- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Both Democratic presidential campaigns said yesterday they won’t score any knockout punches in today’s slate of 22 primaries and caucuses, and are now raising the possibility the contest won’t end until the August nominating convention.

Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton’s strategist, Mark Penn, said that because none of today’s races are winner-take-all, the fight will continue on to the Potomac region contests next Tuesday, through elections in Ohio and Texas in March, and will still be contested when Pennsylvania votes in April.

“We will win a diverse mix of states tomorrow,” predicted Clinton spokesman Howard Wolfson, adding that he thinks Mrs. Clinton will wake up tomorrow with a delegate-count lead.

“But this is a fight that is going to go well beyond tomorrow [and] possibly not decided until the convention,” Mr. Wolfson said.

The Obama camp downplayed today’s significance, saying the coast-to-coast election was never the cornerstone of its delegate strategyand that the race continues well after today’s voting.

“We always planned to stay close enough in the delegate count so that we could proceed to individually focus on the states in the next set of contests,” said David Plouffe, Mr. Obama’s campaign manager.

“We fully expect Senator Clinton to earn more delegates on February 5th and also to win more states. If we were to be within 100 delegates on that day and win a number of states, we will have met our threshold for success and will be best positioned to win the nomination in the coming months,” he said.

Election analysts say Democrats’ system makes it virtually impossible for either candidate to break away today. The party awards delegates based on a proportional system, giving a percentage of a state’s delegates to each candidate who wins more than 15 percent of votes statewide or in the congressional districts.

There are 1,681 delegates in play today, and 2,025 are needed to secure the nomination.

Mrs. Clinton currently holds a 261-to-191 delegate lead, including endorsements from superdelegates — party and elected officials who automatically attend the party convention and can support whomever they choose.

She is also exploring whether delegates from states such as Florida and Michigan, which she won, can be reinstated for the convention. The Democratic Party has ruled those delegates won’t be seated because the state violated party rules in voting so early.

The Republicans’ situation is different. The delegate-rich Northeastern states of New York and New Jersey are winner-take-all, as are a handful of other sizable states, such as Arizona and Missouri.

Sen. John McCain appears headed for victory in many of those places, which would go a long way toward sewing up the 1,191 delegates needed to win the Republican nomination. He leads former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney by 102-93, according to the latest Associated Press delegate count, heading into today’s contests, which will award 1,023 delegates.

The big exception is California, the mother lode of delegates. For Republicans, almost all of the delegates will be divided based on congressional districts, while for Democrats, the 370 delegates at stake today — out of a total of 441 — are awarded based on both congressional district and statewide performance.

Mrs. Clinton has leads in states such as New York, New Jersey, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Missouri and Tennessee, which would divide a total of 790 delegates among them.

However, the race was close or Mr. Obama was leading in other states where he could offset some of her delegate totals with a larger share of the delegates.

In Georgia, for example, with 103 delegates, and in Alabama, with 60 delegates, where he was expected to benefit from a large black vote, Mr. Obama led in the latest polls by an average 52 percent to 36 percent and 40 percent to 35 percent, respectively, in state polls last week.

The Gallup Poll’s national daily tracking survey, which last week showed Mrs. Clinton at 44 percent and Mr. Obama moving closer with 41 percent, said its numbers suggested “that Obama has gained slightly more — at least initially — from John Edwards’ departure from the race.”

Donna Brazile, who managed Al Gore’s 2000 presidential campaign, said the bitterly fought nomination contest has left “a lot of blood on the floor, but it’s too early to end this debate now. It’s healthy for democracy, and this is the way you grow parties.”

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