The Democratic Race: Square One

Still in light-posting mode until later in the week, I want to expand a bit on my post yesterday about the VandeHei/Allen theorem and the Democratic presidential race.

Regular readers of this blog know that I reached the conclusion more than a month ago that Barack Obama is likely to be nominated by the Democrats, although a Clinton comeback was possible, although not likely.

That's still where I am.

What I don't know, and what I can't predict, is how Obama will the nomination and what effects the end of the race will have on his general election viability. To many readers, particularly those who support Obama, my temporizing probably seems extraneous. But willing the future does not make it come any more quickly.

Hillary Clinton could win Pennsylvania (although I think it may be closer than one would expect -- Obama begins a six-day bus tour later this week) and Indiana, and then North Carolina (there may be a second debate and her advisers are internally conflicted about her chances there) and then Puerto Rico, where sixteen years of Clintonian good will makes her a near-prohibitive favorite. Do these victories suddenly produce a burst of momentum and convince the superdelegates that she's a better candidate than he is?

Probably not. Obama wins -- but he wins with a party that is increasingly divided. He wins with a little less than half the party consciously choosing someone else. He wins on the downslope. That's a tough place for him to be.

Now, the Obama campaign and many long-time Democrats are making the obvious counter-point that if Hillary Clinton were to get out now, these potential problems would not problems at all. Indeed, they argue that the only reason why Obama is likely to win the nomination and be damaged by the process is precisely because Hillary Clinton cannot accept that she is likely to lose. They argue that this is inherently unfair to Obama and to the party. So long as Obama is a few hundred delegates short of 2024, is there any other way to push Hillary Clinton out of the race?

Some Obama advisers believe that, right after Pennsylvania, Bill Clinton will become cognizant of the damage he has caused to his own legacy, and Hillary Clinton will begin to worry about her future in the Senate, and enough donors, fearful of being cut off by the new Obama power center, will force their hands. Others are preparing for trench warfare all the way to the convention.

Is the press somehow complicit in this state of affairs? They -- we -- are an easy target. But there are a few more suspects to consider. The party elders, as I've written, haven't forced anyone out of the race. The superdelegates are NOT making up their minds. And many, many Democratic voters are still expressing their preference for another candidate.