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Hillary And Win-ability, Cont'd.

Just a couple more thoughts on Hillary's chances in response to Eve's smart post and the dozens of comments my previous post elicited (most of them thoughtful if a little aggrieved).

First, on Eve's point about getting ahead of ourselves--she's absolutely right. In order for it to matter whether superdelegates feel like they can override the pledged delegates, they first have to want to override the pledged delegates. And, even at the low-point of the Wright flap, there wasn't much evidence that they did. Obama continues to cut into Hillary's superdelegate lead, announcing several more just this morning. Eve cites a useful Politico story suggesting that, while there are still lots of unannounced delegates, there aren't many uncommitted delegates. That is, most of the unannounced delegates seem to favor Obama. What we've learned over the last few days only underscores that.

So what was I thinking? At the broadest level, the point of my item was to argue that May 6 matters. If Hillary does no better than a narrow victory in Indiana and Obama wins comfortably in North Carolina (6 points or more?), I don't see any impetus for superdelegates to rethink the race, and it would basically be impossible for Hillary to win. If, on the other hand, if Hillary wins big in Indiana (say, 8 or more) and Obama does no better than squeak out a victory in North Carolina (say, 2 or fewer), with  attrition among African Americans, highly-educated voters, and young people, then I do see some impetus for rethinking.

The alternative is to argue that May 6 doesn't matter--that Obama can get beat handily in Indiana and roughed up (possibly lose) in North Carolina, and that it'll have zero practical effect on his chances. Now, I still think it would be tough for Hillary in that case, since the supers will be reluctant to overturn the pledged delegates. (Some might have to take the additional step of switching from Obama to Hillary, which would make them much more reluctant.) But to suggest this scenario wouldn't give Hillary an opening seems implausible me. The supers, the media, the voters would almost certainly interpret that result as damage inflicted by Wright. And that's damage that can't be laid at Hillary's feet, meaning it isn't likely to trigger an ugly, unresolvable backlash.

Second point: A lot of commenters rightly took me to task for suggesting African American voters would be the only, or even the most important, source of such a backlash. There's no question that the young people Obama has excited, and the affluent, well-educated voters of all ages, would feel aggrieved if the supers overrode the pledged delegates. (Just consult our comments section if you have any doubts.) The supers would be advised to think very hard about whether they want to alienate these people. But, again, if Wright's the apparent cause, it seems hard to imagine them being so aggrieved as to stay home or vote McCain in large numbers.

I'd posit Howard Dean as a baseline. At the height of his popularity, Dean turned on millions of Democratic voters, many in the demographics we're talking about. But after Dean cratered in Iowa--mostly on his own--they got over him and embraced John Kerry.

Yes, it's hard to imagine Obama imploding anywhere nearly as spectacularly as Dean. (He's unlikely to implode at all for that matter.) And, yes, Obama's support is a lot wider and more intense than Dean's ever was. He's been much more popular for much longer. But, then, the hunger for change is much bigger than it was back in 2004. If Obama were to stumble badly enough to prompt superdelegates to overrule the pledged delegates, I think most of his supporters would eventually come around.

Having said all that, the latest polling is somewhat encouraging for Obama. The Clinton campaign sent out a new round of Quinnipiac polls this morning showing Hillary comfortably ahead of McCain in Ohio, Florida, and Pennsylvania. But the polls also show Obama comfortably ahead of McCain in the latter ("only" 47-38 according to the Clintonites), and within a point of McCain in the other two states. When you factor in how much worse Obama tends to do in these states than upper Midwestern states like Wisconsin, Iowa, and Minnesota (where Hillary struggles), he seems to be weathering the Wright episode pretty well.

Update: It's worth noting that the Clintons are working hard to exploit Wright in subtle ways. They frequently bring up Wright in private conversations with superdelegates, for example. My point is that, notwithstanding this, there aren't many Clinton fingerprints on Wright--nothing that would earn her the blame if Wright vaporized Obama. I think most people, black or white, would blame Wright himself. Certainly much more than they'd blame Hillary.    

--Noam Scheiber