Hillary Clinton Wins Ohio, Texas (Postmortem)

Hillary Clinton won the Ohio and Texas primaries, revitalizing her campaign and ensuring that the race will continue, probably to the Democratic convention. It’s not clear as of this writing (6:01 Eastern) how many delegates she’s won and her path to a majority of delegates remains unclear.

What It Means: The Spin Game

The candidates’ spin:

Hillary Clinton Wins Ohio, Texas “For everyone here in Ohio and across America who’s been ever been counted out but refused to be knocked out, for everyone who has stumbled but stood right back up, and for everyone who works hard and never gives up — this one is for you,” Clinton said before supporters in Columbus. “You know what they say,” she said. “As Ohio goes, so goes the nation. Well, this nation’s coming back and so is this campaign.”

Obama congratulated Clinton on her victories but downplayed his losses. “We know this: No matter what happens tonight, we have nearly the same delegate lead as we had this morning, and we are on our way to winning this nomination,” Obama told supporters in Texas.

That’s the framing we’ll get in the weeks leading up to the next major primary in Pennsylvania. Yes, Clinton won. But she didn’t make up much ground in the delegate race. Then again, it’s not as if Obama had a commanding lead.

While winning 50 percent plus one of the delegates is the endgame, the bottom line at this stage of the race is perception. While he’s right on the delegate math, Obama has gone from the all-but-inevitable nominee into merely the frontrunner. And, if Clinton plays her cards right, she’ll convince people that the race is simply tied. Which, for all practical purposes, it is.

What It Means: Delegate Math

The Washington Post runs Peter Baker and Anne Kornblut’s report on page 1 under the headline “CLINTON: Energizing Victories, But Difficult Delegate Math.” The crux of the piece:

Clinton wiped away the debate last night with a robust victory in Ohio and a narrow win in Texas. But as she vowed to keep campaigning, the tight vote in Texas signaled she may yet face a tough decision in coming weeks. The slim margin in the Texas popular vote and an additional caucus process in which she trailed made clear that she would not win enough delegates to put a major dent in Sen. Barack Obama’s lead. And regardless of the results, she emerged from the crucible of Ohio and Texas with a campaign mired in debt and riven by dissension

Clinton plans to use her triumphs in Ohio and Texas, as well as in Rhode Island, to argue that she still has a credible claim to the Democratic nomination, despite the delegate math. Many in her circle believe she finally recaptured momentum on the campaign trail in recent days and managed to put Obama on the defensive by questioning his readiness to serve as commander in chief. If nothing else, they hope she has earned a new lease to make her case to the nation.

[…]

Critical to Clinton’s prospect of victory are the superdelegates, the nearly 800 elected officials and party leaders who can vote any way they choose. Her campaign envisions what aides call a “buyer’s remorse” strategy of raising enough doubts about the first-term senator from Illinois through increasingly vigorous attacks and tougher media scrutiny to convince the superdelegates that it would be too risky to nominate him.

That reflects the recognition that it would be enormously difficult for Clinton to overtake Obama in the pledged delegates chosen by voters in primaries and caucuses. By some calculations, Clinton would need to win more than 60 percent of the vote in the dozen contests remaining between now and June 7 to catch Obama in pledged delegates — a steep challenge given that, so far, she has won that much in only one state, her onetime adopted home of Arkansas. Even in New York, where she is a sitting senator, she won 57 percent of the vote. She won 55 percent in Michigan, where Obama was not even on the ballot.

Jonathan Alter does the math state-by-state and demonstrates very clearly how hard it will be for Clinton to overtake Obama even if she gets some improbable wins. As his subhead puts it, “She could win 16 straight and still lose.”

Indeed, as Marc Ambinder points out, Obama will likely come away with more Texas delegates than Clinton even though it will be portrayed as a Clinton “win.”

But she doesn’t have to overtake Obama in pledged delegates; merely keep him from getting enough delegates to win. Clinton has won all the big states: New York, California, Texas, Ohio, Michigan, and Florida. Unfortunately for her, she gets no delegates for the last two (nor should she, under the circumstances). But she’s got a pretty powerful argument to make to the superdelegates.

What It Means: Show Me The Money

To the extent that mathematics is a problem for her, it’s in the accounting department, not the delegate count:

Her organization, though, is drained of money and energy. Outgunned by Obama in the fundraising department, the Clinton campaign is carrying millions of dollars in debt, although officials would not say how much, and it threw everything it had into Texas and Ohio. Campaign aides expressed optimism that she will draw a new infusion of money after these primaries and have enough to go forward, although that remains unclear.

One suspects money will come in now. But reports have Obama raising $50 million this month alone. He’s clearly the frontrunner in that department.

Postmortem: Race, Republican Cross-Overs, and Rush Limbaugh:

Matt Yglesias is reading those same and thinks “the racist vote” may have been the deciding factor, in that Clinton won 57-43 among the 20 percent who said race was “an important factor” in their vote. Jonathan Chait agrees, and notes that gender also went Clinton’s way. He concludes, “Clinton’s winning margin . . . came from the pro-female, anti-black (or, I guess, anti-male, pro-white) vote.”

But, even if the poll is representative, it’s worth noting that Clinton won the white vote 64-34 while Obama won blacks 87-13 in the same survey. Was this an anti-white vote? And is there really such a thing as an anti-male vote?

As noted yesterday, Rush Limbaugh urged listeners to vote for Hillary Clinton to prolong the race. Did they listen? It’s probably too early to say but not too early to speculate.

CNN’s Joe Van Kanel reports,

Early exit polling shows 10 percent of the voters in Ohio’s Democratic Primary identified themselves as Republican, along with 22 percent who said they were independents. It was the same story in Texas: 10 percent of the voters in the Democratic primary identified themselves as Republican, along with 25 percent who said they were independents.

Tom Ott, Michael Scott, Joe Wagner & Maggi Martin of the Cleveland Plain Dealer:

Poll watchers throughout Ohio are noting large numbers of Republican voters crossing over to vote in the Democratic Primary between Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton.

In the Republican roost of Chagrin Falls, veteran poll worker Liz McFadden was amazed at the number of people jumping the party’s ship. Democrats accounted for 70 percent of the voters in her precinct, one of seven at the village’s high school. “That’s a complete reversal of what it normally is, even more so,” she said. “I’ve never seen a switch like this.”

The defectors had motives both pure and sinister.

One woman voted for Clinton in hopes of delivering John McCain a weaker debate opponent. Another picked Obama because her vote could help deny Clinton and her husband a return trip to the White House.

A 69-year-old Catholic nun, Sister Ann Marie, was converted to the Clinton camp because of the former first lady’s experience. John Baggett, another ex-Republican for Clinton, said he simply wanted to switch, and Clinton represented a known commodity. “I’m happy with Republicans, in general,” Baggett, 50, said. “I don’t believe they’ve done a good job the last eight years.”

This is purely anecdotal and doesn’t tell us much of anything. My hunch, though, is that a handful of people voted to sabotage the opposition primary while most simply voted for their preferred candidate in the only contest that mattered.

Hugh Hewitt (and apparently Bill O’Reilly) thinks the Limbaugh factor was huge. But there’s not much evidence for that at this point. Indeed, the early Ohio exit polls show a 49-49 split of Republicans between Clinton and Obama.

Prediction Games: I predicted yesterday that Clinton would narrowly win Ohio, that Obama would likely take the delegate win in Texas even if Clinton won the popular vote, and the McCain would win the Republican contests. Dave Schuler predicted narrow popular vote wins for Clinton in Texas and Ohio. Alex Knapp predicted a narrow win for Obama in the Texas primary and a bigger one in the caucus and a Clinton win in Ohio.

Back in December, I predicted a McCain-Clinton general election matchup while Alex picked McCain-Obama. (Dave hoped for McCain but figured it would be Romney.) My chances of being right went up considerably last night but the odds are still with Alex. It’ll likely come down to the superdelegates and who they think would be more likely to beat McCain in the fall. Most everyone thinks Obama’s that guy; whether the superdelegates agree won’t be known until the summer. Stay tuned.

UPDATE: I think Taegan Goddard‘s right here:

Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama will win the Democratic primary because they made the math work for them. Pretending the nomination battle is like a precise mathematical formula ignores the messy political realities.

I’m less sure of this:

In fact, the ultimate Democratic nominee may be determined through negotiation. As Craig Crawford notes, “They might have to run together, whatever the order and whether they like it or not.”

I think Clinton needs Obama but am not sure why he’d want to run with her — whichever order the ticket. Clinton is incredibly polarizing and negates much of Obama’s “Hope! Change! Yes We Can!” appeal. If he’s at the bottom of the ticket, he’d be expected to be the attack dog, which hurts him. And it’s not as if recent losing VP nominees have been treated kindly by the Democratic nominating electorate when they come back and try for the top slot; Joe Lieberman and John Edwards had incredibly anemic bids.

UPDATE (Dave Schuler):

Flushed with the victory of my own correct predictions of the Ohio and Texas races I’ll make some more of which I’m pretty confident. Expect the Clinton campaign to float a couple of ideas, first, that the only big state that Barack Obama has won has been his current home state of Illinois and that Democrats need to win the big states in order to win the general and, second, that Barack Obama is only winning because Republicans and independents who can’t be depended on to vote for him in the general election are voting for him in the Democratic primaries.

As of this moment Barack Obama may win the pledged delegate count and the popular vote but not by a large enough margin that the superdelegates, however reluctant they might be, won’t end up deciding who the party’s nominee will be. And the Clintons know where the bodies are buried.

BTW I agree with James above. I think that Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama have a sort of reverse synergy thing going for them. The whole would be less than the sum of the parts. I also think that Hillary Clinton would have to be crazy to ask Barack Obama to be second on the ticket to her top and Barack Obama would have to be crazy to accept.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is a Security Studies professor at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. yetanotherjohn says:

    It is interesting to play with the delegate counter. As an example, I did a straight 45 Obama to 55 Clinton split of the remaining primaries and super delegates. End result was 1975 delegates (super and regular) for Obama and 1977 delegates for Clinton. That puts both of them short of the 2025 needed to get the nomination.

    I then did a 50-50 split straight down the middle for the rest of the primaries and super duper delegates. The result was Obama and Clinton both still came up short on reaching 2025.

    Now I am not arguing the 45/55 or 50/50 split is reasonable. You have a better chance of winning the lottery twice in a row than see either of those exact splits occur. But it does point out that it is going to be hard for either candidate to walk in with enough delegates to win the nomination.