Clinton’s New Favorite Metric

The Clinton campaign has always had its own way of doing things. When Clinton realized she couldn’t win the pledged-delegate count, it became about the popular vote. When that gap widened, it became about “big states.” Now it’s back to being about the popular vote—only the Clinton campaign isn’t counting like the rest of us. As predicted, they’re including Florida and Michigan .

There are so many problems with this, it’s hard to know where to begin.

First, the obvious: Florida and Michigan don’t count . If you’re talking about the overall tally, Obama still leads by about 500,000 votes. If you include Florida and Michigan, though, Clinton is ahead by 120,000. Nevermind that neither candidate campaigned in Florida (Clinton will tell you that Obama violated this agreement by airing an ad on CNN ad that appeared across the country, including Florida) and that Obama wasn’t even on the ballot in Michigan. That’s why none of the networks—not NBC, not ABC, not CNN—are including those states in their popular-vote tallies without caveats.

Next, there’s the Clinton camp’s duplicity when it comes to reporting these numbers. ABC’s Jake Tapper reports this morning that Clinton’s Fact Hub twisted an ABC report on the popular vote. ABC News’ Rick Klein had written , “By one (rightly disputed) metric – the popular vote, including Florida and Michigan – Clinton has pulled ahead of Obama. But without the rogue states, Obama is still up by 500,000 – and if you can find another objective measurement by which she’s in the lead, let us know.” Based on that report, the Fact Hub claimed that “ABC News reported this morning that ‘Clinton has pulled ahead of Obama’ in the popular vote.” That Tapper bothered to report the misrepresentation makes it pretty clear that the Clinton camp is going to get resistance on this one. If they want to twist the numbers, they’ll have to do it without the media’s help.

Lastly, there’s the fundamental problem with the popular vote: It’s wrong. As we’ve pointed out before , the popular-vote tally includes only the roughest estimates of caucus turnout, since many caucus states only report delegates, not individuals. Moreover, because caucus turnout is low relative to primaries, the popular vote ends up underestimating the candidates’ popularity in those states. So whoever does better in caucuses—in this case, Obama—ends up getting underrepresented. (You could argue that this is divine retribution for Obama’s skewed performance in caucuses, but hey, that’s the system the states chose—and the candidates agreed to.) So the “popular vote”—an authoritative-sounding phrase—is really just a shoddy estimate that underrepresents Obama’s caucus performance and therefore favors Clinton.

That’s not to say Clinton’s magical popular-vote math won’t sway a few superdelegates. No doubt it will. New Jersey Gov. Jon Corzine said last month that he would reconsider his support for Clinton if Obama won the popular vote. If he’s looking for an excuse to stick with Clinton, this could be it. But most supers are likely to be extremely squeamish about disregarding the pledged-delegate count. Since the creation of superdelegates in 1984, no presidential candidate has won the Democratic nomination without winning pledged delegates, and no superdelegate wants to facilitate a historical first like that when it means potentially undermining the first black president. On the other hand, if that’s true, you wonder why they’re waiting so long to decide.