Mop-up operation

Mississippi results

The above delegate estimate is too low. Obama picked up seven more delegates last night.

A couple of weeks ago, I said we were in the mopping-up stage of the Democratic nomination process. Since then, Obama has had arguably his worst stretch of the campaign.

There was the Goolsbee gaffe on NAFTA, leading to Clinton’s decisive victory in Ohio. Meanwhile, Clinton successfully raised questions about Obama’s experience, and whether he is ready to become Commander-in-Chief. As a result, she squeaked out a narrow win in the Texas primary — though of course Obama beat Clinton in the Texas caucus. Samantha Power was forced to resign from her position on the Obama team after describing Clinton as a monster.

Commentators have decided there is a plausible scenario in which Clinton could still win the nomination, even though Obama’s lead in pledged delegates appears insurmountable. If Clinton can overtake Obama in the popular vote, she can then reasonably appeal to the super delegates to give the nomination to her. And it looks likely that there will be new votes held in Florida and Michigan, which gives Clinton two more states in which to overcome Obama’s lead.

That’s a lot of bad news for Obama. But I still think we’re in the mopping-up stage of the process.

Obama’s lead in the delegate count continues to rise. In California, there were a million votes not yet counted. The results were announced on March 4:  i.e., on the same night that Clinton won Ohio, the Texas primary, and Rhode Island. In California, Obama picked up 4 additional delegates while Clinton lost 4 — a swing of 8 delegates. That essentially cancelled out any improvement in her delegate count on the night of what was touted as a great Clinton victory.

Since March 4, super delegates have continued to trickle over to Obama. See Ben Smith here, here, here, here, and here.

And Obama picked up a few more delegates on Clinton in Wyoming, then seven more in Mississippi.

So during a week when the news has been exceptionally bad for Obama, he has steadily increased his lead in pledged delegates.

Mathematically, Clinton’s position gets worse with every primary — even in terms of the popular vote. Imagine you’re a player on a baseball team. Your team is 2 games behind the leader, and each team has five games left to play. You win two games, but your opponent also wins two games. You’re still 2 games behind the leader, but now there are only three games left in the season. Mathematically, your opponent’s chances of victory have increased.

Clinton has some good opportunities ahead (notably Pennsylvania and a likely revote in Florida) but Obama has about the same number of states which look favourable to him. Every time the candidates trade victories, his grip on the nomination tightens.

As for Pennsylvania, I’m eager to see what Obama can do. Right now, Clinton has a substantial lead in the polls:  52%-37%, according to Rasmussen. But there are six weeks between now and the vote, and no other primaries to claim the candidates’ attention. Obama can go head-to-head with Clinton in every corner of the state. You can expect to see Clinton’s lead shrink.

Yes, I still think Obama is in the mop-up phase of this operation. Clinton is playing it out, like a fish on the end of a line. But the outcome doesn’t appear to be in doubt.

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