It’s official — HRC cannot win without superdelegate support. There are not enough pledgeable delegates left for her to put away the nomination before the convention. She needs both more pledged delegates and superdelegates than BHO now.
BHO theoretically could clinch before Denver — if he gets 294 of the remaining 408 delegates. But to do that, he’d need close to three-quarters of the vote from here on out — a most unlikely proposition, seeing as he’s now only leading by about ten points in his stronghold of North Carolina and HRC is still ahead by a nose in Indiana. He actually could clinch the nomination before the convention with a combination of winning more of the primaries left on the schedule and a press of superdelegate endorsements. But as I explain below, I’m not sure that’s in the cards, either.
As of right now, there are approximately equal numbers of superdelegates as there are pledgeable delegates up for grabs. But by Tuesday, 191 pledgeable delegates will have been allocated, reducing the number up for grabs in the seven remaining primaries and caucuses to 217. We can expect a net gain in delegates for Obama overall because of his lead in North Carolina and his surprising competitiveness in Indiana. But probably not a huge net gain; I’ll be looking for him to get in the 110 to 115 range with HRC getting around 75 to 80. That would leave Obama with a deficit of something like 180 to 190 delegates, with only 217 left up for grabs — meaning he’d have to get something like 85% of the votes the remaining seven caucuses and primaries, margins that he did not attain even in his home state of Illinois.
So BHO is not mathematically excluded from clinching, but as an effective matter, both candidates are in a world in which they need to suck up to these people more than they need to appeal to the voters in the remaining states on the primary and caucus schedules. Clinton still has the edge, although it is not nearly so powerful as it once was, in this inside game. That edge comes from having been on the inside for so long.
But while the pundits are expecting a flurry of superdelegate endorsements this week and next, it very likely won’t be enough for the balance of power to shift from the voters to the superdelegates unless nearly half of the remaining party leaders decide that now is the time to commit to one candidate or the other. And these are people who have held out this long, so it seems likely to me that the bulk of them have decided to at least wait for the primaries to play out completely before they announce a preference.
It’s a symbolically important point, albeit one that has been functionally inevitable for a while now. Bearing in mind that whoever the Democrats nominate will have huge advantages in the general election, whoever wins in Denver is quite likely to be #44 in a remarkable list of remarkable people. So less than 400 people, all of them Democratic Party elites, now hold more power than the voters to pick the person most likely to become the next leader of the free world.* Their choices are a veracity-deficient former First Lady and a smooth-talking Senator with a decidedly unusual “crazy uncle” problem he doesn’t seem able to solve.
Sir Winston Churchill said, “It has been said that democracy is the worst form of government except all the others that have been tried.” But then again, Sir Winston was equally right when he said “The best argument against democracy is a five-minute conversation with the average voter.” So you tell me — 400 people, selected by a decidedly strange and arcane process, are effectively vested with all the power to make that decision. Is that a bad thing or a good thing?
* I’m not counting McCain out yet. But let’s be realistic — McCain has a lot of water to carry left over from the Bush Administration that not even the bulk of Republicans are particularly fond of. Doesn’t mean he can’t win or that I don’t want him to. But he’ll be fighting uphill all the way.