At a point when most of the media is treating the race between Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton as a highly competitive one, Obama has slowly but steadily increased his delegate lead to a point that should sustain his frontrunner status through the remainder of the contest.
While the precise numbers will vary from one semi-official count to the next — the Obama camp has an embarrassing habit of inflating already good numbers to sometimes ridiculous extremes — there is general agreement that this is about where the candidates now stand:
Barack Obama:1,618 delegates(1,411 pledged/207 declared super delegates)
Hillary Clinton:1,479 delegates(1,242 pledged/ 237 declared super delegates)
Since the mixed-results day of March 4 (good headlines and momentum for Clinton, an even split among delegates for Obama), the Illinois senator has expanded his lead bit by bit — steadily upping his Texas numbers as caucus results get sorted out, winning big in small states such as Mississippi and Wyoming and scoring nicely at last weekend’s Iowa county caucuses (the next stage inthat state’s long process) where supporters of John Edwards swung heavily in his direction. Scattered improvements in old results as counts have been completed — one more delegate from New York, five more from California — are the icing on Obama’s cake.
It all adds up to an almost 140-vote delegate spread in favor of the Obama. (Even the most Clinton-friendly counts have him up by roughly 120.)
Before this month of March is done, Obama could well have a lead of more than 150 delegates.
That is twice the lead that the senator had after his last really good day on February 19, when he won a surprisingly wide win in Wisconsin.
In other words, even as his campaign hits speed bumps (as were experienced in Ohio, Rhode Island and to some extent Texas) it continues to move forward.
How far forward?
Obama is quietly moving beyond the range where even serious primary losses are unlikely to narrow his lead to under 100 delegates.
Pennsylvania, which will hold its primary April 22, has only 158 delegates at stake. More than two-thirds of those delegates will be chosen at the congressional district level — including a number where African Americans, suburbanites and college-town voters dominate — and that means that while Obama may lose the state he will win plenty of delegates.
An best-case scenario has Clinton coming out of Pennsylvania with a gain of 35 delegates. It will probably be closer to 25.