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Clinton Can’t Win Popular Vote Race Without a Miracle

Unless the Rev. Jeremiah Wright has caused him more damage than is evident, it’s impossible to see how Sen. Barack Obama (Ill.) can lose the popular vote, the delegate race or the Democratic nomination to Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (N.Y.).

[IMGCAP(1)]Specifically, I’ve calculated the possible popular vote in eight of the nine remaining primaries (excluding Guam), giving Clinton the benefit of every doubt, and can’t see how she gains more than 150,000 votes on Obama — not enough to catch him except in the most extreme circumstances.

Of course, it matters how you calculate Obama’s popular vote lead — or whether you give him one at all.

The tally of past primaries gives Obama a lead of 501,000, excluding results in party-disqualified Florida and Michigan.

Clinton claims she has garnered more popular votes than Obama because she does count Florida — where she beat Obama by 348,117 votes — and counts her 328,151 votes in Michigan, giving him no credit for any part of the 237,762 ballots cast for “uncommitted.”

That’s patently unfair, especially since Michigan exit polls showed that if all candidates had been listed on the ballot, Clinton would have received 46 percent to Obama’s 35 percent, giving her a lead of just 65,323 votes, not 328,151.

Moreover, Clinton gives Obama no credit for any turnout in caucus states like Iowa, Nevada, Maine and Washington, where he led overall by an estimated 110,000. And Texas party officials report that 1 million people turned out in that state’s caucuses (separate from the primary, which she won, 51 percent to 47 percent) and supported Obama, 56 percent to 43 percent.

So, it’s complicated. Let’s summarize: To catch Obama in the popular vote, Clinton needs to gain more than 501,000 votes in the remaining nine events, or 611,000 counting Iowa, Maine Nevada and Washington.

It’s 206,700, counting Florida, but not Michigan or any caucuses; or 317,000 counting Florida and the caucuses but not Michigan. She needs only 141,377 counting Florida and Michigan (apportioned according the exit polls) but not the caucuses, or 251,600 counting Florida, Michigan and the four caucuses, but not Texas.

Can she make up any of those gaps by the end of the primaries on June 3?

Here’s how I calculated. Turnout in Democratic primaries this year has been stupendous — averaging 76 percent of Sen. John Kerry’s (Mass.) 2004 general election turnout in most states (an astounding 99 percent in Texas).

So, using that average — 76 percent of Kerry — turnout in Indiana next Tuesday should be 736,000. If Clinton wins by 52 percent to 48 percent — right now, polls show her with a 2-point lead — her vote is 383,000 to Obama’s 353,300 and she gains 29,700. If she wins Indiana by 10 points, she gains 73,600.

In North Carolina, turnout should be 1,160,000. If Obama wins by 10 points — his current lead—he gets 638,000 votes, she gets 522,000 and he wins by 116,000 votes. If he wins by just five points, it’s 58,000.

In West Virginia on May 13, turnout should be about 250,000. If Clinton wins a huge victory — 60-40 — she wins by 50,000.

In Kentucky on May 20, a 10-point Clinton victory with a 541,000-vote turnout would give her an edge of 54,100. If Oregon’s turnout is 717,000 the same day and Obama wins by just 52 percent to 48 percent, he wins by 28,700.

If turnout in Puerto Rico on June 1 is 760,000 and Clinton wins by 10 points, she gains 76,000. And if Obama wins in Montana and South Dakota on June 3 by only 52 percent to 48 percent, he gains 5,300 and 4,600, respectively.

Bottom line, if turnout in these eight races averages 76 percent of its last general election Democratic level, Clinton should garner 2,232,300 votes to Obama’s 2,176,700 and gain 55,600 on him — far, far less than she needs by any fair calculation.

If she scores a huge 10-point victory in Indiana, her vote total goes up — and his goes down — by 21,800 votes, giving her a 99,200 gain for the remaining contests. And if he wins North Carolina by just 5 points instead of 10, he loses — and she gains — 26,100 votes, so her total gain would be 151,400.

If Clinton wins in Indiana by 10 and loses North Carolina by just 5 and other results turn out as I forecast, she can catch Obama in the popular vote — barely — only if the standard counts Florida, Michigan (exit-poll- apportioned) and not any of his caucus performances.

However, if Clinton does that well next Tuesday, it might change the whole dynamic of the race — indicating that Wright’s “rants” and Clinton’s vigorous recent performances had bitten deep.

So far, though, with Obama picking up five new superdelegates Wednesday to Clinton’s one, there is no indication that Obama is cratering.

Clinton is 430 delegates short of the 2025 needed to nominate and has to capture 62 percent of the 408 pledged delegates yet to be selected and the 286 superdelegates yet to commit, while Obama needs just 295 delegates.

Consciously or unconsciously, Obama’s pastor of 20 years did his best to torpedo his parishioner’s candidacy this week. Next Tuesday, we’ll know whether the beneficiary — Clinton — has a prayer.

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