With his “Potomac Primary” sweep of Maryland, Virginia and the District of Columbia, Barack Obama continued one of the longer winning streaks ever sustained by a candidate locked in a still serious contest for a party presidential nomination. Following a Super Tuesday that saw Obama win most of the day’s twenty-two contests and a roughly even share of the delegates, he has been on a roll, securing victories in states as diverse as Louisiana, Maine, Nebraska and Washington. Add anticipated February 19 wins in Wisconsin and Hawaii, and the Illinois senator’s post-Super Tuesday record could be 10-0.
Those numbers are making February the longest month for New York Senator Hillary Clinton, who loaned her campaign $5 million to get through Super Tuesday and has since then spent too much time holding the hands of big donors and wavering superdelegates rather than shaking the hands of voters. Her campaign, which so enjoyed the expectations game that in 2007 made her the “inevitable” contender, is now suffering the miserable fate of the candidate who keeps losing states that were supposed to be jewels in the nominee’s crown.
With Clinton now trailing in the race for delegates, it has finally dawned on her campaign that if she does not start to win soon, they will face the toughest of all political questions: When does a contender who keeps losing face reality? And if the candidate fails to do so, when will party leaders nudge her aside?
Despite the hopes of Clinton’s backers and the fears of foes that she can rely on the elected officials and party insiders who serve as super delegates to tip a tight convention her way–or that the rules committee will seat pro-Clinton delegations selected in unsanctioned Michigan and Florida primaries–the reality is that what seem like structural safety-nets for a failing Clinton campaign are beginning to look more like intervention points for party insiders whose inclination to go with a winner has traditionally trumped personal and political loyalty. Clinton’s got a super-delegate advantage, but Obama’s right when he says that, “if this contest comes down to super-delegates, we are going to be able to say we have more pledged delegates, which means the Democratic voters have spoken. Those super-delegates, those party insiders would have to think long and hard how they would approach the nomination.”
It’s already happening; DNC Rules and Bylaws Committee member and “star” superdelegate Donna Brazile says, “If 795 of my colleagues decide this election, I will quit the Democratic Party…. There’s no reason why we should decide this election.” While Brazile may just be talking about quitting her leadership position in the party–as opposed to the whole thing–her concern about the role of the super delegates is hardly unique, even among the party elites. A senior House Democrat, also a superdelegate, is blunter: “Anyone who thinks super-delegates are going to impose a Clinton nomination on a party that has rejected her is nuts. No one goes to the mat for a candidate who looks like a loser.”