Clinton needed a crushing victory of 18 per cent to 25 per cent to have any real chance of altering the math or the psychology of the campaign. Demographically, Pennsylvania was made for Hillary: the second oldest state in the nation, heavily blue collar, Catholic and rural – Hillary’s voter profile. She started with a lead of almost 20 points. But her final margin – which the Pennsylvania Secretary of State says was only 9.2 per cent – fell far short of what was needed to stop Obama’s nomination. Here’s why.
1) Pledged Delegates. By CNN’s count, Clinton netted about 14 pledged delegates in Pennsylvania. That still leaves Obama up by 151 pledged delegates. It is likely that after Guam, Indiana and North Carolina, there will be no net change in pledged delegates, even if Clinton wins Indiana, since Obama will certainly pick up delegates in North Carolina. But at that point only 251 pledged delegates will remain to be chosen.
Even if Clinton won 80 per cent of all of the pledged delegates that remain after Indiana, she would still trail Obama at the end of the day.
The battle for the pledged delegate advantage is over.
2) Popular Vote. Pennsylvania was Clinton’s best opportunity to really close in on Obama’s popular vote lead. She picked up about 216,000 net votes. But that still leaves her over 600,000 votes behind, and Obama will likely increase his popular vote margin further after the contests on 6 May. Her failure to blow Obama out in Pennsylvania makes it almost impossible for her to close the popular vote gap.
3) Electability. Clinton’s entire strategy rests on the premise that she can convince Super Delegates that Obama is unelectable. Only a massive win in Pennsylvania would have credibly made that case. Clinton’s victory did little to enhance her argument.
Regardless of the passions of the moment, history shows us that just because voters prefer one candidate in the primary, it doesn’t mean they won’t vote for her Democratic opponent in a general election when the other choice is a Republican. When all is said and done, primary voters almost always vote for the candidate of their party in a general election – regardless of what they might say (on either side) in the middle of a primary fight.
In fact, the people who decide general elections rarely set foot in primary voting booths. They are the independent voters who vote only in general elections and unengaged voters who would vote Democratic, but have to be mobilised to go to the polls.
The fact is that whatever appeal Hillary might have among independent rural and blue collar voters, Obama more than makes up for in appeal to independent suburban voters. Obama’s ability to mobilise new young and African American voters in the general election is indisputably greater than Clinton’s.
And of course, Obama will not go into the General Election burdened by the towering Clinton negatives that her own negative campaign strategy increases daily.
The polls – and even Pennsylvania Governor and Clinton supporter Ed Rendell – make it clear that Obama can win Pennsylvania in the general election. But Obama can also broaden the playing field with a shot at winning states like Colorado and Virginia.
4) Super Delegates. Finally, is a fact that is generally overlooked by pundits. At the close of the primaries, Obama will not need a stampede of Super Delegates to clinch the nomination. In fact he will only need about 40 per cent of those that remain undecided today.
Let’s make the most conservative assumptions about the outcome of the remaining races: Guam, even; North Carolina, 58 per cent – 42 per cent Obama; Indiana, 54 per cent -46 per cent Clinton; Kentucky, 60 per cent – 40 per cent Clinton; West Virginia, 60 per cent-40 per cent Clinton; Oregon, 56 per cent – 44 per cent Obama, Montana 56 per cent – 44 per cent Obama; Puerto Rico, 60 per cent – 40 per cent Clinton. That would leave Obama at 1,846 delegates at the close of the Primaries.
He would need only 41 per cent of the Super Delegates remaining today to clinch the nomination with 2,025. And let’s remember, he has picked up almost one Super Delegate a day for the last month. There is no reason to believe he won’t keep picking up Super Delegates as the contest continues. So by the end of the primaries he will need an even lower percentage of the Super Delegates that remain.
All that remains for Clinton are more opportunities for her own campaign to be shut down. If she loses Indiana and North Carolina it will be extremely hard for her to continue. But there is no longer any opportunity for her to defeat Obama.
Clinton may have won on Tuesday, but she failed to do what she needed to do to derail Obama’s march to the nomination. In retrospect, Pennsylvania will appear as Clinton’s Waterloo.
The article first appeared on the Huffington Post.
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