Both Democratic presidential campaigns and political strategists yesterday said superdelegates — not voters in the remaining 18 state contests — will decide the party’s nomination.
One of the two candidates would have to pull off the mathematically improbable feat of winning about 70 percent of the pledged delegates allocated in each primary or caucus down the homestretch.
That makes the odds “pretty close to zero” for naming a Democratic nominee without a brokered convention or the party’s superdelegates playing kingmakers, said Bill Galston, senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, a Washington think tank.
The superdelegates consist of about 796 current and former politicians and party officials seated automatically at the Democratic National Convention. Their choice for nominee is not bound by voters’ picks in state primaries.
Sen. Barack Obama of Illinois took the delegate lead after the Potomac primaries, 1,223 to 1,198, including about 160 superdelegates who committed to him but could switch.
Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York would have to win blowouts in upcoming primaries that so far look to be tight contests, Obama campaign manger David Plouffe said.
“Even the most creative math does not get her back to even, ever, in the pledged delegates,” he said, making the case that his candidate’s small but sustained lead will draw enough superdelegates to win.
To get the 2,025 delegates needed to clinch the nomination, Mr. Obama must win 802, or about 69 percent, of the roughly 1,150 pledged delegates still up for grabs in the remaining 18 contests.
Mrs. Clinton, who has about 240 superdelegates on her side, still needs to win another 827 delegates, or about 72 percent, of the remaining pledged delegates.
“I want it to be very clear that neither campaign is in a position to win this nomination without the support of superdelegates,” Clinton campaign spokesman Howard Wolfson said.
He said the race was “essentially a tie contest,” and his candidate — although slightly behind in delegates — won some large states and “millions and millions of votes.”
Neither campaign wants to go too far in telling superdelegates whom to vote for at the party convention in Denver this summer. But they are lobbying hard to get more and keep the ones they have.
The Clinton campaign knows she must win decisively in the March 4 primaries in delegate-rich Ohio and Texas or risk most superdelegates breaking for Mr. Obama and handing him the nomination.
“There is a possibility for the knockout in the next few weeks,” said Mr. Galston, who served as an adviser to President Clinton. “[But] if she wins both Texas and Ohio by margins big enough to cut into or eliminate Senator Obama’s lead in delegates, then we are off to the races again.”
In a memo yesterdayto supporters, Clinton chief strategist Mark Penn laid out a strategy to retake the lead starting March 4.
“This race has shown that it is voters and delegates who matter, not the pundits or perceived ‘momentum,’ ” he said. “As history shows, the Democratic nomination goes to the candidate who wins the most delegates — not the candidate who wins the most states.”
Mr. Obama nevertheless is enjoying momentum from a string of eight primary victories in a row.
His win in the Potomac primaries this week also showed growing support for his candidacy among men and women, in nearly every age group and across racial lines.
Inroads to white male voters — he won more than half — and his improved appeal among Hispanic voters pose a real threat to Mrs. Clinton, who counts these groups as key blocs of support.
Mr. Obama won 54 percent of Virginia’s Hispanic vote and 45 percent in Maryland, a marked rise from the 32 percent of Hispanics he got in California and the 26 percent in Nevada, according to exit polls by CNN and MSNBC.
His newfound popularity in each demographic bodes well for him in the primary Tuesday in Wisconsin, which is 86 percent white, and in Ohio and Texas.
Ohio is about 85 percent white and Texas is about 36 percent Hispanic, according to the U.S. census.
• Christina Bellantoni contributed to this report.
The Democratic Party”s superdelegates — not voters in the remaining nominating contests — are expected to determine the party”s presidential nominee when they officially caste their ballots at the nominating convention this summer in Denver. Sen. Barack Obama of Illinois, who has taken the delegate lead, has about 160 superdelegates in his 1,223 total. Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York has about 230 superdelegates in her 1,198 total.
The first candidate to get to 2,025 gets the nomination.
•Wisconsin Primary (Tuesday): 92 delegates
Strategic Vision (Feb. 8 to 10)
•Ohio Primary (March 4): 161 delegates
Survey USA (Feb. 10 and 11)
•Texas Primary (March 4): 228 delegates
IVR Polls (Jan. 30 and 31)
•Pennsylvania Primary (April 22): 188
Keystone Poll (Jan. 8 to 14)
Source: Associated Press and The Washington Times