Who ever thought it would get this far?
It feels as though decades have passed since Hillary Clinton formally announced her candidacy for the Democratic Party nomination for President of the United States on January 22nd, 2007. Barack Obama formally entered the contest on February 10th, 2007. Over sixteen months and $335m later, the final two states in this mammoth contest will cast their votes, and likely hand Barack Obama his partyâ€™s nomination to face John McCain in November.
On the basis of these primaries, South Dakota will award 15 pledged and Montana 16 pledged delegates which, if Obama wins by the margins expected, would leave him only a handful of delegates away from the 2,117 needed to secure an absolute majority at the Convention in Denver.
The polls for these states have been almost as sparse as their populations, but the headline figures from the most recent of these seem to indicate that Obama enjoys a lead of 52%-35% in Montana, and 46%-34% in South Dakota.
Demographically, Montana and South Dakota have a great deal in common. Both states are overwhelmingly white, with Native Americans forming that largest ethnic minority, and very few African Americans. Gun ownership is unsurprisingly high given the rural nature of both states, and they attract tourists primarily for their respective natural wonders of Big Sky and Badlands. Mount Rushmore in South Dakota (which I considered far too cliched to select as the graphic for this post) attracts 2m tourists a year, and the leisure industry (including hunting) is key in supporting the local economies.
Montana tends to oscillate between being a reliable Democrat and safe Republican state. Its current Governor, Brian Schweitzer, is a Democrat (who, thanks to his time as an irrigation expert in Saudi Arabia, is a fluent speaker of Arabic), as are Montanaâ€™s two US Senators, Max Baucus and John Tester. Denny Rehberg, the Congressman for Montanaâ€™s At-large district, is the sole Republican in the stateâ€™s Congressional delegation. Montanaâ€™s State Senate is controlled by Democrats, whilst Republicans control the House, and the state voted for Bush by a clear margin in both 2000 and 2004. Hillary Clinton might have hoped to capitalise on the stateâ€™s progressive history of female suffrage, though there is no evidence that this will help her with the nomination substantially decided. Split ticket voting is apparently the norm in Montana, and with the Democrats strength in both chambers of the US Congress, I think Obama would be unlikely to take Montana in the General Election, unless he selected its Governor as his VP pick. Montana voted for Bill Clinton in 1992, the only time since 1964 that they have chosen to send a Democrat to the White House. Obama will be hoping that, in November, the re-election campaigns of Governor Schweitzer and Senator Baucus (both expected to be successful) will give him some active Democratic support in the Treasure State.
South Dakota is even more solidly Republican in its Presidential voting, having not voted for a Democrat since Lyndon B. Johnson, even shunning its own Senator George McGovern in 1972. Whilst the Republicans control both chambers of the State Legislature, South Dakota does have two Democrats in its three-person Congressional delegation, with Congresswoman Stephanie Herseth Sandlin representing the At-large district joining Senator Tim Johnson, whose ill-health has led to suggestions that he may have to rescind his statement announcing that he would stand for re-election in November. Both have endorsed Barack Obama, and Mrs Herseth Sandlin has enjoyed flattering comparisons to Illinois’ junior Senator with respect to her public speaking, prompting suggestions that she might one day follow in his (or Senator Clinton’s) footsteps in a run for the White House (at 37 years old, she only recently attained the minimum age required by Article II). This gives Obama 7 of the 8 South Dakotan Superdelegates, with only State Party Vice Chair Cheryl Chapman uncommitted. Montanaâ€™s Superdelegates have not been as forthcoming with their endorsements: neither the Governor or the two US Senators have yet endorsed a candidate, and only 2 of the Montanaâ€™s 8 Superdelegates have declared, incidentally both for Barack Obama.
Should Obama win these states by a clear margin, he will need only 20-or-so Superdelegates to move into his column, before he can claim the nomination. I would expect that many of the 200 undeclared Superdelegates have been waiting until the Wednesday, so as not to prevent the final states and territories from having their say.
If this assumption is correct, I believe we could see Obama reach the 2,117 required by Wednesday afternoon or Thursday morning. If he has not secured the necessary endorsements by Friday evening, I would begin to wonder what the Superdelegates are waiting for â€“ between now and the Convention, the only important milestone is the Credentials Committee meeting (sometime between now and August), so unless they believe there may be a dramatic reversal of the RBC ruling, I can only see them continuing to abstain out of fear of being â€˜the Superdelegate who finally killed off Hillary Clintonâ€™s chancesâ€™ (as a Democratic junior Congressman who likely needs the womenâ€™s vote for re-election â€“ take Ron Klein from Floridaâ€™s 22nd district as a perfect example – would you want this label?).
All that said, when polls close in Montana (an hour later than in South Dakota) at 3 am BST on Wednesday, we will finally conclude the longest and most expensive primary season in US political history.
GENERAL NEWS – Hillary Clinton won the Puerto Rico primary by a wider-than-expected margin (68%-32%) giving her 38 pledged delegates to Obama’s 17. Barack Obama gained two Superdelegates today (CT State Chair, Nancy DiNardo, and VA DNC member, Jerome Wiley Segovia), whilst Clinton picked up just the one (LA State Chair, Chris Whittington).
Clinton now needs 201.5 delegates, whereas Obama is only 44 delegates away from the 2,117 now required (thanks to the RBC seating 50% of all delegates from Michigan and Florida on the weekend).
Hat-tip to the ever-excellent DemConWatch