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Analysis

8 Questions That Today's Primaries Could Answer

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KPRC-TV's Mary Benton explains Texas' two-step Democratic primary election process, and why it could mean the difference between winning or losing for Clinton and Obama in the state.Video by Chet Rhodes & Jacqueline Refo/washingtonpost.comSome footage and photos courtesy AP
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By Dan Balz
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Will the Democratic race end with today's results?

1. The one certain way to end the race is for Barack Obama to win both Texas and Ohio -- no small undertaking. That would erase any doubts that may exist about his ability to take big states or to energize a working-class base in a crucial general-election state. It would create enormous pressure on Hillary Rodham Clinton to bow out.

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Even an Obama victory in one of today's two big states is likely to result in the race ending, although perhaps not immediately. Former president Bill Clinton established that benchmark recently and though his wife's advisers have tried to back away from it, many Democrats have adopted it as the measure by which they judge today's results.

"WJC's [William Jefferson Clinton's] comments were extremely harmful in managing expectations," noted one Democratic strategist.

Some senior Clinton advisers accept the former president's political logic, but the candidate may be reluctant to end her campaign if she wins Ohio or Texas after two hard weeks of campaigning. But New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson's comments on Sunday -- that whoever holds the lead in delegates after Tuesday should be the nominee -- is a mild version of what Clinton will hear if she loses both.

If she wins Ohio and Texas, then the race will continue to Pennsylvania and perhaps beyond. She will have some fresh momentum, but Obama will still have more delegates.

"Obama can lose everything on Tuesday and still win the nomination," wrote Democratic pollster Mark Mellman. "Clinton could win all four states and still lose the nomination. But a politically consequential victory for Clinton requires wins in both Texas and Ohio."

Can Clinton ever overtake Obama in pledged delegates?

2. Every political junkie around the country is spending hours with Slate's delegate calculator on the Internet or with more complex spreadsheets that are being passed around by e-mail. Plug in what you think the results will be in Ohio or Texas or Pennsylvania or Puerto Rico and see how the delegates divide between Clinton and Obama. It's more fun than filling out those Final Four brackets.

The latest Associated Press delegate counts available on washingtonpost.com show Obama with 1,352 and Clinton with 1,239, a margin of 113. CNN says Obama is leading by 143. The Obama and Clinton campaigns are in relative agreement. Obama's team claims a 162-delegate lead, while Clinton's says he is ahead by 160.5.

There are 370 pledged delegates at stake today. After Texas, Ohio, Rhode Island and Vermont have been counted, only 611 pledged delegates will be left in the remaining contests. No matter how you run the numbers, the conclusion is always the same: There is virtually no realistic way for Clinton to emerge from the primary-caucus season with more pledged delegates than Obama.

"His delegate advantage is too great, his resource advantage is too powerful and the effect of PR is too much for her to overcome his pledged delegate lead," wrote Tad Devine, the Democratic strategist who helped create the proportional system that governs the nomination battle.

Or as Ben Ginsberg, one of President Bush's lawyers who fought the Florida recount eight years ago, put it: "Not even the Dems' Florida recount team can get her there."

The Clinton counter to this is that pledged delegates alone will not get Obama to the majority that either candidate needs to win the nomination, leaving the outcome in the hands of the superdelegates -- those elected officials and party leaders who have turned off their phones rather than having to say no to one of the candidates.


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