The Hillary Deathwatch
A huge Puerto Rico win fails to postpone the inevitable.
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The more things change, the more they stay the same. Hillary Clinton scored a win and a loss this weekend. She claimed a 2-to-1 victory in Puerto Rico on Sunday but netted only 24 delegates from Florida and Michigan in the decision passed down by the DNC's Rules and Bylaws Committee. Yet neither of these events changes the landscape of the race. Obama remains fewer than 45 delegates away from the new magic number of 2,118, which keeps Clinton's chances at a near-conclusive 0.4 percent.
Clinton won the Puerto Rico primary in just about every possible way. Women and men, young and old, rich and poor, educated and unschooled—all favored Clinton. (The only demographic that favored Obama was people who sympathized with indicted Gov. Anibal Acevedo Vila, who endorsed Obama.) An early estimate showed Clinton winning 35 delegates to Obama's 15, with five still unaccounted for. The Clinton campaign is spinning the results to suggest Obama has a "problem" attracting Hispanics.
But on Saturday, Clinton had problems of her own. The much-anticipated RBC meeting contained little suspense but much recrimination, as Clinton supporters denounced the committee's decision to split Michigan 69-59 and Florida 105-67, with each delegate given half a vote. All in all, she netted 24 delegates. Clinton said she "reserved the right" to challenge the decision before the Credentials Committee in late June but said she hadn't yet decided what to do.
The weekend's events helped Clinton close Obama's delegate lead but not enough to alter the eventual outcome. He still needs about the same number of delegates to win the nomination as he needed Friday. Clinton needs 203. It's as tight as a Democratic race has ever gotten—but not tight enough for Tuesday's contests, with a combined total of 31 pledged delegates, to make a difference. (The few data points we have show Obama leading in both Montana and South Dakota.)
So, the Clinton campaign is embracing the one metric that, narrowly defined, favors Hillary: the popular vote. The Puerto Rico primary netted Clinton 141,000 votes, putting her ahead of Obama in the overall tally. But that's only if you count the votes from Michigan, where Obama wasn't on the ballot. (She's still winning if you give Obama Michigan's "uncommitted" votes, but then only if you don't count a handful of caucus states.) The Clinton camp released a new ad touting the "17 million" people who voted for Clinton, bragging that it's more than voted for any other primary candidate ever. Naturally, they skip the fine print.
In the superdelegate race, Obama netted two delegates on Sunday, plus another two Monday morning; Clinton got zero. Even if they split the delegates from Tuesday's contests 50/50, Obama will need fewer than 30 supers to seal the deal.
Meanwhile, Obama announced late Saturday that he was leaving his church, Trinity United Church of Christ, after weathering months of criticism for his associations with the Rev. Jeremiah Wright. He cited "a cultural and a stylistic gap" between himself and the church. Obama severed ties with Wright in April after Wright reiterated several of his most inflammatory comments. This move suggests the Obama camp sees not just Wright but Trinity itself as a liability in the general election. However painful, it may be the right decision for Obama; and he can thank the long primary for forcing him to do it now rather than in October.
Clinton will reportedly be holding her Tuesday night "celebration" in New York City. Conclude what you will.
Christopher Beam is a writer living in Beijing.
Illustration by Rob Donnelly.