Setting The Bar High For Senator Clinton

Bill Schneider at CNN has just now figured out that it’s functionally impossible for Hillary Rodham Cllinton to secure the Democratic Party’s nomination for President; he computes that she would need somewhere between 60% to 66% of the remaining delegates up for grabs to do that.

You, however, read the same thing, here, two weeks ago. By my count, it’s currently 59% of the remaining delegates up for grabs, which is close enough to the low end of Schneider’s estimate.

What Schneider adds, which is interesting, is that this does not mean that Clinton needs two-thirds of the vote. I referenced one analyst who thought Clinton would need to average 23-point margins of victory (that is, a result of something like 61% – 38%) in order to get back over the top. Schneider thinks that she would accomplish that goal with votes in the range of 56% rather than 61%. But he also notes that of the 46 jurisdictions that have already held primaries, conventions, or caucuses, she’s only gotten over 56% of the vote in Massachusetts, Rhode Island, New York, and Arkansas.

Now, as a lot of people noted, it appears that neither Senator Obama nor Senator Clinton will walk in to Denver with the 2,025 pledged delegates required to turn the convention into an annointment. But check this out. My friend looked up the DNC’s rules for the conventions — really arcane stuff. Once the convention is convened, the convention starts to be run by the party’s rules and not by fiat of DNC National Chairman Howard Dean.

In particular, consider the concept of a credentials committee. At a party convention, a credentials committee is that organ of the party which decides who can and cannot be a voting delegate. Under the DNC’s rules, Dean can pick a (relatively) small number of people who sit on the credentials committee of the convention. The rest of the members of that committee are selected by the candidates holding delegate pledges in proportion to the number of pledges that they hold.

This means that if Obama holds more pledged delegates than Clinton going into the convention, he will control a majority of seats in the credentials committee. Only if the total pledges are very, very close will Dean’s nominations to the committee be the decisive faction. Right now, the pledges accumulated would not be enough to give Dean the power to shift control of the committee to Clinton (were he to take Clinton’s side, which it is not at all clear that he is inclined to do anyway).

And that committee, not Howard Dean or the rest of the DNC, gets to decide whether to (for instance) recognize delegates from Michigan or Florida. They have plenary discretion to make that decision as they choose; if they do nothing or cannot reach a majority decision otherwise, Dean’s decision to not recognize those delegate slates will stand. In theory, that committee could refuse to recognize other delegates if there is any kind of credible challenge to them, as well.

There is an appeal from the credentials committee — if 20% or more of the committee votes to do so, the matter in the committee can be taken to a floor vote of the general convention, where all the then-credentialed delegates can vote on it. But if Obama has more pledged delegates than Clinton, he’ll very likely control the convention floor, as well — unless the superdelegates all bail out on him.

If Clinton wants to be competitive in that kind of environment, she needs to have two things. First, she needs if not an outright majority of pledged delegates, she must be within about 100 or so pledged delegates as Obama. Second, she needs a great inside game — which must include Dean firmly in her pocket, as well as more than a handful of other party elites who can sway and corral a sufficient number of uncommitted delegates on the floor to vote in her favor. It’s becoming clear, though, that most of the superdelegates are going to be inclined to put their support behind whoever has the most pledged delegates at the end of the primaries. So Clinton’s inside game appears to be evaporating on her.

What’s more, it’s been a very long time since the Clinton machine has had to deal with a rough-and-tumble political convention — not since the mid-1980’s. I suspect that Barack Obama, who has more direct experience working the nuts and bolts of Chicago-area local politics, has more skills at this sort of thing than Clinton. Clinton’s advantage in the inside game comes from the fact that the Clintons controlled so much money for so long that candidates had to come up to their ATM and borrow favors from them. Obama’s fundraising prowess has created an alternative to that.

So unless Clinton can get over the top and by at least the margins Schneider is describing (which she’s only been able to do in very friendly jurisdictions), I don’t really think she has a realistic shot at the nomination any more.

Burt Likko

Pseudonymous Portlander. Homebrewer. Atheist. Recovering litigator. Recovering Republican. Recovering Catholic. Recovering divorcé. Recovering Former Editor-in-Chief of Ordinary Times. House Likko's Words: Scite Verum. Colite Iusticia. Vivere Con Gaudium.


  1. It’s so hillarious that Senator Clinyon’s Camp and so many menia ankors rely on just the LONE Gallup poll to report that she is more electible that Senator Obama. In dact most polls see Senator Obama as doing better with ost voters. I wish that the media, including CNN’s Anderson, check out facts before getting so excited. Senator Obama leads in EVERY POLL, except Gallup’s. How reliable os the Gallup Poll???Poll Date Sample Obama Clinton Spread RCP Average 03/13 – 03/19 – 47.2 44.2 Obama +3.0 Gallup Tracking 03/17 – 03/19 1219 V 43 48 Clinton +5.0 Rasmussen Tracking 03/16 – 03/19 900 LV 46 43 Obama +3.0 CBS News 03/15 – 03/18 LV 46 43 Obama +3.0 CNN 03/14 – 03/16 463 RV 52 45 Obama +7.0 USA Today/Gallup 03/14 – 03/16 530 A 49 42 Obama +7.0 Reuters/Zogby 03/13 – 03/14 525 LV 47 44 Obama +3.0

  2. An interesting thing happened between October and March. When Senator Clinton realized that her candidacy was very much in doubt, her position on the role of the michigan and florida primaries was suddenly reversed. the link below at mins 22 -25 shows her original position:… apparently disenfranchisment is a question of convenience

  3. If Michigan and Florida voters are not good enough to count in the Democratic Primary Race, then we aren’t good enough to count for the democrats in the general election and we should either vote for McCaine or not vote in opposition.

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