OP-EDS

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February 21, 2008

Primary school: an over-the-Hill senator

After winning the “Democrats Abroad” primary on Thursday, Barack Obama can truly be considered a world leader. The two-and-a-half delegate victory increased his winning streak to 11 over Hillary Clinton, and although the media continue to treat the Obama–Clinton race as a nail-biter, these contests haven’t even been close: Obama has won each of them by margins of over 20 percent. The sole exception was Wisconsin, which he carried by a mere 17 percent. He has won 24 states to Clinton’s 11.

Democratic voters have made their choice. Obama has proven to be a more effective candidate with better organization and a better message. It is almost mathematically impossible for Clinton to catch Obama in “pledged delegates,” which represent the will of Democratic primary voters. But the Clinton campaign isn’t ready to give up; instead, it argues that the voters are making a mistake and are being hoodwinked into voting for an unproven, inexperienced candidate who will wither under the pressure of a general election showdown with John McCain.

Accordingly, since Clinton no longer has a prayer of winning fairly and democratically—by out-campaigning Obama and convincing voters to support her instead of him—she has turned to back-room, underhanded methods in the hope of seizing the victory Obama has earned. As Obama campaign manager David Plouffe said, the Clinton campaign is acting as if “the preference of Democratic voters is a mere obstacle to their win-at-all-costs strategy.” It’s a strange view of democracy for a Democratic presidential candidate to hold.

There are several components to the Clinton campaign’s plan to secure the nomination in spite of the will of Democratic primary voters. First, the campaign is lobbying the Democratic Party to reverse its decision to strip Michigan and Florida of their delegates as a result of these states’ choice to move up their primary voting dates in violation of party rules.

As a Michigan voter and a Democrat, I am one of the voters disenfranchised by the ill-considered decision of the leading Democrats in my state, but I understand that stripping the state’s delegates was an appropriate response to the rule violation. What would really be unfair would be for the Clinton campaign to succeed in changing the rules in the middle of the game, counting Michigan’s delegates in her favor in spite of the fact that no candidate campaigned in Michigan and Hillary’s name was the only one on the ballot.

Secondly, since Obama’s revolutionary system of small-donor fundraising has left the old-fashioned Clinton machine in the dust, Hillary’s campaign is running out of money and turning to a big donor­–funded 527 group—“American Leadership Project”—to run a blitz of pro-Hillary ads in Ohio and Texas. This is a gross violation of the spirit (and possibly the letter) of campaign finance law, and it represents one more act of desperation by a failed campaign.

In January, the campaign spent $3.8 million on campaign manager Mark Penn and $1,300 at Dunkin Donuts before finishing the month $7.6 million in debt. And Clinton is the candidate best prepared to run the country? She’s the expert on economic and budget policy? She’ll run the best general election campaign against the Republicans?

Finally, the Clinton campaign hopes to use the Democratic Party’s arcane system of “superdelegates”—around 800 party elites, each of whose vote roughly equals the vote of an entire district of Democratic primary voters—to veto the voters’ decision. When all this is over, far more voters in far more places will have voted for Obama, but Clinton hopes to convince the superdelegates that the party’s unwashed masses have been hoodwinked and their choice should be ignored.

Thankfully, there are good reasons to expect Obama victories in Texas, Vermont, and Rhode Island on March 4, and there are good reasons to hope for an upset victory in Ohio. All the smoky-room scheming in the world won’t help Clinton if Obama wins in Texas and at least fights to a draw in Ohio.

Whatever happens in the remaining primaries, we can be certain of one thing: Since Clinton simply cannot finish the primary season ahead in terms of pledged delegates, a victory at the convention would come at the expense of the Democratic Party’s legitimacy in the eyes of its voters and organizers. There will be few superdelegates indeed willing to take that risk for the sake of a candidate who has proven to be so deeply flawed.

I am one of many Obama supporters who would have supported Clinton if she had convinced a majority of Democratic voters to vote for her, but who will opt to sit out this election if she “wins” in any other way.

Ryan McCarl is an M.A. student of international relations. His column appears on alternate Fridays.