Don’t uncork the champagne yet

Canada has managed to insert itself into the Democratic campaign this week. At issue is a private assurance from one of Obama’s associates to Canada, saying that Obama doesn’t have serious issues with NAFTA (the North American Free Trade Agreement), contrary to Obama’s public statements.

Bob Rae, an MP for the Liberal Party of Canada, has accused the Prime Minister of interfering with the USA’s political process (i.e., by leaking information that should have remained private):

This is Republican International in action. The Harper government is so ideological and so tied to the Republicans that they will use any opportunity to throw a wrench into the Obama campaign.

There’s even a Youtube video of Jack Layton (leader of the also-ran New Democratic Party) challenging the Prime Minister on this issue in the House of Commons.

Canadian politics can be exciting after all:  albeit by piggybacking on American politics.

In any event, Obama has been on the defensive over this issue for several days now. It seems to have sunk his prospects in Ohio, where times are hard and NAFTA is a convenient target for people’s anger.

In Texas, Obama had caught Clinton and taken a small lead, but Clinton is now slightly ahead again (statistically, I’m sure this constitutes a tie):

Don’t uncork the champagne yet! Clinton may stay in the race through Pennsylvania, which is a big state with 188 delegates up for grabs. (Table adapted from the New York Times)

Date State Type # delegates
Sat. Mar. 8 Wyoming caucus 18
Tue. Mar. 11 Mississippi primary 40
Tue. Apr. 22 Pennsylvania primary 188

What’s depressing is the six-week gap between the Mississippi primary and the Pennsylvania primary. The nomination process could drag on for a long time! If Clinton carries Pennsylvania, we’re back to my original scenario of a struggle all the way to the Democratic convention in late August.

Here’s what to watch for tonight.

(a) How big is Clinton’s win in Ohio?
I think 10% is a big psychological barrier here. If Clinton wins by 9%, it’s still a decisive victory. But if she wins by 10%, it becomes a blowout.

(b) Who wins the popular vote in Texas?
Obama will probably win the overall delegate count because Texas chooses one third of its delegates by caucus. (Yes, it’s bizarre to utilize a hybrid primary/caucus system. But why make things simple when they could be complicated?)

If Obama does win more delegates than Clinton, arguably that seals the deal for him. After all, he’s already ahead by close to 150 pledged delegates. (Not including superdelegates. Though Obama is now closing the gap, Clinton is still ahead in superdelegates.)

It’s also noteworthy that Obama was behind by 30 points in these states just a couple of weeks ago. A close result is still a heck of an achievement for him. But Clinton will spin it as a victory if she possibly can. She’s banking on the popular vote at this point.

What does it mean if Clinton wins the popular vote in Texas but loses in terms of delegates because of the caucus process? That’s enough to taint the result, according to her twisted logic. After all, she has been arguing for weeks that the caucus process isn’t democratic.

It’s still possible that Clinton will drop out of the race in the next couple of days. In terms of delegates — which is what really counts — it still looks like an impossible uphill climb for her.

Nonetheless, her strategy is to close the gap in pledged delegates, and appeal to the superdelegates to put her over the top. And demand that those delegates from Michigan and Florida are counted — to hell with the decision of the Democratic National Committee.

To stop Clinton now, Obama has to keep it relatively close in Ohio and win not merely the delegate count in Texas, but also the popular vote. Otherwise, the prospect of a big delegate haul in Pennsylvania is enough to keep Clinton in the hunt.

It won’t be good for the Democratic Party if this process continues to drag on until August 25. But why would Clinton let that stop her?


2 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Random
    Mar 04, 2008 @ 11:12:32

    Thanks for picking up this story – for what it’s worth I think your domestic opposition is calling it wrong, the Canadian government has been desperately trying to keep out of this row, not get involved. It would after all be made of them to unnecessarily alienate the likely next president of the USA, regardless of party affiliation. I don’t know how aware you are of British politics over there, but the fate of John Major is an object lesson (short form – Major was PM when Clinton was first running for president against Bush Snr and trawled through old police records of Clinton’s time over here as a Rhodes scholar to help out Bush. Clinton was furious and transatlantic relations were poisoned for years afterwards, hence charming scenes like the IRA being invited to the White House.)

    Not much to disagree with on the analysis of where things go from here. I think the absolute minimum for Hilary to remain as a viable candidate is a comfortable win in Ohio and a win in the popular vote in Texas even if she doesn’t win the most delegates (which she’ll doubtless spin as a moral victory and support for her theme that only she can get out the vote in the big states). Do this and she’ll carry on until Pennsylvania whilst pulling every trick possible to try and get the Florida and Michigan delegations seated.

    “It won’t be good for the Democratic Party if this process continues to drag on until August 25. But why would Clinton let that stop her?”

    Precisely. Consider this astonishing quote in the LA Times

    “I think that I have a lifetime of experience that I will bring to the White House. Sen. John McCain has a lifetime of experience that he’d bring to the White House. And Sen. Obama has a speech he gave in 2002.”

    Does that sound like someone who’s preparing to give up? Just imagine the fun the Republicans will have with that in the autumn! “Clinton endorses McCain” indeed…


  2. Stephen
    Mar 04, 2008 @ 12:20:57

    I’m with you on the the NAFTA story, Random. I think it’s a case of clumsiness on the part of both Obama’s spokesperson and the Government of Canada.

    Obama claims that the contact was initiated by a Canadian official, and he wasn’t even aware that the conversation had taken place until the sh*t hit the fan. And I don’t think his explanation is beyond belief.

    If Obama did know about it, the whole thing is still perfectly innocent in my books. But the appearance of the thing is bad, and often in politics it’s the appearance that counts!

    As for the Government of Canada: if I have the story straight, the NAFTA discussion was one item in a lengthy memo that was widely circulated within the government. So I don’t think we have to look to the upper echelons of the Prime Minister’s office to find the leak.

    However, it was damned clumsy to circulate sensitive information so widely. Obama has caught a lot of breaks along the way, but this one went against him right when he is about to seal the deal.


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