It’s Not Over Until the Superdelegates Sing

We don’t believe in shmoshmentum , but we do believe in numbers—and Obama’s numbers are looking very, very good. Barack Obama’s campaign, though, thinks they’re practically unstoppable . But he’s not Highlander quite yet. For Hillary Clinton to beat Obama in pledged delegates, she’s going to need to win big (20-point margins, probably) in nearly every state—preferably beginning with Wisconsin on Tuesday. It sounds impossible, but it’s not.

Five things could puncture Obama’s air of inevitability and give flight to Hillary Clinton’s comeback:  

  1. John Edwards endorses Clinton —Edwards has never had stronger leverage on his former adversary than right now. Clinton needs an overwhelming narrative to drop out of the sky in the next two weeks, and Edwards’ endorsement is the only thing likely to fall. Edwards can dangle an endorsement in front of Hillary while forcing her to give him a Cabinet position and put poverty at the forefront of her campaign. Clinton will agree out of desperation. It’s like the domestic version of carrot-and-stick diplomacy .
  2. Hillary goes negative —She put her pinky toe into this murky pool in Wisconsin, where she released an ad chiding Obama for not agreeing to a debate there. The sternest line—”Maybe he’d prefer to give speeches than have to answer questions”—alludes to the potential all-rhetoric-no-results attack she’ll mount on Obama. Going negative after months of positive campaigning has a real chance of backfiring, but so does standing by and smiling while Obama marches in a Democratic victory parade.
  3. Debate flubs —It looks like there will only be two more debates, despite Clinton’s debate-a-week request . Obama isn’t always the smoothest debater, so there’s major potential for Clinton to make him look foolish in a high-stakes forum. If Clinton is going negative over the air, then she’ll go negative at the two debates, which could put Obama in an uncomfortable spot. He could either act too timidly or too angrily. Either way, finicky voters could flee to the safer, more experienced bet.
  4. Obama gets cocky —Obama is already treated like a rock star, and now he actually has reason to act like one. But we’ve seen front-runners flame out over and over again in this race, partly because they got a bit too comfortable (think pre-Iowa Clinton, pre-New Hampshire Obama, summer Giuliani, and fall Romney). Obama has the uncomfortable task of trying to look like the inevitable nominee—so Democrats coalesce around him—and still appearing hungry for the nomination—so his supporters don’t get apathetic and stay home. Obama’s campaign seems to be aware of this and is still trying to spin the press into thinking that Obama has been the underdogs in “every contest.” They’re going to have to do better than that to douse the campaign’s ego.
  5. Michigan and Florida, Take 2 —Obama’s lead wouldn’t be nearly as impressive if Michigan and Florida’s 350-plus delegates counted. There’s a small movement in the party to have the two states stage a do-over contest , which would mean voters would have to go to the polls again. If Clinton could hold or increase on her 15-point margin in the delegate-rich states, that would help narrow the pledged-delegate gap. As is, the states’ delegations will only be seated if they don’t alter the outcome of the race.

If all else fails, Clinton can still try to organize a superdelegate rebellion. Just because she’s all but guaranteed to lose in the pledged delegate count doesn’t mean she can’t still win the nomination. If she can find a way to convince the superdelegates to ignore their constituents’ wishes and the popular-vote tally, she may be able to build a winning coalition of insiders that can overwhelm Obama’s pledged delegate lead. Unfortunately for her, that’s even more unlikely than her toppling Obama’s pledged delegate lead.