Among un­de­cid­eds, Demo­crat su­perdel­e­gates now out­num­ber pledged

The Washington Times Weekly - - National - By Christina Bellantoni

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.

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