Monday, May 12, 2008

Clinton Campaign Appears Doomed as Obama Takes Over Superdelegate Lead

Clinton's Argument That She's More Electable Is Eclipsed by a Growing Conviction Among Superdelegates That Obama Is the Clear Choice of the Voters to be the Democratic Party's Nominee -- and That Their Choice Should Not be Overturned

In this Feb. 26, 2008, file photo, Democratic presidential hopefuls, ...

"No hard feelings, eh?" is what Barack Obama might soon say to Hillary Rodham Clinton, as the Illinois senator surpassed the former first lady among the Democratic Party's "superdelegates" over the weekend, a giant step toward securing the party's presidential nomination. With Obama holding an almost-insurmountable lead among the party's pledged delegates and a nationwide 800,000-vote advantage going into Tuesday's West Virginia primary, the party's 200-plus remaining uncommitted superdelegates appear unwilling to go against the voters, rejecting Clinton's claim that she's more electable against Republican John McCain in November. (Photo: Rick Bowman/AP)

By Skeeter Sanders

It's all over -- almost.

The outcome of the 2008 battle for the Democratic presidential nomination is no longer in doubt: Barack Obama will emerge from the August convention in Denver as the party's standard-bearer for the presidency of the United States.

And there's precious little that Hillary Rodham Clinton -- her campaign all but bankrupt, with a crushing $20 million debt -- can do about it.

Even if the former first lady sweeps the six remaining primaries starting with Tuesday's contest in West Virginia, her rival's overall lead in delegates to the convention is now virtually insurmountable -- even if disputed delegates from Florida and Michigan were included.

Obama all but secured the nomination over the weekend when the Illinois senator erased his New York rival's months-long lead among the party's "superdelegates" by picking up the support of five superdelegates from Utah, Ohio and Arizona -- as well as two from the U.S. Virgin Islands -- who had previously backed Clinton.

The last-minute switches on Saturday -- combined with Clinton's apparent failure to convince the party's 200-plus remaining uncommitted superdelegates that she's more electable than Obama in the November contest against Republican John McCain -- enabled Obama to surpass Clinton's superdelegate total for the first time in the campaign.

They come on top of nine other superdelgates who announced their support for Obama on Friday.

West Virginia, Kentucky to be Clinton's Last Hurrah

Nearly 800 superdelegates will attend the convention. Obama now has commitments from 276, according to the latest tally by The Associated Press. Clinton has 271. That gives Obama an overall delegate lead of 1,864 delegates to Clinton's 1,697 going into Tuesday's West Virginia primary, which Obama already has conceded to Clinton.

The New York senator and former first lady is also expected to win Kentucky's primary on May 20. But West Virginia and Kentucky are all but certain to be Clinton's last hurrah, as whatever delegates she picks up in those two states won't be enough for Clinton to catch up to Obama.

Because of the Democratic Party's system of assigning delegates based upon a candidate's proportion of a state's popular vote, Clinton would have to sweep each of the six remaining contests by landslides of 65 percent of the popular vote or greater in order to capture the nomination, a feat that even the Clinton campaign now admits is impossible, given that she has never won any state -- not even her home state of New York -- by that wide a margin.

Obama, who's expected to win Oregon's May 20 primary and has a better-than-even chance to capture Montana and South Dakota on June 3, is just 160 delegates shy of the 2,025 needed to secure the Democratic nomination.

Even if the disputed delegates from Michigan and Florida are included in the total delegate count -- extremely unlikely given the fact that Obama's name wasn't on the ballot in Michigan and the Clinton campaign already has rejected a compromise plan to split that state's delegates 50-50 -- the former first lady can at most expect to end up with 1,885 total delegates, not enough for the nomination.

Obama, meanwhile, can go over the magic number with 2,144 delegates with wins in Oregon, Montana and South Dakota -- and a two-thirds majority of the remaining uncommitted superdelegates.

Obama's Superdelegate Support Is Growing While Clinton's Is Crumbling

What's really damaging Clinton's campaign -- perhaps fatally -- is the dramatic reversal of support for the two rivals by the party's superdelegates. Clinton's support, in fact, has remained static since Super Tuesday while Obama's has steadily grown stronger. Obama has added 21 superdelegates in the past week and Clinton has had a net increase of only two.

Now Clinton's superdelegate support is crumbling.

An increasing number of superdelegates who previously were committed to Clinton are switching to Obama, while the Illinois senator has yet to lose a single superdelegate to Clinton. Even the controversy over Obama's former pastor, Reverend Jeremiah Wright, has failed to dislodge any of Obama's superdelegates.

Many of the superdelegates who endorsed Obama in the past week said it is time for the party to unite behind him.

Kevin Rodriquez, a superdelegate from the U.S. Virgin Islands said in a statement that he switched from Clinton to Obama because he thinks Obama has brought energy and excitement to the party. "He has shown he can connect with Democrats, Republicans and independents across this country, whether we live on the mainland or an island," he told The Associated Press.

Superdelegates: We Have No Right to Repeat 2000 and Overturn Voters' Choice

Obama's milestone is important because Clinton would need to win over the remaining uncommitted superdelegates by a wide margin to claim the nomination -- and that's increasingly becoming impossible, as the trickle of superdelgates switching their allegiance from Clinton to Obama has grown into a torrent.

Even though neither Obama nor Clinton have won enough pledged delegates in the primaries and caucuses to win the nomination outright, there is a deepening conviction among the superdelegates that, although they're free to vote for whomever they please, the voters have spoken and the superdelegates have no right to overturn the voters' decision.

It's a fundamental principle of democracy: The voters have the last word. It's a principle that many Democrats will forever feel was violated in 2000 when George W. Bush won the presidency on the basis of the constitutionally-mandated Electoral College, despite losing the popular vote to Al Gore by 500,000 votes.

That bitter memory of the 2000 election clearly hasn't been lost on the superdelegates.

"I always felt that if anybody establishes himself or herself as the clear leader, the superdelegates would fall in line," said Don Fowler, a former chairman of the Democratic National Committee. "It is [now] perceived that he [Obama] is the leader. The trickle is going to become an avalanche."

Indeed, it's already happening.

Not Honoring the Voters' Choice Would Tear the Party Apart

There's also an unspoken fear among superdelegates that if they awarded the Democratic nomination to the candidate who lost the popular vote, the party would be torn asunder, as supporters of the candidate who won the popular vote would walk out of the convention and would punish the party in November by either staying home or voting for McCain.

That's a scenario that is giving party leaders nightmares -- especially with race becoming a major factor in the deepening ill feelings between the Clinton and Obama camps.

While the media have made much about Obama's problems with drawing working-class white voters, a far more serious racial problem for the Democrats has been ignored: Clinton's utter failure to attract black voters -- especially in the South, where black voter support is absolutely vital for any Democrat to win.

It's no accident that except for her former home state of Arkansas, Clinton has failed to win a single Southern state -- where African-Americans make up a substantial percentage of the Democratic electorate -- since Super Tuesday.

Even in Texas -- which considers itself more Western than Southern -- Clinton's narrow win in Texas' Democratic primary was more than offset by Obama's landslide victory in the state's Democratic caucuses, handing Obama a slim majority of the state's 185 pledged delegates.

Clinton's standing among African-American voters has been in free fall ever since her husband, former President Bill Clinton, made disparaging remarks about Obama during and after the South Carolina primary in January that drew blistering criticism as being racially insensitive -- including a strongly-worded blast by this blogger in a January 28 column.

Clinton's Support Among Blacks Is Worst of Any Democrat Since Wallace in '72

Exit polls taken in last week's Indiana and North Carolina primaries found the former first lady's support among black voters to have fallen to the single digits -- the worst such showing by a Democratic presidential candidate in any primary since former Alabama Governor George Wallace in 1972.

Wallace, a one-time arch-segregationist whose campaign came to a sudden end with his near-assassination by a gunman while on a swing through Maryland, barely registered a blip with black voters in the Democratic primaries.

Bill and Hillary Clinton had enjoyed tremendous popularity with African Americans over the years -- with writer Toni Morrison even affectionately dubbing Bill Clinton "America's first black president" -- until Bill Clinton played the "race card" against Obama last January.

The former president tried to belittle the Illinois senator's overwhelming victory in South Carolina -- where African Americans make up more than 50 percent of the Democratic vote -- by comparing it to the Reverend Jesse Jackson's South Carolina wins in 1984 and 1988 in a naked attempt to paint Obama in a corner as "the black candidate" unable to attract white voter support.

In my January 28 column, this blogger wrote a stern warning -- aimed directly at the former president -- that has since proven to be prophetic:

"What you've done, Bill, was disgraceful. Totally disgraceful. And your gratuitous slap at Obama in his moment of victory could end up costing your wife the Democratic nomination. This blogger has four words for you, Bill: Shut the [expletive deleted] up!"

But, as it turned out, he didn't -- and now Bill Clinton will face the inevitable second-guessing; already, some pundits have likened the former president to a submarine that fired a torpedo and sank his own battleship.

The claim that Obama can't draw working-class whites is a theme that the Clinton campaign has used again and again -- most recently in Pennsylvania and now in West Virginia and Kentucky, with their high concentrations of working-class white voters.

But in claiming that only she can draw the support of working-class white voters, Clinton succeeded in alienating black voters of all classes -- and they've punished her by voting in greater and greater margins for Obama in every primary and caucus since South Carolina.

In the process, the Clinton name, once lionized, is now mud among African-Americans. And while women in general have formed the backbone of Clinton's voter support, black women have turned solidly against her, with the exit polls showing black women voting for Obama by ratios as high as 8 to 1.

Democrats Can Ill-Afford Clinton's Negative Baggage

Democratic Party leaders are now fearful that if Clinton became the nominee -- especially if, as expected, Obama wins the majority of the primaries -- African-Americans, the party's most loyal constituency since the 1960s, would punish the party by either staying home or worse, voting for McCain in the November general election.

Likewise would the millions of young people under 30 that Obama has succeeded in drawing to the polls in unprecedented numbers on his platform of change -- a feat that George McGovern, the 1972 Democratic nominee who ran on an anti-Vietnam War platform, failed to achieve in 1972.

McGovern, who previously supported Clinton, now supports Obama.

The fact is, Obama's campaign of change has resulted in record-breaking increases in Democratic voter registration -- and turnout in Democratic primaries. Indeed, total votes cast in the Democratic contests to date have outnumbered votes cast in the Republican primaries by such an overwhelming margin that despite having secured the GOP nomination weeks ago, there remains deep dissatisfaction among Republicans with their nominee-elect -- especially among hard-line social conservatives linked to the Religious Right.

The Democratic Party, therefore, really cannot afford to have Clinton as its standard-bearer; she has too much negative baggage -- much of it from her husband (Remember the Monica Lewinsky scandal?) -- to win in November.

It's no secret that Clinton has the highest negative ratings among the three major presidential candidates still in the race, with polls consistently showing up to half of general-election voters vowing that they won't vote for Clinton under any circumstances.

It's also no secret that the Republicans have been gearing up -- indeed, salivating -- for a fall campaign against Clinton for more than four years. Not to mention those independent right-wing "527" groups, whose attack ads against the Democratic nominee are beyond the control of the McCain campaign.

On the other hand, because Obama is a relative newcomer to the national political stage, there isn't much for the GOP and its allies to use against him, a task made all the more harder by being saddled with a deeply unpopular lame-duck president, a deeply unpopular war in Iraq and a tanking economy -- the latter being as deadly to the party controlling the White House politically as kryptonite is to Superman physically.

In this blogger's opinion, discomfort with the thought of Bill Clinton once again roaming the halls of the White House has a lot to do with Hillary Clinton's high negative ratings -- not to mention a continuation of the Bush-Clinton "dynasty" 20 years after George Bush, the elder, won the White House in 1988.

It's time for someone other than a Bush or a Clinton to be given the keys to the White House.

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Volume III, Number 31
Copyright 2008, Skeeter Sanders. All rights reserved.




Brad said...

It is insane to compare Wallace and Clinton. Clinton is a liberal, she supports Affirmative Action, she supports open borders, she supports screwing the white working class as much as posible, she is no George Wallace.