So the Clintons like Nevada after all.
Hillary Clinton beat Barack Obama by about six points in the state’s caucus on Saturday, netting 12 of the 25 delegates at stake. But Barack Obama won the number that could matter most, earning 13 of Nevada’s national convention delegates, which ultimately determine the Democratic nominee. That made for a "split decision," according to Congressman James Clyburn, an influential member of the House Democratic leadership who is unaffiliated with any candidate. Obama sounded even more confident on Saturday, saying "we came from over twenty-five points behind to win more national convention delegates than Hillary Clinton because we performed well all across the state, including rural areas where Democrats have traditionally struggled." But it’s not that simple.
Rural areas did secure Obama’s delegate edge. His five-point lead in the rural section of Nevada’s Second Congressional District, which stretches across most of the state north of Las Vegas, won him the single delegate at stake there. With one delegate in play, caucus math is winner-take-all. So while Clinton won about 43 percent of the area, she had no delegates to show for it. And the delegates are weighed by past voter registration — not the actual turnout on Saturday — which can also widen a gap with the true popular vote. But the popular vote is not actually available.
The Nevada Democratic Party only released a statewide tally of local delegates. There are over 10,000 of them; Clinton has about half (5,335). But local delegates do not reflect a pure popular vote. Just like national delegates, if a local precinct only has one delegate, then it’s winner-take-all. Precinct totals can exaggerate the support for the candidate in the lead, and minimize the totals for a trailing candidate. (That’s why John Edwards’ Nevada turnout appears unusually low.) If you think reading about this system is hard, just imagine caucusing.
Or just try explaining it. The AP and cable networks initially misreported Obama’s delegate count. (The Nation first reported Obama’s delegate lead.) The AP quickly caught the error, but its new article still incorrectly refers to the precinct totals as a "popular vote." And on caucus night, the pundits were already talking about John Edwards’ collapse, as if the statewide tally was a popular vote.