Eleven Days That Doomed Clinton’s Campaign

by on June 4th, 2008

Now that Barack Obama has become the presumptive presidential nominee of the Democratic Party, let’s take a look back at how Hillary Clinton lost. Last year at this time, it seemed inevitable that she was going to win the nomination. What went wrong?

She finished the primary season on a very strong note, winning primaries in Ohio, Texas, Rhode Island, Pennsylvania, Indiana, West Virginia, Kentucky, Puerto Rico, and South Dakota. But, unfortunately for Clinton, the nomination had already been lost at that point. The hole that she had so deeply dug herself into guaranteed that her late rally would be all for naught.

The fate of her campaign was sealed during one eleven-day stretch in February. Right after Super Tuesday (February 5th), her campaign appeared to enter a temporary state of suspended animation. Apparently, her master plan called for Super Tuesday to culminate in the nomination fight being over — with her as the victor. When this did not come close to happening (actually, she and Obama were pretty much even in delegates and states won following the Super Tuesday results), she seemed unsure as to how to proceed. This uncertainty would prove disastrous.

From February 9th to February 19th, Clinton lost eleven straight contests to Obama (yes, elevens are wild here). During that time, Obama won in the Virgin Islands, Nebraska, Louisiana, Washington (the state), Maine, Democrats abroad, the District of Columbia, Maryland, Virginia, Wisconsin, and Hawaii. Clinton, on the other hand, won nothing during that same period. Some people blame the caucus process for this lull in the Clinton campaign, but the half of these venues conducted primaries. And Obama won many of them, including Maryland, Virginia, and Wisconsin, by inexplicably large margins. All in all, he netted 123 more delegates than did she during those eleven days.

Of course, Clinton finally righted her ship, but it was too late. At the conclusion of the primary season on Tuesday night, Obama had accumulated just 127 more pledged delegates than did she. Keep in mind that at least 15 of those delegates formerly belonged to John Edwards, who exited the race prior to Super Tuesday. These delegates defected to Obama only after he had become the clear frontrunner and Edwards had endorsed him. Therefore, Obama’s real margin of victory in pledged delegates won was no more than 112. This means that Obama’s entire pledged delegate margin can be attributed to that eleven-day stint in February.

Had Clinton stayed even with him (or perhaps kept things close) during that time, she would be virtually tied with Obama in pledged delegates right now, and it’s likely that the super delegates would have kept coming her way. Remember, the majority of the super delegates were aligning with Clinton until Obama pulled ahead in pledged delegates during his February winning streak. At that point, they reversed themselves and began going Obama’s way. That was no doubt the turning point in the race for the nomination.

Terry Mitchell