02/05/2008 11:21 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Super Algebra Tuesday

Lord almighty, Super Tuesday is complicated for the media to cover this year.  The problem is not just that the Democratic side of the race is so darn close.  The real issue is that most political reporters are terrible at math.

The Republican race is a cake walk for reporters.  The GOP bas has finally remembered why they liked McCain eight years ago, once again embracing McCain as a straight-shooting boy scout who can praise Bush's war in Iraq and invoke the name of Ronald Reagan 31.3 times per hour. Baring a deus ex machina on behalf of Mitt Romney, McCain will win today, and go on to get the 1,191 delegates he needs.  Bingo, presto--the GOP has a candidate for president.

Meanwhile, to figure out what will happen on the Democratic side, your average political reporter must reach for a calculator, slide rule, and abacus--and not necessarily in that order.

The bottom line is that the Democrat who wins the nomination needs 2025 delegates to do so, but how that will happen is palm-sweatingly unclear.   It almost seems like the Super Tuesday media coverage of the Democratic race has been taken over by a cruel 4th grade pre-algebra teacher.  "If Obama is ahead by 2% on the West Coast when the polls open on East Coast, and 20% of the electorate has voted absentee in California, how much of a victory in the popular vote will it take for Clinton to overcome the 20% closing momentum of Obama in 97 tracking polls distributed across 24 states?"

Ready, set, begin!

Yikes! I forgot my #2 pencil.

What makes the Democratic side so complicated is the fact that none of the Democratic primary or caucus states are 'winner-take-all.' If McCain beans Romney by three votes in California, McCain takes all the delegates for that state.  By contrast, if Clinton were to trounce Obama by 15% in California and Obama were to rout Clinton by 30% in Illinois, delegates would still be distributed to each. 

On top of all that, even after the Democratic delegates are divvied up by the electorate across the 24 states voting, today,  there are still over 700 'superdelegates" who can swing the nomination.

So, even if there is a political reporter in the media who scored better than a C+ on a math test in their entire life, the  superdelegates loom over the entire equation like a giant unknown variable--which was a lesson in Algebra II (groan).

All this crazy math means one thing: the Democrat who wins the most votes on Super Algebra Tuesday will not likely be the Democrat who carries the day.  Both candidates will inevitably declare themselves the victors.

'Winning' for Clinton or Obama will likely come down to which  campaign is better at driving the media  narrative, which campaign can capture the attention of the math-crazed political reporters desperate to cling on to something more lyrical than piles of paper filled with cross-out multiplication tables.

And when we clear away the math -- throw away all the cheat sheets and scratch pads -- the story we see is about Obama's 'momentum.' 

Even if the math sides with Hillary Clinton, the onerous task before her campaign will be drive the debate away from the poetic tale of Barack Obama's momentum.   Obama's 'big mo' is the story that the media seems to want.

Despite the race to control the narrative, the media is still going to walk us through an unhealthy amount of Algebra in the next 24 hours by way of explaining the state of the race. 

So, put your pocket protectors in place, America.  Start up your calculators, dust off that abacus. 




Cross posted from Frameshop