Racing Against the Finish Line

Ever since Barack Obama started racking up primary and caucus wins after Super Tuesday, analysts have summed up Hillary Clinton’s prognosis with an odd statistic: the percent of the vote she needs in every remaining primary to catch up in pledged delegates.

Going into tonight, that margin was just over 69 percent. Based on current estimates for Indiana and North Carolina, by tomorrow morning it will be close to 85.

I should hasten to point out that this statistic has always been mostly meaningless since some states have many more delegates than others. But it’s a convenient way to express an ugly reality for Clinton: the longer this race goes on, the less time and fewer delegates she has with which to catch up.

One could argue that this is an unfair statistic; even the Clinton camp doesn’t argue that they can catch up to Obama in pledged delegates, and we’ve long surpassed the point where Obama could clinch the nomination even with 100 percent of the remaining vote.

But the statistic does remind us of this: The high-water mark for Clinton has risen after every contest, even after a win. After Obama won D.C., Maryland, and Virginia, she needed about 57 percent of the remaining vote; after March 4, it was 63 percent. Even when she picked up a net gain of 12 delegates in Pennsylvania, the mark inched up by a fraction of a percent, to 69. The finish line has simply outrun her.