In both races, a numbers game

Clinton, Obama hunker down for prolonged battle for delegates

Email|Print| Text size + By Scott Helman
Globe Staff / February 7, 2008

CHICAGO - With Super Tuesday leaving Senators Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton in a virtual deadlock, the fiercely fought Democratic presidential race has become a pitched battle for delegates - and neither candidate is likely to win it anytime soon.

A day after Super Tuesday's 22-state battle for 1,681 delegates, updated delegate counts indicated Obama ran roughly even with Clinton in the one-day contest, a strong outcome for him given that she had long been favored to win.

With each candidate drawing support from broad constituencies, the 13 contests over the next month may do nothing to resolve the standoff.

A total of 817 delegates is at stake in primaries or caucuses from Saturday until March 4. They include big, delegate-rich states such as Ohio and Texas, and smaller, lower-stakes ones such as Maine and Hawaii. But with such a close race between Obama and Clinton, no state at this point is too small to matter.

Indeed, both campaigns have been furiously raising money, plotting advertising strategy, moving staff, and refining their messages as they hunker down for a prolonged fight - one that will perhaps carry all the way to the Democratic National Convention this summer in Denver.

"This is going to be a neck-and-neck contest for the foreseeable future," Clinton's communications director, Howard Wolfson, told reporters on a conference call yesterday.

Obama's campaign yesterday projected he had won 847 delegates to Clinton's 834 on Super Tuesday alone, but Clinton aides were not conceding that victory.

Such an outcome would leave Obama leading in the scramble for pledged delegates - 910 to 882, by his campaign's tally. But Clinton would still be ahead when the so-called superdelegates - nearly 800 party leaders such as governors and senators who also get a vote in determining the party's nominee - are added in.

Estimates from the campaigns indicate Clinton currently leads by roughly 75 delegates overall, including superdelegates. As of yesterday evening, the running Associated Press tally of all delegates put Clinton's total at 1,024 and Obama's at 933. A candidate needs 2,025 delegates to win the nomination.

The two candidates enter the next phase with distinct strategies. Obama has focused more on winning heavily black states and regions where Democrats have historically held less sway. Clinton has concentrated on drawing rank-and-file Democrats in urban areas and states where Democrats dominate.

The next several contests may favor Obama: This Saturday, Nebraska and Washington hold caucuses, the kind of organizationally challenging ballots in which he has excelled. Louisiana, which votes in a primary on Saturday - and then Virginia, Maryland, and the District of Columbia, which together vote in the so-called Potomac Primary on Tuesday - have large proportions of African-Americans, among whom Obama has dominated in contests so far. Some are also open primaries, meaning independents and Republicans - two sources of Obama's strength - can vote.

Clinton, who proved her deep appeal in the Northeast on Tuesday by winning not just her home state of New York, but also Massachusetts and New Jersey, may hold an advantage in Maine, which votes in caucuses on Sunday. Her campaign is also looking ahead to the March 4 primary in Ohio, a key swing state in the general election where polls have indicated that she is leading Obama by double digits, and to Pennsylvania, where 158 pledged delegates are at stake in an April primary.

If Obama and Clinton remain on roughly even footing through the spring, it is conceivable the nomination contest will come down to superdelegates, a possibility both campaigns seemed to hint at yesterday.

Obama, speaking to reporters at a Chicago-area hotel, said he would make the argument to superdelegates that he has proved his ability to attract new voters, which he said will be key if the Democratic Party wants to win back the White House in the fall. He also suggested that party leaders ought to follow the voters' lead.

"If this contest comes down to superdelegates, I think we're going to be able to say that we have more pledged delegates, meaning that the Democratic voters have spoken," Obama said. The superdelegates, he said, "would have to think long and hard about how they approach the nomination when the people they claim to represent have said, 'Obama's our guy.' "

Clinton aides have touted her lead among superdelegates, which they now see as potentially decisive.

"It is likely that either side will never come out with a large lead in delegates," Wolfson said yesterday. "Superdelegates are going to be critically important."

One important test for the two candidates in the coming weeks is fund-raising. Clinton disclosed yesterday that she loaned herself $5 million late last month to keep pace with Obama. His campaign manager, David Plouffe, told reporters in a conference call yesterday that the campaign was in a "strong financial position," but he did not offer details.

"We think we are set up as good as we can be right now to capture the Democratic nomination," he said.

Knowing that Tuesday's outcome could be interpreted in myriad ways, both campaigns pointed to signs of strength.

Obama emerged with more to brag about, having possibly won more delegates and having captured at least 13 states to Clinton's eight. Obama yesterday called it "a big victory for our campaign."

"We won big states and small states, we won red states and we won blue states, and we won swing states, so I believe that we had an extraordinary night," he said at the news conference.

But Obama argued that despite feeling victorious, he was still the "underdog" because of Clinton's institutional advantages and broader name recognition. Asked whether that was disingenuous, given his strong position, Obama said: "We are less of an underdog than we were two weeks ago. I think that's fair. I think that two weeks ago we were a big underdog. Now we're a slight underdog."

Clinton's campaign said her victories in states such as Tennessee and Arizona proved that she could win in more conservative parts of the country. Aides touted her success in rural areas and among young voters in California and Massachusetts, results that her chief strategist, Mark Penn, called "myth-busters."

Clinton told reporters at her campaign headquarters yesterday that Tuesday was a "terrific victory" for her.

Marcella Bombardieri of the Globe staff contributed to this report. Scott Helman can be reached at

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