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Both candidates claim lead in popular votes

If numbers don't lie, the Democratic presidential race is proving they can confuse: Both campaigns claim they are ahead in the popular vote.
/ Source: The Associated Press

If numbers don't lie, the Democratic presidential race is proving they can confuse: Both campaigns claim they are ahead in the popular vote.

The day after her big win in Pennsylvania, Hillary Rodham Clinton said Wednesday that she now has more votes than anybody who has ever run for president in a Democratic primary.

Not so fast, Barack Obama's campaign manager, David Plouffe, told reporters in a conference call. Obama has a comfortable lead in the popular vote and doesn't expect to lose it by the time voting ends June 3, Plouffe said.

So who is right?

It depends on how the votes are counted. And even using Clinton's method, she may not stay ahead for long.

Contested states
Clinton is including Michigan and Florida, primaries she won after all the candidates agreed to boycott the states for holding votes too early for party rules. Obama had his name pulled off the ballot in Michigan, so he doesn't get a single vote from that state.

"I'm very proud that as of today, I have received more votes by the people who have voted than anybody else, and I am proud of that," Clinton said at a rally in Indianapolis. "It's a very close race, but if you count, as I count, the 2.3 million people who voted in Michigan and Florida, then we are going to build on that."

Including Michigan and Florida, Clinton has 15.1 million to Obama's 15 million — a lead of about one-half of a percentage point for Clinton. Without Michigan and Florida, Obama has 14.4 million to Clinton's 13.9 million — a lead of about 1.7 percent for Obama. Neither total includes the primary vote total from Washington state, since it doesn't count toward the nomination and the party awards delegates based on its caucus.

Michigan and Florida's votes don't count toward the delegate total that will determine who will win the nomination at the Democratic National Convention in August. Obama said delegates are the most important factor in determining the winner.

"I guess there have been a number of different formulations that the Clinton campaign has been trying to arrive at to suggest that somehow they're not behind," he told reporters traveling with him Wednesday. "I'll leave that up to you guys. If you want to count them for some abstract measure, you're free to do so."

Many votes remaining
The popular vote argument is another way Clinton is trying to persuade superdelegates to support her campaign, with Obama virtually assured to end the campaign with a lead in pledged delegates. Pledged delegates are assigned based on the outcome of votes in each state, while superdelegates are elected leaders and party officials who can pick any candidate.

There are a couple other problems for Clinton in claiming the lead in the popular vote. Even using her criteria of counting Michigan and Florida, her lead may not last more than two weeks. That's because Obama is heavily favored to win the largest state left to vote, North Carolina, on May 6.

Obama also is likely to win South Dakota and Oregon. Even if Clinton won all the other contests left — Indiana, West Virginia, Kentucky, Montana, Puerto Rico and Guam — they are smaller contests that will make it difficult for her to catch back up.

The other problem with counting the popular vote is that states that held caucuses aren't included at all — Iowa, Nevada, Washington and Maine. Those four states don't have a popular vote total to include — instead they count the number of delegates elected for each candidate to determine who wins. And those states are relatively small, Obama won every one except Nevada.

Nor does the total reflect the outcome of the Texas caucus, which Obama won. The caucus counts the delegates elected instead of voter turnout. But Texas also conducts a primary, which Clinton won, and the popular vote count does include those votes.

No matter how the numbers are sliced, the bottom line is that Democrats across the country are closely divided over who should be the nominee. It'll be up to each campaign to convince the superdelegates who is more deserving of the prize.