Sunday, January 27, 2008

Reality Check - Should Edwards Drop Out?

Well, Barack Obama just killed his remaining two opponents in South Carolina. We've all seen the headlines - Obama wins more votes than both Clinton and Edwards combined. He won in every conceivable demographic (except over 65 - what's that all about?)

But then there's John Edwards - my candidate. Poor, poor, maligned, ignored John Edwards.

Edwards placed third in South Carolina (although he apparently surged more than ten points in the polls before Saturday, while Clinton plummeted). He's been in four races and hasn't won one.

So should he drop out? Is he, in fact, not a viable candidate? Is he just getting in the way of the "real" candidates? Is he wasting time and money and energy by running for a nomination he cannot win?

Well, let's think about it for a minute.

The Democratic nomination is not decided by wins in states. It's decided by total number of delegates. There are a total of 4049 Democratic delegates up for grabs during the campaign. The nominee must win 2025 delegates in order to close the deal - just over half.

This means that the winning candidate can't just get a plurality of the delegates - they need a straight-up 50%. South Carolina is the first state where any candidate won by over 50% of the vote. (There are 45 delegates tied to the primary, and another nine who are superdelegates.) Obama will receive 25 delegates from the primary, Clinton 12, and Edwards 8.

(I'm not some kind of idiot savant, by the way. All of this stuff is available on several websites, including CNN's Election Center.)

Edwards is gathering up the delegates he can, in hopes of making a play at the convention. He hasn't won a state yet, but he is winning delegates in each race. If he wins enough delegates to keep either Clinton or Obama from winning 50%, then he goes into the convention with a tremendous amount of power. Right now, this is a three-way race, not a two-person race.

Hillary Clinton, according to some reports, ignored South Carolina so she could campaign in New York, New Jersey, and California in hopes of racking up delegates. That way, even if she wins less states than Obama, she'll end up with more delegates and be in a position to take the nomination.

This is the way the game is played. This is the system that the Democratic Party has in place with all of the states that have proportional delegates systems vs. winner take all.

No one is gaming the system. No one is cheating the system. Each of them is winning delegates and votes. Each candidate is competing, in their way, with legitimate hopes of winning the nomination. No candidate is out until someone reaches 2025 delegates. Until and unless that happens, each of the three candidates remaining has a shot at the nomination.

If no one gets to 2025 by the time the convention happens, then all bets are off. A brokered convention is not entirely out of the question. It's happened before: as recently as 1976, for the Republicans, when Gerald Ford beat an ex-movie actor named Reagan on the first ballot.

Right now, Clinton has won two states and Obama has won two states. Clinton apparently leads in overall delegates, counting superdelegates, but Obama leads in delegates won from state primaries and caucuses.

But let's look at the numbers.

In the overall race for the nomination, Clinton has 230 delegates, followed by Obama with 152 delegates and Edwards with 61.

So the one who's closest to the nomination - Hillary Clinton - is nearly 1800 delegates short of the mark.

This race is far from over. And it'll be over when all of the voters - not just those in the early states, and not just those voting on Super Duper Double-Scooper Blooper Tuesday - cast their votes. (52% of all delegates will be up for grabs on that day, but no one is expected to win half of those delegates cleanly. It'll be a few here, a few there, some over here, and everybody get out yer blackboards.)

It's over when it's over, and until then, none of the three viable candidates has an obligation to step out for the sake of the party, or for the sake of the "realistic" candidates, or for any other reason.

And lest it be forgotten - John Edwards is talking about issues that the other candidates have only touched upon. He talked about predatory lending before Countrywide collapsed. He launched his campaign, not from New York or Washington, D.C., but from the devastated landscape of New Orleans. Edwards is moving the other candidates to the left, and that is a good thing. He is a unique voice in this campaign, and one that should keep speaking until he is no longer a candidate. That day has not arrived.

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