Barack Obama swept the "Potomac Primary" yesterday, absolutely trouncing Hillary in Virginia, Maryland and DC. The magnitude of the victory in Virginia--64% for Obama--was quite impressive. Virginia hasn't gone Democratic in a Presidential election in 44 years, but it will clearly be a "battleground" state in November, with a decent chance of going blue. Virginians clearly signalled they believe Obama is the one who can make that historic leap in November.
But here's the problem: it is almost impossible at this point for Obama to win the Democratic nomination based on pledged delegates, i.e., those delegates who are bound to vote for Obama at the Democratic convention, as opposed to the nearly 800 uncommitted "superdelegates."
Here's the math: according to RealClearpolitics.com, Obama currently has 1104 pledged delegates to Clinton's 964. If you add in those "superdelegates" who have committed, Obama leads 1260-1221. (Note: you'll find different totals on different websites--but most have Obama with a small lead.) (Second note: the fact that a superdelegate has announced for a candidate doesn't mean they can't change their mind.)
It will take 2025 delegates to win. (Unless the Dems change their mind about sanctions imposed on Florida and Michigan.)
Roughly two-thirds of the states have already voted (34 states and the District of Columbia). There are 18 contests left (16 states, plus Puerto Rico and Guam), which account for 1075 pledged delegates.
If we use the higher RealClearPolitics numbers--which are higher than other websites have--for Obama, he still needs 765 delegates to go over the top, meaning he would need to capture more than 70 percent of the remaining pledged delegates to get the nomination. Likewise, Hillary would have to do even better than that to get over the top herself.
Now, a couple caveats on the math: John Edwards has 26 delegates, who could be released to vote for either Obama or Hillary. In addition, there are still roughly 70 pledged delegates not yet allocated from contests that have already occurred, of which 57 are in Colorado and Washington, both caucus states that Obama carried handily--meaning he will pick-up roughly two-thirds of those later on. Finally, Obama has won 10 out of 11 caucus states--in each of those states, his lead in delegates could shift slightly more in his favor as the caucuses proceed to state conventions. (The reason is that often delegates chosen at the earlier stages drop out along the way, concentrating voting power in the candidate with the majority.)
Still, let's say Obama gets two thirds of the Edwards delegates, two-thirds of the yet-to-be-allocated delegates and picks up another 15 in caucus states, he still needs about 700 delegates to put him over the top (without additional superdelegates).
Even if Obama wins every remaining contest, he's not likely to get 700 delegates under the party's proportional system of allocating pledged delegates. (One other caveat: Puerto Rico, which has 55 delegates, says it intends to give all its delegates--in violation of party rules--to the winner of its caucus, which is not until June 8. Given Hillary's relative strength amongst Hispanics, she should be favored there.)
Of course, if Obama pulled off the feat of running the rest of the table, it would be folly for the superdelegates to deny him the nomination, but he's not likely to do that. In any event, one problem--clearly revealed in the disparity of delegate counts on various websites--is how to count the superdelegates. At what point are they thoroughly locked in? In reality, never. Moreover, many of these superdelegates realize they gain more and more leverage the longer they wait, as they can cut deals for their support. (Deals that can only hurt in the general election, as they will be for special projects and special interests.)
There are a couple other problems as well. First, there very well could be a convention floor fight over trying to reverse the sanctions against Florida and Michigan, both of which were won by Hillary, but only after Obama played by the rules and didn't campaign in those states. Second, there could be a floor fight if Puerto Rico defies party rules and awards its delegates on a winner-take-all basis, also provoking a possible challenge by the loser to the seating of some or all of those delegates.
So, will Democrats have to wait until the last week of August, at their national convention in Denver, to finally know who their candidate is, while John McCain campaigns all summer as the GOP nominee?
That's a horrible scenario, and yet it looks probable at this point. About the only way out of it would be for Obama to graciously accept the Veep nod under Hillary. But why should he do that, and with Bill kicking around with nothing to do, why would he want such a position? Especially if he is leading in pledged delegates--the true measure of a candidates elected support--going into the convention.
Democrats are in trouble. Can anyone step up and lead them out of this mess?