Delegates V. Votes

Clinton communications impresario Howard Wolfson has written a memo that nicely summarizes the strategic argument the Clinton campaign will make over the next two weeks.

After some throat-clearing expectations setting for South Carolina, he writes: "Regardless of today’s outcome, the race quickly shifts to Florida, where hundreds of thousands of Democrats will turn out to vote on Tuesday."

As John Madden would say, "Boom." That's the line that tells you exactly how Clinton will campaign between now and Feb. 5.

For there are no delegates to be awarded in Florida. Clinton won't campaign there, but she will campaign for Florida -- and in all likelihood, she will win the votes of several hundred thousand Floridians on Feb. 29.

In Florida and beyond, watch for Clinton to focus on the forest, not the trees -- the national popular vote and the superdelegates who follow the herd, and not (so much) the earned delegates.

It's safe to say that, as of Feb. 6, Hillary Clinton will have earned the votes of at least several hundred thousand more Democrats than Barack Obama. Obama, on Feb. 6, might have a slight lead in earned delegates, depending on the number of states he wins. Or, the ratio of Clinton's delegates to Obama's will be smaller than the ratio of her popular vote total to his. States can be "won" and "lost" by the same candidate -- Nevada being one example. Votes are proportionally allocated by Congressional district, which poses a strategic quandary for all the campaigns: do they focus on "winning the delegates? Or do they focus on "winning the state?"

The Clinton campaign knows this. The Obama campaign knows this, too.

The Obama campaign's theory of the case can be called the "Delegate Dominoes." Since the nomination rests on -- and only on -- a foundation of delegate selection, the national popular vote difference is meaningless -- and the press should not be overly sensitive to its effects on momentum. If the press focuses on delegates going into Feb. 5 and coming out of Feb. 5, Obama has a correspondingly higher chance of avoiding the enormous crucible that is the media's declaration of a frontrunner. Here's why a post-Feb 5 media consensus about Clinton is so dangerous to Obama: for the first time in this race, it will be based on the votes of real people, and not the conventional wisdom that we pull out of our linked-at-the-pelvis rear ends.

Notice the distinction above between earned delegates and superdelegates. The Supers tend to latch their hitch to the winning wagons because a lot's at stake if they choose the wrong candidate. Clinton currently has a Superdelegate lead, and it's safe to say that Superdelegates, generally being timid, will come aboard if the voters give them permission.

Here's how Bill Burton, Obama's peach-ice-cream-tongued-spokesman, responded to the Wolfson memo:

“It should not be surprising given recent events that the Clinton campaign would in one breath say the election is about winning delegates and then tout their success in states that don’t award any delegates in the next breath. The DNC has made clear that the winner of the contest in Florida will not receive any delegates, so the next step in this nominating process is February 5th. If the Clinton campaign's southern strength rests on the outcome in a state where they're the only ones competing, that should give Democrats deep pause. Again, no one is more disappointed that Florida and Michigan Democrats will have no role in selecting delegates for the nomination of the party’s standard bearer than Senator Obama but he looks forward to vigorously competing for their votes in the general election.”

Delegates... v. votes.

Read Wolfson's memo after the jump.

To: Interested Parties

From: Howard Wolfson, Communications Director

Re: South Carolina, Florida, and February 5

Date: January 26, 2008

The Obama campaign has been so confident of winning South Carolina that six months ago they flatly predicted victory in the Palmetto State.

Cornell Belcher, Senator Obama’s pollster, stated explicitly to the Politico on July 25, 2007, “We are going to outright win South Carolina.”

And today, Senator Obama leads by 12, according to the Real Clear Politics average of polls taken in South Carolina over the last 10 days.

Despite Senator Obama's large lead, Senator Clinton has campaigned across the Palmetto State, reaching out and asking for each and every vote. She has heard directly from South Carolinians about their concerns and their hopes for a stronger, more prosperous America.

Regardless of today’s outcome, the race quickly shifts to Florida, where hundreds of thousands of Democrats will turn out to vote on Tuesday.

Despite efforts by the Obama campaign to ignore Floridians, their voices will be heard loud and clear across the country, as the last state to vote before Super Tuesday on February 5th.

This remains a delegate fight, with 1,681 delegates at stake on February 5th, and 2,025 needed to secure the nomination -- and we are ahead in that fight.

As Senator Clinton has said from the beginning, we have built a national campaign with the resources to compete and win across the country.

Coming off of victories in Nevada, Michigan and New Hampshire, Senator Clinton has demonstrated the importance of focusing on achieving real solutions on the economy, health care and Iraq .

As she campaigns throughout the United States over the coming weeks, Senator Clinton will continue to work hard for every vote, making sure that Americans know she will be a President who focuses on what matters most—making a difference in people’s lives.