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Obama camp downplaying expectations

From NBC's Mark Murray and NBC/NJ's Aswini Anburajan
With polls showing Obama making up a considerable amount of ground in key February 5 contests, there is a growing sense that he could pull off what was unthinkable just two or three weeks ago: grab more Feb. 5 delegates than Clinton. Heck, even win California.

Well, the Obama campaign just released a memo to rein in such expectations. "Senator Clinton is certainly the favorite on February 5, given the huge leads she has held in many of these contests throughout the course of the campaign and the political, historical and geographic advantages she enjoys in many of these states," Obama manager David Plouffe said in the memo. "Based on her huge head start, Hillary Clinton should still win California, but is unlikely to achieve her goal of getting a sizeable share of the delegates."

Plouffe continues, "Our path to the nomination never factored in a big day for us on February 5. Rather, we always planned to stay close enough in the delegate count so that we could proceed to individually focus on the states in the next set of contests. We fully expect Senator Clinton to earn more delegates on February 5th and also to win more states. If we were to be within 100 delegates on that day and win a number of states, we will have met our threshold for success and will be best positioned to win the nomination in the coming months."

That 100-delegate margin is an interesting mention. It's rare that campaigns establish benchmarks that journalists can hold them to later on, and Plouffe is vague on "a number of states'" which could mean seven or it could mean fifteen. But in providing a measure of success in terms of delegates, that's a good way to see if Obama can meet his own expectations game tomorrow night. That said, after playing with the delegate math a bit, a 100-delegate difference might be setting the bar a little too low.

The full Plouffe memo is below.

February 4, 2008
To: Interested Parties
From: David Plouffe
RE: Putting Tomorrow into Perspective

Two weeks ago, a Clinton campaign adviser told CBS News that they believed they could "wrap up" the nomination on February 5th. As the "inevitable" national frontrunner, tomorrow should be the day when she sews up the nomination or builds a formidable delegate lead. But because of Obama's growing momentum across the country, the Clinton campaign is now unlikely to reach their stated goals of wrapping up the nomination tomorrow.

Senator Clinton is certainly the favorite on February 5, given the huge leads she has held in many of these contests throughout the course of the campaign and the political, historical and geographic advantages she enjoys in many of these states.

For example, California, which Clinton led by 25 points in October and 12 points two weeks ago, was once seen as the Clinton campaign's firewall and where they planned to run up an insurmountable lead in delegates. Former Governor Gray Davis, a Clinton supporter, said on MSNBC last week, "I am pleased to be for Hillary Clinton and I expect her to do very well in Super Tuesday. I expect her to win California by a sizable amount, at least double digits, do well in New York and New Jersey and Connecticut."

Based on her huge head start, Hillary Clinton should still win California, but is unlikely to achieve her goal of getting a sizeable share of the delegates.

Our path to the nomination never factored in a big day for us on February 5.  Rather, we always planned to stay close enough in the delegate count so that we could proceed to individually focus on the states in the next set of contests.

We fully expect Senator Clinton to earn more delegates on February 5th and also to win more states. If we were to be within 100 delegates on that day and win a number of states, we will have met our threshold for success and will be best positioned to win the nomination in the coming months.

A performance that exceeds those benchmarks, while unlikely, would put is in a surprisingly strong position heading into the rest of the February contests.

While the Clinton campaign is furiously trying to spin the expectations game, it is important to look at where they were in some of the key states just a few weeks ago.

ALABAMA
Less Than Two Weeks Before February 5th, Clinton Led Alabama By 15 Points. According to polling done by Rasmussen released on January 25, Clinton led Obama by 15 points, 43% to 28%. [Rasmussen, 1/25/08]

ARIZONA
Less Than Two Weeks Before February 5th, Clinton Led Arizona Obama By 21 Points. According to a poll done for the Arizona Republic that was released on January 23, Clinton led Obama 45% to 24%. [Arizona Republic, 1/23/08]

CONNECTICUT
Hartford Courant: Two Weeks Before February 5th, Clinton Led Connecticut By 14 Points. According to polling done for the Hartford Courant released on January 20, Clinton led Obama by 14 points, 41% to 27%. [Hartford Courant, 1/20/08]

DELAWARE
October 2007 Poll Found Clinton Leading Obama By 24 Points. According to polling done by Farleigh Dickinson that was released on October 10, Clinton led Obama by 24 points, 41% to 17%. [Fairleigh Dickinson, 10/10/07]

GEORGIA
In December 2007, Clinton Led Georgia By 7 Points. According to polling done by Strategic Vision released on December 12, Clinton led Obama by 7 points, 34% to 27%. [Strategic Vision, 1/22/07]

MASSACHUSETTS
Survey USA: Two Weeks Before February 5th, Clinton Led Massachusetts By 37 Points. According to polling done by Survey USA released on January 24, Clinton led Obama by 37 points, 59% to 22%. [Survey USA, 1/24/08]

MINNESOTA
October Poll Found Clinton Leading Obama By 25 Points In Minnesota. According to polling done by Mason Dixon released on October 2, Clinton led Obama 47%-33%. [Star Tribune, 10/2/07]

MISSOURI
Less Than Two Weeks Before February 5th, Clinton Led Missouri By 19 Points. According to polling done by Rasmussen released on January 25, Clinton led Obama by 19 points, 43% to 24%. [Rasmussen, 1/25/08]

NEW YORK
Before February 5th, Clinton Led New York By 28 Points. According to polling done by USA Today and Gallup released on January 28, Clinton led Obama by 28 points, 56% to 28%. [Gallup, 1/28/08]

NEW JERSEY
Less Than Two Weeks Before February 5th, Clinton Led New Jersey By 17 Points. According to polling done by Quinnipiac released on January 22, Clinton led Obama by 17 points, 49% to 32%. [Quinnipiac, 1/23/08]

OKLAHOMA
Three Weeks Before February 5th, Clinton Led Oklahoma By 20 Points. According to polling done by Survey USA released on January 14, Clinton led Obama by 20 points, 45% to 25%. [Survey USA, 1/14/08]

TENNESSEE
Less Than One Week Before February 5th, Clinton Led Tennessee By 33 Points. According to polling done by Insider Advantage in Tennessee on January 30th, Clinton led Obama by 33 points, 59% to 26%. [Insider Advantage, 1/30/08]