March 20th, 2008
02:55 PM ET

Gergen: How Hillary grabs the nomination

Hillary Clinton's detour yesterday to Michigan reflects a clear understanding within her campaign that much could hinge upon what happens there in coming hours. If the Democratic state legislature leaves for a two-week vacation this afternoon without resolving to hold a make-up primary, her chances of wresting the nomination from Barack Obama could diminish sharply.


Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Hillary Clinton holds a 'Solutions for America' event in Detroit, Michigan. Clinton came to Detroit to attempt to generate support for a Michigan democratic primary do-over.

It has been apparent for some time that Clinton's best strategy – perhaps her only strategy – is to win lop-sidedly in Pennsylvania, then rack up a string of late victories in North Carolina, Indiana, West Virginia, and Kentucky so that she could argue that while still behind in pledged delegates, she had won the second half of the season and the two candidates were basically tied.

She could then plausibly look to re-dos in Florida and Michigan as an "overtime" and with victories there (almost certain in Florida, likely in Michigan), she would be in a reasonable position to persuade superdelegates (and the party) that she is more electable.

But take Florida and Michigan off the table and the Clinton game plan becomes much more difficult.

Even if she were to win all of the states above, the lack of new votes in Florida and Michigan would mean the campaign would end with Obama still ahead in delegates, states, and total votes.

For Obama supporters, it would then seem very unfair for Democratic bigwigs to strip him of the crown.  Indeed, in light of the controversy over Reverend Wright, as Chuck Todd of NBC argued yesterday, African-Americans might read such a move as Democrats trying to protect their white vote – an interpretation that could shatter the party.

That's why Clinton is trying so hard to keep prospects alive in Michigan – and even Florida. And why she is stepping up pressure on Obama by blaming him if they don't take place. Efforts to blame him over the Florida fiasco seem entirely misplaced: The opprobrium belongs to Charlie Crist and the Republican legislature and remember, too, that both Clinton and Obama supporters in Congress and the state legislature didn't like the re-do plan. In Michigan, it was a Democratic governor who supports Clinton who signed on to the early primary and helped to create this mess. Clinton can hardly claim clean hands here, either.

This is getting down in the weeds, but if you are a political junkie, bear with me for a moment. Even though her own supporters helped to create the Michigan mess, Clinton does have a good argument that Obama partisans are dragging their feet on a re-do there. But the Obama people have a legitimate rebuttal that people who voted for the GOP candidates earlier this year should not be banned from voting in a re-do in Michigan – that is only fair. If the Clinton folks would drop the ban, Obama folks should support the re-do – or face appropriate fire for standing in the way.

If at the end of the day, the re-dos disappear in Michigan and Florida, Clinton still has one hope – and not a very appealing one for anybody: That because of the Reverend Wright affair, the bottom completely drops out for Obama and he loses big not only in places like Pennsylvania and Indiana but also in North Carolina, where he has been ahead.  That is a scenario that would bring shutters to much of the country that has a more elevated view of what America is all about.

Personally, I just don't think it will happen that way but there are others who disagree with me. We shall see. We are learning a lot in this campaign not only about the candidates but about ourselves. 

– David Gergen, CNN Senior Political Analyst

Program note: Watch David Gergen share his analysis with Anderson Cooper on tonight's 360° at 10p ET

Filed under: David Gergen • Hillary Clinton
soundoff (211 Responses)
  1. Tuoyo baltimore

    I am sick of this Primary to hell with the DNC at this point !

    March 20, 2008 at 7:16 pm |
  2. Jeff

    Once again the republicans stole the democratic vote in Florida. There is noway Obama will win in Fla. That is a swing state and the democratic party DNC in particular has screwed up.

    And if our voice in not heard in Fla. we will remember come November. And elect Bush Jr. (McCain).

    March 20, 2008 at 7:10 pm |
  3. Mary

    How can any of you people say that you will vote for McCain because you don't like some part of the Clinton/Obama selection process?!? Have you ever heard the expression "cutting off your nose to spite your face?" You sound like a bunch of crybabies who think only of yourselves and not the future of this country. Anything you do to help elect McCain would just continue the total disaster of the last 8 years. Can your conscience live with that? Face the fact that this country needs a Democratic president and Congress to even begin to right the wrongs of the Bush administration, and do what needs to be done!!

    March 20, 2008 at 7:08 pm |
  4. Dan in Salem

    David, thanks for your insights here. I am amazed at the vitrolic attacks of several of your responders toward both Senator Obama and Senator Clinton. Yes I fear the Democratic party has the potential of imploding -as it did in 1968 with its candidates feeding upon and destroying each other. The real issue with both Florida and Michigan should not be foisted on the two Senators but with an incredibly inept DNC leadership. It is that leadership that should be aggressive brokering a workable solution here. The fact that it appears to have neither the will nor the ability to do so makes it seem all to much like another Howard Dean Iowa meltdown.

    March 20, 2008 at 7:06 pm |
  5. Deirdre Glascoe, Bowie, MD

    I think people who criticize Obama and Rev. Wright are hypocrites. I think if we took 2 of minutes out of anyone's life where they were cursing and degrading others, they would probably look as monsterous as Rev. Wright. Ohh.. is threre anyone claiming that they are so righteous that they never cursed or degraded others in their life?... Yeah!!! He who lives without sin cast the first stone ... and I guarantee that the wind will catch the stone and fling it right back at ya! .

    March 20, 2008 at 7:06 pm |
  6. Mary

    I see....we are to not judge Obama for what his pastor has said or done yet, we are to judge Clinton for what her husband has said and done. Sounds like a double standard to me but then, that seems to be par for the course with the Obama campaign. The seemed to learn their leader's teachings well.

    March 20, 2008 at 7:03 pm |
  7. Jon

    Attn Michigan and Florida:

    Barack Obama said it should be up to the people to decide who will be the Democratic Presidential nominee. Barack Obama says every vote should count.

    But, apparently, he only wants votes that are in his favor to count. Do you hear Hillary Clinton crying and saying that the states Obama won shouldn't count? No.

    Barack Obama claims Hillary's sudden interest in Michigan and Florida is just politics. Well, considering Hillary IS a politician, are you guys as shocked as I am that she's...*gasp*...polickiting. But, correct me if I'm wrong, isn't his saying that her interest is politics also....jeez...politics?

    Let's call apples apples, and oranges oranges. They're both politicians, but at least Hillary's willing to admit she's a politician. Barack wants you to think he's not a politician, but some sort of deliverer of truth and peace. Get real, Barack.

    March 20, 2008 at 7:02 pm |
  8. Cheryl, Upstate, NY

    Hillary Clinton would not be pushing for a do-over if the shoe was on the other foot. If she was ahead in pledged delegates, she would not want the do-over. It simply amazes me what a hypocrite she is. She is trying to place the Blame on Obama so that she can try and cause a negative response toward him. Shame on you Hillary Clinton!!
    This is one New Yorker that would never support you. It is too bad the rest of the country does not know how little you have done to help Upstate NY.
    NYC gets all her help and the hell with upstate.
    Wake up America if you’re not from money Hillary will do nothing for you!
    I sincerely think it is a tragedy that people simple place blame on Barack Obama for things his pastor said.
    OBAMA 08

    March 20, 2008 at 7:02 pm |
  9. George Stewart

    If this country that I love has any chance of regaining the stature it once held across the world the only logical solution is stop pandering to "political correctness" where Obama is quick to yell racist with any one who remotely disagrees with his views. Experience in a leader matters much more than a charasmatic speech. If the DNC has any sense of fairness and decency for the democratic process they'll allow the voices of voters in Florida and Michigan to be heard.
    I agre with Anna who said, it is too sad the American public has been hoodwinked and bamboosled by Obama "and it is frightening the say the least that Obama voters can't see the forest for the trees. Experience and leadership matter and Hillary is the only reasonable answer.

    March 20, 2008 at 7:00 pm |
  10. Alex


    Your statement:
    "BUT THAT is the point of having the super delegates in the first place, regular folks cannot decide what is best for the party (obviously) so the system of knowledgeable, cool- headed, and more REASONABLE super-duper delegates was created."

    Is completely misinformed. What is the point of voting if a super-delegate is going to override your choice? The point of having INDIVIDUALS vote is that INDIVIDUAL CITIZENS choose the nominee. The Super-delegate system is awful. Nominations should be based on who has the most delegates , more percentage of the popular vote, etc.

    It is appalling to me that you think we should be picking a nominee based on what is "best for the party", rather what is best for the country. I am 20 years old, and I am already tired of the same old politicians blabbering on day after day about who said what, and who flip-flops, etc. Hilary and McCain are the same old politicians. If Hilary is elected president, then the SAME TWO families will "rule" America for 24 years (Clinton, Bush, 1988-2012). Obama represents something new, and you cannot argue that he is very different (in a good way) from Clinton and McCain.

    Obama '08!

    March 20, 2008 at 7:00 pm |
  11. Patrick B. Lee

    I just can't fathom the furor over Barrack Obama'spastor...Did he say some ugly things...yes. However there are many clergy who have
    said hateful things about homosexuals, Arabs, and even inter-racial
    relationships. I think the American public should practice what they
    preach and drop the condemnation of Senator Obama. If I remember
    correctly Rush Limbaugh once referred to Native American Indians
    as "Savages". There is plenty of hate and racism to go around!!

    I am white as well as 1/4 Indian. So I can understand the pastors
    resentment in relation to rich white powerful people. And I believe that
    there are even white people who are not rich and powerful who can
    relate to his comments. If I disassociated myself with every person
    who ever made a disparaging remark in my presence, I would not have been able to function in this world, and I believe that Obama is
    in the same boat as anyone.

    Personally I believe that the furor is really the machinations of a news media influenced,by the very same elite mostly white class.
    What really is disturbing to me is blatant bigotry by either whites
    or blacks or whatever ethnic group, that will not vote a particular
    way based on the color of skin or culture.

    My personal choice, though I know that it probably won't influence anyone, is Barrack Obama...at least with him you know you won't be
    receiving the old B.S. status quo. I think that Senator Obama is the
    most sincere candidate of the bunch. Clinton and McCain are neck
    deep in "Beltway Manure".

    I can "See Through" Hillary Clinton like a freshly cleaned window pane...Misinformation is her middle name and she had an excellent teacher in her husband.

    March 20, 2008 at 6:58 pm |
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