Huffpost Politics
The Blog

Featuring fresh takes and real-time analysis from HuffPost's signature lineup of contributors

Bob Ostertag Headshot

Clinton: Stick It Out or Withdraw?

Posted: Updated:

Hillary Clinton and her supporters continue to argue that if she cedes the Democratic primaries to Barack Obama she will be depriving the voters in the remaining primary states of a voice, and is refusing to be "bullied" out of the race.

A little history to put this in to perspective:

  • As opposed to the general election for president which happens nationally on a single day, the primaries stretch over time, and thus end when one candidate wins enough support to deny other candidates the nomination. In a sense, the voters in whatever states have yet to vote at that time are "denied their voice." But this is how the primaries work, every single election.
  • In 2004, John Kerry sewed up the nomination in the first week of March. In 2000 Gore wrapped things up on Super Tuesday. In 1992 Bill Clinton had a lock on the nomination after the New York primary in early April. One might argue that in all these cases millions of Democratic voters were "denied a voice." Alternatively, one could argue that the Democratic Party benefited from having the matter settled early, uniting behind a candidate, and focusing on the general election.
  • Many of the later voting states did in fact feel that the voice of their voters was being routinely silenced in favor of voters in the early primary states of New Hampshire and Iowa. It was in response to these complaints that the party revised the schedule, moving Nevada and South Carolina, thus making four early primaries with a broader geographic and demographic representation. Michigan and Florida were penalized for jumping the gun on this agreement, which was intended to ensure that the voters in the early primaries -- those that were certain to vote no matter how early the contest was settled -- were more representative.

So Democratic primaries almost always end before all states have held primaries. This is nothing new. When Bill Clinton secured the nomination in early April, he certainly didn't complain about all the voters in later states whose voice would not be heard.

There is, however, a new wrinkle this year. In the past, the race has generally ended when one candidate wins enough delegates to win the nomination outright at the convention. This year's race is close enough that neither candidate will achieve this, due to the 794 superdelegates that are not selected through the primary process. Thus, while it is now clear that Obama will win both the popular vote and the delegate count, neither candidate will win enough delegates to put a lock on the nomination. And thus Clinton's only hope is to win enough superdelegate support that she will win the nomination even though she has lost both the delegate count and the popular vote.

So there are conflicting claims to the democratic high ground here:
  • Clinton can rightfully argue that if she withdraws the voters in the final states will not be "heard."
  • Obama can rightfully argue that the only way Clinton can win is if the superdelegates override the popular and delegate votes, thus "denying voice" to the voters in the primaries as a whole.

Logically, Obama's claim would seem to be the stronger. There are years of precedent of voters in the latest states not voting, while there is no precedent at all for superdelegates handing the nomination to a candidate who lost both the popular vote and the delegate count. Also, the contradiction of a candidate simultaneously insisting that the final states should vote on democratic principle, yet the superdelegates should overturn the final results of the overall voting, should be obvious.

Logic, however, rarely prevails in politics. Politically speaking, it is conceivable that a primary race could continue in such circumstances without damaging the party's chances in November. For this to happen, the candidate in Clinton's position would have to make clear that she is running on principle. There is ample precedent for this. Candidates often keep their hat in the ring even after the issue has been effectively settled, to "give their supporters a voice" and to strengthen their hand at the convention even though they acknowledge they will not win the nomination.

Clinton could do this. She could shift gears, stop attacking Obama, stop pressing the superdelegates to override the popular vote, and instead work on promoting the policies that are most important to her in preparation for the national convention. And she would keep her hat in the ring in the event Obama makes some horrendous misstep or gets mired in a disastrous scandal.

But what she is doing is the exact opposite, throwing Don Imus references and Republican National Committee talking points at the man who will almost certainly be the party's candidate, and relentlessly pursuing superdelegates.