry more importance in an election, and in those states Clinton has been overwhelmingly more successful.

Obama has done a masterful job at seizing momentum, inspiring his base, and marketing his campaign. But the fact simply remains that the numbers no longer add up to support his front runner status. The idea of this primary process is to determine which candidate will be most prepared and equipped to win a national election. Looking at the numbers above, it has done so. The time is drawing very near for Democrats to fall in line and concentrate on November, for this is an election they cannot afford to lose.

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