Ignore the Spin: Clinton Done After Texas

by Randy Shaw on March 4, 2008

Absent a hurricane or some other unforeseeable event, Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign ends tonight in Texas. The media has covered so many angles to the Texas campaign — the Latino vote, the generation gap, Californians arriving en masse to help, the bizarre “two step” voting system (people vote first in the primary and then in the caucus) — that the essential piece of information has been obscured: the most delegate-rich districts are heavily African-American, and will go overwhelmingly for Barack Obama. While the Latino vote gets far more attention, low turnout in past elections has left Latino districts with fewer delegates. Meanwhile, African-American refugees from Hurricane Katrina are now concentrated in Houston, adding to Obama’s likely victory margin in that delegate-rich area. Republicans’ strategy to change the political make-up of Louisiana by displacing blacks from New Orleans will help nominate the presidential candidate they fear most. While the Clinton campaign is spinning all kinds of talk about proceeding after March 4, even an Ohio victory will not stop a Texas defeat from ending her candidacy.

Remember Texas Delegate Rules!

While the traditional media would love for the Obama-Clinton race to continue to the late August convention — CNN’s primary night ratings are through the roof — tonight effectively ends the Democratic presidential primary race. Regardless of whether she wins Rhode Island and Ohio, Hillary Clinton cannot continue without a major victory in Texas — an event that borders on the near impossible.

Although Clinton’s need to win 65% of Texas delegates in order save her candidacy was much discussed in the wake of her Wisconsin defeat, this critical fact has receded into the background as media coverage of the race has gone into overdrive. Also pushed aside has been Texas’ voting system, which assigns delegates to districts that have voted most heavily Democratic in the past.

These districts are primarily African-American. And in cities like Houston, Obama’s strength has been increased through two factors: the transplanted refugees from New Orleans, and SEIU — which is going all out for Obama — getting a major beachhead in the city in late 2005.

The media occasionally notes how Texas’ delegate selection rules strongly favor Obama, but this point has gotten lost amidst the information deluge. In fact, the media has done such a poor job at explaining Texas’ system that even close observers may not be aware that the winner of the state’s popular vote gets no extra delegates.

This means that unlike New York or California, a popular vote victory by Clinton in Texas would not increase her delegate count. Instead, 2/3 of the delegates are picked by district through the primary system, with the balance selected through tonight’s caucuses.

Consider that when commentators say that Clinton is justified in continuing if she wins Texas’ popular vote. Such a “victory” is irrelevant — instead, Clinton must win a substantial majority of Texas delegates to retain a prospect of entering the convention in the lead.

Simply put, Obama is virtually certain to win more Texas delegates than Clinton. Even a tie in Texas prevents Clinton from ending the primary/caucus season with anywhere close to Obama’s delegate count.

Clinton’s Campaign Cannot Last Until April 22

Although both Bill Clinton and James Carville have admitted that a Texas defeat ends Hillary’s campaign, others have argued that she will take her fight to Pennsylvania on April 22 if she wins Rhode Island and Ohio and wages a close but losing race in Texas.

But there are two problems with her continuing after a Texas defeat.

First, it means Clinton continuing a contest where she has no mathematical ability to enter the convention with the most delegates, which would only divide the Democratic Party.

Second, there is too much down time between March 4 and April 22 for the Clinton campaign to claim “momentum” from its Ohio and Rhode Island victories.

If the Pennsylvania primary were next week, then Clinton could justify holding out for a political miracle. But we’re talking six weeks. Six weeks has become like six years this political season. Six weeks ago, the campaigns were still organizing for South Carolina’s primary. Six weeks ago, Obama’s long winning streak had not even begun.

Hillary Clinton cannot sustain six long weeks of having to explain why she is playing the spoiler.

The Limits of Clinton’s Scorched Earth Campaign

Whereas Republican Mike Huckabee has continued his presidential challenge despite McCain’s grip on the nomination, few see the former Arkansas Governor as dividing his party or weakening its eventual nominee. But Clinton’s increasingly vicious campaign against Obama is increasingly seen as accomplishing both.

For example, when Clinton publicly stated yesterday that John McCain has a lifetime of experience behind him while Barack Obama has but a single speech, she gave the Republican a great quote for the November election. As Rachel Maddow of Air America radio told Keith Olberman, “That’s what you say when you want to be John McCain’s Vice Presidential choice.”

The Democratic Party Establishment that has long backed Hillary Clinton is not going to tolerate six weeks of further attacks on Obama from a candidate that cannot win. Unlike Huckabee, Clinton is not claiming to represent the “soul” of her Party, and continuing her campaign after losing Texas would appear as pure bitterness.

Clinton knows that Texas represents her last stand, which is why she has thrown a “kitchen sink” of attacks at Obama in recent days; once she loses Texas, she has nothing left to alter the race.

The Myth of Clinton Momentum

Ever since the crying scene before New Hampshire, the media has jumped on isolated incidents in the waning days of the campaign to find a boost for Clinton.

In South Carolina, until the votes were counted most commentators felt that Bill Clinton’s racially charged appeals would prove successful; we were told that whites were fleeing Obama in droves.

The truth was the opposite.

The day before Super Tuesday, Hillary again cried in Connecticut, an action that was predicted to stem Obama’s momentum there.

It didn’t.

In Virginia, we were told that after MSNBC’s David Shuster accused Hillary of “pimping” her daughter, that voters would rush to Clinton in sympathy.

Didn’t happen.

In Wisconsin, we were told that Clinton’s claim that Obama was guilty of “plagiarism” would lead her to victory.

She lost by nearly double what any poll had predicted.

Now we are told that “sympathy” for Hillary is boosting her support for today’s primaries, even few voters in any election who bases their vote on such a criteria. We are told that Hillary has finally “found her voice,” even though that supposedly occurred in New Hampshire.

If such arguments prevent Obama supporters from getting overconfident, great. But everything I have heard says that Obama has an extraordinary operation in Texas that will carry him to the delegate victory.

There are probably more Bay Area folks working for Obama in Texas than for Kerry in Nevada in 2004, and Obama rallies have greatly outnumbered Clinton events in almost every Texas city.

It would only be fitting for the most progressive Democratic nominee in three decades to secure his spot by winning in the state that gave us our last progressive president, Lyndon Johnson. And to be put over the top by the long-suffering victims of our government’s inaction in New Orleans, who are making Houston the heart of Texas’ Democratic revival.

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