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8 Questions That Will Shape Where the Race for the Democratic Presidential Nomination Goes From Here

Michele Shornak backs Clinton's call for a replay of the Michigan primary at a rally in Detroit.
Michele Shornak backs Clinton's call for a replay of the Michigan primary at a rally in Detroit. (By Bill Pugliano -- Getty Images)
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By Dan Balz
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, March 23, 2008

What is the most likely outcome of the dispute over the delegations from Florida and Michigan?

1. The collapse of efforts in Florida and Michigan to conduct do-over primaries makes a negotiated settlement to seat the two delegations the most likely outcome. But the ultimate resolution will have only a marginal impact on Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton's attempts to narrow the overall delegate count, many Democrats familiar with intraparty rules and credentials battles say.

Tad Devine, one of the architects of the system of proportional distribution of delegates in primaries and caucuses under which the nomination battle has unfolded, predicts that Florida's delegates will be allocated on the basis of the Jan. 15 primary -- meaning a slight advantage for Clinton -- but with just half a vote given to each pledged delegate and a full vote for each superdelegate. Michigan, too, may end up with only a portion of its original delegates counting, but the delegate split could be closer to 50-50.

Negotiation and compromise may be the ideal solution, but any number of Democrats see nothing but more acrimony and conflict ahead. Democrats fear -- and Republicans hope -- that the Michigan and Florida problem will play out all the way to the Denver convention and perhaps remain unresolved until a clash before the Democratic National Committee's Credentials Committee, legal warfare and an ugly floor fight in Denver that would leave all sides bitter and demoralized.

Party leaders in Michigan and Florida, with help from an effective spin operation in the Clinton campaign, have generated considerable media attention with their concerns about disenfranchising voters in two big battleground states. Inside the party, however, there is far less sympathy. The view of party leaders is simple: The two states broke the rules, and to simply seat their delegations now would invite even more calendar chaos in 2012. The controversy continues to be another stain on the process.

What remaining state contests will be most important and why?

2. There are 10 contests remaining -- eight states and two territories. In virtually every one of these contests, Barack Obama or Clinton begins as the favorite. She is favored in Pennsylvania, Kentucky, West Virginia and Puerto Rico. He is favored in North Carolina, Oregon, Guam, Montana and South Dakota. Indiana may be the closest thing left to a tossup, though it tilts slightly to Clinton.

So which are important? The next contest, and the biggest prize left if Florida and Michigan don't vote again, is Pennsylvania on April 22. An Obama victory in Pennsylvania could effectively end the nomination battle, but that's unlikely. His real challenge is to prevent Clinton from running away with the state the way she did in Ohio so he can blunt her argument that she significantly outperforms him in big states that will be critical in the general election.

The May 6 primaries in Indiana and North Carolina have the most potential to change the race, although probably only if one candidate wins both. If Obama were to win Indiana, he could claim to have successfully cracked Clinton's coalition of women and working-class white voters. If Clinton were to carry both, she would gain real momentum, if not necessarily a huge bump in delegates. Finally, a Clinton win in Oregon or an Obama win in Kentucky would be seen as a major upset.

Such outcomes, noted Ron Klain, a Democratic strategist, "would be the primary-season equivalent of breaking service in a tennis match: a big momentum shift and a shift in the balance of power."

What is Clinton's path to the nomination?

3. Clinton needs at least four things to happen. First, she must significantly narrow Obama's lead in the pledged delegate count. Under almost no scenario is there a way for her to overtake Obama in that column, given the rules of proportionality. But by winning the overwhelming share of the last 10 contests, she can begin to cut down the margin and also claim momentum at the end of the race.


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