The Democratic deja vu


Like Bill Murray in Groundhog Day, I awoke this morning to the same old tune:

Another "crucial" primary date for the Democrats; another Obama-Clinton audition for the superdelegates; another date that may or may not write Hillary's fate; another big test of whether the new guy can bond with downscale voters; another set of scenarios about how the world could look on Wednesday morning; another round of angst for the millions of Democrats nationwide...

who. just. want. this. to. be. over.

And if the Groundhog Day analogy is looking a tad tired, let's go with Crosby, Stills and Nash, who once sang, "We have all been here before..."

Nevertheless, I'll try to perform due diligence and assess the latest round of possibilities, starting with the easy one. If Obama wons both Indiana and North Carolina, Clinton is toast (except in her own mind). The media narrative would be that Obama has finally weathered the Jeremiah Wright storm, thanks to his decision last week to toss the pastor overboard. Unpledged superdelegates who yearn for closure would seize on the two-state sweep and move to Obama in sizeable and even decisive numbers, enough to require that Bill Clinton's doctors give him a sedative. 

One gets the sense that many of these roughly 265 superdelegates have been barely holding back, awaiting electoral clarity; indeed, even during these tough weeks for Obama, they have been trickling his way. NBC calculates that, even since his defeat in Pennsylvania on April 22, he has notched 21 of the 32 superdelegates who have jumped off the fence.

But I doubt we'll see an Obama sweep. Indiana looks like tough terrain for him. Most of the final polls show Clinton up by modest single digits, and, as I have noted in the past, primary voters who decide in the final hours tend to break for Clinton. The flap with Wright might still resonate with some of the downscale white voters who were never quite sold on Obama.

And as for all the talk about a big youth turnout for Obama, has anybody else noticed that Indiana University in Bloomington emptied out for the summer last week? I just checked the school's academic calendar, and there it was. (Which is why I consider this comment, by GOP strategist Craig Shirley to be the quote of the day: " any parent with a college student knows, they've been home for weeks now with their backs to their families and their faces in the refrigerator.")

So we're probably looking at another split verdict: Obama winning in North Carolina, which has the upscale, highly-educated academic Triangle, plus a large black population (the final NC margin may matter, for both perceptual bragging rights and pledged delegate allocation), and Clinton winning Indiana (same parenthetical observation). And since North Carolina has the bigger delegate haul - 115, as opposed to Indiana's 72 - it's likely that in the end there will be little shift in the basic dynamics of this marathon. A virtual split of all the awardable delegates will merely push Obama that much closer to victory, no matter how feverishly Clinton plays the game of smoke and mirrors (which she will; if she holds Obama's popular vote NC victory to single digits, she'll spin it like she just bowled 300.)

Also, if Clinton is to ultimately have any shot at convincing unpledged superdelegates to hand her the nomination despite her pledged-delegate deficit, she at least needs to erase Obama's lead in the national popular vote (now pegged at roughly 500,000). But if she wins Indiana and loses the more populous North Carolina by similar margins, she will gain no ground on that front.

There is, of course, one other scenario: a Clinton sweep tonight, featuring an upset win in North Carolina. That would be brutal for Obama, because it would prompt fence-sitting superdelegates to speculate whether his luster had been irrevocably tarnished even on ostensibly friendly turf. And Clinton would then be positioned to spin the momentum story with further wins in Hillary-friendly states like West Virginia (next week) and Kentucky (May 20)...and a push to get the Florida and Michigan delegations seated to her advantage at a Democratic National Committee meeting now slated for May 31. Fasten your seatbelts, and save that date.

Memo to all Democrats: Are you having fun yet?