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Obama's 'super' comeback

From NBC's Domenico Montanaro
Obama
has taken the lead in what was once Clinton's formidable superdelegate lead, according to NBC News' count. The endorsement of Hawaii's Dolly Strazar put the Illinois senator over the top in what is the last measurement by which he trailed in this race to the Democratic nomination. Obama picked up three other superdelegates today to expand that lead to 279 to 276.5. (Hawaii Sen. Daniel Akaka, Idaho state party chairman R. Keith Roark and Maine congressman Tom Allen were the others).

Obama's crawl to overtaking Clinton among superdelegates has been a steep, but steady climb since Super Tuesday, Feb. 5, when Clinton held a 90-person superdelegate lead, 260 to 170.

Here's a timeline of superdelegate numbers:
- Feb. 5: Clinton 260-170
- Feb. 28 (after Obama's winning streak of 11-straight contests): Clinton 254-204
- March 6 (after OH/TX/RI/VT): 254-215
- March 14 (After Obama's wins in WY 3/8; MS 3/11): Clinton 253-217
- March 31: Clinton 255-222
- April 15: Clinton 257-231
- April 23 (the day after the PA primary): Clinton 263-239
- April 30: Clinton 268-248
- May 5 (day before Indiana/NC primaries): Clinton 272.5-256
- May 12: Obama 279-276.5
 

As Obama went on his improbable streak of 11 consecutive -- and decisive -- wins in the month of February, he increased his pledged delegate lead and, one-by-one, cut into Clinton's superdelegate lead. By Feb. 28, after those victories, Obama had made significant inroads. Clinton lost six superdelegates, per the NBC News count, and Obama had gained 34, bringing the total to Clinton 254, Obama 204.

VIDEO: NBC's Andrea Mitchell and Deputy Political Director Mark Murray talk about Obama's new superdelegate lead. 

As Obama's pledged delegate lead grew to more than 100 and the possibility faded of seating Michigan and Florida's delegates according to the beauty-contest primary results, analysts did the math and saw Clinton would need to turn the tide with superdelegates.

She would need to not just stem supers from flooding to Obama, but would need to have an overwhelming victory with the group. Obama's superdelegate momentum slowed, but never turned in Clinton's favor -- even after her Ohio and Texas victories and during what were the toughest weeks of Obama's campaign with his "bitter" remarks and the re-emergence of the Rev. Jeremiah Wright at the National Press Club. Eight days after the March 4th Texas and Ohio primaries, Clinton had not netted a single delegate while Obama gained 13 more.

Political observers looked for a path for Clinton and wondered what could be the "game changer" with superdelegates. Clinton's win in Pennsylvania didn't offer  it. "Bitter" and Wright seemed to offer a window of opportunity for the New York senator. On the eve of the Pennsylvania primary, Clinton led 262 to 237; nine days later, Clinton led 268-248. At that point, she was making gains, but still not at Obama's pace.

But if she could have made North Carolina close, and won Indiana by more than a few points, then she was poised for a slate of impressive wins, a couple weeks of good press coverage and potentially, finally, have an effect on those superdelegates.

The momentum gained from a positive performance on May 6th, followed by sizable wins in West Virginia and Kentucky could have been enough for a close finish in Oregon, if not a win there. What's more, it would have called into question Obama's viability. He would have been viewed as having been seriously wounded by Wright, and superdelegates may have perhaps then gone en masse to Clinton.

Obama would have been like those NCAA basketball teams that peak in December, fizzle in February and don't make the tournament after losing to a bunch of bubble teams.

Clinton would have had a very strong case, but as close as that was to happening, it proved too tough a climb.

Obama won decisively in North Carolina and narrowly lost in Indiana, and since then has gained 23 superdelegates to Clinton's net of 1.5.

That Obama has been able to accomplish what he has is an incredible thing when one steps back to think about it. The New York senator had many of the advantages, including:

(a) Name recognition: At the start of this race, the Clinton name was the most famous name in Democratic politics. Hillary and Bill Clinton had sky-high approval ratings among Democrats. Obama, himself, called Clinton the "default" choice for many Democrats.

(b) Money: Clinton transferred in $10 million from her Senate campaign and had seemingly every major Democratic fundraiser behind her. No one thought Clinton would be the one outraised and in debt.

(c) The Democratic Establishment: From the DNC calendar to superdelegates to even Bill Clinton, Clinton had them all. Again, no one though Clinton would be the one behind in superdelegates.