Today the Obama campaign held a conference call with Joe Andrew, former head of the DNC, who announced that he was switching his support from Clinton to Obama. This seems like a big deal: Andrew was actually appointed by Clinton to head the DNC in 1999, and his very public switch at this point must come as something of a surprise. But it highlighted something that I don’t think has quite gotten enough attention.
Think about the race as having two acts. In Act I, which stretched from Iowa up to Texas/Ohio, Obama won the popular vote by a healthy margin, but lagged far behind in super delegates. According to one tally he was down by a margin of 240-193 on March, 2nd.
During the latter part of Act I, everyone realized that the math meant that Obama’s pledged delegate lead was nearly insurmountable, and the race would be determined by superdelegates. That’s when the super-d’s started getting attention, with both campaigns going after them hard. In Act II, which has been running since Texas/Ohio, Pennsylvania, Clinton has won the popular vote and also been the beneficiary of a dynamic that has Obama fighting two on one against her and McCain simultaneously. On top of that, the press has chased after all kinds stories that that has put him on the defensive.
No one would say the last month and a half have been great for Obama. And, importantly, the entire strategy of the Clinton campaign right now is to win states in her demographic wheelhouse and then use those victories to make the case to superdelegates that she’s more electable. But what’s remarkable is that during Act II, Obama is drubbing Clinton in super-delegates. The tally is now somewhere around 259-239. Which means that during the worst stretch of the campaign for Obama he out-gained Clinton in super delegates by a margin of 46-19.
There are two parallel races happening, one among the primary voters and one among the super delegates. As has been the case for much of this campaign, the Obama campaign seems to be one tactical step ahead of the Clinton campaign. As bad as the last two months have been for Obama in the primaries, he’s been winning along the relevant metric: the super delegates. I’m not sure what to ascribe this to, other than a dawning realization that Obama will end the primary contest with more pledged delegates and an unwillingness to override the preference expressed by voters.
But I also think the last few months have shown that while Obama does have electoral weaknesses, they are not massively unknown, nor are they fatal. Considering the dynamic of the race, his poll numbers remain fairly steady and robust.
Part of the Clinton argument was always: Just you wait. This guy’s got some crazy stuff that’s gonna come out and once it does, he’s toast. Well it has come out. And he’s not toast. I wonder if that’s resonating with the super delegates.