Going Out Like a Lion
What, then, is the rationale for Clinton remaining in the race? As mentioned before, neither candidate will have enough elected delegates to clinch the nomination outright, meaning superdelegates will provide the decisive margin for the ultimate nominee. Of the 795 superdelegates (1 less because of Spitzer resignation), 327 remain uncommitted. Clinton leads Obama among superdelegates, 251 to 218, but trails Obama among pledged delegates, 1414 to 1248. 2,025 delgates, elected and superdelagates combined, are needed to clinch the nomination.
There has been a push in recent days, led by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, for superdelegates to follow the will of primary voters. DNC President Howard Dean, while hesitant to make a similar suggestion, hopes to have superdelegates make their commitments in advance of the Democratic National Convention at the end of August in Denver.
Clinton contends that she is the most formidable fall opponent against Sen. John McCain, that she has won all of the largest states critical for a general election victory with the exception of Obama's home state of Illinois. She points to the original purpose of superdelegates: not to affirm the popular vote, but to provide the party establishment with a say in who they think should carry the banner come November.
For a week or so, her argument appeared to gain traction, but Obama has since recovered and taken a sizable lead in national head-to-head polls. More than anything, the venom exchanged by the two Democratic campaigns has bolstered the standing of McCain, as the AZ senator leads both in general election matchups. This means little as of now, but Obama actually fares better than Clinton, seemingly negating her arguments about electability.
I've been saying this a lot lately, but this contest will look much different come Labor Day than it does now. General election polling is meaningless at this juncture. It is surprising that McCain is polling so favorably, however, given the concerns about our economy, an unpopular war that he has unconditionally embraced, the fact that he shares a party affiliation with one of the more unpopular presidents since the dawning of public opinion polls, and the tendency for voters to punish an incumbent party that has held the White House for two straight terms.
My guess is that he faces an uphill battle against either Democratic opponent given these variables, but he is popular among idependents and even some Democrats. His current parity in the polls is partially attributable to Democratic bickering, but don't discount the data that suggests Obama and Clinton supporters will cast ballots for McCain should their choice not secure the nomination. This angst is probably overstated in the heat of the campaign, but a protracted battle has made ideological confidants polarized enemies. Crossover votes, or more probably sitting out an election in protest, will be a legitimate concern for Democrats if the contest that has dominated the 2008 calendar stretches from spring to summer.
Where does this leave the Democratic contest? Pennsylvania voters will flock to the polls in millions in three weeks, and Clinton holds a sizable lead in polls there. Obama is well positioned for a comeback in North Carolina on May 6, with a pivotal battle in Indiana scheduled for the same day. As for now, the Hoosier State looks like a toss-up, but it favors Clinton demographically and she has the establishment support of Sen. Evan Bayh. Obama, on the other hand, hails from the neighboring State of Illinois, and a good portion of the eastern half of the state shares a media market with the Land of Lincoln, meaning they have been exposed to his image through ads and press coverage over the past 4 years.
Also on the docket are Guam on May 3, West Virginia on May 13, Oregon and Kentucky on May 20, Puerto Rico on June 1, and Montana and South Dakota on June 3. I would expect Obama to claim all of these contests with the exception of West Virginia and Kentucky, adding to his popular vote and elected delegate lead, and creaming Clinton in number of state victories. The bigger question is will the next two months provide us with any more clarity than we have at this juncture. My prediction is a definitive NO with Clinton pledging to remain in the race, and committed to finding a resolution to the currently unseated delegations from Michigan and Florida.
Hang on tight. Only seven months remain until the general election.