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March 4: Don’t Mess with Texas

March 4: Don’t Mess with Texas

Yep, it’s over.

John McCain clinched the Republican nomination and Mike Huckabee made a groveling concession speech.

Oh, you meant the Democratic race? No such luck.

Well, luck is a bad thing for me to call it. As a political writer, I should be thrilled that the primary season is going to go on into April, right? Aside from the late nights and the headache I get from listening to Chris Matthews and Tim Russert, I’ve got another reason to dread the continuation of the primary season: nothing at all was settled on Tuesday night.

Sure, the headlines gave Hillary Clinton credit for a huge win. She did win decisively in Ohio, and her “red phone” ad may have helped her there–polls show that voters who made up their minds in the last three days before voting overwhelmingly went for Clinton. It also could’ve been the NAFTA flap, though an article released yesterday in Canada notes that the original rumors of reassurances from a candidate that NAFTA would not be altered came from the Clinton, not Obama camp.

She also won Rhode Island, and Obama won Vermont. But the Texas vote? The one that was also credited to Clinton?

Not so fast. They’re still counting votes.

You see, Texas, for who knows what reason, only allots two-thirds of their delegates by primary. Another third are allocated by caucuses that take place primary night, after the polls close. And you can only vote in the caucus if you have already voted in the primary. So essentially, if you’re crazy enough to go out and caucus after you’ve done your civic duty and voted, your vote can count twice.

Texas voters were indeed crazy enough to do just that, and some of them had to wait until 3:45 in the morning to make sure their second vote counted. Thus far, according to NPR, 40% of the caucus vote has been counted and Obama leads that vote, 55% to 44%. If that percentage holds–and the party officials quoted seemed to think it would–Obama in fact won the delegate race in Texas. By three delegates.

This would limit Clinton’s delegate gain on Tuesday to single digits, leaving Obama with a nearly 140 delegate lead, still. According to estimate, Clinton will have to win 60% of the delegates in the remaining primaries and caucuses–a feat she is unlikely to pull off, unless something terrible happens to Obama–to cut his earned-delegate lead.

And the race is so tight that it is virtually impossible even for Obama to get to the magic number of delegates–that’s 2025, if you forgot–without superdelegates. The current superdelegate count is 207 for Obama, 242 for Clinton.

Oh, it gets worse.

Remember the Michigan and Florida primaries? The ones that had been stripped of their delegates?

Of course, Clinton wants them to count. The state parties of Michigan and Florida want them to count. But Howard Dean, chair of the Democratic Party, says too bad. The only way they get to count, he has stated, is if they hold a do-over primary or caucus or come to some other agreement with the candidates. Dean doesn’t want to alienate part of the party by changing the rules in the middle of the game. And none of the party leaders want to have a nasty split leading up to a general election.

So this could look good for McCain, except those worrying voter turnout numbers still heavily favor the Democrats. If this were a runoff election, rather than two parties choosing a nominee, we’d be choosing between Clinton and Obama, with McCain a distant third. In total votes, Obama has nearly 13 million, with Clinton very close, and McCain only 6 million or so. Granted, you can’t compare the primaries to each other.

But the record turnout has at least some in the Democratic party smiling. They don’t want a brokered convention, but they’re enjoying the interest in their campaign, and the strong interest–and organization–they leave behind in each state they pass through.

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