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Posted at 11:30 AM ET, 06/ 2/2008

'The People Have Spoken'

By Michael Dobbs


Puerto Rico, June 1, 2008.

"We are winning the popular vote. Now there can be no doubt. The people have spoken and you have chosen your candidate. So when the voting concludes on Tuesday, neither Senator Obama nor I will have the number of delegates to be the nominee. I will lead the popular vote. He will maintain a slight lead in the delegate count."
--Hillary Clinton victory speech, Puerto Rico.

You have to admire Hillary Clinton for her ability to reshape reality to her preferred outcome. She seems to assume that if she says something loudly enough, and repeats it often enough, it will become true. Her victory speech in Puerto Rico was a minor masterpiece in carefully parsed self-delusion. Unfortunately for her, it takes more than conviction to win the Democratic nominating contest.

The Facts

Whatever Clinton might say, there is considerable doubt about her claim to be "winning the popular vote." The only sense in which that is true is if she includes all the people who voted for her not only in Florida but also in Michigan, an election that she previously said "is not going to count for anything." She also has to exclude the 230,000 "uncommitted voters" in Michigan, most of whom would have probably supported Barack Obama had he been on the ballot, and caucus participants in Iowa, Nevada, Maine, and Washington.

The best running tally that I have seen on various definitions of the popular vote comes from Real Clear Politics, which you can see here. It shows that if all the votes are included, and the uncommitted Michigan vote is awarded to Obama, the land-of-Lincolner ends up with a slight lead in the overall "popular vote." He also has a small lead in the popular vote, including Florida but excluding Michigan and the caucus states.

The more important point, of course, is that the popular vote has nothing to do with the Democratic presidential nominating process, which is decided by delegates. After the Puerto Rico primary, and the rules changes adopted over the weekend, most estimates now put Obama within 45 votes of the 2,118 needed to secure the nomination. Clinton, meanwhile, is 200 votes away from the magic figure. That is hardly "a slight lead" in the delegate count.

For delegate vote tallies, see NBC News here, CNN here, and Washington Post here.

Contrary to Clinton's wishful thinking, it seems highly probable that Obama will nail down the number of delegates needed to win the nomination later this week in the aftermath of Tuesday's primaries in Montana and South Dakota (a total of 31 pledged delegates). In order to win the nomination, Obama needs roughly 20 percent of the remaining pledged and unpledged delegates, while Clinton needs around 80 percent.

The Clinton campaign also likes to claim that more Americans have voted for Hillary "than anyone in primary history." That is an artful formula because it neatly sidesteps the controversy over the disputed elections in Florida and Michigan. It may or may not be true depending on how you define your terminology.

The Pinocchio Test

This is one of those cases where the candidate can provide some data to back up his or her claim, but the claim itself is essentially meaningless. To paraphrase Hillary Clinton, "the people have spoken" and they have chosen their candidate. That candidate is...Barack Obama.

(About our rating scale.)

By Michael Dobbs  | June 2, 2008; 11:30 AM ET
Categories:  2 Pinocchios, Candidate Record, Candidate Watch, History  
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