Those who have been reading Smart Politics during the past two months should not have been surprised that Hillary Clinton both won the Indiana primary on Tuesday night and also decided to continue her campaign the next day, despite strong pressure by the media, pundits, and some Democratic politicians for her to drop out of the race.
On the near horizon, Clinton can expect two more wins in the states of West Virginia (next week) and Kentucky (on March 20th). Oregon will also hold its primary on March 20th, but, although Obama is projected to win that state, it should be a fairly close race—without any significant effect on the delegate or popular vote counts.
Even Clinton supporters will acknowledge the Senator from New York will not win the pledged delegate count. If she is to make inroads with superdelegates in the coming weeks, she not only needs to string together many more victories to help define her campaign in the media as the one with the momentum, but, equally important, she also needs to close the gap in Obama's popular vote lead amassed so far in the 2008 campaign.
Obama currently leads Clinton by approximately 415,000 votes—that total includes votes cast in Florida, but not Michigan (which did not have Obama's name on the ballot). It also does not include vote totals in the Iowa, Nevada, Maine, and Washington caucuses (states in which official numbers have not been released).
Clinton is hoping for big turnouts in West Virginia and Kentucky, where she is currently leading Obama in the polls by about 30 points.
Smart Politics estimates that Clinton can make a significant dent in Obama's popular vote lead in the next two weeks - perhaps reducing it almost in half. Here is the math:
- Smart Politics calculated the 2004 general election presidential vote total of neighboring states in the West Viriginia/Kentucky region (Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana, Tennessee, Virginia, and North Carolina). This amounted to about 21.8 million votes.
- The number of votes case in the 2008 Democratic primaries in these states totaled approximately 8.8 million.
- Thus, in the region, people are coming out to vote in the Democratic primaries at a rate of about 40 percent of the general election turnout in those states in 2004.
- Assuming this 40 percent stays true to form in West Virginia and Kentucky (though the turnout might be higher because of the high profile the states will receive in the coming days), approximately 302,000 will come out to vote for the Democrats in West Virginia, and 718,000 in Kentucky.
- Obama will likely close the gap a bit in these states, so let's say Clinton only rolls by 20 points in each state, not 30 points. Clinton would then pick up about 144,000 votes in Kentucky and about 60,000 votes in West Virginia.
- That would reduce Obama's lead in the popular vote by nearly half, from 415,000 to just 211,000.
Clinton is not likely to pass Obama in the popular vote total, but the more she can make the numbers looks "about even," the more she can point to momentum as the key factor in her attempt to sway superdelegates to her side.
Her other mathematical weapon is the Electoral College vote total: Clinton has now won states that have 278 Electoral College votes, compared to just 217 for Obama (Clinton's total, again, includes Florida, but not Michigan).