The Popular-Vote Death Knell [Updated]

Right now, Clinton’s best shot at winning the nomination is to overtake Obama in the popular vote. But Obama’s strong North Carolina win could kill Clinton’s chances of winning that metric.

Obama currently leads Clinton by about 650,000 votes. (Real Clear Politics is heroically updating its popular-vote tally as tonight’s results roll in.) That lead is cut waaay down to about 85,000 if you count the Florida and Michigan votes, which Clinton hopes we do. At the beginning of tonight, Clinton appeared to be within striking distance—wins in North Carolina and Indiana, plus in the remaining states, could have narrowed that gap significantly.

But look at the size of the two states: North Carolina has 115 pledged delegates at stake; Indiana has 72. It’s hard to gauge turnout, but predictions of 1 million-plus people going to the polls in Indiana don’t appear to be exaggerated. In North Carolina, almost 500,000 votes have been logged with only 15 percent of precincts reporting, which suggests massive turnout.   (Not that precinct percentage is in any way proportional to voter turnout, but this is a rough guide.) So even if both Obama and Clinton win North Carolina and Indiana by similar margins, Obama will get a lot more delegates and votes out of it. But his margin appears to be much bigger than hers—about 14 points in North Carolina compared with about seven in Indiana, by one count—which will put him even further ahead in the popular vote.

If Clinton can’t win the popular vote, that means she won’t have a single metric to back up her claim to superdelegates that she deserves the nomination. (Obama has pledged delegates and number of contests, as well.) Without that, hers will be a tough case to make, no matter how many more dumb things the Rev. Wright says.

Update 11:29 p.m.: With 96 percent of precincts voting, Obama leads Clinton in North Carolina by 220,000 votes. With that, he erases her popular vote gains in Pennsylvania, where she netted 215,000 votes.