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Plouffe: Math, Not Momentum

David Plouffe, Sen. Barack Obama's (Ill.) campaign manager, argued that regardless of the results of tomorrow's Ohio-Texas Two-Step, his candidate would retain a considerable pledged delegate lead over Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (N.Y.) -- a development that would further imperil her chances at the Democratic nomination.

"The Clinton campaign has consistently and repeatedly said they view the race as a race for delegates," Plouffe said today. "We agree with that." He added that Ohio and Texas represent "the last big window of opportunity for [the Clinton campaign] to erase what is a very serious delegate" differential.

A memo released by the Obama campaign just before the conference call sought to use the Clinton campaign's own words against it with quotes from chief strategists Mark Penn, communications director Howard Wolfson and political director Guy Cecil all describing how the two candidates would essentially be tied after tomorrow's primaries.

Disregarding the Clinton campaign's "creative spin" regarding tomorrow night, Plouffe accused them of "moving the goal posts" and adding: "At some point you run out of field."

Plouffe's argument is simple. Momentum doesn't matter, math does. That math -- given the likelihood that results in Ohio and Texas will be close and that more than 60 delegates in the Lonestar State will be apportioned via caucus -- clearly favors Obama. Plouffe reiterated that Obama maintains a 162 pledged delegate lead and that after tomorrow just more than 600 delegates will be available in the remaining contests.

"With only 612 delegates left, what is the path to the nomination?" Plouffe asked. "They need to demonstrate how they are going to, state by state, reduce the delegate lead."

Plouffe's comments came on a conference call with reporters that began roughly one hour after a similar call with Penn and Wolfson concluded. (The Fix will happily NEVER participate in another campaign conference call once this Democratic primary fight ends.)

The back-to-back conference calls highlighted the fundamentally different approaches the two campaigns are taking toward the votes tomorrow.

The Clinton campaign -- perhaps sensing the tide moving in their direction in Ohio and Texas -- is seeking to make tomorrow a hugely important vote, casting it as a judgment by voters of Obama as frontrunner. If Obama doesn't win in Ohio and Texas, the Clinton campaign argues, it is a sign that Democratic voters are not yet ready to end this race -- no matter what the delegate count says. It is a momentum argument at its heart; if Clinton bucks the national trend by winning in Ohio and Texas, she is back in the game no matter what the pledged delegate count says.

The Obama campaign is making the counter argument, downplaying the results of tomorrow's vote (perhaps sensing a loss/losses?) as symbolic of absolutely nothing. "The only way we can evaluate this is once we see how these 370 delegates come out," said Plouffe of the delegates at stake in Ohio, Texas, Vermont and Rhode Island tomorrow.

The differing approaches adopted by the campaigns are a function of their relative positioning in the race. Clinton, as the underdog, has to show viability tomorrow to convince voters, activists and donors that this is still a two-way fight. Obama, the frontrunner, needs to paint tomorrow as just another series of votes unlikely to have a serious impact on the current dynamic of the race.

These opposing viewpoints will come into clanging contradiction both tomorrow night and beyond as the two sides scratch and claw for the upper hand in a race that could well continue for weeks if not months more.

By Chris Cillizza  |  March 3, 2008; 2:55 PM ET
Categories:  Eye on 2008  
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