Does Clinton Have To Win North Carolina, Too?

Does Hillary Clinton have to beat Barack Obama in North Carolina in order to prick the political consciences of sueprdelegates? Since Pennsylvania, Obama has won the support of twice as many superdelegates, even as Clinton has been able to marshal data point after data point showing herself to be more electable than he. In the kaleidoscopic psychologies of uncommitted superdelegates, a skepticism about Hillary Clinton seems to weigh more heavily than her data-driven arguments. In the minds of many Clinton observers, these remaining superdelegates have been impervious to reason.

CLINTON APPROACHES North Carolina as an unquestionable underdog. The demographics are so daunting that her campaign reproaches any reporter who poses the must-win question. It is absurd, aides say, to think that Clinton can overcome Obama's built-in advantages there, and it sets unfair expectations on her when the possibility of a Clinton victory is broached. It's a fair point, but possibly irrelevant. It may well be that an upset victory is the only way to unblinker the superdelegates. It might not serve the principles of justice, but it is what it is.

CLINTON ADVISERS think their candidate is being held to an unreasonable standard. Why should she have to consistently demonstrate her capacity to win in major states? Why does the press persist in setting up new hurdles for her overcome every time she jumps over her old hurdle? The answer is may be that the Democratic nominating process is not democratic and the standards by which one measures it are not the product of some unbiased judge sitting behind a veil of ignorance. In fact, the body of judges -- not the media but the undeclared superdelegates -- have too much information about the consequences of their actions. The route to the nomination for Obama is fairly straight. He'll end the primary season just about 80 votes short of securing the nomination. It is much easier to get a third of the remaining superdelegates than it is to get two thirds of them. Further, based on a year's worth of conversations with uncommitted superdelegates, I've found that a good number of them just do not want another Clinton administration -- this is a psychic block for many of them. They are already predisposed to favor Obama. And they like him. And they have doubts about his general election viability. In their thinking, if he's going to be the nominee, he's going to need their support regardless of whether he earned their support.

CLINTON TOUGHEST task is to find a way to change the uncommitted superdelegate's expectation of who will win. That's because these superdelegates are clearly worried about the damage the process is causing to Obama's general election prospects -- not so much the prospects themselves, but the effect of the process on the prospects. So long as a majority of Democratic primary voters believe that Obama is going to be their nominee, the superdelegates will not change their expectations, and thus will probably not break en masse to Clinton anytime soon. As in previous cycles, the superdels are mostly followers; they're mostly following, again, expectations, rather than expressed preferences.

THE ONLY WAY that Clinton beats Obama in North Carolina is if Obama supporters become skittish and stay home; if Clinton ups her percentage of the black vote; if 70% of white voters choose Clinton. "We are holding steady and feel good," says Steve Hildebrand, Obama's deputy campaign manager. The Clinton campaign does not dispute this assessment, although they're certainly working to limit Obama's margin.