Oval Office Thunderdome: It Works

The Democratic nominating process is near an end. Supposedly. Last night, Hillary Clinton crushed Barack Obama in Kentucky, but lost to him in Oregon. Due to the party’s rules for apportioning delegates, the math has been against Clinton for months now. In order to grab the nomination, the lopsided victories she has garnered in Kentucky and in West Virginia last week would have had to have been the norm since at least the beginning of March in order for her to have any hope of erasing Obama’s delegate lead. But, she has not been able to string together such large victories. Clinton will not be the nominee.

Of course, this has not led her to withdraw from the race. She has vowed to fight on to the bitter end. Unlike so many other presidential candidates who say that when it becomes clear they will not win, she will actually go through with such a promise. She makes some good points, but only insofar as applying an alternate method to determining a victor, one that allows for the possibility of a second-place finisher emerging victorious. If another set of apportionment rules had been used by the Democratic Party, namely, winner-take-all in individual states, she would be the nominee by now. The numbers work out like this:

If all the primaries and caucuses were winner take all, Clinton would have 1,984 delegates to Obama’s 1,395. Not enough for victory, but if the super delegates in each state were apportioned along with the regular delegates, the totals would become Clinton 2,400, Obama 1,776. Clinton would have had 2,028 delegates after the March 4th primaries, two more than is needed to secure the nomination, so the race would have been over. Well, maybe not. These totals include delegates from Michigan and Florida, which Clinton claims, but the party does not. Clinton claims victory in these states, but that is ridiculous. These two states are having their delegates withheld for violating party rules. Obama did not campaign in Florida, and his name was not even on the ballot in Michigan. It’s not uncommon for a candidate to leave their name off a ballot or not to campaign in a state where they feel they have no chance, but that would not have been the case in Florida and Michigan, two very important states. Obama did not contest the states because there are no delegates to be had there, not because he had no shot at winning.

So, since party rules have held true thus far, the adjusted delegate counts (including superdelegates) are Clinton 2,034, Obama 1,671. Clinton would have won the nomination last night. This has to be particularly galling to Clinton, and it’s a sure bet that after the general election, she will be pushing for some rule changes before the 2012 race. Since there is a method that would have produced a nominee by now, it becomes easy to assume that the Democratic Party’s current system is broken, but that is not so.

The system as it is now more accurately reflects popular vote totals than does a winner take all system. Discounting Florida and Michigan, Obama is winning the popular vote by approximately 550,000 votes. So if Clinton had won the nomination in winner take all, the party would be nominating a candidate who received less votes than the loser. That is not how democracy is supposed to work. But, we’ve seen this happen before.

The 2000 general election is a case in point. Al Gore defeated George W. Bush by approximately 550,000 votes, yet lost the presidency due to the winner take all format in apportioning electors. The Democratic Party’s nominating rules are not perfect, but they are working. They are producing a nominee that reflects the will of the voters.