If Hillary Clinton is to have any chance at all of winning the Democratic presidential nomination, she’s going to have to make a strong moral claim. By the time the primaries and caucuses are over, Barack Obama is almost certainly going to have won more pledged delegates and more states.
Clinton’s possible arguments — that she’s done better in traditionally Democratic big states like New York and California, or that the unpledged superdelegates should slide her way because she’s somehow more electable — aren’t going to cut it. That’s a profoundly undemocratic case, and the Obama delegates (not to mention general-election voters) would react with revulsion.
But there is one unlikely possibility: she could wind up winning the nationwide popular vote. If that were to happen, then it would be the Obama campaign suddenly having to talk about delegate counts and party rules, the very sort of inside baseball that turns voters off.
Could it happen? Take a look at last night’s results. Clinton succeeded in slicing quite a bit off Obama’s lead in the popular vote. According to the numbers, Clinton picked up 328,589 votes in winning three of the four primary states. The lion’s share — 227,556 — came from Ohio, where she won a decisive victory.
According to Real Clear Politics, Obama as of this morning has won 12,946,615 votes and Clinton 12,363,897 votes, not counting Florida — which shouldn’t count given that a party-rules squabble prevented both candidates from campaigning there. That gives Obama 51.1 percent to 48.9 percent for Clinton, or a margin of 582,718 votes. It also means that Obama lost a whopping 36 percent of his popular-vote lead yesterday.
When you look at the calendar, you can see that it’s going to be very difficult for Clinton to pass Obama in the popular vote unless she starts winning by large margins everywhere. The next big prize is Pennsylvania, which doesn’t vote until April 22.
But let’s say Obama and Clinton go into the convention with Obama ahead in delegates, but with neither having won enough to clinch — a very likely scenario. If Clinton has somehow built a lead in the popular vote, no matter how narrow, Obama’s margin among pledged delegates starts to look like the Electoral College: an undemocratic vestige of a bygone era.
And, at that point, the superdelegates, impressed by Clinton’s rather startling comeback, could award the nomination to her on the grounds that they were merely following the will of the people.