From Chuck Todd, Mark Murray, and Domenico Montanaro
*** The game-changer: In a way, Clinton turned out to be prescient when she said that the North Carolina and Indiana contests would be a game-changer in the race for the Democratic nomination. What changed, however, was the story that Obama -- even though leading by every metric -- was on the defensive after losing Pennsylvania and after weeks of Jeremiah Wright and "bitter." But in winning North Carolina last night, his margin of victory (more than 230,000) was even larger than the amount that Clinton won Pennsylvania by (about 215,000). In fact, when you combine Clinton's narrow victory in Indiana and Obama's much larger one in the Tar Heel State, he ALMOST netted more votes than Clinton obtained from Pennsylvania. In short, we're right back to where we were on April 21, and that's something that won't be lost among Democratic superdelegates, especially after two weeks dominated by Wright.
*** The new math: Another thing that last night did was kill the Clinton's campaign's two best talking points. First, the popular vote: After last night, Obama now leads Clinton by more than 700,000 (16,050,924 vs. 15,336,896). When you include Florida, Obama leads by 419,256, and when you include both Florida and Michigan (and don't give Obama "uncommitted"), his lead is 90,947. And here's what's left in our pop vote simulator
Total votes Clinton Obama Split
WV: 400,000 240,000 160,000 60-40
KY: 500,000 300,000 200,000 60-40
OR: 600,000 270,000 330,000 45-55
SD: 100,000 45,000 55,000 45-55
MT: 125,000 56,250 68,750 45-55
Totals 911,250 813,750
Under this scenario, Clinton will net 97,500 in the remaining contests. So Clinton can win the popular vote if you count Florida and Michigan, but it'll be close and it's just as likely with a bigger than expected win for Obama in Oregon that he can actually win the popular vote even with netting ZERO votes out of Michigan. This shows just how massive both turnout was in North Carolina and the margin of Obama's victory was in the state. Once again, he shows that when he wins a state, he wins big.
*** Mission: Impossible? Second, on the delegate front, if Florida and Michigan were seated as is and Obama got the uncommitted delegates in Michigan, Clinton would net an additional 32 delegates from Florida and 18 from Michigan -- for a total net of 50. So add those numbers into the current pledged delegate count and Obama still would lead in the pledged delegate count by more than 100, approximately 110 in fact. So let's use 110 as the baseline. For Clinton to overtake him in the pledged delegate lead using THEIR math on Florida and Michigan, she'd need to win 75% of all remaining delegates. That's an impossible task. Most importantly, knowing the DNC Rules and Bylaws Committee the way we THINK we do, the likelihood of the committee NOT punishing Florida and Michigan in some way (say a cut in half of their delegates a la the Republicans) would then make this FL/MI exercise moot.
*** How did Obama stop the bleeding? One thing that jumps out at us is his performance in mostly white Indiana counties north of Indianapolis. He either won them or did much better than we expected. While he still struggled against Clinton in areas south of Indianapolis, his performance north of the city demonstrated his potential in the Midwest. Also, Obama improved with Catholics. After losing that group 70%-30% in Pennsylvania and 63%-36% in Ohio, Obama narrowed that margin to 59%-41% in Indiana; in fact, he won the county that includes South Bend. And the gas-tax debate also appears to have been a winner for Obama. Besides overshadowing (a bit) the Wright story over the days leading into last night's contests, the debate played into Obama's core message (that he will change the way Washington works) and played into Clinton's chief negative (that she'll say and do anything to win). That said, Obama didn't get the margins you might have expected in Indiana's northwest counties close to Illinois. Our guess is there might have been a racial divide here, and Wright might have been a factor in the Chicago media market. Even in Lake County, Obama only won 55%-45%. That probably means he lost white vote there badly... You have to wonder how much he would have WON Indiana by if 1) there was no Wright controversy or 2) he had more time.
*** What now? As we mentioned yesterday, with more undeclared superdelegates remaining (266.5) than pledged delegates left (217), the race has moved from the campaign trail to the back rooms. In calls with undecided party leaders this morning, we are not sensing any urgency for Clinton to make a campaign decision this week; she's going to be given plenty of breathing room. Don't expect a HUGE rush of big name superdelegates to Obama's side. If he picks a bunch of folks, they'll be the lesser-known folks, the ones who want some early credit for getting on the bandwagon. Meanwhile, over at the Clinton campaign, there will be a lot of people asking them about money today now that there are reports she loaned more money to the cause. Did a bunch of supporters kick in money? We're guessing if they had, we'd already know. Speaking of, one thing about Obama's victory and near miss last night: They would not have been possible without his well-funded operation and that should also be something that impresses superdelegates. He performed when his back was against the wall. He ran up margins in early votes, in absentee votes and had a superior GOTV operation.
*** Questions galore: One of the things about last night that will make it very hard for Clinton to convince folks she has a rationale for continuing her candidacy beyond making a statement is that there will be a rush to analyze just how she got to this point: the brink of elimination from the presidential sweepstakes. Some questions we expect many a reporter, strategist and analyst to ask and purse over the next days and weeks: If Iraq is never the first BIG issue of the primary campaign, does Obama even have a rationale for running? What if Clinton had voted against the Iraq war resolution or apologized for it before 2007? Was Bill Clinton an asset or a liability? Could she have gotten this far without him? Did he prevent her from becoming the change candidate? Did Mark Penn's focus on making Clinton appear ready to be Commander in Chief in 2007 rather than thinking about the party's left flank in the primary ultimately doom her? Who remembers that it was Clinton, not Obama, who had more money raised and in the bank at the end of '07? What if Clinton skips Iowa? What if Florida had stayed on the March 4 primary day and she won Florida, Ohio and Texas all on the same night? So many what ifs... And so many more we're missing…
*** A prescient McCain: Of all states for McCain to be in today, there may not be a better one than Michigan. This is a state that will be square in the battleground in any race between Obama and McCain. The Michigan delegate dispute and Obama's attacks on the auto industry will make things tough on him in this state. Then there's the whole Reagan Democrat issue. Of all the blue states on the Kerry 2004 map, Michigan may be the most vulnerable to a flip in a Obama-McCain match-up. So on this day that some believe the general election may be unofficially starting, McCain's in Michigan. Timing is everything.
*** On the trail: Clinton attends an event at Shepherd University in West Virginia with Chelsea and then holds a fundraiser in Washington, DC; McCain holds a town hall in Rochester, MI, goes to New York to tape Jon Stewart's Daily Show, and then raises money in New York City; and Obama is down in Chicago with his family before returning to DC later in the evening.
Countdown to West Virginia: 6 days
Countdown to Kentucky and Oregon: 13 days
Countdown to Election Day 2008: 181 days
Countdown to Inauguration Day 2009: 258 days
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