Pick a Number, Any Number

In the beginning, it was about momentum. When she lost momentum, it was about pledged delegates. When she lost pledged delegates, it was about the popular vote. And now that she’s on her way to losing the popular vote, it’s about the number of electoral votes held by the states in which the candidates have won primary victories.

Sen. Evan Bayh, a Hillary Clinton supporter, proposed the new metric on CNN’s Late Edition Sunday. The logic: Clinton has won states with a total of 219 electoral votes, whereas Obama has won states with only 202 electoral votes. “So who carried the states with the most Electoral College votes,” Bayh said, “is an important factor to consider because ultimately, that’s how we choose the president of the United States.”

And that’s not just the cry of a lone surrogate. (Keep in mind that Sunday show appearances by surrogates are always approved by campaigns.) On a conference call today, Clinton spokesman Phil Singer argued that Bayh “makes a compelling point. Senator Clinton has won and performed well in states [like Ohio and Florida] that will be general election battlegrounds.”

First off, let us reiterate a point that apparently can’t be said enough: There is no discernible connection between success in a primary and success in the general . You can argue that Obama wouldn’t be able to match Clinton’s strength in areas like rural Ohio, where she won whites in some counties by as much as 80 percent of the vote. But given the huge disparity in voter turnout between the primaries and the general, the unreliability of exit poll responses (how do you know someone is actually an “independent”?), and Obama’s relative strength in matchups against John McCain, it’s wrongheaded to think that Clinton’s electoral vote lead has any bearing on the “electability” question.

Second, it’s ironic that Bayh chose to push this particular metric. After 2000, he was a strong advocate of overhauling the Electoral College: “I believe strongly that in a democracy, we should respect the will of the people and to me, that means it’s time to do away with the Electoral College and move to the popular election of our president.” Then, in 2006 he said , “I think our president should be chosen by the majority of the American people.” To be fair, his remarks about the new metric take into account the electoral system as it is , not as he wishes it were. But perhaps the Clinton camp could have found a better surrogate to push this particular argument.

Update 5:07 p.m.: A Frayster points out that Clinton herself supported abolishing the Electoral College back in 2000.