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Obama camp needs to push back hard against Clinton’s popular vote myth

By Griffin · April 24th, 2008 · 3 Comments

A little advice to Barack Obama and his campaign: Stop talking about delegates.  The delegate race is over.  You won.  Which, to people who know what they’re talking about, means you’ve won the nomination.  But unfortunately, people who know what they’re talking about are a small minority in America.  There is, in fact, a great majority of people who don’t know what they’re talking about– especially in the Democratic Party– and Hillary Clinton and her campaign is doing a remarkably better job of winning those votes than you are.

Their latest tactic is to convince people who don’t know what they’re talking about that the race should be decided not on delegates, but on the popular vote.  And Pennsylvania primary votes were still being counted Tuesday night when Clinton and her surrogates began making this argument:

After last night’s decisive victory in Pennsylvania, more people have voted for Hillary than any other candidate, including Sen. Obama. Estimates vary slightly, but according to Real Clear Politics, Hillary has received 15,095,663 votes to Sen. Obama’s 14,973,720, a margin of more than 120,000 votes. ABC News reported this morning that ‘Clinton has pulled ahead of Obama’ in the popular vote. This count includes certified vote totals in Florida and Michigan.

To people who know what they’re talking about and who have been paying attention to the race, this is literally one of the stupidest things ever written.  Even ABC News slammed the Clinton campaign for misrepresenting what their report actually said.  But to people who don’t know what they’re talking about, this popular vote argument makes a lot of sense.  It could resonate especially with Democrats who feel that this situation echoes the 2000 presidential race, where Al Gore won the popular vote but was denied the presidency.  In each case, the Clinton campaign would argue, arcane electoral rules and regulations overruled the popular will of the people.

This argument is such nonsense that it won’t convince more than a handful of superdelegates that Hillary Clinton has any rightful claim to the Democratic nomination, and any superdels who are convinced by this line of reasoning should be promptly stripped of their duties, if not their high school diplomas.  But the problems this argument could cause Barack Obama in the general election– where a large number of former Clinton supporters, especially women, could be convinced that she has been denied what is rightfully hers– cannot be understated.

The longer Clinton and her surrogates are allowed to peddle this popular vote myth among the masses unchallenged and unchecked by facts– while Obama and his surrogates waste time talking about the now moot points of delegates and math– the more difficult it will be for Obama to win Clinton’s quickly hardening (that’s what she said) constituency in the fall.

The argument against the popular vote myth is a simple one to make, and there are two main points that should be hammered home repeatedly:

1. The 2008 Democratic race is and always has been a race for delegates, never for popular vote.  If the race were in any way ever about popular vote, no one would campaign in Iowa or New Hampshire.  And as I recall hearing from one Obama surrogate last week, if popular vote mattered in the least, Obama would have spent the two weeks prior to Super Tuesday camped out in California (population: 36 million) or Illinois (pop. 12 million), running up the score in those highly populous states.  He certainly wouldn’t have spent time campaigning in Idaho (pop. 1.4 million) or Delaware (pop. 850,000), and neither would Clinton.  Wyoming (pop. 500,000) would not have been the battleground state it was, with both campaigns criss-crossing the state for a week to win votes (read: delegates).

So the point here is simple: If popular vote was really a legitimate measure of the Democratic race, why did Bill and Hillary Clinton spend the same amount of time (about a week) campaigning in Wyoming as they did in California– a state with 70 times more popular vote?  Conversely, does it even make sense that California should count 70 times more than Wyoming?

2. Hillary Clinton’s current claim to the popular vote lead assumes that the vote tally in Michigan is legitimate.  This is a state where neither Barack Obama nor John Edwards’ names were on the ballot, due to an early-state pledge that all the candidates– including Clinton– made while campaigning in Iowa and New Hampshire (Clinton left her name on Michigan’s ballot but insisted it was just for show).  This is a state where Dennis Kucinich came in second.  This is a state where Hillary Clinton herself made this crystal clear statement last winter:

It’s clear. This election they’re having is not going to count for anything.

But most dubious of all, Clinton’s claim to the popular vote in Michigan assumes that the following vote tally is absolutely, straight-faced legitimate:

Clinton: 328,151, Obama: 0.

The point here: Does the Clinton campaign– or anyone– really believe that Barack Obama would have received zero votes in Michigan had that state followed the rules? (The case against Florida is just as strong, but probably too complex to sell to the masses).

Lastly, here’s the simplest and best way for the Obama campaign to put a stop to all of Hillary Clinton’s claims to the popular vote lead: Take it from her in every possible measure.  Run up the score.  Stop going after delegates.  That race is over.  You won.  A lead of 150 delegates is exactly the same as a lead of 140 delegates.

So for the next two weeks in North Carolina and Indiana, forget about picking up those one or two extra delegates in blue-collar districts that are demographically tailored to Clinton’s strengths.  Let her have the delegates.  Campaign non-stop in African-American, affluent white, college, and rural communities, and focus on nothing but turning out as large a vote as possible in those areas.

If you win the popular vote in those states, you take away Clinton’s last halfway-marketable claim to the nomination.  Even if she convinces the entire Democratic Party that the popular vote is the most important measure of the race and that the results in Michigan and Florida should count double, it won’t matter if she’s behind even then.

The argument the Obama campaign has been making since February 5– that the leader in pledged delegates should be the nominee– is the right one, and makes for an ironclad case to the superdelegates in August.  But if the Obama campaign tries to make the same semi-complex argument to the masses– people who don’t know what they’re talking about– as they do to the superdels, the race very well could go until August.  Popular vote may be one of the least legitimate measures of the race, but because it involves the simple art of counting, it will resonate with a lot of people– especially Clinton supporters who want desperately to believe that their candidate is still in it somehow.

If the Obama campaign lets this ridiculous popular vote argument fester much longer, then not only will Obama be– by Hillary Clinton’s carictures of him– too inexperienced, too black, not black enough, both too hawkish and too dovish on foreign policy, and maybe but we can’t know for sure too Muslim, but he’ll also be a thief– just one more man who took what rightfully belonged to a woman.  And no doubt, he’ll have a lot of very scorned, very vindictive former Clinton supporters to deal with in November.

Tags: Barack Obama · Democrats · Hillary Clinton

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3 responses so far ↓

  • 1 warner // Apr 25, 2008 at 6:14 am

    I agree except for number 1, I think this is more beyond the average voter than the concept that FL isn’t valid because Obama didn’t campaign, so the contest was between a former first lady and an unknown Senator.

    Besides more average Americans hold dubious views of the electoral system vs. the popular vote, resting on an argument that the popular vote in not the most “legitimate measure of the Democratic race” would fall into the trap of being “elitist”.

    I agree the response should be swift and forceful and should be centered on the invalidity of Michigan and Florida, and also that he should work to ensure winning the popular vote by *any* combination.

    Also thank god that *someone* (Pelosi) finally came out and said the “Dream Ticket” is a bad idea, thank you Jesus!

  • 2 Griffin // Apr 26, 2008 at 12:57 am

    You’re right. The basic argument in favor of the popular vote is so simple– one person = one vote– that any argument against it will quickly be portrayed as undemocratic (as well as un-Democratic) and, as you said, elitist. The best thing Obama can possibly do is win Indiana, blow Clinton out in North Carolina, and take back the popular vote tally by any and all measures.

  • 3 Gama Layx » Obama needs to push back against Clinton’s popular vote myth // Jun 10, 2008 at 8:59 am

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