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Pennsylvania Primary Wrap-up; Or, Why Clinton Could Actually Be Winning the Race for the Democratic Nomination

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Hillary Clinton's big (though unsurprising to Smart Politics) double-digit victory in the Keystone State Tuesday night did more than 'delay the inevitable'—the 'inevitable' being what most pundits say is that Barack Obama will be the Democratic nominee for president. Clinton accomplished four things with her victory.

First, she cut into Barack Obama's lead in the pledged delegate count. Not by much (estimates are between 10 and 20 delegates), but her double-digit victory insured the delegate count would not remain static.

Secondly, winning by a double-digit margin will have the effect of decreasing the qualifiers the media uses to describe her victory, such as: "She was originally ahead by 30 points, but only won by 4 points." Or, "She was expected to win by more because Pennsylvania is one of her home states." Instead, by winning decisively, Clinton can point to not only her victory, but also Obama's loss—Obama is estimated to have outspent Clinton by a 3:1 margin in the race for Pennsylvania.

Thirdly, and perhaps most importantly, Clinton's large victory significantly decreased Obama's lead in the "total vote count" during the 2008 primaries and caucuses.

Now, there are several ways to calculate this vote total. The one employed most frequently by the media showed Obama with an approximately 715,000-vote lead heading into Pennsylvania. Clinton won the Keystone State by nearly 216,000 votes, decreasing Obama's lead by 30 percent to about 500,000 votes. This vote counting method employed by the media does not, however, include six contests: Florida, Iowa, Maine, Michigan, Nevada, and Washington.

  • It would be unfair to use Michigan's vote total in the calculation, as Obama's name was not on the ballot in that primary.
  • Iowa, Maine, Nevada, and Washington have not released popular vote totals for their caucus contests, but estimates by Real Clear Politics give Obama a net 110,000 more votes in those states.
  • While Florida was penalized by the DNC for holding its primary too early in terms of seated delegates at the upcoming convention, all candidate names were on the ballot, and 1.7 million Floridians cast their votes just the same (with Clinton beating Obama by nearly 300,000 votes).

When Florida's vote total is added into the mix with that of Iowa, Maine, Nevada, and Washington, Obama's popular vote lead decreases to approximately 315,000 votes.

If Clinton is going to attract more unpledged superdelegates to her side in the coming weeks, she needs to continue to chip away at Obama's total vote lead, as it is viewed by the public as the "most Democratic" measure by which to determine which candidate should get the party's nomination. Perhaps because they were pushing for a revote in Florida for so many weeks, Clinton's campaign has not done a good job to date of releasing total popular vote numbers with Florida's votes included.

Fourthly, Clinton's victory in Pennsylvania actually increased her lead over Obama by a measure rarely employed directly by her campaign, or the pundits: using the Electoral College math. Even though this is still the nomination phase of the race to the White House, and even though its detractors do not see the Electoral College as the most democratic process, adding each state's Electoral College vote total to a candidate's column is perhaps as democratic as the superdelegate process that will determine the party's nominee later this year.

To date, Clinton has won states with 267 Electoral College votes, compared to just 202 for Obama. Clinton's total includes Florida, but does not include Michigan. Having lost the popular vote in the Texas primary to Clinton, Obama's total does not include any Electoral College votes from his Texas caucus victory.

During the past month and a half, Clinton's campaign has stumbled in its efforts to give extra weight to her victories in "battleground states" or "states the Democrats will have to win in November." Therefore, to give an objective 'weight' to these states (e.g. Ohio, Pennsylvania, Florida), the Clinton campaign would be best served by putting out numbers using the Electoral College math.

All in all, Clinton did everything she needed to do Tuesday night. As all eyes turn to North Carolina and Indiana during the next two weeks, the big question will be which campaign does a better job at spinning the media to its advantage in discussing the current state of the race for the nomination, utilizing the math that best helps its candidate.

Previous post: Live Blog: The Pennsylvania Primary
Next post: Coleman Up 7 Points on Franken in New Poll

1 Comment


  • Some points counter:
    First, perhaps this is trivial, but a difference in 9.3 percentage points does not constitute "a double digit victory."

    Second, Obama's outspending points to one of his strengths. He's still got bank, baby! And there's more where that came from, his legions of small givers will keep shelling out $20 and $50 as long as the U tube promos are running. Hillary's broke, and her predominantly old-school network of givers are already maxed.

    Thirdly, Ok, so total votes. You showed that there are x^nth ways to count them. Obama is still winning in delegates, and unless the remaining undecided supers break in a most undemocratically representative split for Hillary, it's really hard to see how she'll pull this off.

    I think what is most illustrative here is how her campaign has been nakedly attempting to redefine the "rules" (media expectations and narrative) so that she's winning. This is just the latest spin of "what matters." Of course every candidate does this, but her campaign does so with a shameless disregard for cognitive cohesion that it conjures the brashness and sense of entitlement that hampered her early campaign.

    Lastly, the electoral college argument seems simplistic. It can be defeated the same way as the argument that Hillary "wins the big states." Everybody knows that the Dems will vote Dem in the general. It's just as obvious that Obama has a greater appeal to independents and even Republicans, thus putting more states into play. Does it mean anything when half of the voters in the country really don't like you? Do those voters count? Sorry, I didn't mean to get too snarky.

    Perhaps you're right, Hillary needed to stay alive and not seem weak. But it's too late in the game and she's too far behind to turn this into "the big mo."

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