As the Clinton campaign turns its focus towards securing the popular vote in the Democratic primary, the response from the Obama campaign has been, and will continue to be: these aren't the rules of the game.
And on Wednesday morning, as the Illinois Democrat was licking his wounds from his loss in the Pennsylvania primary, aides made just that argument.
"If this was about popular vote, we have a comfortable lead, and don't see that lead diminishing," campaign manager David Plouffe told reporters. "We would have spent more time in California and tried to run up the popular vote in Illinois [if that were the case]... But we've run this race based on pledged delegates. And we think pledged delegates is the fairest assessment."
The argument is a reflection and affirmation on Plouffe's behalf that the Clinton campaign will make a strong push to use the popular vote as a metric for persuading superdelegates and, ultimately, securing the nomination. And indeed, before the conference call commenced, the Clinton campaign sent out a memo entitled "More People Have Voted For Hillary Than Any Other Candidate."
"After last night's decisive victory in Pennsylvania, more people have voted for Hillary than any other candidate, including Sen. Obama," wrote spokesperson Phil Singer. "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."
Obama's press secretary Bill Burton took umbrage with the memo, noting that ABC News had posted a story saying that the Clinton campaign had not included the author's skepticism over counting the Florida and Michigan results, neither of which were sanctioned by the DNC (Obama, in addition, wasn't on the ballot in Michigan).
"We weren't even on the ballot in Michigan and there was not ballot in Florida," said Plouffe. "For the Clinton campaign to try and count the results of election that bears no resemblance to the rest of these contest is not going to work and it seems pretty clear that the superdelegates won't have tolerance for this argument."
Going forward, the battle over the significance of the popular vote could be the deciding factor in determining the Democratic nominee. That's because, at this point in time, it appears all but impossible for Clinton to pull out a pledged delegate win. As Plouffe estimated, Obama's margin among pledged delegates was decreased from 171 to 159 following his loss in Pennsylvania. But the Illinois Democrat now stood "less than 300 delegates" - pledged or super - "away from securing the nomination," and Clinton "would need to win 70 percent of all the remaining delegates to secure the lead."
"We don't believe that the structure of the race is going to change fundamentally," said Plouffe. "Sen. Clinton is obviously a strong candidate but she really does need to try and win out here and win with some margin.
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