Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Clinton's Popular Vote Claim? Close--But Not Quite*

Andrew Romano

Have you heard the news? Hillary Clinton is leading the popular vote--at least according to Hillary Clinton.

Yesterday, the former first lady crushed, creamed and/or clobbered rival Barack Obama 68 percent to 32 percent in Puerto Rico's penultimate primary. But knowing all too well that her net gain of 19 pledged delegates wasn't nearly enough to close the 180-delegate gap separating her from the Democratic near-nominee, Clinton instead focused her attention on the popular vote--technically irrelevant, impossible to measure accurately, but enough, she hopes, to sway the all-powerful superdelegates to break her way. Actually, "focused her attention" might be too gentle a phrase; "sunk her teeth in and wouldn't let go" was more like it. For Sunday's San Juan victory speech, Clinton's speechwriters found six (count 'em, six) different ways to claim a popular-vote victory. "More people have voted for us than for any candidate in the history of presidential primaries," she said. "We are winning the popular vote," she continued. "So, when the voting concludes on Tuesday... I will lead the popular vote," she added. "We are winning the popular vote," she repeated. And finally, "the majority of voters know who is ready on Day One to serve as our president"--in case you missed the point. Meanwhile, as Clinton regurgitated the lines du jour in interviews with the New York Times ("“In recent primary history, we have never nominated someone who has not won the popular vote”) and the Washington Post ("More people have woken up and gone to the polls and voted for me," etc.), her campaign released a new ad, posted above, called "17 Million" (apparently, "We Are Winning the Popular Vote" was too gauche). "Seventeen million Americans have voted for Hillary Clinton," says the narrator as adoring Clintonites--blacks, whites, toddlers--clap and cheer. "[That's] more than for any primary candidate in history."

The only problem? That's not quite, you know, true. As we wrote on Friday, Clinton, who has been saying for months that she would cross the finish line with the most votes, was banking on massive turnout in Puerto Rico to put her over the top. She had good reason to expect the best: local elections regularly attract 80 percent of the island's 2.4 million voters. But Sunday's primary was not a local election. In the end, only 384,578 Puerto Ricans cast ballots, meaning that Clinton's monster margin translated to an actual gain of only 141,662 votes. That's simply not enough to overcome Obama in any fair national vote tabulation--and by fair, we mean "any tabulation that awards Obama more than zero votes in Michigan," where his name wasn't on the ballot. If we include Florida (where Clinton won by 294,772 after neither she nor Obama campaigned) and the caucus states of Iowa, Nevada, Maine and Washington (where votes weren't counted and must, therefore, be estimated), Obama leads by 134,746; if we disenfranchise those caucus states--which represent a net Obama gain of about 110,000 votes--he's still ahead by 24,524. What's more, if we give Clinton her 330,000 Michigan votes and award Obama all 237,000 of the uncommitteds--a flawed but roughly equitable proposal, seeing as experts project that the Illinois senator would've won a standard Great Lakes State primary by 80,000--he emerges with a lead of 44,605. Even with only 82 percent of these uncommitteds in his column, Obama wins the overall popular vote. And he's expected to expand that edge by tens of thousands of votes on Tuesday with projected victories in South Dakota and Montana.

To be fair, Team Clinton is not lying when they say their candidate has won "seventeen million" votes--or "more than any primary candidate in history." They're just defining the truth very, very technically. If we stack all the ballots cast for the candidate named "Hillary Clinton" (17,916,763, including the caucus estimates) alongside all the ballots cast for the candidate named "Barack Obama" (17,723,200), the New York senator leads by 193,563. But again, that tally includes Michigan, where "Barack Obama" technically received zero votes. In other words, to believe that Clinton is "winning the popular vote," you must accept the exact results of a flawed election in which voters could choose only one of the two competitive candidates--and which Clinton herself said was "not going to count for anything." That strikes me as somewhat undemocratic. More importantly, it seems to be striking the superdelegates--a.k.a., the only voters who matter at this point--the same way. Clinton's vote tally is impressive. But on Tuesday, Obama will reach the end of regulation a mere 20-30 delegates away from clinching the nomination; Clinton will come in a whopping 200 behind. Which means that if Obama's unquestionable lead in the delegate count--i.e., the metric by which the Democratic nominee is chosen--sways 10 percent of the 200 or so remaining superdelegates before the other 90 percent buy Clinton's highly questionable popular-vote claim, it's game over for HRC. Obama isn't just a lock; he's, like, a giant tungsten carbide safe designed to withstand an apocalyptic nuclear holocaust.

Will Clinton continue after Tuesday? The signals are mixed. When the DNC decided on Saturday to award Obama 59 delegates in Michigan (as opposed to zero), top aide Harold Ickes "reserve[ed] the right to challenge [the] decision before the Credentials Committee"; such an appeal would lead, inevitably, to the Democrats' August convention in Denver (FYI: Clinton would lose). In San Juan the next day, Clinton campaign chairman Terry McAuliffe told the Politico that "every option is on the table," responding "No, it's not" when asked if securing 2,118 delegates (a post-Florigan majority) would mark the end of the marathon race and hinting that the campaign might be targeting some superdelegates committed to Obama. And as her plane left Puerto Rico, the candidate echoed McAuliffe's line on superdels, reminding reporters that "one thing about superdelegates is they can change their minds" up until the convention--a valid (if politically dicey) reason to stay in the race even after Obama has clinched the nomination. That said, there are equally compelling signs that the end is nigh. For starters, high-profile supporters like Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack and Florida Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz are suggesting that the contest is winding down. "It does appear to be pretty clear that Senator Obama is going to be the nominee," Vilsack told the AP today. "After Tuesday’s contests, she needs to acknowledge that he’s going to be the nominee and quickly get behind him.” Meanwhile, Clinton plans to retreat to her mansion in Chappaqua, N.Y. this evening to confer with her husband and advisers about what's next--and tomorrow her staff (many of whom have been informed that their campaign roles are ending) will converge on Clinton's political home, New York City, for an election night event.

As a group of her fellow New Yorkers once said, "Twenty, twenty, twenty-four hours to go..."

UPDATE, 1:09 p.m.: Two more Tuesday clues:

1) Via Ben Smith, "Clinton's event in New York appears to be something a bit bigger than a minor election night in two small states she's likely to lose might suggest. The venue she's booked, at Baruch College, is quite large. And Clinton's finance director, Jonathan Mantz, sent an email out to top donors inviting them to the event, of which I've obtained a copy."

2) Via Marc Ambinder, "Clinton Campaign staffers and former campaign staffers are being urged by the Clinton campaign's finance department to turn in their outstanding expense receipts by the end of the week. That's a sign, to them, that the campaign wants to get its affairs in order soon. If Clinton were staying in the race, there'd be no real reason to collect these receipts now; she'd still be raising and spending money from the same primary campaign account."

Just FYI.

*Changed from "Close--But No Cigar" to avoid the inappropriate (and unintentional, I swear) reference. Apologies to all for my stupid choice of words.
Original here

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