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Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Can't Win for Losing

Hillary in WVAssociated Press has a paragraph about last night's W. Virginia primary that made the phrase "damning with faint praise" pop into my head. Exit polling in that state revealed Hillary Clinton's base.

Clinton ran away with the contest partly by capitalizing on the state's nearly all-white population and its low number of highly educated residents — two segments of voters that have backed her solidly all year.

You go girl. You own the white undereducated -- otherwise known as the same people who'll vote McCain in the general election. Clinton claims that W. Virginia is a "key swing state." But that'd be a much better argument if it had the added benefit of being true. Unfortunately for Hillary, pollster Rasmussen list W. Virginia as "safely Republican" for '08. W. Virginia is not, by any stretch of the imagination, a "swing state." Look up "red state" in the dictionary and there's a map of W. Virginia.

In short, everything Clinton won last night would be taken away from her by John McCain. Winning a percentage doesn't matter in the electoral college -- that's winner take all. Making a dent doesn't count.

All in all, it looks like Clinton wins 20 delegates and Obama wins 8, giving Clinton a net gain of twelve. As I pointed out yesterday, at that rate Clinton will need to win nine or ten more primaries by the same margins to catch up -- there are only five left.

Adding insult to injury, the race that Clinton really needs to win -- in fact, the race that's her only hope -- widened last night. Barack Obama picked up two superdelegates. Clinton won W. Virginia but lost where it counts. Despite a better than 40% win, last night saw her lose ground in the superdelegate race.

And this adds one to Clinton's "big wins," which now total a whopping three. In primaries won by over 20%, Barack Obama has twenty-two under his belt. "Landslide" is never going to become Hillary's nickname.

All of which adds up to a meaningless win in W. Virginia last night. You've got to wonder what her strategy is here -- it doesn't look much like she actually has one. She has to convince superdelegates to back her -- she can't win in state primaries -- and she's making arguments that the general electorate may fall for, but that superdels must find vacuous. Nobody really thinks Clinton would take W. Virginia in the general, no one believes that wins in a state against a fellow Democrat is in any way representative of how she'd do against a Republican. In fact, her "big state" argument took a hit recently when polls showed that both New Jersey and California would go to Obama if their elections were held today. Not only does a win in a state not demonstrate how you'd do against a Republican, it doesn't even show how you'd do against that same dem later. Superdelegates know this -- most have run elections and seen how polls change.

If she can't convince superdelegates that she's the better candidate, despite being hopelessly behind in the primaries, then she has no chance. And, since none of her arguments are especially good, she has no chance. At this point, she seems to be trying to BS people who are election experts about elections. It's hard to see how that's going to work.

Of course, the truth is that she's just trying to keep her head above water. Nearly everyone agrees that Clinton can't win, but Obama can still lose. But what it would take for Obama to screw this up is an open question -- I think it would take a jaw-dropping scandal. A murder or an arson, maybe. It doesn't seem likely but state lotteries probably give worse odds. You've got to be in it to win it.

For his part, Obama is signalling just how slim he knows those odds are. While Clinton was celebrating in W. Virginia, Barack Obama was elsewhere. Not in upcoming primary states like Oregon or Kentucky, but in the bona fide swing state of Missouri -- today he's in Michigan. Both states are over, primary-wise, and these appearances have jack to do with Hillary Clinton. For Barack Obama, the primaries have ended. He's competing in the general election against John McCain, with no worries about Hillary Clinton and her "big win" in a red state.

This is just one more reason why Obama's winning the superdel argument. He's the one moving forward, away from a primary battle whose only real purpose is to get Clinton face time on networks. All that are left are scraps and bones and crumbs and there's no reason for someone with such a comfortable lead to fight over electoral dregs. He no longer needs to win against Clinton, his fight is now with McCain -- and the remaining superdelegates have to know that.

If she can't win the SDs, she can't win the race. And she can't win the superdelegates.


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