Welcome to the last presidential voting day until November 4th. The last presidential primary is upon us, and yet all eyes are fixed on New York, not on South Dakota and Montana. There have been no Zogby tracking polls, no wall-to-wall CNN coverage from Helena or Rapid City. Instead, every single one of Hillary Clinton's movements has been scrutinized for clues as to her plans: Will she drop out tonight? Will she give an uncommitted speech and drop out in the coming days once Obama reaches 2,118 delegates? Or is her campaign serious about its repeated threats to continue their quest all the way to the Denver convention?
There no longer is an obvious route for her campaign to take. For the past three months, Clinton had been avoiding the pressure to drop out by claiming she had to stay in until every voter was able to vote and she kept herself busy by campaigning full time, traveling to states that were holding primaries (even Puerto Rico last week-end).
After tonight, she can continue her quest for the nomination, but with what rationale? In a statement yesterday, Clinton laid out the case for her candidacy:
Tomorrow is the last day of the primaries and the beginning of a new phase in the campaign. After South Dakota and Montana vote I will lead in the popular vote and Senator Obama will lead in the delegate count. The voters will have voted and so the decision will fall to the delegates empowered to vote at the Democratic Convention. I will be spending the coming days making my case to those delegates.
Clinton is trying to put herself on par with Obama, as if both had won one of the counts, putting them on equal footing. But the popular vote argument is a difficult one for her to make as she would have been in a stronger position had she surpassed Obama with a count that includes all the caucus states. Instead, the best count in which Clinton is ahead is one that includes Michigan and grants the uncommitted to Obama but does not include estimates for four caucus states that have not released raw numbers. Note that these numbers could change again tomorrow.
Meanwhile, the Obama campaign will try to make it easier for Clinton to take her decision by ensuring that the third option no longer be on the table once Hillary, Bill and her team meet to discuss the end game. They do not want to appear to be pressuring her to drop out, but they are working overtime to ensure that enough superdelegates endorse them from this afternoon to tomorrow evening for the threshold to be crossed sometime soon. And there are many reports circulating that dozens of superdelegates -- particularly House members but perhaps even Senators, as Ken Salazar and Tom Harkin (both undeclared right now) are pressuring their colleagues -- will rally behind the Illinois Senator starting tonight.
In other words, Obama is likely to surpass 2,118 in the coming days -- and probably open up a substantial margin. The question then for Clinton is no longer to justify to superdelegates why they should endorse her (and thus have a reason to stay in the race) but justify why she is staying in the race after Obama has clinched a majority of delegates.
Finish reading this post at Daniel Nichanian's blog, Campaign Diaries.