by Doyle McManus
Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.) has had more than a couple of rough weeks. She got caught red-handed embellishing memories of a visit to Bosnia. She belatedly coughed up eight years of tax returns which showed why she waited so long : $109 million is an impressive amount of income, even for an ex-president.
And she had to semi-fire her top campaign strategist after he enraged labor unions -- a bedrock chunk of her constituency – by lobbying for a trade deal with Colombia. Clinton opposes the deal; her aide, Mark Penn, was in the pay of the Colombian government. Ouch.
And that’s not all. A steady drip of superdelegates is trickling toward Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.)., and more than one poll suggests that Obama is gaining ground in Pennsylvania. No wonder so many of the pundits – including my learned colleagues Mike Tackett and Paul West, right here on Front Row – assert that the Democratic nomination is slipping from Sen. Clinton’s grasp.
Well, maybe. But it’s still not beyond her reach. A stumble by Obama, an unexpected break or two for Clinton, and Hillary could be the front-runner again.
You doubt? Then surf right over to the L.A. Times’s nifty new Democratic Delegate Counter and see for yourself.
Here’s what I mean. Right now, Clinton is behind in the Associated Press’s unofficial count of delegates by about 130 – a little more than three percent of the number of delegates at the convention. (The AP gives her 1,500 delegates to Obama’s 1,632; a candidate needs 2025 to win.)
Let’s say Clinton wins Pennsylvania and Indiana solidly, the same way she won Ohio, the state in between. (Or, for that matter, California and New York). That gets her to about 1,630 delegates and narrows the gap to less than 100. (To keep it simple, I’ll just keep track of a running total here; you can play along with the sliders on the delegate counter and keep me honest.)
North Carolina is where the New York senator is going to need to catch a big break. Let’s give the state to Obama, but cut his margin to a whisker. Then Clinton wins West Virginia and Kentucky handily; Obama wins Oregon, but with his momentum slowed, his margin’s not huge. Delegate count at this point: Clinton 1745, Obama 1823.
Now comes the second big break Clinton needs to catch: Puerto Rico. It’s not a state, its citizens can’t vote in the general election, but it’s got 55 delegates, and that’s more than Oregon. Nobody knows how Puerto Ricans will vote; they’ve never had a presidential primary before. But Clinton has done well among Latinos in Florida and the Southwest, and Puerto Rico’s ties to the mainland are with New York and Florida, both Clinton strongholds. Let’s give her Puerto Rico by a landslide. Clinton 1783, Obama 1840.
That leaves only Montana and South Dakota. Split ‘em evenly. Clinton 1799, Obama 1855 – a gap of only 56 delegates.
Which brings us to the final act. Remember Florida and Michigan? Democratic National Chairman Howard Dean says he knows he’ll have to seat their delegations at the convention, even though those two states broke the rules and held their primaries earlier than they were supposed to. If the Florida and Michigan delegates are seated and allowed to vote, Clinton surges to … parity! Clinton 1983, Obama 1983. At which point it all comes down to the superdelegates.
Well, I never said it was going to be easy. Can Clinton catch all of those breaks, culminating in full votes for all her Florida and Michigan delegates? Probably not. But if you don’t like these numbers, head for the Delegate Counter and try your own.