Think back to the 2008 primary seasons. By the end of April, Obama partisans had insisted that the race for the democratic nomination was officially over when Obama swept 11 states in a row in February. They were correct. In this period, Obama attained 288 pledged delegates to Hillaryís 165. Thatís a margin of 123 delegates. It makes up over 90% of his final lead in pledged delegates.
09.03.08 - Is the Primary Calendar too important?
And, indeed, February was a fantastic month for Obama. His fundraising hit record highs. A movement of superdelegates towards his campaign began to form. He found himself leading Clinton in both the state-by-state and national polls. Basically, he had a heck of a lot of momentum. Serious calls for Clinton to consider dropping out didnít really start until February, especially ramping up after his 10th win. And thatís a very key point in this race. One could say that the month of February was, taken all together, the singular moment when Hillary Clinton relinquished all airs of the frontrunner and became, much to her detriment, just enough of an underdog to throw the race. The significance of this month both to the Obama campaign and to the race as a whole cannot be overstated.
Now, consider this scenario.
As things went, the primary calendar for the month of February was set up in the following fashion.
|DATE||BHO VOTE||BHO %||HRC VOTE||HRC %||VOTE MARGIN||% MARGIN|
|Virgin Island||2/9||1,772||89.9%||149||7.6%||Obama +1,623||82.3%|
|District of Columbia||2/12||93,386||75.3%||29,470||23.8%||Obama +63,916||51.5%|
|Democrats Abroad||2/12||15,214||65.8%||7,501||32.5%||Obama +7,713||33.3%|
But letís ignore the actual month for a second and take a few liberties with the primary calendar.
|DATE||BHO VOTE||BHO %||HRC VOTE||HRC %||VOTE MARGIN||% MARGIN|
|Rhode Island||2/9||75,316||40.4%||108,949||58.4%||Clinton +33,633||18.0%|
|West Virginia||2/12||91,652||25.7%||239,062||67.0%||Clinton +147,410||41.3%|
|Puerto Rico||5/1||121,458||31.6%||263,120||68.4%||Clinton +141,662||36.8%|
First, itís worth noting that this theoretical February isnít really that different from the February calendar that occurred as one would initially think. It has the same basic structure applied to different regions. On the 9th, instead of Southern and nearby Western state, we see a Northeastern state with a nearby Appalachian state. Instead of Maine (which did not release its popular vote totals), we see a southern state to provide a counterbalance to the two regional states contested the day earlier. And then, two days later, we see the same sort of ďregional primaryĒ that we saw in the Potomac Primary on the 12th. Except it isnít the Potomac Primary. Itís the Rust Belt Primary. And as a regional bloc, this is the best day for Hillary of the entire campaign. And then, a week later, we are treated to Indiana. This is the ďswingĒ state of the calendar, just like Wisconsin was for Obama in the actual February. And just as Hawaii swung heavily for Obama, we see a contest outside the realm of the continental United States to swing for Clinton.
The first thing that we must at least attempt to account for is the effect that February had on all of these races. This is difficult. For obvious reasons, very few pollsters surveyed states like West Virginia and Kentucky before May. Thus, itís impossible to argue whether Clinton would have done better (or, perhaps, a bit worse) if they had been placed earlier. We wonít muddle with them. However, many states were polled. Especially the states that went on March 4th. Here are a few polls conducted before the middle of February -- that is, before Obama started exhibiting a lot of strength. I'm excluding polls from before 2008, and pollsters like ARG and Insider Advantage due to space constraints and their generally substandard quality. HRC and BHO are abbreviations of their names, if you haven't already picked up on that.
- TX: HRC - 54% ; BHO - 38% (HRC +16%)
- TX: HRC - 49% ; BHO - 41% (HRC +8%)
- OH: HRC - 42% ; BHO - 19% (HRC +23%)
- OH: HRC - 56% ; BHO - 39% (HRC +17%)
- OH: HRC - 55% ; BHO - 34% (HRC +21%)
- OH: HRC - 51% ; BHO - 37% (HRC +14%)
- PA: HRC - 40% ; BHO - 20% (HRC +20%)
- PA: HRC - 52% ; BHO - 36% (HRC +16%)
- PA: HRC - 45% ; BHO - 31% (HRC +14%)
As an aside, in this theoretical month, Hillary accrues a net of 76 delegates without accounting for that increased support due to temporal differences in the allotment of states. This is important, because it would bring her a lead in the pledged delegates. Oft forgotten in the postmortems of the primary race is that Hillary never had that lead. Obama led in the pledged delegates from day one; the only time Hillary drew even with him was New Hampshire. This is more important than most people realize. Superdelegates tend to line up behind the candidate who is perceived as the delegate victor; Clinton reaching a lead in the only national barometer that always had Obama ahead would have caused, most likely, a few weeks of superdelegate surging that would have strengthened her broader delegate lead and given her an air, once again, of the inevitable candidate.
Now. After having written all that I must caution you not to take too much stock in this scenario. Just like how February turned out to be Obamaís watershed month, this schedule is the exact opposite. This allots Hillary all her greatest wins after 2/5 and maintains the same general geographic methodology behind the actual schedule.
But despite this similarity, one must realize that there is a point wherein speculation is just that: speculation. This argument is on its face a poor one. Hillary COULD have had a month as good as Obamaís if the calendar was different. True. But in entering a presidential primary a candidate must acquiesce to the exogenous rules and conditions of the party, and this includes whatever previously allotted schedule you get stuck with. Hillary could easily have tempered Obamaís margins in the caucus states with well organized GOTV drives. She could have used the media more advantageously.
She could have spent a bit of money on the states before Super Tuesday passed, harboring the unrealistic expectation that the primary was about to end. Her failure to do so is not indicative of some act of divine intervention on Obamaís part or particular ineptness on her part: it just means that Hillary and her campaign staff made the entirely wrong choice. They chose to put too much stake in the mediaís portrayal of Super Tuesday as the deciding moment of the campaign. Obama, on the other hand, effectively prepared for an extensive war of attrition. It just so happened that the calendar was on his side.
No, the point Iím making is not germane to the cold body of this specific presidential primary race. The point Iím making is far more obtuse. My point, quite frankly, is that the calendar needs to be remodeled. This sort of a scenario is not at all conducive to the efficacy of the party that built it. Rather than giving a realistic view of the two candidates in strength, this calendar was, for a time, very strongly skewed towards Obama. Enough so that the race may have hinged on the momentum he got from nothing more than an exceedingly favorable arrangement of the calendar. Do I really think anybody is going to do anything about it, especially since Candidate Obama is now President Obama? Certainly not. But the point is that whether anyone does anything or not, something probably SHOULD be done. A party that cannot effectively judge the true national strength of its two candidates is a party that isn't really getting all that fair of a view of their candidates, and a party that may very well be nominating the weaker candidate based solely on a poorly constructed exogenous factor that's completely under the control of the bigwigs that head the party.
Sure, maybe nothing came of it this time. But bundled calanders and ones that allow for such concerted bursts of unrealistic candidate strength are a problem, and one that I would think the DNC and the RNC would really want to take a long, hard look at. After all, the point of the primaries is to find the party's strongest candidate. If the system is institutionally biased in one direction, it can hardly do that well, can it?