But it occurred to me in the wake of the Clinton sort-of-weird announcement on Sunday that something particularly unusual might happen. If her competition ends up being as tepid as it looks like it might be (sorry, Martin O'Malley!), Clinton could end up securing a larger percentage of support than Barack Obama did in 2012.
This is the point at which it's important to note that the process of assigning delegates to political conventions is a made-up mish-mash of rules and procedures that results in a hopefully accurate approximation of the will of the people. In Iowa, for example, Republicans caucus and just write any person's name on a slip of paper, and then those are counted up. Democrats in the state do it differently. Rules for getting on primary ballots vary, too. As presidential campaigns grow savvier on numbers, working the process has become much more important -- and it's been credited with helping to give Obama the 2008 nomination.
Normally an incumbent president would see only a smattering of opposition, like what George W. Bush saw in 2004. That year, the lowest percentage of support Bush received appears to have been in the fractured primary in New Hampshire, where Bush got about 54,000 of 67,000 Republican votes according to New Hampshire Secretary of State data -- 79.8 percent.
But in 2012, Obama saw far shakier primary support. The great U.S. Election Atlas site by Dave Leip only tracks data from contested primaries, so we'll use Wikipedia's data with caveats and enough spot-checking that we feel comfortable with it. The state-by-state breakdown, where available:
Notice the stretch of states across the Mason-Dixon line, running west to Oklahoma. The "opposition" candidates that got the most support in the area were anti-abortion activist Randall Terry and prison inmate Keith Judd. Those are also states — Arkansas, West Virginia, Kentucky and Oklahoma — that in 2008 voted most heavily against Obama in the primaries as well. Instead, they voted for Hillary Clinton.
So let's say that Clinton cleans up in Iowa and New Hampshire, as there is every indication she will. By the time other primaries and caucuses roll around, there may be additional names on the ballot, but there probably won't be an actual campaign on their behalf. It seems almost certain, too, that Clinton will do far better in those four anti-Obama states, and just as well in states like Illinois, where she was born. The map of her victory could see a lot more states in darker blue than Obama's (especially since states might be less likely to cancel their primaries once the winner is clear than they did in 2012).
Not that it really matters. The assignation of delegates based on primary victories is, again, capricious. Oklahoma revoked its delegates for Terry, despite his winning 18 percent of the vote there, and no one wanted to be a Keith Judd delegate at the convention. So while Wikipedia has 34 delegates that initially went to other candidates, none of the non-Obama delegates were actually seated at the convention. If a more mainstream candidate peels enough votes away from Hillary Clinton, though, he or she could do much better on the delegate front.
In case you needed another reminder that delegates don't correlate to the popular vote, look back to the last time Clinton ran for president. She got more votes in the primaries and caucuses. Barack Obama got more delegates -- and the presidency.