Among undecideds, Democrat superdelegates now outnumber pledged
Since both White House hopefuls have failed to translate their moments of front-runner status into a coronation, the fate of the Democratic nomination now rests with superdelegates and their interpretation of electability. The May 6 primaries marked a significant turning point in the battle between Sen. Barack Obama and Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton — the number of undecided superdelegates, about 270, now outnumbers the pledged delegates, 217, available in the remaining six contests.
And since neither candidate will win enough delegates by the last day of voting on June 3 to capture the party nod, superdelegates — elected officials and party activists who will cast votes at the Democratic National Convention — will parse exit polls and examine results from their districts to determine who is best prepared to take on presumptive Republican nominee Sen. John McCain of Arizona.
So, if you want to know who will be the Democratic nominee, get a calculator and start calling the undecideds daily.
Mrs. Clinton and Mr. Obama have few policy differences, and polls taken in advance of the November election show that either could beat Mr. McCain in many swing states.
But Mr. Obama of Illinois leads in states won and the popular vote, elements that might persuade superdelegates to go with his momentum in a wave and end the fight before voting concludes next month. His victory in North Carolina also gives his supporters ammunition to push Mrs. Clinton from the race and begin the general election.
His performances in the past several contests, however, call into question Mr. Obama’ s electability.
At first Mr. Obama was widely considered to have more appeal in the South while Mrs. Clinton’s long reputation and vilification in Republican circles was feared to harm local and state Democrats running in November should she win the party nod.
But a brutal streak of bad fortune has tarnished Mr. Obama’s one-time gleam that some Democrats had thought would help down-ticket candidates. Some polls show him losing to Mr. McCain.
Since Mrs. Clinton won Ohio and Pennsylvania, Mr. Obama has been asked why he can’t “deliver” with white, working-class voters, but deflects the question by calling himself the “underdog” and complimenting the “Clinton brand name.”
When he began the campaign, he said, “nobody thought” he had a shot, and he thinks he is the better choice to unite people to achieve the change he promises.
“The problems we have are much bigger than they were in the 1990s. We can’t afford to spend another eight years bickering. We can’t afford spending the next eight years tinkering,” he said in Durham, N.C., on May 5.
The Clinton camp, which operated as if the former first lady would crush her rivals within the first month of voting, has deployed several arguments as the race has vacillated.
Clinton campaign chairman Terry McAuliffe once declared to donors that the Democratic race would be decided after Super Tuesday on Feb. 5, assuming she would sweep the big states.
But as the first four results were mixed, her campaign argued that the nomination boiled down to delegates, and she began her play for Florida’s delegation to be seated.
After Feb. 5, when the Democrats carved up the country’s contests, the Clinton camp dismissed lopsided Obama wins in caucus states, saying that type of contest disenfranchises voters who can’t participate because they are working. They also discounted his wins in red states such as Utah and Idaho since those have not historically been competitive in a general election.
When Mr. Obama took the overall delegate lead, the Clinton campaign argued that the new standard was the popular vote, and urged superdelegates to look at that measure.
The Clinton camp’s newest line of attack is that the magic number needed to earn the nomination is 2,209, not 2,025 as party rules stipulate.
By the Obama campaign’s count, the senator from Illinois was fewer than 200 delegates from clinching the nomination after the North Carolina win, a victory that was poised to erase the boost in delegates Mrs. Clinton received from her nine-point win in Pennsylvania.
But for Mrs. Clinton of New York, who was knocked from frontrunner status when the contests began in January, the nomination is far from decided. She will argue to the superdelegates that she is more electable because her base includes women, working-class voters and seniors while Mr. Obama has stumbled.
Her campaign also will make an academic, and potentially legal, argument that the Florida and Michigan mess must be resolved before it will accept the nominee’s claim to have hit the magic number of 2,025.
Responding to a story in May 6 editions of The Washington Times about her campaign’s retooling of the delegate math needed to win the nomination, Mrs. Clinton confirmed to reporters in Indianapolis: “I think it’s 2,209.”
But in late February she told TV reporter Diane Sawyer: “Each of us has to get to 2025 delegates.”
Obama strategist David Axelrod scoffed at the Clinton campaign’s “tortured constructions” of scoring the race, adding: “I know the math has been reinvented.”
Mrs. Clinton won Florida and Michigan, though each contest was held in violation of party rules and Mr. Obama was not on the ballot in Michigan. Her campaign has said it is awaiting a Democratic National Committee hearing on whether the delegates from the rogue states will be seated at the August convention.