#14 Delegates Matter

On January 21, 2008

Hello Everyone,

Here, as part of my on-going series of Obamagrams, are some observations following the thud that was last Saturday’s Nevada caucuses – I say a thud because they didn’t matter. A much ballyhooed contest — in a relatively small, newly-designated “early state” that hasn’t had caucuses before — just didn’t prove much. Other than that this nominating process is a marathon, not a sprint. And, that it is a now two-person race.

Delegates matter. The current nominating system for the Democratic Party is still rather new.

It has not been tested when the nomination has been wide open — when there was no incumbent president or vice president running – which goes back to before FDR.

Winning delegates is all that matters. This is especially true because Barack and Hillary have each raised more than $100 million. Neither has to rely on “early-state momentum” to fill his or her coffers in order to keep going.

The following table shows you how close this race really is:

Delegates Won
  IA NH NV Total
Obama 16 9 13 38
Clinton 15 9 12 36

It also shows you how much further there is to run. Remember, it takes 2,025 delegates to win the Democratic nomination. So after all the commotion over the first three contests, neither candidate has won as many as 2% of delegates needed to prevail (this excludes so-called “super delegates” — party officials who are not bound to vote for any candidate.)

This is also like baseball – the final score is all that matters, not how many innings you win. And, even though these are two “heavyweight” candidates, there will be no earlyround knockouts here.

Vote totals are even, too. The following is my very rough attempt to see how many people have caucused or voted for Barack and Hillary so far.

  Barack Hillary
Iowa (est. turnout: 240,000)    
% Won 38% 29%
“Votes” 91,000 70,000
New Hampshire (turnout: 284,000)    
% Won 37% 39%
Votes 105,000 111,000
Nevada (est. turnout: 115,000)    
% Won 45% 51%
“Votes” 52,000 59,000
  _______ ______
  248,000 240,000
  ====== ======

Remember, there are 169,000,000 registered voters in the U.S. So, these totals are tiny.

Two points:

  • It looks like a dead heat to me.
  • It won’t be over soon.

A marathon. For months, the pundits and pollsters told us that Hillary would walk away with the nomination. Not so fast. After Iowa, they said Barack would win in New Hampshire, and Hillary would be a goner. Wrong. Next, Nevada would be a big deal. It wasn’t.

Now, South Carolina will be the decider. It won’t be.

South Carolina has a grand total of 45 delegates to award through its primary. If either Barack or Hillary were to win all of them, his or her total would still be less than 5% of the 2,025 delegates needed to win the nomination.

And, don’t let anyone tell you that Barack is simply “the black candidate” if he wins South Carolina.

It is unlikely that this race will be over on Super Tuesday, either.

Twenty-two states will hold Democratic contests on February 5. They will award about 2,100 delegates. Let’s say either Barack or Hillary wins 50% of the SC vote (worth about 23 delegates) and 50% of the Super Tuesday vote (worth about 1,050 delegates.) Then he or she would still only have about 1,100 of the 2,025 delegates needed to win the nomination. (Note: the largest fraction either one has won so far is 50.7%.)

Settle in for awhile. The last primary is in June, and the convention is in August.

The real Nevada surprise. Another little nugget to savor. Most pundits and pollsters have failed to point out that the big surprise in Nevada was not the Obama-Clinton result. It was that the polls widely missed their mark again – this time on Edwards.

In polls released one to three days before the caucuses, Las Vegas and Reno newspapers and Zogby predicted Edwards would get between 12% and 27% of the votes. He got 4% — and no delegates.

I don’t know about you, but I’m going to spend less time watching TV and reading the newspapers searching for insights into this process. Much like when “reporting” on the stock market, when it comes to elections, they are largely in the entertainment business.

Please pass it on.


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