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  Sen. Hillary Clinton: ''It'll be over by Feb. 5.''
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Sen. Hillary Clinton: “It’ll be over by Feb. 5.”

If the point of this compressed primary season was supposedly to give more states a say in the process, what happens to the states left out?

by Margie Burns

January may determine whether California and New York carry the nomination.
Candidates sometimes drop off-the-cuff remarks in their signing-off moments that they would not have led with.

On Dec. 30, when Hillary Clinton wrapped up with George Stephanopoulos on the ABC Television Sunday talk show "This Week," she signed off by absently summarizing the primary season: “It’ll be over by Feb. 5.”

From the transcript:

“GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS: (Off-camera) If you don't win here how do you recover?

SENATOR HILLARY CLINTON: I don't think it's a question of recovery. I have a campaign that is poised and ready for the long term. We are competing everywhere through February 5th. We have staff in many states. We have built organizations in many states. You know, George, you and I went through an experience in 1992 where Bill Clinton didn't win anything until Georgia. He came in second time and time again in a much less, you know, volatile and contested environment.

GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS: (Off-camera) Much less compressed also.

SENATOR HILLARY CLINTON: A much less compressed environment. So from my perspective, you get up every day and you get out there and you make your case and you reach as many people as possible. That's what I intend to do, so I'm in it for the long run. It's not a very long run. It'll be over by February 5th.”

Feb. 5, of course, is when the largest number of states ever will hold primaries and conventions on the same day. Some commentators call it “Super-Duper Tuesday,” confusing those of us who thought “Super Tuesday” was as ticky-tacky as you could get in characterizing an election.

For the Democrats, 22 states and Democrats living abroad will hold primaries or conventions on Feb. 5 to nominate a huge estimated 2,075 delegates to the national convention in Denver, Aug. 25-28. Another 207 delegates will be awarded in contests before Feb. 5, beginning with the Iowa caucuses on Friday, Jan. 3.

A total 2,200 delegates is huge. Still, Mrs. Clinton’s offhand remark raises questions.

The most immediate question is the most obvious: Leaving the GOP out of the equation, will the Democratic nomination necessarily be sewn up by Feb. 5? Apparently Mrs. Clinton counts on crushing in New York (281 delegates) and California (441) that day. The Democratic Party mandates proportional representation, with any candidate who receives less than 15 percent of the vote falling out. Recent state polls in CA and NY show Clinton ahead, presumably among voters unaware that she supports a health insurance program rather like Mitt Romney’s in Massachusetts, which was crafted with input from the insurance industry.

Outside California and New York, two states being lost sight of in media attention to Iowa and New Hampshire, Clinton still has the advantage of huge name recognition going into Feb. 5, but the two largest states are the most critical for her. January may determine whether California and New York carry the nomination.

If Feb. 5, meaning largely California and New York, do not end the nominating process for the Dems, then the question becomes, what happens in the rest of the primaries and caucuses? Another 23 states hold Democratic contests from Feb. 9 through June 3, for another 1000 delegates. Turnout varies by state, but many of these states have local and statewide elections of interest.

If, on the other hand, Feb. 5 does end the nominating process, that leaves a further question. Delegates are one thing. Electors are another. If the point of this compressed primary season was supposedly to give more states a say in the process, what happens to the states left out?

States that hold primaries or conventions after Tuesday, February 5 command a total of 125 electoral votes: Ohio (20) and Wisconsin (10), major battlegrounds in the Midwest; Washington (11) and Oregon (7) in the Pacific Northwest, Blue but not safe; Texas (34), which would never be written off if the Democratic party were party-building by registering new voters; Mississippi (6) and Louisiana (9), where Dems should be fighting especially hard after Katrina; Maine (4), and Vermont (3)—a safe bet not to go Republican, but it could readily go third party if the national party nominates Mrs. Clinton; and Pennsylvania (21) , another major battleground.

Any candidate needs most of these states to win. Electoral arithmetic aside, is enthusiastic turnout in the November general election a given for states written off before Valentine’s Day?

Anything could happen between now and November 2008. Still, a little handicapping here:

Mrs. Clinton would probably carry New York (31) and California (55) in the general election, unless she went so ‘centrist’ (corporate mouthpiece, Bush lite) that a good third-party candidate got into the race.

That still leaves the rest of the Electoral College. Setting aside the ‘safe’ states, in several states not considered safely ‘Blue’ the Democratic Party should theoretically have a good shot this year. Among those, for a total of 98 electoral votes, Clinton might not carry Michigan (17), Arizona (10), Colorado (9), Kansas (6), Missouri (11), New Mexico (5), Oklahoma (7), and the Dakotas (6). Given the Clintons’ track record of no party-building, you can add Tennessee (11) and Arkansas (6). And if a good alternative candidate arises on the progressive side, throw out Minnesota (10).

This run-down may look bad for the Dems, but it fits the historical picture from the 1990s on:

  1. Bill Clinton won the White House because of Ross Perot. This point is not fashionable among pundits who treat Clinton as a political wizard, especially in the national capital. The Washington Post flew into a hysterical paroxysm about Perot that I, personally, have never seen equaled in a newspaper, and I am from Texas, where men are men and newspapers are awful. But the Perot vote made a critical difference in several states that Clinton carried. There was never a popular, or populist, groundswell for William Jefferson Clinton, chair of the ‘centrist’ DLC.
  2. As veteran analyst Mark Shields pointed out a few years ago, the Clinton administration, during eight years in office, did little to no party building at the grassroots level.
  3. When the Clintons left the White House, they did not move back to Arkansas. They moved to New York, improving their prospects rather than party prospects.
  4. In 2000, Mrs. Clinton thus ran for Senate from New York rather than from Arkansas. New York would have elected Nita Lowey to the Senate in 2000, if Lowey had not moved aside for Clinton. Clinton might have won in Arkansas, and would at least have made a difference in other elections there in 2000.
  5. In 2000, the Democrats failed to carry either Arkansas, Clinton’s home state, or Tennessee, Gore’s home state. Had either state gone Democratic, it would have kept the 2000 election out of the courts, and Bush v. Gore would not have happened.

The foregoing leaves little hope that the Clinton bandwagon serves as much more than a stop-loss for the GOP and for the tight handful of corporate interests that have benefited from the last several elections. If Clinton is nominated, she has a good chance of losing the general election. But if she wins, they figure they can control her.

Margie Burns [link to her blog at] is a freelance journalist in the DC area. She can be reached at

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This story was published on January 3, 2008.


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