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February 19, 2008

She Just Doesn't Know it Yet

After Super Tuesday, the Clinton campaign got a shock when it started to dig into Texas' delegate rules. They'd planned to use Ohio and Texas to end Obama's winning streak and put Clinton comfortably ahead with wins in large-delegation states. Pundits all over are calling it the Giuliani strategy, and it's having about the same success for her as it did for him.

She would be in bad shape if Texas were merely a proportional allocation state. But it is much worse for her than that:

What Clinton aides discovered is that in certain targeted districts, such as Democratic state Sen. Juan Hinojosa's heavily Hispanic Senate district in the Rio Grande Valley, Clinton could win an overwhelming majority of votes but gain only a small edge in delegates. At the same time, a win in the more urban districts in Dallas and Houston -- where Sen. Barack Obama expects to receive significant support -- could yield three or four times as many delegates.

"What it means is, she could win the popular vote and still lose the race for delegates," Hinojosa said yesterday. "This system does not necessarily represent the opinions of the population, and that is a serious problem."

The disparity in delegate distribution is just one of the unusual aspects of Texas's complex system for apportioning delegates. The scheme has been in use for two decades but is coming under increased scrutiny because the March 4 presidential contest is the first in years that gives the state a potentially decisive voice in choosing the party's nominee.


Texas Democratic Party officials said there is a good reason that some senatorial districts yield two or three delegates while others yield seven or, in one Austin district, eight. The numbers are determined by a formula that is based on the number of voters in each district who cast ballots for Sen. John F. Kerry (Mass.) in the 2004 presidential campaign and for Chris Bell, the Democratic nominee for governor in 2006.

The higher the turnout in each district in those years, the more delegates the district will get to select this year, explained Boyd Richie, the state party chairman.

Someone at Clinton HQ wasn't paying attention. These were the rules for twenty years, and yet her staff "became alarmed" when they realized it just a few weeks ago? This is her post-halftime, do-or-die, make-or-break moment and they forgot to check the rules? I wonder if any of these staffers had the guts to turn to their neighbors and say, "We are so fucked."

Obama won the last eight contests, and his winning streak is likely to continue tomorrow in Wisconsin, where some recent polls show him with a double-digit lead. Clinton, like Giuliani, has underestimated the value of small victories. She didn't spend nearly as much as Obama in the last few states because she's been saving it up for "must-wins" Ohio and Texas. And all the time she's not making victories--all the time she's essentially standing still--she's falling behind in the polls.

Now, with two-and-a-half weeks to go before Texas' March 4th contest, she's in a statistical tie with Obama. Does anyone doubt that he's going to continue to cut into her once-formidable lead as her campaign manages only to make petty accusations of plagiarism?

I've heard the idea floated that given the proportional allocation of the last few primary states, Clinton cannot win unless she beats Obama by percentages of 25% or more unless she manages to seat the Michigan and Florida delegations as they are. Even then she still has to rely on the superdelegates not switching sides to avoid a Democratic Party crack-up.

Senator Clinton is in deep trouble.

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posted by Gabriel Malor at 03:10 AM

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