I’ve heard various Obama supporters make the argument that caucuses are “very democratic.” But I can’t agree. Now, it’s true that Hillary has no cause to complain about the caucuses. She knew the rules going into this thing, and if she neglected to organize as carefully as Obama did, or couldn’t raise the kind of money he did, then too bad for her. Still, it’s pretty hard to say that caucuses are “very democratic.” The fact is they’re extremely exclusionary because of their limited hours and the limited availability of caucus places.
Washington State is illustrative: the Seattle PI is reporting that a “record” number of people are expected to have participated in Washington’s Democratic caucuses (around 200,000). In Massachusetts something like 1.8 million people participated in the state’s primary last week. Let’s charitably give the GOP 40% of that participation. That would mean over one million voters turned out for Massachusetts’s Democratic primary against 200,000 for Washington state’s “record” Democratic caucuses. The two state’s populations are virtually identical as of early 2008. To put it another way, each Washington State voter will end up possessing several times the nominating power of each Massachusetts voter.
Make no mistake about it: Obama has brilliantly maximized his advantages, and his campaign has very savvily exploited the caucus format. But also make no mistake that it is a decidedly less inclusionary and less democratic way to choose delegates. And this less democratic style of contest is at the core of Obama’s strategy to win the nomination.
His strategy so far seems to pretty clearly be: win African-American-centric primaries; win big in his home state; win caucuses; and hang on for dear life every place else. It may be enough to get him over the hump, especially if the successes he seems likely to get in February’s post Super Tuesday contests generate enough momentum to increase his reach in March (and he then goes on to win big in some primaries). But if not — if he can’t create a Hillary collapse (and I’d say that’s less likely now that she seems to be getting her fundraising in order) — then there’s a non-trivial chance Obama could wind up with a plurality of pledged delegates, and behind Clinton in the popular vote. Not that this is in and of itself necessarily problematic. Rules are rules, after all, and it is delegates — not the popular vote — who choose the nominee. But such a scenario would make it a lot more difficult to fight Clintonian attempts to seat Florida’s delegates, or to complain if she ends up securing the nomination via the use of superdelegates