What Is Clinton Doing?

If you’re confused about what is going on in the U.S. Democratic presidential primary, you are not alone. Confusion abounds here in the U.S., but not only here. Having traveled overseas four times in the past six weeks, I’ve gotten the same questions everywhere. "Can Obama win?" "What is Clinton doing?" Picking up a newspaper during a recent stopover in London, I read two bold headlines in the Times that said it all. "He knows he’s won. She knows she’s lost. But the battle goes on," read one; while the other said, "Clinton hopes for ‘an act of God’ and keeps faith in the long game."

Because Senator Barack Obama’s lead in elected and superdelegates is so insurmountable, and because the arguments for her candidacy raised by Senator Clinton and her spokespersons are of such questionable logic, all this gives rise to the speculation as to what is, in fact, going on.

Here is the situation, as it stands.

At this point, entering the fourth week in May, Senator Obama’s overall lead in delegates is 184. It is projected that at the end of the three remaining contests, he will be only about 20 delegates short of securing the nomination.

Given the rate at which superdelegates are moving toward Obama, it appears certain that by June 3rd he will have amassed the total needed to declare victory. Clinton’s road to the nomination, on the other hand, is much longer and far steeper. Given projections of expected outcomes in the next three primaries, at the end of that period she will still trail Obama by about 140 elected delegates, and will need virtually the majority of the remaining superdelegates. What she will then be asking superdelegates to do is overturn the will of those delegates elected in the primaries. This would be so convulsive for the party, that the political leaders and elected officials who form the superdelegate group would be loathe to take such an action.

Recognizing the impossibility of this path, Clinton is seeking an alternate route – to change the rules at the end of the game. This means seating the delegations from the states of Michigan and Florida, despite the fact that the elections in both states were decertified by the national party. Because Michigan and Florida violated the party rules, all of the candidates agreed early on that the outcome of their contests would not count and, therefore, agreed to not campaign in those states. In addition, all of the candidates, with the exception of Clinton and two second-tier candidates, removed their names from the Michigan ballot. In both cases, Clinton "won," although the outcome is of questionable merit, since there was no campaigning and Obama wasn’t even on the ballot in Michigan.

Nevertheless, next weekend, Clinton’s campaign will mount a strong challenge at the Democratic Party Rules Committee meeting, to have both elections certified and delegates awarded to her. It will not be done, but interestingly enough, even if it were, it still would not give her a sufficient enough number of delegates to pass Obama. Instead, a compromise will most probably be sought, which lowers the number of delegates given to both states and creates something of a balance in the numbers awarded to both candidates so as to not allow these two contested elections to affect the outcome of the race.

The bottom line here is Clinton cannot win. The question, therefore, arises: "what is she doing?" Some speculate that she is angling for the vice presidency. Others suggest that, since her campaign debt is so great ($20 million), she is waiting for a commitment from the Obama campaign to help her retire the debt. The case, made by some cynics, is that she is running to so weaken Obama that he will lose in November, making her the lead candidate in 2012. Most likely, she continues to run because of a combination of ego and ambition. That is, she truly believes that she and only she is capable of winning in November and leading the country.

In any case, whatever the reason, the angst that all this is causing is quite intense, but not as problematic as many, including myself, had assumed it would be. It is clear that in her pursuit of the nomination, Clinton and her team have done what they could to tarnish and weaken Obama. They, in their own words, threw "the kitchen sink" at him. The impact was such that in some polls, it appeared that many white, Hispanic and women voters would not support Obama in the fall. However, this week’s respected bi-partisan Battleground Poll showed this not to be the case. Not only does this poll show Obama beating Senator John McCain in the fall (and Clinton losing to McCain), it also shows Obama doing better than Clinton nationally with white and women voters and almost as well with Hispanic voters–thus demonstrating that her argument that she is more electable than Obama does not hold up.

And so, at the end, we go back to our original question: "what exactly is she doing?"