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Moral Claims: Clinton vs. Obama

By Noah Millman

Clinton: I've won all the big states except Illinois, my opponent's home state. I've also won most of the delegates in states that were seriously contested. Obama played a clever game, but I'm clearly the nominee with the greater support.

Obama: That's ridiculous. If you don't fight in Virginia, that doesn't mean Virginia doesn't count. And you did fight in Wisconsin - and lost. I was down 20% in Texas before we started campaigning there, and closed that gap to 4%. You've had every advantage in this race and haven't put it away. Bottom line: if I'm leading in pledged delegates going into the convention, the super-delegates should put me over the top.

Clinton: Why should the super-delegates do that? They are free to vote however they like. They should vote their consciences, just like other voters do. And don't tell me that's undemocratic - the only reason you have such a big delegate lead is that you've won caucuses. Caucuses are ludicrously undemocratic. Look at Texas! It had a caucus and a primary on the same day, and you won the caucus after losing the primary! Why should voters with more time on their hands - or even voters with greater "enthusiasm" - count more? More to the point: why should the tiny minority of voters who show up for caucuses get to vote their consciences, but superdelegates who have devoted their lives to the Democratic Party don't?

Obama: Actually, the key factual claim you make is false. If you just look at the vote in primaries, and you allocate all delegates strictly according to the proportion of the popular vote, I've won slightly more delegates than you have (1076 to 1044).

Clinton: Really? Are you counting Florida and Michigan?

Obama: Oh, come on! Those weren't real contests. I didn't campaign in Florida, and I wasn't even on the ballot in Michigan!

Clinton: Poor you! And I didn't contest Utah.

Obama: We had an agreement not to campaign in Michigan or Florida! This is ridiculous!

Clinton: You know full well that I would have won Michigan and Florida even if you'd campaigned. The demographics that have driven my victories and yours have been remarkably consistent. Michigan looks a lot more like Ohio than like Wisconsin. Florida looks a lot more like Arizona than like Virginia. Maybe the margin would have been different, but the result would have been the same.

Obama: I don't concede that for a minute.

Clinton: You want to re-vote and find out?

Obama: Anyway, look, you're always discounting the caucus states, but surely by the same logic you would have to concede that had the caucus states been primary states, I would have won all of of them as well, albeit by different margins. So how can you say they don't count?

Clinton: I don't concede that for a minute. Look at Texas! Would you have won Kansas and Idaho if they were primaries? Sure. But Maine? Frankly, I doubt you'd have even won Iowa if it had been a primary - and if you hadn't won Iowa, you would have been out of this race long ago.

Obama: Now we're getting crazy. If you're making a case that Florida and Michigan are disenfranchised by not counting their votes, then you have to accept that I won Washington, Minnesota, Colorado, and seven other caucuses fair and square, and their votes have to count. If you allocate their delegates proportionately by the percentage of the vote, I'm up 1340 to 1184. Even with Florida and Michigan, you're still behind.

Clinton: You mean to tell me you think you'd have won Colorado by 2 to 1 if it had been a primary?

Obama: You mean to tell me you have some magic crystal ball that tells you how Colorado would have voted if it had been a primary? We had an election! You lost 2 to 1! Hey, I won Virginia by almost 2 to 1 - it is possible.

Clinton: Look, this isn't ultimately about bean-counting. It's about convincing the superdelegates to do the right thing. You can make your moral argument about pledged delegates, and I can counter with my moral argument about the intent of the majority of the electorate. The right thing to do is to nominate the candidate who will best advance the prospects of our party in 2008. I am that candidate for three reasons: I have stronger support from Democrats; I have stronger support from key geographic and demographic groups; and I have stronger support overall. I have unquestionably won a majority of votes from Democrats in the primary. If we are close to tied going into the convention, which we are now and probably will be, then the superdelegates should ratify the choice of Democrats. If we are going to win in November, we are going to need the enthusiastic support of white, working-class voters, older voters, national security voters, and voters in swing states like Florida, Michigan, Ohio. These are voters I have shown I can win, and that you have not. Finally, I have a strong, stable base of support built up over years. You could crumble like a cookie made with too much sugar. We shouldn't take the chance.

Obama: First of all, the right thing to do is to respect the process. If I'm the leader coming out of the process, superdelegates should ratify that. The purpose of the superdelegates is not to overrule the people but to ratify the plurality victor when there is no majority victor - because otherwise a brokered convention could result in a truly undemocratic result. We concede nothing on this point. But setting that aside, all your claims to electability are flawed. You say you have stronger support among Democrats. Do you really think that Democrats will vote Republican in this election? Democrats overwhelmingly say they think we're both great candidates and will support either of us in the general election. We are running on very similar domestic platforms, and McCain is running as Bush-squared. But I have demonstrated the ability to expand the party base and reach out to independents, infrequent voters, and even to disgruntled Republicans. McCain is going to compete nationally by going after these voters. We need a nominee who can answer his appeal and trump that appeal. As for geography, even if I concede - which I do not - that you would have a better chance at holding Ohio and Florida, who has a better chance of holding Wisconsin, Minnesota, Iowa, Oregon and Washington - highly independent-minded states where both parties have been able to compete and where McCain's appeal to independents could trump your appeal to Democrats? And who has a better shot at winning in Virginia or Colorado, states that have begun trending towards the Democrats but where Republicans will still have an edge in a highly partisan campaign? Finally, let's consider the impact each of us will have on the other side's enthusiasm, and on down-ticket races. It's just an unfortunate fact, but Republicans will come out en masse to defeat Hillary Clinton. White evangelicals with no particular love for John McCain will come out in force to prevent Hillary Clinton from becoming President. If I am in the race, they may stay home. And on our side, I will bring out huge turnout from African-American voters across the nation. Those two factors might be the difference between victory and defeat in a state like Missouri. And across the South, they will be the difference between victory and defeat in down-ticket races. That's why so many red-state Governors and Senators have endorsed me: because they know I will run a national campaign and even if I don't win these states in the general election I will increase the Democratic majority in the national and state legislatures. And that will matter more than anything to passing the Democratic legislative program that we both agree on.

Clinton: That's a great story, Obama. But it's kind of funny - you haven't closed the deal. It's still a story. Why should it be persuasive to the superdelegates if it isn't persuasive to the voters? You've lost Democrats overall. You've lost working-class whites. You've lost key swing states like Ohio and Florida. And you are polling losing them in the general election as well. That's what the primaries are for: to test whether these stories are true. And while your story is a good one, it hasn't been born out in reality. We've both got arguments about what's going to happen in the general election - you say you'll bring out African-Americans; I say I'll bring out white women, and there are a whole lot more of them, particularly in the key swing states. But look: I'm not going to deny you've played a good game, and fought a good fight. And I'm not going to deny that my campaign has made mistakes. You've played it all right, and I've made some slips. And yet we're still roughly tied in the popular vote, and roughly tied in pledged delegates. I am going to win Pennsylvania, Kentucky, West Virginia, Puerto Rico. And I am going to fight hard to win Oregon and Indiana and North Carolina - don't think I won't. If you win all those contests, the results will be clear. But I expect to win more than you do from here on out, and when it's all over the superdelegates will look at the map and they will see whose campaign demonstrated greater overall strength and support and whose eked out a delegate plurality by racking up huge caucus margins. And they will make the right decision.

Obama: My story is just a story? You're the candidate who's still spinning why she isn't winning. Well, I suppose we'll see what happens next. Don't think I'm going to concede any of those states you're counting on, either. I'll have the money, the organization, and the enthusiasm - and I'll have the time to fully make my case, just as I did in Iowa. But one final point. Who is this "they" of whom you speak? The superdelegates aren't an undifferentiated mass. They are individual people. And we'll be making the case to them one by one. Nearly all your superdelegates pledged their commitment to you very early in the campaign, before it was clear how long and hard this contest would be - beore it was clear that you very well might not be the nominee. I have been winning new commitments every week. These people have voted their consciences and have made their choice of who is best for the party and the country. What makes you think they will change their minds now? Assuming you win all the states you say you will by margins comparable to your previous wins, I'll still need less than 50% of the remaining superdelegates to seal the nomination. You'll need almost two-thirds. We're going to be winning these people over one vote at a time, just like back in Iowa. And I like those odds.

Noah Millman blogs at The American Scene.

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