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Conventional wisdom turned on its head

world Updated: Feb 07, 2008 02:45 IST
Pramit Pal Chaudhuri

The conventional wisdom was that Super Tuesday would finalise the Democratic presidential nomination race and be indecisive for the Republican contest. After some two dozen states representing nearly half the US population have cast their votes, the Democratic race is still too close to call while the Republicans now have a clear frontrunner in John McCain.

Hillary Clinton did well in the race, but her lead is fragile. Black Americans and white male Democrats are leaning heavily towards Barack Obama. Her most loyal support base is proving to be Latinos. Even in his own home state of Illinois, Obama got only half the Latino vote.

McCain now has 47 per cent of the delegates he needs to secure his party's nomination for the White House. Clinton is not far behind: she has 41 per cent of the votes she needs. The difference lies in the competition. McCain has a commanding lead over his rivals Mitt Romney (19 per cent of the necessary delegates) and Mike Huckabee (13 per cent). Obama has 37 per cent, only four percentage points behind Clinton.

And then there is the issue of momentum. Romney's star is in the descendant, largely thanks to Huckabee. Romney's biggest failure was to not win a single state in the South, the stronghold of the Christian right. In fact, in most Southern states he trailed even McCain. Huckabee and Romney are basically fighting for the same ultraconservative base. Romney's hopes depended on knocking Huckabee out of the race early and consolidating the latter's support. Their battle is now set to continue, leaving McCain to march forward.

On the Democratic side, Obama's ability to mobilise the young and disaffected shows no signs of flagging. He was able to raise a record $ 30 million in the month before Super Tuesday and may now have a fatter wallet than Clinton.

Realclearpolitics.com's average of eight national US polls of the two partisan races gives McCain an 18.3 per cent lead over the next highest Republican candidate. Clinton's lead is only 3.2 per cent.

Another measure of Obama's popular support among Democratic voters is to look at the "superdelegate" vote. Superdelegates are votes granted to local political satraps like governors, mayors and the like. They represent the Democratic Party institutional leadership. Clinton won 213 superdelegates versus Obama's 127. Take away these votes and Obama actually has more delegates than Clinton.

If Clinton wins, and she is likely to scrape through, it will be hard to escape the charge she did so thanks to the backroom boys rather than the grassroots voter. This is unlikely to endear her to independent US voters, a group who have been crucial to turning around McCain's fortunes and are likely to be the decisive factor in the final vote in November.