Monday, April 21, 2008

Pennsylvania Primary Eve

By Michael J.W. Stickings

It's almost here. Almost.

At long last, after six long weeks, six crazy weeks, we finally get another vote tomorrow, the showdown we've all been waiting for, the Pennsylvania primary.

For what it's worth, Drudge (i.e., an offshoot of the Clinton campaign, or so it seems) is reporting that Clinton internal polling has Hillary up by 11 points in Pennsylvania.

An 11-point margin would indeed be a significant victory for Hillary, given that Obama has significantly outspent her on ads. She was up by a lot more as late as the middle of last month, of course, but the RCP average is down to 5.9.

Remember, these contests are as much about expectations as they are about the actual results. Not too long ago, an 11-point victory for Hillary would have been a sort of victory for Obama. Not now. Given how dramatically he has narrowed the gap, a Clinton victory by 10 points or more would seem like a major victory for her, just as a Clinton victory of 5 points or less would seem like a victory for him. Between 5 and 10? Confusion. These are just round numbers, though, and each campaign will spin the results no matter what.

A prediction: Hillary by 7-9 points.

Meaning: She'll declare decisive victory and move on to Indiana. The pledged delegate numbers won't change much -- Obama has an insurmountable lead -- but a decisive or near-decisive win in Pennsylvania would give her a) more time -- time for her to try to sway superdelegates; time for her to keep raising money; time to hope for an Obama collapse; b) a more persuasive case that she is still a viable candidate; c) positive media attention (maybe); and d) a huge boost/bounce, broadly speaking.

Meaning: Obama will point out how dramatically he narrowed the gap and move on to North Carolina, which he'll need to win, and Indiana, where he'll need to keep it close.

And our long primary nightmare will go on.


1) Regardless of the popular vote, what matters is delegate allocation. If Obama can keep the delegate race to a tie, or close to a tie, he'll be able to make the case that the primary itself was a tie. And there are indications that he is indeed campaigning to this end. (Note: the Democrats use a roughly proportional system for delegate allocation, but delegates are not allocated according to the popular vote. Some of them are. The rest are allocated on a district-by-district basis.)

2) Turnout, turnout, turnout. Which is to say: Who will turn out tomorrow? Noam Scheiber: "Obama's probably going to have a decent night (say, 7-point loss or less) if the African-American share of the vote hits or exceeds the upper teens, and if younger voters (ages 18-44) get into the low 40s or higher. If those demographic groups don't hit those thresholds, I'd guess Hillary's going to win by close to ten (or more) points." Hillary's internals may be accurate, but a surge in turnout among Obama's core support demographics could pull him closer.

For more, go check out Chris Bowers's "Why The Nomination Campaign Won't End." He argues that it will only end if Obama refuses to debate and stops attacking Hillary (and acts like the presumptive nominee); the media are (rightly) attacked for their "Democrats divided" narrative; Obama takes the lead in the remaining states/territories; and Hillary's fundraising dries up.

The problem? Hillary will win Pennsylvania, Kentucky, and possibly Indiana, West Virginia, and Puerto Rico, and she will continue to raise large sums of money.

No, our long primary nightmare is not about to end anytime soon.

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