As of this morning, there were 197 delegate votes left in the Democratic race. One hundred and sixty-six of them belong to superdelegates. Thirty-one will be parcelled out to the winners of South Dakota and Montana. As Marc Ambinder reminds us, there are more senators and congressmen who have yet to endorse (most from states Obama won) than delegates at stake in these two states. Nonetheless, Hillary Clinton is trying to end the race with a final humiliation for Obama, taking a popular vote victory in South Dakota, home of Obama turnout guru Steve Hildebrand, early Obama endorser Tom Daschle, and Clinton-to-Obama turncoat George McGovern. It's the political equivalent of Lucia Rijker sucker-punching Hilary Swank after the bell in Million Dollar Baby, except, you know, without all that crippling. So:
9 p.m.— South Dakota. The Democrats: An Obama loss here would be equally shocking and irrelevant to Obama's chances at defeating Clinton. But the conventional wisdom has shifted in the last 48 hours, having nothing to do with events and everything to do with a few polls. American Research Group (a pollster with a fairly rotten record this year) has predicted a 24-point Clinton win, with the state's demographics, the inability of independent voters to cross over, and the bitter, clingy older female vote buffering Clinton's weeks of campaigning. Obama made a tactical decision to spend more time campaigning in November swing states than these final primaries, counting on his media buys and (truly great) field team to turn out enough votes to win comfortably. He has nine field offices; she has six. He ignored his eastern South Dakota base in his final weekend push, campaigning in the west, suggesting that he understands where Clinton is trying to overcome that advantage. She's going to be in New York tonight, shrinking her campaign staff, hunkering down to become the Hubert Humphrey '72-esque candidate of desperation if something terrible happens to Obama.
Nonetheless, we might be heading for an excruciatingly long night of counting to see whether Obama gets eight delegates or seven delegates, all while dozens of supers are endorsing him. I think it'll end up Obama 52, Clinton 48, simply because Upper Midwest white Democrats have always supported him, and because his team understands South Dakota GOTV better than hers does. We'll know before polls close, from the early exits, whether I'm wrong. What proportion of Clinton voters would never vote for Obama? How old is the electorate? (If Obama does lose, it's the latest case of the candidate making a long-term tactical decision that's 50 IQ points smarter than the TV networks and their "look what color this state is!" maps. See also him sorta-ditching California for the small caucus states and going for the delegate win on Feb. 5.)
The Republicans: John McCain will fail to crack 80 percent again, as Romney, Huckabee, and Paul all remain on the ballot here.
10 p.m.—Montana. The Democrats: The clearest sign that Obama will romp home here was the vote that happened next door, in Idaho, two weeks ago. Obama had already won the state's delegates in the Feb. 5 caucus, but Idaho had Clinton, Obama, "none of the names shown," and an anonymous felon on the ballot for Democrats who came out to vote in the federal and state primaries. In a vacuum, with no campaigning, Obama beat Clinton by 18 points. That's a good barometer of what will happen in Montana, another state with no party registration (Obamacans and independents can cross over) and a liberal-leaning, populist Democratic base with its strongest support in small cities and college towns.
The Republicans: We could see Ron Paul's best vote percentage here. Thirty percent? It's possible. He got 25 percent of the caucus votes on Feb. 5, coming in second to Mitt Romney, winning Missoula, winning 11 counties overall. McCain, Paul and "no preference" are all on the ballot this time, so I wouldn't be shocked if McCain falls below 70 percent for the first time since March.
Something else I haven't heard many people talk about in the Democratic race: Not all of the remaining superdelegates will make a public endorsement. It's not in their interest to, because they'll be running for office (or even re-election) in places where Barack Obama will lose by a landslide, and they don't want to suffer from the connection any more than they have to.
This isn't unusual. In 2004, Rep. Stephanie Herseth-Sandlin of South Dakota was boxed in by her GOP opponent on whether she'd vote for John Kerry in the Electoral College. She said she wouldn't. Based on the NYT's survey of superdelegates I'd expect at least a dozen congressmen and senators to never go on the record. Since Clinton needs more than 90 percent of the remaining supers, that's basically the ball game.
6:01: Early exits from Fox News make it look like Obama's winning Montana: Most voters "would be satisfied" with him as the nominee, and Clinton's winning seniors by only 11 points. South Dakota looks closer, with late-deciders breaking roughly 3-2 for Clinton and slightly more saying Clinton "reflects their values." Voters are tied on who's more electable; Obama's tied with men and losing women. At the least, that late poll showing Clinton crushing Obama in South Dakota looks like garbage.
6:29: Weird. South Dakota Sen. Tim Johnson (a fairly early Obama endorser) says he'll switch his superdelegate vote to Clinton if she wins his state. This as… you know… Obama clinches the nomination.
7:01: MSNBC is running a silly "popular vote" chyron. Shouldn't somebody point out that all but three (Gravel, Kucinich, Biden) of the ex-candidates have endorsed Obama? If Clinton ties in these final states, she'll win 48 percent of the vote from primaries, Michigan included, compared to about 51 percent for Obama or people who endorsed Obama, and 1 percent for "uncommitted" or the also-rans.
7:08: In other news, the GOP's prize recruit in the Massachusetts Senate race—Jim Ogonowski, whose brother died on 9/11—failed to gather enough signatures to make the ballot. John Kerry will win re-election by at least 20 points. It was a huge, stupid mistake for the party to convince Ogonowski to make this race instead of a rematch for the House seat he almost won.
8:17: Anecdote time: The supermarket in my gentrifying D.C. neighborhood is sold out of champagne. Sexists!
8:30: Here's Obama's speech, in full, at Drudge's homestead.
We've certainly had our differences over the last sixteen months. But as someone who's shared a stage with her many times, I can tell you that what gets Hillary Clinton up in the morning—even in the face of tough odds—is exactly what sent her and Bill Clinton to sign up for their first campaign in Texas all those years ago; what sent her to work at the Children's Defense Fund and made her fight for health care as First Lady; what led her to the United States Senate and fueled her barrier-breaking campaign for the presidency—an unyielding desire to improve the lives of ordinary Americans, no matter how difficult the fight may be. And you can rest assured that when we finally win the battle for universal health care in this country, she will be central to that victory. When we transform our energy policy and lift our children out of poverty, it will be because she worked to help make it happen. Our party and our country are better off because of her, and I am a better candidate for having had the honor to compete with Hillary Rodham Clinton.
Good theater from McCain: He's brought Gov. Bobby Jindal onstage at his bracketing speech in Louisiana.
8:40: Man, McCain never looks worse than when he has to stand up and give a speech right before Barack Obama does. "Hey, so you like soaring rhetoric and surging crowds? Try some serviceable rhetoric and small rooms of rather excited people!"
8:42: McCain defines change down: All that scary change is making Americans worried that a Strong Leader won't protect them. "We have let history run away with government's ability to keep up with it!"
8:46: McCain plays the Hermann Goering game: Obama's claim that McCain is running for Bush's third term is a big lie.
8:49: The crowd seems confused about how loud to cheer when McCain criticizes Bush.
8:51: Ah, we've got another 5 months of McCain campaigning on the surge. This strikes me as risky. "I know Americans are tired of this war." It's all about his unbreakable will and character, and about the lack thereof in the mortals who oppose him.
8:55: On paper, I think this is actually a good argument. Obama's the candidate of reactionary Jimmy Carter-ism. Got it. McCain, the maverick, floats over all of this, scoffing at both parties. Now that Obama's finished Clinton and can pivot back away from the muckier special interests, though, I don't think it'll stick.
9:01: I'll be damned, the early exits have Clinton winning South Dakota on the strength of the female vote. Just as… uh… she loses the nomination.
9:04: It's no longer very interesting which demographic groups are going for who (although Obama seems to be winning the Native American vote), but 35 percent of people think "Obama leaving Trinity" was an issue, and they broke 2-1 for Clinton.
9:15: The South Dakota result will be an interesting footnote. This may or may not be relevant, but Mike Madigan, the Democratic fixer in the Illinois legislature, knew (in 2004, I think) that he'd have a majority no matter what voters decided. In order to make sure the liberals in the party didn't build a big enough majority to overthrow him, he pulled resources from a few tight races and purporsefully won a smaller Democratic conference. Obama seems to have been doing something similar, spending a minimal amount of time in the final primaries to 1) lower their importance, 2) concentrate on November swing states and 3) not rub salt in Hillary's wounds.
9:40: Clinton's speech is partly about twisting the knife into Obama, partly about backing away, the only way she can: Egomaniacally. Big up for the comparison of Hillary votes to (good Christian!) prayers.
9:43: "I know a lot of people are thinking: What does Hillary want?" Technically true, but still, argh.
9:46: See? She's winding it down. Thus begins her "wait in the wings in case Obama implodes" campaign.
9:49: There's way too much past tense and "I'll carry this with me for the rest of my life" for me to interpret her bluster as anything but cover for her campaign exit.
9:58: Liberals (like Matt Yglesias) are furious that Clinton didn't concede, that she deployed all of her anti-Obama arguments (voters want a person that can handle the job!). I still think she's just gracelessly conceding. It's been a long time since a Clinton lost something. They don't know how to do it.
10:00: Montana goes for Obama. Exits suggest it'll be at least a 10-point win. (And remember, in Democratic races, the "uncommitted" vote doesn't matter unless "uncommitted" hits 15 percent. If it doesn't the votes are re-weighted to the top finishers.)
10:07: I went to HillaryClinton.com, like the lady asked me, and I see a form to put in my name, e-mail address, zip code, and message of support. Basically, it's a fundraising gimmick.
10:32: Everyone else is using their triteness token to say it, so I'll say it: I'm glad I'm here to see a black man nominated for president of the United States.
12:02: Murray Sabrin has lost the New Jersey Senate primary in a landslide. Too bad.