May 7, 2008

Indiana, North Carolina, and Beyond: Numbers and Asterisks

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Given the nature of this Democratic primary, it only makes sense that Obama would take one state and Clinton would take the other. However, Obama soundly defeated Clinton in North Carolina while Clinton narrowly won a nail-biter in Indiana, and North Carolina has more voters and delegates as well. I would even say that tonight symbolizes the race in general; although this has proved to be a very close battle, all the signs are pointing to Obama if one looks deeper.

Tonight’s results are not exactly what Clinton needed to continue her strong comeback, especially since Indiana and North Carolina have almost half of the remaining pledged delegates. However, while most human beings would have thrown in the towel by now, this is no mere mortal: this is Hillary Clinton. As much as she would have enjoyed hearing her supporters scream “NO!!!” if she had pulled a Romney and dropped out earlier, Clinton by all means seems poised to drag this battle on to the bitter end.

Furthermore, Hillary still has two cards she could potentially play after all the primaries have taken place. Let’s take a look at both.

The Popular Vote*
Asterisk for a reason. Taking a look at the totals from Real Clear Politics before this election, Hillary only wins the popular vote if it includes both Florida and Michigan, the two states whose primaries do not count (and the latter of which did not have Obama on the ballot). Additionally, Clinton’s margin is only 85,120, but if you include Florida and Michigan, you might as well include the estimates from the four states which hold caucuses, at which point the margin is only the 25,102. However, the latest numbers, which include Indiana and North Carolina, give Obama control of the popular vote no matter how you measure it. Of course, Clinton will do her best regain the lead there over the remaining contests, but her chances of winning the popular vote without Florida or Michigan are minuscule.

The Electoral College
An interesting metric suggested by the Clinton campaign. Basically, it takes the fifty state primaries as well as Washington D.C. and pretends this is the general election. So if Clinton wins California, she wins the 55 Electoral College votes California has for the general election. I ran the numbers on this one, and after tonight it turns out that both candidates are tied with 217 votes each (270 are needed to win). I find that more than ironic. This total, however, excludes three states: Florida, Michigan, Texas. Why I excluded the first two are obvious, but the third deserves some more explanation. Clinton won the primary and thus the popular vote in Texas, while Obama won the caucus in Texas and actually came out with more delegates in the state as a whole.

Now if you chalk Texas and its 34 electoral votes to Clinton since she won the popular vote there, she wins by any standard. After Texas, if you include the 44 electoral votes from Michigan and Florida, Clinton has 295 electoral votes, more than enough to win. If you exclude Michigan and Florida, it only makes sense to bump the magic number down from 270 to 248, at which point Clinton’s 251 electoral votes are 3 more than she needs. If you give Texas to Obama but award Florida and Michigan to Clinton, Clinton leads 261-251, and looking at the five remaining states, Clinton surely can come up with 9 more votes. The Electoral College argument definitely plays in Clinton’s favor, but even with this one there are many different ways to run the numbers.

So if you managed not only to read but comprehend everything up to this point, you can clearly see that there a lot of numbers and asterisks. To top it off, had I even tried to run the numbers and possiblities with a combination of the pledged delegates and the superdelegates (who could be influenced by either of the above two arguments), I could have easily doubled the length of this blog post, although most of the signs would have pointed Obama’s way. Needless to say, any quantitative measure of this race creates a considerable amount of confusion. And so long as that confusion still exists, Clinton will still be fighting hard for the nomination.

Mike Wacker is The Sun’s Assistant Web Editor. He can be reached at [email protected].