Hillary Clinton scored a decisive victory against Barack Obama in Tuesday's Pennsylvania primary. But underlying the numbers, there is a new kind of inevitability on the horizon. Certainly her campaign will use the night's victory to propel the race forward into Indiana and North Carolina, hoping against hope that few noticed what actually transpired. But with her luck running as perilously low as her campaign war chest, it would seem improbable that the media would provide her cover yet again.
After tonight, despite an apparent ten point victory in Pennsylvania, Hillary Clinton is no longer electable in a general election.
According to NBC Political Director Chuck Todd, Obama can no longer lose the pledged delegate count. "If you could call a contest based on the delegate count, it now appears as though it's going to be impossible for Obama to lose his lead." To do so, Clinton who need some 80% of the post-May 6th delegates.
Clinton's net gain of the popular vote was also woefully insufficient for her to have a reasonable chance of reclaiming the popular vote lead. She net 200,000 votes on Tuesday, just enough to be all but cancelled out by Obama's likely win in North Carolina two weeks from now. With so few states left, the likelihood of her overcoming her popular vote deficit, even with Florida included, is simply implausible.
Without the ability to win any metric that measures the preferences of the electorate, she has left superdelegates with an impossibly narrow choice. There is now no longer a rationale from which the superdelegates could possibly hand her the nomination. She will, no doubt, spend the remainder of her campaign continuing to insist that she is more electable than Obama and that electability, more than democratic preferences, should be the standard on which decisions are made.
But Clinton's electability argument has also been completely upended. There is no argument, no matter how persuasive and cogent, that can be made to the superdelegates about Clinton's electability that won't be obliterated by Hillary winning the nomination unearned. If the superdelegates give Clinton the nomination without her having won the popular vote or pledged delegate count, without any rational connection to the will of the people, an enormous swath of Democratic voters are likely to stay home in November.
Since Franklin Roosevelt, no Democrat has won the White House without the loyal support of the African American community. But having watched the potential first black president denied his rightful chance to compete by party insiders may sever that loyalty permanently. The activist base of the Democratic party, which has been at the core of the remaking of the political landscape, will likely also be rocked by a Hillary coup. If the superdelegates nominate Hillary Clinton, it will rip the base of the party in half and destroy the extraordinary progress that the Obama movement - and the Dean movement before it - have produced. Even if she is more electable before their decision, she will be unelectable after.
Faced with that choice, superdelegates will recognize that the time has come. Having lost in Pennsylvania, Senator Obama should not expect an avalanche of new support. But the march of more superdelegates is likely to be steady and constant; Obama could certainly catch Clinton in May.
Hillary's success in Pennsylvania should not be entirely discounted. She did, after all, face an enormous fundraising disadvantage with Obama, having been outspent by as much as three to one. But demographically, Pennsylvania was tailor-made for the Clinton coalition; as such, her steady decline in support over the past six weeks is striking still. In the first polls taken after Texas and Ohio, Clinton led by as much as twenty five points in the state.
For Clinton, trouble does not end with Obama's potential gain of new superdelegates. The Obama campaign launched a cold-war style arms race in Pennsylvania, spending so much money that he effectively bankrupted the Clinton campaign. As of April, Obama has $42 million cash on hand to Clinton's $9 million - and Clinton is $10 million in the red. Like Reagan did to the Soviet Union, Barack Obama spent the Clinton Empire to death. With the little money she had left, she needed to buy herself a much larger victory. She needed to buy herself a new rationale for her tired candidacy. Instead, all she bought herself was a little more time.
This campaign will surely continue on for at least another two weeks. But ultimately, without the money, votes, and delegates she needs, Hillary Clinton is out of options, out of scenarios, and out of reasons to continue.