Feb 11, 2008

February 9, 2008: Virtual Draw, The Engine Redlined, Hillary's to Lose

Meanwhile, the remaining Democratic candidates fought themselves to a virtual draw in last Tuesday’s primaries, caucuses and conventions. Hillary, at last count had won 8 states, Obama 13, with one yet to be decided giving both an almost equal number of delegates to the convention. With the next round of states favoring Barack, and the later rounds favoring Hillary, we could end up at the end of the long, grueling process with a deadlocked convention, no closer to choosing a nominee that we were in January.

The good news is that these campaigns, pitting as they are the first putative female and first black nominee, are generating huge increases in public participation as people who have never participated before are drawn into the contest. Voter turnout so far rivals the mid-seventies as new waves of female, black and younger voters are drawn into the vortex portending a huge Democratic turnout in November.

The bad news is that one of these groups must emerge from Denver disappointed. The blowup would be not unlike someone throwing a cinder block on a car’s accelerator and watching the engine red line then explode. In what promises to be a season of hope we might instead bear witness to the implosion of the Democratic Party as the two major faction’s war over delegates in a death-struggle for the nomination. It is, from this distance, not difficult to imagine both candidates a few votes shy of the nomination with the contested returns of Michigan and Florida in the balance. A huge floor fight ensues, much like the Republican convention of 1912, or the Democratic conventions of 1968 and 1972, producing a pyrrhic victory with the emerging champion leading a hopelessly divided and demoralized party.

Obama, once again transcendent, has found his voice. Beneath the numbers of states and delegates won and lost are those demonstrating an Obama surge, especially with Latino voters in California and elsewhere, and a growing proportion of white support—especially white male support—across the country. As people went to the polls, white support had increased to nearly 40% from a low of 15% in South Carolina just a few weeks ago. Much was made of the setbacks the Kennedy’s had suffered when Obama lost Massachusetts to Hillary despite the endorsement of Kennedy and Kerry as well as the state’s governor. But this, in some measure, misses the point. These endorsements came late; a bit more than a week before what was, in effect, a national primary covering 22 states. What was lost in the reporting was the closing of the gap both in the white vote and the Hispanic vote that occurred in the last days of the campaign. No state in the Democratic contests awards delegates on a winner-take-all basis but, instead, according to the proportion of the vote. These endorsements gave Obama the needed lift to close the gap and fight Hillary to a draw on a night when she should have put the challenger away. Given the initial support among super delegates—those party officials and operatives who will have a vote at the convention—this nomination has always been Hillary’s to lose. She is doing a damn good job of it. Last Tuesday the Jedi fought the Empire to a draw in a contest in which the future of the Democratic Party, and perhaps the country, hangs in the balance.

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