There were 209 national polls taken up to February 3, 2008. Hillary Clinton was ahead in all of them, except for three ties, and three that Obama had a slight lead in. In other words, according to the polling firms and the national media, Hillary was 203-3-3 vs. Obama. Pretty good record, eh? Any sports team would die for that kind of record, if only they played that many games in a season. No wonder she was the “inevitable nominee”. With numbers like those, how could she possibly lose?
Only one problem, one that the media failed to ever mention much of. National polls have historically always been wrong when taken before a single state casts its ballots. They are meaningless tests of name recognition, not popularity or strength. Put anyone with name recognition against someone without and the one who people recognize will always come out on top in national polls. Does that mean they would win a presidential contest? No, absolutely not.
So the national media, the political analysts and the candidates themselves (*ahem* Hillary) got it all very wrong. They created an artificial aura of strength and invincibility which quickly vanished after a stunning defeat. Afterall, those that are “inevitable” should not have such an early upset, right? The people of Iowa rebuked what was being reported. They stood up for change and gave the Clintons a clear message with their third place finish: your time has passed.
Now that more than 30 states have weighed in, the picture is getting clearer. Iowa, not New Hampshire, is reflecting the mood of the voters. Obama has a continent-spanning winning streak going since Super Tuesday. From Washington to Utah, Colorado, Kansas, Missouri, Illinois and beyond – big, small and medium states – black, white and everything in between – America is standing with Barack Obama when months ago no one said they would.
With 20 wins under his belt, double Hillary’s, Obama is quickly nearing a majority of states won long before the voting will end. At his current rate, he should have 22 by March 4, with 2-4 more coming into his column on that day. Add Wyoming and Mississippi a few days later and he will have won a majority of states with 8 states left to go. He currently enjoys a 200,000 popular vote lead which is likely to expand and a delegate lead, including or excluding super delegates.
Now that Obama leads in states won, popular vote, pledged and overall delegates, Hillary’s campaign has reverted to their old strategy of so-called “firewall states”. Iowa was the original firewall, then New Hampshire and finally, Super Tuesday. Except for New Hampshire, all of her firewalls have failed – and to a great extent, it did fail in New Hampshire to deliver that final blow that was first expected from their campaign.
The new firewall states are Ohio, Texas and Pennsylvania. After losing Super Tuesday, the Clinton campaign downplayed their chances in the rest of the February states, which account for 586 delegates. As I predicted on February 7, Obama won in Nebraska, Louisiana, Maine and Washington state (also 91% of the Virgin Islands, which I did not mention). He is poised to win in Maryland, Washington D.C., Wisconsin, Hawaii and Virginia. Post Super Tuesday, it appears that Hillary may not have a single win – nine straight state losses.
Assuming the above plays out, I find it mathematically unlikely that Hillary can win the nomination. Let me first postulate that Super Delegates will play no significant role in picking the party’s nominee. It would be against the interest of elected officials in a party that (rightfully) decried the Supreme Court’s ruling against Al Gore in 2000 as stealing the election if they overrule the will of the voters. The Super Delegates will, in all likelihood, look out for what is best for them and the party by supporting whoever has the most pledged delegates.
Now that we have that out of the way, let’s take a look at delegate totals as they stand today (according to RealClearPolitics.com):
Obama – 1,004
Hillary – 925
So right now, before Washington D.C., Maryland, Virginia, Wisconsin and Hawaii, Obama holds a 79 delegate lead. It should be assumed that his lead will increase from anywhere to 25-50 by the end of tonight when Virginia, D.C. and Maryland decide. This would put him in a delegate lead range of 104 to 129. A substantial amount with what will be fewer than 17 states (and Puerto Rico) remaining. Again, as the Clinton campaign keeps emphasizing, their “firewall states” are Ohio, Texas and Pennsylvania.
Since it is impossible to make an educated guess of what delegate counts will be, let’s assume that the winner statewide wins a majority of the delegates. The second assumption is that Obama wins proportionally more delegates for each state he wins than Hillary does for the states she wins, based on the results from the states that have voted so far. While he has performed above 60% in 10 states (including an unheard of 80% in Idaho and 74% in both Kansas and Alaska), she has only reached over 60% in one state (Arkansas).
The math is simply against her in the rosiest scenario that we could give her. Let’s give her the benefit of the doubt. Let’s say she wins her “firewall states” of Ohio, Texas and Pennsylvania. They account for a combined 577 delegates. Obama will win a substantial amount of these, but let’s just assume Hillary wins a majority. Furthermore, we will give her wins in Rhode Island, West Virginia and Kentucky. Add that to 577 and you get 708 delegates of which she would win a majority in this scenario.
We’ll further give her a benefit of the doubt and give him a low-end delegate lead coming out of February 12 with a 104 delegate lead. Add his delegate lead to wins in Wisconsin, Hawaii, Vermont, Wyoming, Mississippi, North Carolina, Indiana, Oregon, Montana, South Dakota and Puerto Rico. You get 725, giving him the edge in pledged delegates.
If you are wondering how I decided who wins what state, each are based on demographics, the type of contest (caucus or primary), whether independents can vote and regional results from contests thus far. Again, I gave Hillary’s campaign the benefit of the doubt. They say they are going to win Ohio, Texas and Pennsylvania. Including those in my total, as well as other states that seem favorable to her, she would still lose.
I am not claiming this is the way each state will break. However, giving her a best possible outcome based on conditions as they are today, Obama appears to be the clear favorite. This is imprecise, due to the nature of the proportional delegate allocation, but with past trends, Obama should win a higher proportion of delegates from the states he lost in my example than she does. In other words, a majority of the 725 delegates would go to him (104 would be from his delegate lead going into next week), a majority of the 708 would go to her, but he would get a larger majority because his support will likely be higher in the states that he wins.
Unlike the pundits and campaign people, I don’t think Hillary has as much of an edge in Texas and Ohio as she thinks. Ohio has similar demographics to Missouri (which Obama narrowly won) and Texas has fewer Latinos than California (Obama only lost by 10 points there). I think a far more likely scenario to occur than the one I just laid out above is Obama sweeping the post-Super Tuesday February states, cruising into March 4 with a burst of momentum, pulling an upset in Ohio, narrowly losing Texas, winning Vermont and losing Rhode Island.
Her campaign will lose almost the entire center of the country, from the Rocky Mountains, to the Great Plains to the Midwest and Great Lakes. With Alaska, Hawaii and Washington in Obama’s hands (and Oregon likely in May), her only Pacific Coast state will be California. The Atlantic Coast is hardly anymore hospitable to her. Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina, Virginia, Maryland, Delaware, Connecticut and Maine, all Atlantic Coast states, are either already in Obama’s column or will be. What’s left for her? California, New York, parts of New England, and a small swath of predominately white Southern states (while Obama wins the Deep South with its large black populations).
If Hillary loses just one of her three firewall states, it is over for her. Even if she wins all three it is an uphill climb. It just goes to show that a big state strategy, which failed on Super Tuesday, will fail again. You cannot win the nomination or the presidency by concentrating on small pockets of support in reliably Democratic regions of the country (New England and California, namely). Her fourth firewall may not be on fire (yet), but Obama has found a way around it: winning every other state.