After Hillary Clinton defeated Barack Obama in Ohio and Texas, I speculated that two things would have to occur over the next several months for Clinton to have a shot at the Democratic nomination. First, she would need a big primary victory in Pennsylvania. That scenario would cause superdelegates to wonder whether Obama will be competitive with John McCain in states like Ohio and Pennsylvania that the Democrats have to win. However, it would not be sufficient to cause them to risk the ire of Obama’s constituencies by nominating Clinton despite Obama having more “elected” delegates.
For the superdelegates to seriously consider “overturning the will of the people,” a second thing would have to happen — Clinton would need to poll better than Obama in head-to-head matchups with McCain. At that point, superdelegates would have to consider dumping Obama and trying to minimize the collateral damage. From their perspective, recapturing the White House is too important, and McCain too formidable, for the Democrats lightly to nominate the weaker of their two remaining candidates.
So, how do things look on these fronts today? So far, the first scenario appears to be playing out very nicely for Clinton. She holds a double digit lead in Pennsylvania; in fact her RCP average lead is 16 percentage points. She’s also competitive in North Carolina, despite having previously lost neighboring South Carolina and Virginia handily.
Clinton has also made progress relative to Obama in the head-to-heads with McCain. During the height of Obamamania, the Illinois Senator was running roughly five percentage points ahead of McCain. Today, they are in a statistical dead-heat. Meanwhile, Clinton, who was trailing McCain not long ago is also in a dead-heat now.
Unfortunately, for Clinton these results aren’t good enough. The superdelegates need evidence that she’s more electable than Obama, not that she’s equally electable.
There’s better news for Hillary in the state head-to-head polls. She significantly outperforms Obama in the critical states of Florida, Pennsylvania, and Ohio. If this trend holds, and certainly if it becomes more pronounced, over the next several months, the superdelegates clearly will have something to think about. They won’t be relishing an electoral college defeat in which their candidate runs just well enough to lose in red states.
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