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Democrats Gearing Up For Delegate Fight

Obama working the crowd in New Hampshire on Labor Day. (Getty).

Barack Obama sent out an e-mail to supporters on Tuesday announcing plans for a big rally in New York's Washington Square Park on Sept. 27. The invitation was evidence of a campaign planning for a potentially extended battle against Hillary Clinton.

The idea of a protracted contest runs contrary to widespread assumptions about how the 2008 Democratic race may play out. But some analysts, who have studied the new calendar, the rules for allocating convention delegates and the financial resources of the leading candidates, believe that a lengthy contest extending into the megaprimary day of Feb. 5 and beyond may be just as likely.

Talk of an early end to the nomination assumes that what happened in 2004 may happen in 2008. Four years ago, John Kerry surged to an unexpected victory in Iowa, capitalized on that performance to win in New Hampshire a week later and then rolled easily to the nomination on the basis of pure momentum.

Many Democratic strategists -- including those around Clinton -- believe the same could happen this year if she wins Iowa and New Hampshire. The idea that back-to-back victories could effectively give her the nomination is based on the belief that Iowa is her single biggest hurdle. Therefore, if she can defeat both Obama and John Edwards there, the other states will fall into place because of her status as the party's national front-runner.

The same might happen if Obama defeats Clinton in those first two states, according to this thinking. If he were to win Iowa and New Hampshire, he would have toppled the Clinton machine on consecutive weeks and would have the kind of momentum Kerry gained in 2004.

Edwards is well situated in Iowa. Some strategists there believe that, if the caucuses were held today, he would win them. His chances of a momentum-driven victory are more limited, however, because he long has struggled with the New Hampshire electorate and could be tripped up there even after winning Iowa. He will also have more limited resources than Clinton or Obama.

The candidates' schedules, which are top-heavy with visits to Iowa and New Hampshire and destined to become more so next month, suggest all see those contests as potentially decisive. But the Obama and Clinton campaigns long have been preparing to contest the nomination on a much larger playing field.

Rick Sloan, the communications director of the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers, did some calculations earlier this year and concluded that the Democrats could be headed for a train wreck of a nominating contest that might not end until the convention in Denver next August.

Sloan noted that the rules and calendar have been constructed in recent elections to produce an early winner and along with that, time for the party to unify and raise money for the general election.

"What happens, however, if those carefully crafted rules and painfully calibrated calendars fail to work as intended?" he wrote. "What if a system accident occurs -- a glitch that causes a catastrophic event? What happens if, for example, neither Iowa nor New Hampshire act as a killing field?"

Some Obama advisers believe Iowa may not produce a decisive winner, given the competitive three-way race underway there. The same muddled result could occur in New Hampshire. In this scenario, the first four contests fail to decide the nomination.

The Feb. 5 primaries and caucuses then become a battle both for victories and for delegates, with delegates allocated proportionally.

Sloan ran some rough projections today to illustrate what might happen on Feb. 5. Assume a three-way race with the top candidate winning 45 percent of the total vote, the second-place finisher winning 33 percent and the third capturing 22 percent. The pledged delegate count would be roughly 884 for the top candidate, 648 for the second candidate and 432 for the third. In a two-person race, with a 54-46 percent split in the overall vote, the delegate count for that day would be 1,060 for the top candidate and 903 for the other.

This is where the Obama invitation for a blowout rally in New York comes into focus. Clinton should win the New York primary on Feb. 5. But in the majority of the state's congressional districts, by winning about 31 percent of the vote, Obama could walk away with two of the five delegates awarded in each. Rather than conceding the state to Clinton and largely staying out, Obama plans to begin building an organization designed to maximize his delegate count there. Clinton, of course, will do the same in Illinois, which also votes on Feb. 5.

Here money becomes especially significant. Only candidates with campaign treasuries of $80 million to $100 million may be able to afford to compete widely in so many states -- a disadvantage for Edwards in particular.

By some estimates, the wealthiest candidates may spend as much as $40 million competing in the four early states -- Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina. That assumes between $15 million and $20 million in Iowa, another $10 million-plus in New Hampshire and perhaps $10 million combined for South Carolina and Nevada.

Edwards has said he will have enough money to compete in the first four states and hopes to put away the nomination in the opening weeks. Only Clinton and Obama are likely to have significant amounts of money left after those contests for the roughly 20 states slated to hold contests on Feb. 5 and whatever may follow.

Both campaigns are beginning to staff up in those other states and are carefully crafting state-by-state strategies proactively in the event that Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina fail to effectively produce a nominee. A quick decision remains a clear possibility, but as one Obama strategist put it, "This is going to be more of a delegate fight than we've seen in a long time."

--Dan Balz

By Washington Post editors  |  September 19, 2007; 1:35 PM ET
Categories:  A_Blog , Dan Balz's Take  
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Hillary Clinton is going to be our next president, because God Almighty wants it that way. For 35 years the leadership of our party chosen back then has known what everybody knows now. Hillary is going to win, she's going to win BIG, bigger than any president in history, and she's going to fulfill the legacy.
God is with Hillary, and with America. God Bless Hillary Clinton, the next President of the United States of America.

Posted by: TogetherinParis | November 12, 2007 1:30 PM | Report abuse

its going to be a Fighting Convention

haven't seen one of those in a long should be pretty fun to watch

Posted by: SeanFoots | September 21, 2007 9:56 PM | Report abuse

Polling, Pander, and Payola =?= inevitable?

Posted by: carringtonward | September 21, 2007 10:39 AM | Report abuse

I think many of us are tired of division politics.

It does none of us any good.

We need politicians who want to do the real business of we the people.

Will honesty win ?

It will if WE are honest.

If many of us continue seeking a winner versus honesty we all lose.

""People who own races horses try to own all the ponies in the race. That way they can't lose, while the masses in the stands losa at the hands of these owners""

For many many years thats is what the group Bilderberg has done and so we the people in the stands can't see the bigger picture and most of us get taken to the cleaners.

I am tired of being controlled and the only way we can win is to not play their game and elect a president who isn't controlled by the powers to be.

Posted by: DANIELLECLARKE | September 21, 2007 9:30 AM | Report abuse

John Edwards is the populist vote? Call me when he draws half of the crowds Obama does just walking to get coffee. But more importantly, Obama is turning those people into grassroots foot soldiers. That will pay huge dividends as the primaries and caucuses get closer and will really help out once the nomination is secure. He'll already have a huge network built that will strike fear into whatever Repugnantcan pretender is thrown to the lions. Of the hundreds of people I've talked while either tabling or canvassing for Obama, I've had exactly ONE person say they were firmly voting for Hillary. ONE! Now there are a lot of undecideds still. But I take that as a positive. That means that they aren't sol on Hillary as the best or the inevitable candidate. I just don't see this wide-spread support that's in the polls. If she's up by roughly 20 points in the national polls, should she be up by more in the early states?

Posted by: markiebee001 | September 21, 2007 3:53 AM | Report abuse

Obama attracts more republican and independent voters than any other democrat. He could easily win the general election.

Posted by: markdmorris | September 20, 2007 2:49 PM | Report abuse

Notice how Hillary supporters never say WHY she should win, on that they think it's inevitable. If you vote for who you think will win rather than who you think should win, you'll get the crappy candidate you deserve.

Posted by: markdmorris | September 20, 2007 2:47 PM | Report abuse

I would argue that Democrats should not necessarily fear a divided convention assuming it maintains a focus against the Republicans. If the networks provide coverage, it could be the ultimate reality TV show. Currently, the generic Democrat defeats the generic Republican by a wide margin. With the nominee not known until September, the Republicans would than only have two months to define the Democrat. If the DNC and the candidates can figure out the fundraising without the named candidate pre-convention, it is possible the excitement and attention to the convention would continue through November.

Posted by: senrichardcohen | September 20, 2007 11:52 AM | Report abuse

The only way the Democrats can win 2008 is if they nominate Hilary. Or maybe Mike Gravel, but she is almost as divisive as the current president.

Posted by: thegribbler1 | September 20, 2007 10:34 AM | Report abuse

As we have learned over the past 6 years, the question is not whether a candidate can win the election but will that candidate be able to effectively govern afterwards. Governing means delivering services, protecting this country and gaining the respect of your adversaries through acknowledgment of and sensitivity to their self interests so that polices have a chance of implementation.

Posted by: dpack | September 20, 2007 8:53 AM | Report abuse

I find it interesting that so many people feel qualified to make such huge assumptions about this race. May I remind people that not one vote has been cast and there is a lot of time before the first vote is cast. Hillary has some given problems: She has the issue of corruption to deal with through her campaign monies and she has huge negatives. There are many democrats that just will not vote for her, no matter what. I am one of them. Obama has his own problems as well. Today Jesse Jackson was upset with him about the Jena 6 demonstration and his lack of leadership in that area. Obama doesn't seem to get the fact that he should act like a "leader" , not a follower. John Edwards has been leading on every issue. John has moved the conversation to the populace message that most democrats are concerned about. The media continually tries to count him out but there are many of us that are listening to John and we like what we hear. John will stand up for workers in this country. He will lead in all areas that effect working people in this country. A vote for John is a vote for yourself.

Posted by: ksvo2002 | September 19, 2007 10:07 PM | Report abuse

As all of these posts have indicated, every supporter only meets people support their candidate, every supporter KNOWS their candidate will win, and every supporter is passionate about their candidate, so it's all good. It looks like it's going to be an old fashioned convention, with delegates duking it out...the Democratic way! By the way, I am a diehard 'Obamaite' and I really do KNOW Obama is going to be the wonderful new face of America, and the rest of the world will sit up and take notice, and want to talk to us again. Sorry neocons and right-wingers, no more tight assed (in so many ways), xenophobes, cowboys or out-of-touch with the 21st century thought police allowed! Buh Bye.

Posted by: jllaing | September 19, 2007 7:54 PM | Report abuse

guess what? Say what you want in an attempt to try and make this a tight race; but, its already over. Unless Hillary somehow makes a HUGE mistake, she will be the nominee, and our next president. Nuff' said. Go Hillary! We Love You!

Posted by: aboyzboi | September 19, 2007 6:02 PM | Report abuse

Very sad that none of you mention the only candidate running that has YOUR best interests at heart. Corporate Clinton, and Rock Star Obama are all about status quo. The only populist(for the people) is John Edwards and if this country doesn't wake up soon and see how we have been hoodwinked by the Corporate MSM's once again choosing our candidates, we will have missed a golden opportunity to take back our government. Hmmmm and why would that be, why is Edwards marginalized? Could it be to protect Corporate America's entrenched interests not the American People. A vote for either Clinton or Obama is a vote for business as usual, the only change will be the face, the rhetoric & policies will remain the same.

Not surprisingly, pretty much everyone I know has done their research and have decided to support Edwards in 08"

JRE 08' "The People's President"

Posted by: asher13 | September 19, 2007 5:39 PM | Report abuse

FYI - Obama rally is at Washington Square Park according to campaign not Union Park.

Posted by: anthmroy | September 19, 2007 5:27 PM | Report abuse

Hey, Mcsizzlesizzle, you better get out of the five boroughs, Long Island and Westchester! Hillary promised upstate New York 200,000 jobs and has very little to show for it. Even Erie County (Buffalo)is questionable. Most of these counties, in a less hard fought year, were and are solidly Republican. Throw in Joe Bruno, and his GOP buddies, an arrogant and belligerent Spitzer and all's not great in Chappaqua.

Hillary's perceived, in a lot of upstate, as representing the areas noted above minus Erie County. She may win the popular vote, but Obama's going to pick up delegates in a lot of those Congressional Districts. In the Albany area, new Democratic Congresswoman, Kirstin Gillibrand, is on Norman Hsu's contributions list. Add in the possibility of an adverse result of a suit from the Federal Elections Commission, SEC or others due to the $850,000 bundle from Hsu and Hillary had better be worried.

Bottom line is New York is no cakewalk for any candidate. Hillary's smart enough to realize all this and I expect her to do the old New York Central trip (Albany, Utica, Rome, Syracuse, Rochester, Buffalo) before the end of the year.

Illinois is Obama territory and you can bet that Mayor Daley, Senator Durbin and the rest of the Cook County machine will deliver for one of their own.

Stay tuned as it's going to be inteesting.

Posted by: travelgallery | September 19, 2007 5:21 PM | Report abuse

The future direction of the Obama campaign can be summed up with this user generated comercial entitled the "Quality of Judgement" which features the worst picture of Hillary - check it out.

Posted by: jordacheavery | September 19, 2007 4:50 PM | Report abuse

What could be really interesting is if the stalemate continues into the convention. What would the DNC do with those states, like Florida, who may end up voting early and were penalized their delegates.

Posted by: chrisrbleak | September 19, 2007 3:38 PM | Report abuse

This article is in contrast to what I've been closely following. First, Hillary has an average of 18% lead over Obama in New Hampshire, and with Wesley Clark endorsing her (He is popular there, as in 2004), she is unlikely to lose that large lead due to a trip up in Iowa. Secondly, she has a huge lead in Nevada and South Carolina over Obama and Edwards. And Lastly, She has an average of 19.4% lead nationally over Obama. With her name recognition, the high popularity of Bill, and her organized campaign I simply don't see her losing the nomination based on tripping up in Iowa- unless things change between now and January.
Anyway, I love Hillary and people tell me everyday they also support her.

Posted by: mcsizzlesizzle | September 19, 2007 3:32 PM | Report abuse

Anyone who is for the Bilderberg's secret society candidate Clinton is part of the problem. Down with Big Brother. Power to the people.

Posted by: georgebush84 | September 19, 2007 3:31 PM | Report abuse

obamais the best canadate in my opinion because his throwing all these rallys and big events really getting the people to know him and understanding were he is comming from.

Posted by: mohamedaliwadah | September 19, 2007 3:25 PM | Report abuse

I know this race is going to be very close between Obama and Clinton. I think Obama is going to run away with illinoi and Clinton is not going to win any delegate from it.

As far as New York goes, Obama will split it into two and the minority from the city are more likely to vote for Obama.

Posted by: gbuze007 | September 19, 2007 2:29 PM | Report abuse

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