When the Democratic primary calendar ends on June 3rd, Senator Obama will have more delegates than Senator Clinton.
On what grounds could a candidate who is behind at the end of a race avoid conceding that he or she has been beaten? On the grounds that the race really isn't over!
After the primary calendar has ended, Clinton's campaign can only justify or explain her staying in the race if she makes the case that the Democratic Party still has not chosen a nominee conclusively. Clinton needs an argument that the game should go into extra innings. Overtime. Bonus round. Detention. Whatever. Clinton has now found that argument -- she says she will not stop campaigning until the issue of the Florida and Michigan delegates is settled to her satisfaction.
The Florida/Michigan issue get settled, of course, by the Democrats' Rules and Bylaws Committee... unless of course that committee's decision gets appealed to the Credentials Committee... unless of course that decision, too, gets appealed... to the floor of the convention.
Do you see where this is going? If there is an open, unresolved procedural issue involving the Florida and Michigan delegations, Senator Clinton will be able to cite that as her justification for staying in the race until the convention even though she is not ahead in the nomination contest at the end of the primary calendar.
If she can ensure that the Florida and Michigan issue stays unresolved until the convention (and by appealing it every step of the way, I don't see how that can be avoided), then Clinton stays in the race until the convention. Staying in until the convention buys her three more months of campaign time, three more months to make her case to the party and the country, three more months for some potential political unfortunateness to befall Senator Obama.
And it keeps the race for the Democratic nomination open, at least theoretically, for Senator Clinton to win instead of Senator Obama.
How could Clinton win at the convention? Seems to me that three months is a long time in this race, and if it gets that far, anything could happen.
Pffft! You say. Scoff.
Listen: you don't need a vivid political imagination to recognize that if what you really want is to be President of the United States -- a slim chance of becoming President (a fight at the convention) is better than no chance of becoming President (because you dropped out).
The Clinton strategy, as best as I can tell, is to stay in the race. You can't win if you don't play -- conceding the nomination is sure defeat, not conceding means there's still a chance.
The way for her to avoid conceding is for her to avoid conceding that the race is resolved.
As long as the Florida and Michigan dispute is alive, and it is being used as the basis of Clinton's claim that the nomination is unresolved, we should expect that Senator Clinton will stay in the race.
We should also expect that if the Democratic Party's committee system takes up the Florida and Michigan dispute through its rules as they stand now, Clinton's campaign will be able to keep the Michigan and Florida dispute alive until the convention. If there's a secret Democratic-insider plan to keep that from happening, it's time for that plan to become un-secret.
The pundit corps has been counting Clinton out and saying the race is over -- but saying it doesn't make it so.
If Clinton fights to stay in until the convention -- which seems utterly plausible to me -- then I believe the Democratic Party's nominee (Obama or Clinton) will lose the general election to John McCain. This last point is of course infinitely debatable -- but my take is that in November, the party that's had a nominee since February/March, beats the party that only got a nominee the last week in August.
So, how does the Democratic Party get a nominee before the convention? Seems to me there's two things that need to happen. One small, one big.
First, Obama's campaign should stop believing what most of the press says, and start believing what Clinton says -- she isn't budging. If they don't mind the prospect of a divided convention, then fine -- if they do mind that prospect, they'll have to fight for their desired outcome. Clinton is now arguing that taking the fight to the convention is OK for the Democrats -- even noble. This argument won't be defeated if it is ignored -- Obama's camp will have to rebut.
Second, if the Democrats are to avoid a divided convention, the Florida and Michigan dispute will have to be taken off the table -- settled in a way that avoids the risk of a rules dispute that stretches the nominating contest out through the convention. I can think of only one way to do that, but there may be others.
Here's my way: based on my read of NBC's delegate math, I think if the Clinton campaign won 100% of what they wanted on the Florida and Michigan dispute, Obama could still clinch the nomination -- even according to the most pro-Clinton math -- if 90 of the remaining 210-or-so undeclared superdelegates declared for Obama.
If they so declared before May 31st, the Rules and Bylaws committee would have no reason to take up the Florida and Michigan dispute because it would be a moot point -- Obama's camp could concede every Clinton demand on the subject and still win the nomination.
Otherwise? I'll be the twitchy one on radio row at the divided Democratic convention in Denver... spooked by the ghosts of 1968, 1972, 1980...
PS -- I should note here, briefly, that I don't have a personal preference between Senators Clinton and Obama as to who would run a better campaign against John McCain, or who would be a better President. I think both Obama and Clinton would probably be pretty good general election contenders, and probably they'd each be a good president. (50% of my hate mail tells me I'm in the tank for Obama and 50% of it tells me I'm in the tank for Clinton - although the level of vitriol on each side has risen and fallen with the tide of the campaign).