Thursday, 6 March 2008

Delegates, Momentum, McCain, Popular Vote

On another website yesterday there was a discussion about whether Obama had done well to get so close in one of 'Hillary's states.' It is intriguing how easy it is to get diverted by opinion polls. But no-one 'owns' a state until they have won it. Only four things matter at this stage in this order:

i) Delegates
ii) Momentum
iii) Head to head with McCain (admittedly based on polls)
iv) Popular vote

Now, as reported yesterday it is almost impossible for Hillary to win on the delegate count. That is why Obama's campaign sent out an email entitled 'The Math' yesterday. David Plouffe says:

Anthony --

Our projections show the most likely outcome of yesterday's elections will be that Hillary Clinton gained 187 delegates, and we gained 183.

That's a net gain of 4 delegates out of more than 370 delegates available from all the states that voted.

For comparison, that's less than half our net gain of 9 delegates from the District of Columbia alone. It's also less than our net gain of 8 from Nebraska, or 12 from Washington State. And it's considerably less than our net gain of 33 delegates from Georgia.

The delegate numbers on Real Clear Politics don't quite stack up with this email but David Plouffe's point is still the same and it's a strong one. Hillary can't win on the delegate count.

But she can win on momentum going into August and the head to head with McCain (though she has been consistently behind up until now.) She can also grab the overall popular vote as explained here. It's a slightly unfair comparison given that a good portion of Obama's success has been in caucus states. The Clinton camp would argue that this demonstrates that Obama is less successful when facing the popular vote. There's not a lot of evidence for this- he would be behind overall if that were true and at this stage he's narrowly ahead. It is more likely that he happens to be popular in many states that have caucuses rather than primaries. Difficult to say either way.

So what should Obama do to remain ahead on the popular count? Actually, what should he do to stay ahead period? Well, what he's doing seems to be working. In fact, what he's doing seems to be working amazingly well. He needs to tactically calibrate- maybe focus a bit more on economic issues, beef up a bit what political change will actually mean in concrete terms, but we are talking emphasis rather than strategy at this stage. All of the Clintons' negatives are well established so there is no real gain in going there anything other than occasional or when he needs to parry. It is probably worth drawing attention to her credentials to be Commander-in-Chief (what real experience does she have? honestly?)

Yesterday, I estimated that Hillary's chances of success were 25%. That means Obama's are 75%. A 3/1 odds-on bet is worth taking. So Obama should stick to the strategy and drive towards the finish.

Post script: See this article for the latest state of play on Florida and Michigan. There might be a re-run....

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