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babylonsister Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Mon Feb-11-08 10:11 PM
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Walter Shapiro: How will it all end?
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How will it all end?

Obama surge? Or Clinton comeback? Superdelegates anyone? With the delegate count agonizingly close -- and proportional representation likely to keep it that way -- all bets are off.

By Walter Shapiro

Feb. 11, 2008 | RICHMOND, Va. -- Normally, when you hear the lamentation, "Oh, God, how will it all end?" you are safe to assume that the speaker is referring to the Day of Judgment or a similar religious topic. But these days most of the wailing about the End Times is being done by Democrats unable to decipher how Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama can corral a majority of delegates at the Denver convention. Where once the Democratic primary race was seen as a rush to judgment now it is regarded as a restaging of "No Exit."

Nothing better conveys the white-knuckle flavor of the Democratic race than the apparent maneuvering behind the scenes. According to Time magazine's Mark Halperin, Hillary Clinton met secretly with up-for-grabs former candidate John Edwards in Chapel Hill, N.C., last Thursday and Obama is slated to fly there Monday. Meanwhile, the Clinton campaign announced that it had a new campaign manager, Maggie Williams, who had been Hillary's White House chief of staff. Williams joined the campaign as an unpaid, but high-ranking, consultant after Clinton's brutal third-place finish in the Jan. 3 Iowa caucuses and had initially planned to stay for just 45 days.

This is certainly looking like Sweeps Week for Obama. He pulled off a surprise victory in Sunday's Maine caucuses, despite Clinton's efforts to turn out blue-collar women in this economically troubled state. Obama also easily prevailed Saturday in the Louisiana primary along with caucuses in Nebraska and Washington, winning 39 delegates more than his rival, according to CNN. And he is heavily favored to repeat the hat trick Tuesday in the Potomac Primary (Virginia, Maryland and the District of Columbia). There is nothing in politics like a 7-and-0 week.

But this mini-surge has not brought clarity to the overall delegate counts by major media organizations, nor is it likely to. When it comes to landslide leads in the quest to win the 2,025 delegates needed to win the nomination, there is the CBS News tabulation, which currently has Obama besting Clinton by exactly three delegates, 1,134-to-1,131. The Associated Press has them flipped with Clinton leading 1,135 to 1,106, while the New York Times, using a very conservative methodology and not counting some caucus results, has Hillary ahead of Barack 912 to 745.

In truth, here is what we know about the Democratic endgame -- and it is not much. After Tuesday's vote, the next major milepost will be the March 4 mega-primaries in Texas and Ohio. But based on current trends, neither candidate will win the nomination solely from the delegates they acquire in the primaries and caucuses alone. These statewide delegate contests will be influential but they will not produce the balloon drop for the victorious candidate in Denver. Clinton and Obama simply are too closely matched and party rules mandating proportional representation will prevent either candidate from picking up the more than 900 delegates needed for a convention majority in the 18 states remaining on the calendar. "These two candidates will slug it out, state-by-state, delegate-by-delegate," predicted pollster Mark Mellman, who is neutral in the race. "It goes all the way through the process."

What that means is that the 796 unelected superdelegates (mostly members of the Democratic National Committee, governors, senators and House members) will be the ones who put either Obama or Clinton over the top. According to CNN, only 359 superdelegates have so far endorsed a candidate, favoring Clinton 224 to 135 (these commitments are not binding). That calculation leaves 457 of these party insiders on the fence -- and they are being wooed with an ardor that makes every day seem like Valentine's Day. Even though the Democratic Party itself created these superdelegates after the 1980 campaign, they have always had a whiff about them of old-time machine politics and the kind of rigged conventions that nominated Hubert Humphrey in 1968 over the protests of the antiwar movement.

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