They’re not great, obviously, at this juncture. Virginia really hurt. Wisconsin may end up hurting even more. Still, all’s not sunlight and roses for the Obama camp, either. The problem for Obama is that Hillary has amassed nearly 1,000 delegates. That’s too big a number for her to go quietly into the night, and indeed too big a number for there not to exist the possibility of a momentum change. And even Hillary-basher-in-chief Andrew Sullivan is mentioning a recent Ohio poll giving Hillary a nearly twenty point lead there. Also, the Democrats’ proportional representation system means that Clinton continues to pick up delegates, and this keeps Obama’s lead from widening overly rapidly. He’s simply not going to be able to run away with it unless her campaign completely collapses. Obama would need to win something like 80% of the post February delegates to clinch the nomination without the use of superdelegates. That looks mathematically improbable if Clinton is still contesting the election.
After Wisconsin, the reality is it will still be a fairly close race in total delegates, and most superdelegates (I suspect) will wait until after the March 4th contests before making further decisions. Superdelegates are professional politicians who want to win in November, after all, and waiting another couple of weeks to commit hardly hurts the eventual nominee’s chances. But rushing the process may hurt the party’s chances, if it creates irresistible momentum for the wrong (i.e, weaker in a general election) candidate. I’m not stating here that Obama is the weaker candidate against McCain, but taking our time with the process is one way to help insure we get it right.
Hillary will have two whole weeks after Wisconsin to mount a stand, and try to blunt Obama’s momentum. During that time there will be a debate or two. She’ll have an opportunity to sharpen her criticisms. Also, being (finally! at long last!) the undeniable underdog, it will make sense for her to throw a Hail Mary or two. She’s also made major campaign changes, and, while people rightly assume that’s a sign of trouble, they should also consider the possibility that such changes might indeed help her campaign (I mean, could it possibly perform any worse?).
There’s also the probability that the media will finally begin to scrutinize Obama’s record now that he’s on the verge of an historic nomination. There’s been very little coverage of issues, or reportage looking in a more in-depth fashion at what an Obama administration will actually look like. That’s bound to increase — even given the media’s understandable infatuation with the senator. After all, they like a fight, and an early wrap up deprives them of a very dramatic story. Momentum is a very fickle mistress.
If Hillary can use the two weeks between Wisconsin and Texas/Ohio to blunt his momentum, and she can pick up convincing wins that day (which means taking Rhode Island as well; I’m assuming Obama easily takes Vermont), the race will look a lot different. After that, there are at least five more states where the demographics may be more favorable to HRC (Indiana, Kentucky, West Virginia, North Carolina, Pennsylvannia), and where she can make up for February’s lost ground (again this is assuming a momentum shift driven by an HRC win in Ohio and Texas).
Also, the Rezko trial gets under way early in March. And there’s still the unresolved issue of Florida and Michigan.
If HRC loses Texas and Ohio, it really is all over, and, the cynical prognostications of others aside, I wouldn’t be surprised if Hillary concedes not long thereafter. People say she’ll do whatever it takes to win, but she’s not an idiot, and if victory is a virtual impossibility, the smart move for her will be to get out with some dignity. She could still live to fight another day if Obama loses the general election, and heck, she might even have a shot at becoming Vice President this year (and in 2016 she’d be younger than McCain is now).
But if she does manage a solid win on March 4th, Hillary’s still in decent shape, and she could yet finish up with more popular votes than Obama, and with only a very narrow deficit in pledged delegates (I think coming out ahead of Obama in total pledged delegates is an impossibility for Hillary at this point absent some sort of major scandal erupting for her opponent; the best she can do, I reckon, is to make the difference statistically trivial, and attain a virtual tie).
At the end of the day, there’s nothing in the rule book requiring the party to give the nod to a candidate with, say, a net lead of only thirty pledged delegates, especially if he hasn’t won a majority of said delegates (John Edwards won a few, after all), and even more so if he’s lost the popular vote, and two major states haven’t been able to get their delegates seated.
Anyway, this summarizes my thoughts on the Hilary’s still feasible (if not overly likely) path to the nomination.