By David Nather
Did Hillary Rodham Clinton really pass Barack Obama in the popular vote last night, as her campaign is claiming this morning? It depends whether you count Florida and Michigan – the two most hotly disputed states in the Democratic contest.
This morning, the Clinton campaign sent out an e-mail titled, “The Tide is Turning – More People Have Voted for Hillary Than Any Other Candidate.” It cited an estimate by the Real Clear Politics Web site that “Hillary has received 15,095,663 votes to Sen. Obama’s 14,973,720, a margin of more than 120,000 votes,” and an ABC News report that ” ‘Clinton has pulled ahead of Obama’ in the popular vote.”
Then comes the critical disclaimer: “This count includes certified vote totals in Florida and Michigan” – the two states that, at the moment, aren’t scheduled to be seated at the Democratic convention in Denver because they held their primaries earlier than the party rules allowed.
The disclaimer appears to refer only to the ABC News report, but actually it applies to both estimates. As the Obama campaign helpfully pointed out in its own e-mail, ABC’s The Note reports that “By one (rightly disputed) metric – the popular vote, including Florida and Michigan – Clinton has pulled ahead of Obama. But without the rogue states, Obama is still up by 500,000 – and if you can find another objective measurement by which she’s in the lead, let us know.”
Likewise, Real Clear Politics has Clinton ahead only if both Florida and Michigan are counted. Even just allowing Florida (where Obama’s name was on the ballot, but he refrained from campaigning on the ground), Obama is ahead by more than 200,000 votes. That could be a significant talking point for the Obama campaign because Obama wasn’t even on the ballot in Michigan.
Clearly, Clinton’s supporters are setting themselves up to make a powerful argument to superdelegates: that giving the nomination to Obama would be an injustice if the voters actually favored her. That’s not going to go over well with Obama’s backers, of course. At least one party elder – Paul G. Kirk Jr., a former Democratic National Committee chairman and an Obama supporter – already has been trying to shoot down the arguments that anyone, other than the winner of the most delegates, should get the nomination.
“We have a set of rules. Everyone understood them going in. At the end of the day, the way you determine the winner is, you count the delegates,” Kirk told me yesterday. When the primaries are over, he said, “the superdelegates should just do the math, find out who won, and embrace that candidate before the convention.” But it may be getting harder for “just do the math” when campaigns are warring over their own at times creative approaches to running the numbers.