Wrapping up the Democratic nomination

It is, at last, finished. At least, most people understand that after a long, hard-fought race, Barack Obama has won the Democratic nomination. Most of the holdouts should come around when Hillary formally concedes on Saturday. Unfortunately, there are still a few rumors and loose ends that should be sorted out so nobody goes into the general election with the wrong impressions.

Toward the end of the race, the facts got a bit muddy as both campaigns tried to put a bright face on the situation. Unfortuantely, with all the competing messages, some of the facts got confused. In the end, people will decide on their own who to vote for in November—but I would like to make sure they have their information straight.

Did Barack Obama steal the election with superdelegates and insider support?

No. While the majority of the superdelegates ultimately backed Obama, Clinton led the superdelegate count until well into May. Obama didn’t catch up until after the Indiana and North Carolina primaries. The late deciders broke to Obama when the decided he was clearly going to be the winner.

If Michigan and Florida delegation had been seated with full voting rights as determined by their unsanctioned priamries, would Hillary have won?

No. If Florida’s delegation had a full vote, Clinton would gain an additional 19 votes. If Clinton had been awarded 55% of Michigan’s 128 delegates, and Obama had been awarded none (rather than the 29.5 the DNC gave him), Clinton would net about 100 delegates. (This scenerio would be insanely generous to Clinton because it assumes Obama got no support whatsoever in a state Jesse Jackson won in 1988). Because Obama had a lead of 127 pledged delegates, Clinton would still be behind in pledged delegates.

Did Hillary Clinton win the popular vote?

No. While the pledged delegate count is probably the best metric for popular support, a lot of people are interested in the nebulous and problematic “popular vote”. The biggest question on what to do with the popular vote is what to do with Michigan and what to do with states that did not report a popular total. There are, however, very good estimates of who voted how in those states that did not report a popular vote total—so the most inclusive estimate would use this. In Michigan, where late polls suggest Obama had as much or more support than Clinton, Obama was not on the ballot. Clinton won 55% percent of the vote. Nobody, or “Uncommitted,” won 40% of the vote. Write-in votes for Obama were thrown out. If we want to count Michigan, we should count the “uncommitted” votes for Obama. While a minority of the uncommitteds might have wanted to vote for Edwards, the 27,694 discarded write-in votes, the 20% of Clinton supporters who indicated in exit polls that they would prefer to vote for another candidate, and the disenfranchised Obama supporters who voted in the Republican primary or just stayed home should more than make up the difference. By counting as many of the votes in as many states, Obama narrowly but definitively wins the popular vote.

Was Barack Obama’s campaign financed by giant far-left celebrity donations?

No. It is true that Obama has broken fundraising records—but he follows campaign finance laws like everybody else. The guy who cut my hair told me he’d heard that Oprah donated $100 million to Obama’s campaign. Apparently he believed that Obama’s remarkable fundraising success came from a few big donors who somehow bought the primary process.

Under federal election law, the maximum donation to a political campaign is $2,300. Since the primary and general elections count separately, there is a maximum individual donation of $4,600. By law, any donation over $200 is public information, so you can check to see where all the donations came from. Oprah, for example, donated $2300 to Obama’s campaign. Obama raised over $264 million. Over half of that came from donations under $200. The donations came from over 1.5 million people. His fundrasing report was so massive that it broke Excel 2003.

Did the press and the pundits pressure Clinton to leave the race prematurely?

Not really. As Obama said, Clinton had a right to run as long as she wanted to. However, as early as mid-February, it became clear to anybody who did the math what was going to happen. The media may have sounded the death knell for her campaign before all the votes were cast, but if anything the extreme focus on states Hillary was likely to win helped the campaign continue long after victory became impossible. As primary contests go, the race was extremely close—but Obama still won comfortably.

Was Hillary Clinton more electable than Barack Obama? Will Obama lose to McCain?

Probably not. Polls suggested that both Clinton and Obama would beat McCain. Clinton does better in a handful of prominent swing states—but Obama does better in more swing states. Obama is also competitive in states like Virginia and much of the mountain west. November projections are premature at this point—but it looks like Obama is at least as well situated to win as Clinton was.

Did Hillary lose?

It’s better to say that Obama won. Hillary ran a very strong campaign. She was a very strong candidate. It was very close. A year and a half ago, I thought nobody would be able to beat her for the nomination. While there are always what-ifs, I think it is pretty clear that Clinton is the strongest non-Obama candidate the Democrats have put forth since… well, Clinton. None of the other contenders were even in the same league. Clinton had immense support and a massive number of votes. Obama just had more.