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Clinton's near no-win situation

Supporters of Hillary Rodham Clinton may be wondering why the sudden media scrutiny of Barack Obama didn't happen sooner.
/ Source: National Journal

It’s no wonder supporters of Sen. , D-N.Y., are wandering around and repeating over and over again, “why didn’t all this happen sooner?”

What is happening now is precisely what they needed to happen to Sen. , D-Ill.

The things that contribute to the perception that he is not the perfect Democratic nominee, including incidents, stories, and debate performances have all come about fairly quickly and somewhat recently.

In addition to this, there is the perception that he might have problems with some swing independent voters or conservative or older Democrats. But it’s probably too late to help her, even if she wins by 10 points in today’s Pennsylvania primary.

Given the vagaries of the Democratic Party’s delegate selection process, it would require almost unattainable landslides by Clinton in the remaining primaries to make this race close enough to encourage the superdelegates to possibly break a tie in her favor.

Given the lopsided margins of the superdelegates who have reached and announced a decision over the last two-and-a-half months, it is considerably less than a 50-50 shot they would break her way, even if they were so inclined.

Obama supporters are outraged over the treatment he received from ABC News’ George Stephanopoulos and Charles Gibson in last week’s debate in Philadelphia.

Is it true that he was given far rougher treatment than Clinton? No question about it. He got worked over.

But some of these same folks didn’t seem so agitated when Clinton got the rubber-hose treatment in debates. The thin skin of Obama’s supporters and double standards being applied are hard to ignore.

In some ways, Clinton is almost in a no-win situation.

Even if she wins, she doesn’t really win in the sense of making a meaningful dent in Obama’s roughly 140-delegate lead unless she wins by a huge margin.

This is due to proportional representation and the existence of so many even-numbered delegate districts.

In those districts, landslides are needed in two-way races to avoid a delegate split. If Democrats don’t like this dynamic, perhaps they should revisit their proportional representation system when they contemplate the rules for 2012.

Had Clinton not won Ohio and Rhode Island, and performed much more strongly than expected in the bizarre “Texas two-step” primary and caucus, her donors would have said “enough” a month ago and she would be out of the race already.

Even if she wins somewhat handily in Pennsylvania, she won’t significantly close the gap in delegates, yet the win would make it difficult to withdraw.

Anything short of an enormous landslide will not get her any closer to the nomination and yet continued victories makes it hard for her to drop out of the race.

It’s almost like she’s stuck in a race that she no longer has a decent chance of winning. Short of Obama completely collapsing, it’s hard to see how Clinton can still prevail but not at all hard to see how she gets outcomes today and perhaps in some of the future events that keep her in the race.

Polls show that the Democratic Party is deeply divided on this nomination and increasingly there is hand-wringing in the party over whether this continued fight will jeopardize their chances in November.

Many are pointing to polls that show an inordinate number of Clinton supporters not eager to support Obama if he wins the nomination as well as Obama backers who don’t want to support Clinton should she win.

These kinds of results are hardly unusual while a nomination is still contested, indeed they are to be expected.

If you still see these results in September or October, that’s a problem. In April, that’s not a problem.

And with Democrats’ fundraising more robust than ever and Republicans not measuring up to past financial benchmarks, that buys Democrats some time and offsets many of these problems. It’s not to say that these things won’t be problems but that they are not yet problems for Democrats.

Assuming Obama is the Democratic nominee, what should concern them more is that while Obama might outperform Clinton and do better than Democrats usually do with college-educated and younger voters, he underperforms among older and less-educated voters.

To have presumptive GOP nominee Sen. , R-Ariz., running 6 points ahead of Obama among the 1,140 voters with a high school education or less, in a Gallup Poll of 6,158 registered voters taken March 31-April 6 — a group that Democrats normally win easily — should be a cause of considerable concern. That sample had a 3-point error margin.

Can Obama count on overperforming with college graduates enough to make up for his losses among less educated, white voters? Can Obama count on young voters turning out in sufficient numbers to offset his weaker performances among older voters?

Party strategists already worry that Florida, Missouri and Ohio might be less competitive for Democrats with Obama running than they were for Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., and former Vice President Gore in 2004 and 2000, respectively, and maybe weaker than if Clinton were the nominee.

Can stronger anticipated performances by Obama in Colorado, New Hampshire and Wisconsin make up for that?