The Math

If Obama wins by 10-point margins in Mississippi, Wyoming, North Carolina, South Dakota, Montana, Oregon, and Guam, splits Indiana and Michigan, and loses by 20-point margins in Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Kentucky, Florida, and Puerto Rico, and HRC picks up all the Edwards delegates, Obama would still need less than one-quarter of the remaining uncommitted superdelegates to deny him the nomination. Seem hard to you? Me neither.

UPDATED; see below

Is Hillary Clinton (1) running a good-faith attempt to win the nomination or (2) merely trying to wreck Obama’s chances against McCain so that either Obama’s support will break before the convention or, if he does get nominated, he will lose and she can run in 2012? A little bit of calculation suggests that the correct answer is (2).

NPR tots up the delegate count from Tuesday and reports that HRC gained eight delegates net out of the 370 at stake: nine in Ohio, five in Rhode Island, and four in the Texas primary, minus pickups for Obama of three in Vermont and seven in the Texas caucuses. That’s a little worse for Obama than the net-four that the Obama camp calculated yesterday, but still doesn’t do much to close Obama’s pledged-delegate margin (144 now v. 152 before Tuesday, according to NPR).

Meanwhile, the final results of the California primary have now been certified. Clinton’s popular-vote margin shrunk from the 9.4% reported at the time to 8.9%, and the delegate count, previously estimated at 207-163 (Clinton + 44) turns out to be 203-167 (Clinton +36), a net swing of eight for Obama. That neatly wipes out Clinton’s Tuesday-night gains, bringing Obama’s margin back to 152. (“Unpledged Add-On Delegates,”, (UADs) 76 people who are selected in various ways in various states. In caucus states, they’re mostly selected at the state convention, which means that they’re almost certain to go to whoever won the caucuses. Right now, it looks as if Obama will wind up about +14 net (45/31) among the UADs, and that edge isn’t recorded in the published superdelegate counts.

That brings the curent totals to O 1626, C 1491, with 2208 (of 4415) needed to nominate assuming Florida and Michigan are seated. Obama, then, needs 582 (45%) of the 1298 yet to be determined: from states that have voted but still have delegates to award at state conventions (about 68), from states yet to vote or re-vote (881), about 318 ex officio super-delegates who have yet to announce, and John Edwards’s 32 delegates.

If the 68 to be awaded at state conventions split evenly, giving Obama 34, and all the Edwards delegates vote for HRC, Obama’s magic number goes down to 548 of the remaining 1198.

And some of the states still on the calendar are clearly Obama territory: Mississippi (33), Wyoming (12), Guam (4), North Carolina (116), South Dakota (16), Montana (16), Oregon (52). (You can probably add Indiana (72) and Michigan (128) to that list.) So HRC would have to win big, where she wins at all, to catch up. But Obama has yet to lose a state, other than Arkansas, by as much as 60/40: not even New York.

To stretch a point, let’s give Obama only 55% in the states with his name on them, an even split in Indiana and Michigan, and give Clinton 57% (14-point margins) in (Pennsylvania (158) and Florida (185) and 60% (20-point margins inWest Virginia (28), Kentucky (52), and Puerto Rico(56).

On those assumptions, Obama gets 7 in Wyoming, 18 in Mississippi, 68 in Pennsylvania, 2 in Guam, 33 in Indiana, 50 in North Carolina, 11 in West Virginia, 19 in Kentucky, 26 in Oregon, 8 in Montana, 7 in South Dakota, 64 in Michigan , 80 in Florida, 65 in Pennsylvania and 22 in Puerto Rico, for a total of 480.

Then he would only need 64 of the 318 unannounced ex-officio superdelegates. That’s about 20%. Even if you award Clinton 20-point wipeouts in Pennsylvaia and Florida, that only means Obama needs 75 of 319, or 24% of the remaining superdelegates.

Does that sound hard to you? Me neither.

Since Super Tuesday, Obama has gained a net of 53 “supers,” and HRC has lost a net of one. Se picked up not a single new supporter after Tuesday night, which suggests she has no one in the bank. And in real life Obama’s pledged-delegate edge is likely to be larger, not smaller.

For Clinton to pick up 76% of the remainder isn’t just “running the table”: it’s shooting the moon.

So the immediate answer to the question “What should Obama do in response to what happened on Tuesday?” is “Keep on keepin’ on.” He should campaign mostly against McCain, and against the Bush-McCain-Clinton axis that got us into the war in Iraq. And he should stay in character.

Obama is never going to win a mud-fight with people who think that mud-slinging is “the fun part.” But he doesn’t have to.

Update The above has been modified to fix the arithmetic and tighten some of the assumptions.

Wyoming came in as expected, +2, for Obama. (There seems to be some chance that it could actually wind up +4.)

Congressman-Elect Foster, who just won the Denny Hastert seat with Obama’s support, presumably adds one to his superdelegate count.

Update March 11 Mississippi came in with 19 rather than 18. If Spitzer resigns, that takes one super from Clinton and balances out Foster, leaving the same total number of delegates. But RCP now has Clinton at 247 supers rather than 242.

So (assuming Spitzer is out) then HRC has gained 3 delegates net (5 new supers minus one in Mississippi and one for Spitzer) and Obama two delegates net, compared to the previous calculation. In the base case, he would need 62 of 313 remaining uncommitted ex officio superdelegates, still just under 20%.

Update 3/21: A reader points out that the above counts Pennsylvania twice. Sorry for the error. Of course the apparent elimination of Michigan and Florida makes the math that much less plausible from Clinton’s viewpoint.

Author: Mark Kleiman

Professor of Public Policy at the NYU Marron Institute for Urban Management and editor of the Journal of Drug Policy Analysis. Teaches about the methods of policy analysis about drug abuse control and crime control policy, working out the implications of two principles: that swift and certain sanctions don't have to be severe to be effective, and that well-designed threats usually don't have to be carried out. Books: Drugs and Drug Policy: What Everyone Needs to Know (with Jonathan Caulkins and Angela Hawken) When Brute Force Fails: How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment (Princeton, 2009; named one of the "books of the year" by The Economist Against Excess: Drug Policy for Results (Basic, 1993) Marijuana: Costs of Abuse, Costs of Control (Greenwood, 1989) UCLA Homepage Curriculum Vitae Contact: