I've refrained from commenting much about the Clinton/Obama race because I haven't quite known what to say. Since Edwards dropped out, I've become an Obama supporter almost by default. I admire Hillary Clinton a good deal, and if she is the Democratic nominee, I will work my ass off to help get her elected. In the primary, though, the deal-killer for me vis-a-vis Clinton is her vote for the war in Iraq, and her almost Bushian refusal to admit it was a mistake. I respect her experience, but what good is all that experience if it leads you astray on the single most important vote Congress has had in the last decade or two?
So I'm with Obama, whose voting record is more liberal than Clinton's, who opposed the war from the beginning, and who has more capacity than Clinton does to be a truly transformative, inspirational President.
Those biases admitted, here's my take on the race so far.
On Super Tuesday, both candidates succeeded, for the most part, in doing what they set out to do. Clinton, with her initially superior organization and fundraising ability, focused on the delegate-rich big states of California, New York, New Jeresy and Massachusetts and won all four. Obama ran an insurgent operation, focusing on smaller states and cashing in on his superior strength in caucus states. Clinton and Obama won about the same number of delegates, but Obama won more states.
It was then that the Clinton camp miscalculated. I get the sense that they really expected it to be all over but the shouting by Super Tuesday. When Obama hung tough and came within shouting distance of their delegate totals, they were caught without a game plan. They'd burned through most of their money. They hadn't given serious thought to winning post-Super Tuesday primaries. Perhaps they thought that their lead in the delegate count gave them momentum. The arcane rules of delegate allocation, though, caused the opposite reaction. The media--and most people I know--focused more on the number of states won than on the number of delegates, giving Obama the advantage of perceived momentum.
Now Obama has won all five of the contests since Super Tuesday: Louisiana, Washington, Nebraska, the Virgin Islands and Maine. By some calculations he is slightly ahead on delegates, even when Clinton's superdelegates are factored in; by other calculations he is slightly behind. He is favored to win the next three contests in Virginia, Maryland and the District of Columbia. Going 8 and 0 gets your team some very positive attention and creates a certain sense of inevitability.
Ironically, many states that moved their primaries to early in the season did so under the rationale that they would have more influence on the outcome that way. I didn't work out that way. Super Tuesday was so big that many of the states that held primaries that day didn't get a whole lot of attention from either candidate. And now, it turns out that the race will be decided not by the early states, but by the late-voting states of Ohio, Texas, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania.
Those states, with the possible exception of Wisconsin, would seem to be more Clinton-friendly locales--lots of Hispanics in Texas, lots of lower-middle class women in recession-ravaged Ohio and Pennsylvania. But with Obama on a tear and the nomination, for the first time, realistically within his grasp, his fervent supporters will doubtless work triply hard. The Clinton campaign is showing signs of demoralization, notably with yesterday's sacking of Hillary's campaign manager, who wants to spend more time with her family.
Two other factors will be significant in determining the outcome: the Edwards Primary and the Michigan-Florida conundrum.
Both candidates are meeting with Edwards this week in hopes of securing his endorsement and his delegates. Much as I like John Edwards, I don't think he really has much of a future in the Democratic party; he's been out of office too long. Having little to lose makes him, to my mind, more likely to endorse the insurgent Obama instead of the establishment Clinton. Of course, Clinton attracts more support from poorer people, the folks Edwards has championed, so his calculus could go the other way.
The issue with Michigan and Florida is a mess. As Kos and others have pointed out, it seems inconceivable that the Democratic Party would really hold a national nominating convention and exclude Michigan and Florida from participation. Clinton "won" both states and will argue that it is only fair that their voters' voices be heard; Obama will argue that he played by the rules and didn't campaign in those states, so it would be unfair to change the rules after the fact. Unless Clinton or Obama racks up enough support before the convention to make Florida and Michigan irrelevant, things could get pretty dicey in Denver. I could imagine that getting the nomination on the basis of parliamentary maneuvering a la 1972 would, in the immortal words of Pixie Palladino, leave a bad taste in the eyes of the public.
As someone who desperately wants a Democrat to move into the White House in January, 2009, I think the close competition between Obama and Clinton has been good for the party. But that won't be the case for too much longer. The best possible result would be for either Clinton or Obama to roll into Denver with a decisive majority, one that would make considerations of wavering superdelegates and the Michigan-Florida problem irrelevant.