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Can Hillary Still Win The Nomination?

One of the debates around our office these last two days has been whether it's still possible, as a practical matter, for Hillary to win. Or, more precisely, whether it's possible for the superdelegates to override the pledged delegates without provoking the kind of backlash that would doom Hillary.

My own feeling is that it is possible. The most likely place you'd find the backlash is obviously among black voters, who've been supporting Obama by a nearly 9-to-1 margin of late. But I don't think the African-American backlash would necessarily be overwhelming, for two reasons. First, the main source of the superdelegates' concerns--Jeremiah Wright--has nothing to do with the Clinton campaign. It's not the result of some dirty campaign trick. For that matter, the Clintons have almost entirely steered clear of it. In political terms, it's the equivalent of a meteor coming down and hitting your opponent. (Though whether it's struck Obama's pinky toe or his head is still an open question.) I don't see how it sows everlasting resentment against Hillary just because she happens to benefit.

Second, and more importantly, I think African American Democrats are probably just as pessimistic as white Democrats, if not more so, about the general-election fallout from the Wright fiasco. Remember that prior to Iowa, Obama's numbers among African Americans were pretty pedestrian. One of the reasons was their skepticism that white voters would embrace a black candidate. That obviously dissolved amid all the primary victories Obama piled up. But Wright has brought some of these concerns back to the surface. See this passage in today's Washington Post, for example:

Obama's latest denunciation of Wright came as many of his black supporters, sensing potential damage to his candidacy, expressed dismay about the pastor's widely quoted statements made Monday at the National Press Club in Washington. On black-oriented political blogs, on radio shows that appeal mainly to an African American audience and in general conversation, black supporters of Obama expressed a gnawing worry that Wright's bombastic comments could seriously threaten the White House bid of the first black candidate with a real chance of winning.

"I was, like, what is this guy doing?" Pennsylvania state Sen. Anthony Williams, an Obama supporter, said as he watched Wright bob and weave on television like a welterweight as he answered questions at the press club. Georgetown University professor Christopher Chambers, another Obama supporter, thought, "This is a disaster." Commenting on the blog Jack and Jill Politics, which says it offers "the black bourgeois perspective on American politics," Chambers assessed Obama's chances of beating Clinton in two words: "Game over."

It would obviously be a little traumatic, party cohesion-wise, for the superdelegates to reverse the pledged delegates. And I still think it's unlikely to happen. But if it does, and if Wright ends up being the reason, I don't see a massive revolt brewing.

On the other hand, it matters less what kind of backlash would actually ensue than what kind the superdelegates think would ensue. Which are two slightly different things. The superdelegates may anticipate a big backlash regardless of what's likely to happen.

That in mind, maybe the most important thing to look for Tuesday is how Obama does among black voters. I doubt the margins will change much--I don't expect many defections to Hillary--but a disappointing turnout could be a telling sign. Then again, so would overwhelming turnout.

--Noam Scheiber

Update: You can read Eve Fairbanks take on Noam's post here, and Noam's response to Eve's here.