Onward Obama

Barack Obama’s decisive 15-percentage-point victory (56-41) in the North Carolina primary on Tuesday more than reversed the impact of Hillary Clinton’s impressive 54-45 win in Pennsylvania two weeks earlier. Even Mrs. Clinton’s narrow Tuesday victory in Indiana (50-49) did little to detract from the major advance that Mr. Obama made on Tuesday in his quest for the nomination. That said, a widening split between the coalitions of both Democratic candidates signaled a potentially insurmountable obstacle for Mr. Obama in November unless the party’s two presidential factions resolve their differences.

Even more important is the fact that Mr. Obama’s North Carolina victory will generate a larger net gain in pledged delegates than Mrs. Clinton’s net gain of 12 pledged delegates in Pennsylvania. Moreover, the Democratic Party’s system of proportional distribution of pledged delegates means that Mrs. Clinton’s narrow win in Indiana will not generate a significant net gain in pledged delegates there.

With 2,025 delegates needed for the nomination, Mr. Obama now has 1,842, including 254 superdelegates, according to a tally by CNN. Needing only 183 more delegates to clinch the nomination, he has built a lead of 156 delegates over Mrs. Clinton, whose total is now 1,686, including 267 superdelegates. Between now and June 3, an additional 217 pledged delegates will be at stake in six remaining contests, which are expected to be split between the two candidates. Mr. Obama is favored in Oregon, Montana and South Dakota; and Mrs. Clinton is expected to win in West Virginia, Kentucky and Puerto Rico. There are about 275 superdelegates who have yet to publicly endorse a candidate.

Mrs. Clinton’s dwindling chances for the nomination depend on winning over a disproportionate number of uncommitted superdelegates and convincing a party rules committee and/or its convention credentials committee to reverse a party decision to unseat the 366 delegates from Michigan and Florida, both of which violated party scheduling rules.

If Mr. Obama emerges from the primaries and caucuses with a majority of pledged delegates (as seems almost certain) and if he is then denied the nomination by superdelegates, then millions of black voters, 90 percent of whom have been supporting him, are likely to sit home on Election Day in November, probably dealing a fatal blow to a Clinton-led ticket. On the other hand, back-of-the-envelope calculations from published exit-poll data reveal that about 49 percent of Mrs. Clinton’s voters in North Carolina, about 47 percent of her voters in Indiana and about 41 percent of her voters in Pennsylvania would either vote for presumptive Republican nominee John McCain in November or not vote at all if Mr. Obama is the nominee.

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