Count every vote . . . er . . . at least, we think so

Dateline: 20 February 2008

Count every vote, is what Democrats shouted in Florida. Of course, what they meant was, keep looking for extra votes, but only in the counties where we are ahead. Allegations flew that Republicans were “disenfranchising” people, especially African Americans. No, said the Supreme Court, you can’t change the rules after the vote has taken place.

You will be hearing all these arguments again this summer, and even the most swivel-eyed of conspiracy theorists will not be blaming George Bush or Karl Rove. No Republicans will be involved.

The argument I predicted last week about whether or not to let delegations from Florida and Michigan attend the Democratic Convention is gathering pace. Unless there is a major swing to Obama – no credible swing to Clinton is now sufficient – this argument will continue.

Obama now needs 81% of the remaining elected delegates. It just isn’t realistic. Some of his strongest states, such as Illinois, where he is Senator, and southern states with large Black populations such as Georgia, Virginia and South Carolina have voted already. States with many blue-collar Democrats and Hispanics (who tend to favor Senator Clinton) lie ahead. Polls show Clinton easily winning Ohio, Pennsylvania and Texas. She will certainly not win as many states and territories as Obama, but with giant states such as that added to New York and California, which she has already won, the tally is going to be close. But if Obama’s hurdle of 81% seems hard to imagine, Senator Clinton needs 91% of the remaining delegates to win outright, and she is unlikely to get even half.

So it comes down to super-delegates and the disputed delegates from Michigan and Florida.

I crunched the numbers the other day, and it is looking unbelievably close. If Obama gets 55% of the remaining delegates he will have a clear lead among those elected by primaries and caucuses. But so far 60% of those super-delegates who have declared have backed Senator Clinton. If that holds for the remainder (and it might not) then Obama’s lead shrinks to a little under 100 delegates.

There are 367 disputed delegates from Florida and Michigan. Estimates vary, but it seems as though Senator Clinton has a net advantage of 100-150. In other words, she could enter the Convention behind and still win – but only by changing the rules to her advantage.

Unfair, the Obama delegates will cry. If the establishment changes the rules to disadvantage the first viable black candidate for President, this will be a catastrophe. Shouldn’t the super-delegates be guided by the votes of ordinary party members? Well, maybe, but how? Obama is almost certain to have the largest number of elected delegates. But some of his biggest victories have been in caucuses, in small states, and in heavily Republican states. Big victories in Illinois, Georgia and Virginia have given him a lead in the popular votes, but after Pennsylvania, Ohio and Texas that is likely to have evaporated. Obama could be leading, despite losing the popular vote.

In 1980 supporters of Ted Kennedy tried to change the rules to derail Jimmy Carter. In 1968 the Convention degenerated into riots. This year could be just as serious. In both 1968 and 1980 the Democrat lost badly.

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