Obama takes the lead in the superdelegate race.

Down and on the way out.
May 12 2008 1:02 PM

The Hillary Deathwatch

Obama takes the lead in the superdelegate race.

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Clinton is poised to sweep West Virginia, but Obama has finally surged ahead in the most important contest of all: superdelegates. Dock Clinton half a point to 1.6 percent.

We've believed for some time that the day Obama overtakes Clinton in the superdelegate count * is the day Clinton throws in the towel. But Friday was that day, and the towel is still there, mopping up the Clinton campaign's blood, sweat, and tears by the bucketful. According to the Associated Press' count, Obama now has 277 supers to Clinton's 271. It was the last metric in which Clinton was leading, and Obama's momentum isn't slowing any: Over the weekend, he got seven supers to Clinton's one. Clinton campaign Chairman Terry McAuliffe still claims she's within "striking distance" of the popular vote. But that's only if you count Florida, Michigan, and now Puerto Rico, which doesn't vote in the general election.

Clinton's chances in West Virginia, meanwhile, look good. Insanely good. A Lexington Herald-Leader poll puts her at 58 percent to Obama's 31 percent. A landslide victory there will remind people of Obama's weakness with working-class whites and remind the doomsayers that Clinton is still kicking. But the demographic split is nothing we didn't know before, and Clinton's fighting spirit has started to worry some supporters. Plus, her staying in the race has a silver lining for Obama: It spares him the embarrassment of losing to her even after she dropped out. Even McCain has managed to beat his former competitors after they bowed out.

Right now, the question is no longer who has won the Democratic nomination. It's how the loser chooses to exit. As cops like to say, we can do this the easy way or the hard way. Depending on which way Clinton wants to go, West Virginia, which votes tomorrow, could mean one of two things. Either Clinton seizes on it as an excuse to stay in the race and compete with Obama in Kentucky and Oregon and Montana and Puerto Rico until she has to be euthanized on the track. Or she goes out on a high note. The latter option is looking more and more attractive as it becomes clear that the longer she bruises Obama, the more she'll have to atone for it in the general.

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Correction, May 12, 2008: This article orginally referred to Obama's overtaking Clinton in the pledged-delegate count. The reference should have been to his overtaking her in the superdelegate count. ( Return to the corrected sentence.)

For a full list of our Deathwatches, click here. For a primer on Hillary's sinking ship, visit our first Deathwatch entry. Send your own prognostications to hillarydeathwatch@gmail.com.

Christopher Beam is a writer living in Beijing.

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