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. roxana

    I am a Florida democratic voter. If Senator Obama wins the nomination,with his "efforts" to resolve the primary's results in my state, why should my vote be casted for him? Florida votes don't count, right?

    March 20, 2008 at 6:58 pm |
  2. Test Depth

    Clinton or Obama, as they used to say, "Those are some slim pickens!"

    March 20, 2008 at 6:57 pm |
  3. Jamil

    To all the Hillary supporters who say Hillary is the stronger general election candidate:

    How can she be thought of as strong when she completely blew so many primaries and caucuses? And let's not forget that she started out with a 21 point lead over Obama in the polls.

    March 20, 2008 at 6:55 pm |
  4. LH Dallas

    Here's one more way Hillary grabs the nomination:

    We continue to print her lies and distortions as truths, watch as perceived momentum flow in her direction, which should cause voter apathy and viola! She wins. Aren't we lucky to have a candidate who distorts her way into the presidency – again.

    Anyone doubting that? She is successfuly blaming the MI and FL re-vote mishaps on Obama. Like it was his fault? duh. And, we allow her voice to be printed...

    March 20, 2008 at 6:54 pm |
  5. Rey in Michigan

    I understand the concept of spin that politicians or the media may have on a topic. However as much News I watch, and all the "cataclysmic" ruin of our democracy that will occur with Michigan and Florida not counting in a democratic primary... Here are some points, and quite simple:

    The DNC warned Florida and Michigan about their delegates not being seated; but they had their primaries, acknowledging this consequences.

    All of a sudden, it becomes a disenfranchising... Why does it seem that no one is discussing the fact that the rules were broken?

    March 20, 2008 at 6:53 pm |
  6. lipsrc699

    Hillary is going to grab the election like Lewis & Clark grabbed land, like our forefathers grabbed Georgia which led to "the trail of tears", the way that California was taken from the real Californians, she is going to steal it of course!!!

    March 20, 2008 at 6:50 pm |
  7. CB

    Hillary is a spoiled sport. She should get a emmy for her don't cry for argentina re-mix, " Please cry for Florida and Michigan". The Clinton's are only running hard because they have favors to repay once she gets in office. Obama is no Rev. Wright, just like Hillary is no former president Bill Clinton! Stop provoking and invoking racial mess into the elections. If Hillary grabs the nomination you can best believe it will be by HOOK or CROOK!

    March 20, 2008 at 6:48 pm |
  8. LH Dallas

    Why don't people understand what is happening? We had so much enthusiasm for this election. Hillary has successfully crushed it, destroyed it and turned it into a war zone. Funny thing is, she can't even win. We are allowing her to continue and destroy the party's chances of success. It's sad to watch. 🙁

    March 20, 2008 at 6:47 pm |
  9. David D Kollie

    Hillary says that she is ready from day one to lead this country. Where was she from day one when the DNC suppended those two states because of their violations.

    Why didn't she speak on their behalf from day one before the primaries began that the voices of those people should be heard regardless of their violations?

    Is it becuase of numbers and the expectation to win the nomination that she is now speaking for those states several days and months after the onset of the primaries?
    It sounds fishy to me.
    The people of those states might not want to vote for Obama but are they really buying what Hillary is saying on their behalf. Just a thought.

    March 20, 2008 at 6:45 pm |
  10. J.P.

    What's sad about the uproar over the Reverend Wright Fiasco is not only his ugly language but that it also reflects the double standards regarding Obama's candidacy. In 2000 when George W Bush & John McCain attended Bob Jones University for a debate The Media did not ask them to denounce the schools racist policy of prohibiting inter-racial dating. The response from the Republican Candidates & the Media was that they were appealing to their base. Hmmm,..... A base which states it is God fearing/loving yet finds no irony on prohibiting people who are not of the same race from loving each other or dating. I am a Bi racial American and choose to look at the positive aspects of both sides of my DNA (African/European). The African Amercian experience has improved greatly over the past Decade & continues to improve. Also White America has grown spiritually. By winning Maine, Iowa & other mostly White states Obama's campaign has shown that many white Americans have grown with regards to race relations. There is still work to be done, yet, I am more optomistic today then I was this time 10 years ago.

    March 20, 2008 at 6:45 pm |
  11. Roxanne

    If the press and the pundants would stop beating a dead horse (Reverend Wright) day in and day out, hour after hour, minute by minute. Treat the American people as intelligent adults (well some of us) and report on what the candidates are saying about the issues that plague our lives (thank you George Bush) we could then pay attention to how the candidates plan to work on the things that really matter and bring much needed to change in this country. Maybe if all the reporters did that people would educate themselves on the issues instead of wasting their time babbling on these sites. So to CNN and other networks do your real jobs and report "real news". You are like the Political Entertainment Tonight.
    To the American people don't listen to all the garbage and spin, really educate yourselves as to what the candidates positions are, not to what their pastors are saying, not to what all the pundants are saying etc. Voting is a right, but it should be taken seriously so spend some time finding out what the real facts are. Just remember the last seven years.....obviously the majority did not take the time to do that. I can say proudly that I was in the minority in the last two presidential elections.

    March 20, 2008 at 6:42 pm |
  12. Versace

    Well, you cannot change the rules in the middle of the game.

    March 20, 2008 at 6:41 pm |
  13. jean Gray

    I don't know why Obama isn't gone after the past week. Any other candidate would be . If he is the nominee I will just sit this one out.

    March 20, 2008 at 6:41 pm |
  14. Anna C

    Penny, what a prejudicial ageist you are!!! Harmony among generations is as important as harmony among races. Celebrating diversity and seeking unity requires to include everyone and respect everyone, not just communities.
    I am an old dog and I will never stop learning new tricks. I hope that at my age you will be able to say the same for yourself.

    Life lessons, experience and the wisdom of age deserve respects. If you and your candidate don't have to give it, your loss and his as a person, not mine. As for the election, my hope (bigger that all of those who chants the audacity of hope from a mind poisoning preacher) is that the integrity of fearness and true celebration of diversity will win.

    March 20, 2008 at 6:39 pm |
  15. Aziza

    CNN briefly played videos from another candidates spiritual advisors that contain controversial dialouge about gay rights and the New Orleans flood victims when first airing Reverend's Wright sermon. Although I consistenly watched CNN since that time, the videos has never reappeared????

    March 20, 2008 at 6:39 pm |
  16. Jessica - Denver

    It isn't Sen. Clinton who is crying like a baby. Sen. Obama is the one fighting the re-votes in MI and FL. Sen. Obama is the one who wants SD's to settle this thing. Sen. Obama is the one calling everyone who even remotely disagrees with his a racist. Sen. Obama is the one who excuses and refuses to disown a racist whacko like Rev. Wright. Get over your hero worship: the man cannot win the general election. he may be ahead in delegates, but those people voted under false pretenses. I would be willing to bet there are a lot of ppl who have since changed their minds. He has no chance. Period. And if you continue to bash Hillary, then you might as well skip the GE all together and just go ahead and swear in President McSame. Because thats what will happen in BO wins the Dem nomination.

    March 20, 2008 at 6:37 pm |
  17. Sabina


    You must not watch CNN very much.....they continually play wright's disgusting words over and over and over and over...........

    ya, that is plainly biased toward Obama!!

    And you are of sound mind?

    March 20, 2008 at 6:36 pm |
  18. William

    If we are going to redo primary elections, we should redo California. The California primary was held before the voters could learn about Obama. If they held a new primary election in California Obama would do much better, he might even win. If we can change the rules half way through, lets change them for California too.

    March 20, 2008 at 6:36 pm |
  19. nick


    you are the best analyst in CNN panel by far but you are sending me mixed messages. you are writing here hinting something and then on TV you are aruging for the other side. I noted that on your analysis on Obamas' speach too. you were were giving him a B- on the blog and then on TV you game him a B+ or A. I have noted that you dont like confrontations with other PUNDITS. When i say pundits i am using it really lightly.;)) Anyway I think you should be more up front about your opinion and dont hold back just because others in your panel argue otherwise. You owe that to your political ingenuity. By doing that you will help Anderson to hold a fair discussion if he intends to do so. :)))).
    Either way you are the best.

    March 20, 2008 at 6:36 pm |
  20. Adam, AZ

    Senator Clinton needs to give it up before joining Huckabee in the hall of fame of desperate presidential candidates.

    March 20, 2008 at 6:35 pm |
  21. boateng

    there is no way Clinton going to win.... she could not take care of her home "husband", how will she take care of the american people.

    March 20, 2008 at 6:34 pm |
  22. Cindy

    It is unfortunate that the press has manipulated the American people for months. Sen. Obama’s lack of judgment should have been brought forward in the begging of this campaign so we could make informed choices.

    And now when things are coming to light he is willing to try and placate us with untruths. If your advisor meets with a foreign government just say so, if you were in church when inappropriate thing are said just say so. Don’t run on the promise of a new kind of Politician and then do the same old thing. Your campaign has been riddled with falsehoods, starting with other people’s words.

    I’m sorry Sen. Obama I thought you were different.

    March 20, 2008 at 6:29 pm |
  23. shirley

    Hillary's politics has revealed that she has no moral 'line in the sand' that she will not cross.

    March 20, 2008 at 6:28 pm |
  24. sheila

    The real blame here belongs to Howard Dean.He had best step up and say he was wrong because he was indeed wrong to deny anyones vote. That said he then needs to seat the delagtes as voted in FLa since both were on the ballot and neither campaigned there.Then in Michigan Obama gets the undecided votes and Hillary the ones she won. End of story-he who messed it up needs to fix it-thats Howard Dean.All should call and or email him and let him know.

    March 20, 2008 at 6:27 pm |
  25. No Brains

    I really don't understand the people in this country! We listen to the media bring down a man for someone else's stupid comment and the best part is Americans begin to beleive it! Are we just a country of stupid people! He has no control over what someone else says don't you people get that! Don't tell me that none of you out there have friends or family that have made stupid racial remarks or comments! And what did you do to them dis-own them? Lets be serious now ok, you just brush it off & know that the person is really a good person most of the time but has some stupid or crazy views some time. If this country does not realize that Obama is a man that is really trying to get us going in a positive direction where we are all trully equal. Where we begin to really not see racial stuff because it is an attitude that needs to be changed in this country. That is what a leader, a president needs to be always positive about all things. Finding common grounds among all other countries & peoples not we are the great USA do as we say or else.

    March 20, 2008 at 6:27 pm |
  26. shirley

    Senator Obama's response to the Wright issue was brave, honest and intelligent. I was reminded on President Kennedy's 'Roman Catholic' speeches. It is time to put the issue to rest. Both Senator McCain and Hillary have some very nasty associates that have not made front page news. Senator Obama seems to be held to a higher standard by the news media.

    March 20, 2008 at 6:25 pm |
  27. jane

    David Gergen is a classy guy. Not only brilliant but also very fair and always accurate in his reporting. Wish there were more like him.

    Clinton/Gergen 2008 ????

    March 20, 2008 at 6:23 pm |
  28. Roger

    regardless of these "playground rules" of the DNC, isn't it against what Obama stands for to shut out the voters in Florida and Michigan? Sounds like Mr. "I'm not your typical politician" is more typical than most! God please!!! Send us a candidate that isn't a liar!

    March 20, 2008 at 6:23 pm |
  29. Gennady Briskin

    If I follow your argument than would you say that if candidate won a popular vote in a state that all super-delegates from that state should vote for that candidate. If not the case how would you explain Hillary winning Massachusets and both Senator Kennedy and Kerry are Obama super-delegates. That does not make sense either.

    March 20, 2008 at 6:22 pm |
  30. Jim

    It is clear that Senator Clinton is, yet again, willing to dismiss her integrity at all costs to win the nomination that she feels she deserves. Reminds me of the mother who will do anything to get her daughter chosen for the high school cheer leading squad. What is next Senator Clinton? Perhaps it is time for her to try out for the mascot position, as she really is exhibiting donkey-like behavior.

    March 20, 2008 at 6:21 pm |
  31. Laura - Charlotte NC

    Senator Clinton can still pull even with Obama in delegates by my math. All it will take is a voting public with the wish to have it so.

    March 20, 2008 at 6:20 pm |
  32. VG

    CNN is too biased toward obama. It is time it becomes independent again.

    March 20, 2008 at 6:19 pm |
  33. Anna

    This is too sad the American public has been hoodwinked and bamboosled by Obama and now they will probably have 4 years of a VERY old war monger. Obama cannot bring this country together. He keeps saying words matter just not when they are words he is listening to.

    March 20, 2008 at 6:18 pm |
  34. Laura - Charlotte NC

    Too bad the public did not educate themselves before they voted.
    Obama would have been out of the running long ago. Obama has a long history, comparatively speaking, of questionable associations.
    Senator Clinton is doing the right thing, to stay in the running. It seems to have been a fairly amiable race so far.
    Obama seems to be digging his own grave with no help needed.

    March 20, 2008 at 6:18 pm |
  35. Byron V. Lincoln, Nebraska

    Fellow Democrats–
    Even if you personally hate Hillary or Barack, they both have essentially identical political agendas. Sitting here and calling Hillary a liar or Obama deceptive or Hillary shrill or Obama disingenuous only serves to divide the party.
    What about the actual issues? What happened to Health Care? What about Jobs? What about the Economy? What about THE WAR???
    I don't know about you guys, but I am far more concerned about solving the War in Iraq and getting the Health Care that everyone needs available to EVERYONE than I am about Obama's Pastor, Hillary's Tax Returns, or McCain's bill of Health.
    In yet another election, we are letting worthless, meaningless drivel drive the discourse. At this point, with the quicksand this deep, it almost HAS to be Obama and Clinton on the same ticket else the democratic party rip itself in two.
    Yet again, my beloved, stupid, punchdrunk party has found a way to destroy itself with the two finest candidates it has come across in 40 years.
    What a damn shame.

    March 20, 2008 at 6:17 pm |
  36. ty, Illinoin

    Most people agree that Obama is good at delivering soaring rhetoric. But I find it laughable to see him instill that intellectual quality into his words trying to explain away his stupidity in keeping twenty years close relationship with Rev. Wright. It's inexcusable to hear the pastor deride his own country for two decades and yet did nothing about it. He could have asked his pastor to tone down his anti Americanism or simply leave the church. But he did nothing. It is just like his rhetoric on how he was agianst the war in the beginning when all he did was publishing one article on his website and then voted the same way as Hillary once he became a U.S. senator. Don't people believe in "action speaks louder than words" any more?

    March 20, 2008 at 6:17 pm |
  37. Murry

    It certainly seems that Hillary will do ANYTHING now to pull in those votes. She's acting like a spoiled child. Can't you just hear her yelling-- Mommy!!! YOU TOLD ME I WOULD WIN THE NOMINATION! & NOW I'M LOSING- I WANNA WIN!!! I WANNA WIN!!!! Boo, Hoo Hoo....

    March 20, 2008 at 6:16 pm |
  38. regarding jen in cali

    keep praying , prayer is good for you, howerver, can i remind that god is not partial. regarding his pastor; don't forget to thank god for being born a white woman. and maybe you can ask him to help you find forgivenesss within yourself to forgive a race that has for a very long time suffered injustice...good luck on your prayers.
    by a latina woman

    March 20, 2008 at 6:14 pm |
  39. Dave

    Get a clue. There is no "perfect" candidate. "oh his close friend once said America is evil". "lets not vote for him". Because he's friends with him. This country has lost its mind. Stick to the issues and the issues only. I had a beer when I was 18 and got caught. I guess I will never be worth anything. By the way, I'm 44 now and have made something of myself. You people hype the most minor things into major tragedies. Stay out of it . I don't need your spin on things to make a decision.

    March 20, 2008 at 6:13 pm |
  40. AL

    uh Hah, you say that the news media is bias towards hillary, when tv shows are you watching. How do you think it feels for those members to see there pastor in such a negaitive light consistently. They are the victims, sure what the pastor said was very divisive but give me a break its Barack the i like not wright, and plus at least we all know that he is a christian now.

    March 20, 2008 at 6:13 pm |
  41. sandra

    What is the DNC chairman doing ? Fire him and get someone else who can make/show strength. Decide before the convention..If not all the new voters will switch to Republcans.

    March 20, 2008 at 6:13 pm |
  42. AR

    Howard Dean has a real talent in confusing the situation at every primary.

    March 20, 2008 at 6:12 pm |
  43. Ted in Chicago


    RE McCain

    I have no fear as a DEM – pro HILL first but BO second

    If the loser of the above two – throughs their support 100% behind the other – and works the crowd ....... the DEMS will win

    McCain will not stand up well in a debate on IRAQ that notes Sunnis and Shiites and two more vowels

    McCain can not defend a balanced budget – his dream – and keeping the Bush Tax Cuts - not possible – and that will be clear ..., but he can not give up on either in the campaign and will not look clear to people

    (I do think if he did win – he would then as a one term president abandon a bunch of the Bush Tax Cuts)

    March 20, 2008 at 6:11 pm |
  44. Sam, Denver

    Good analysis David. But here is the question one should also ask the Clinton camp. What about those voters in MI and FL that did not vote in the promaries as they knew that their votes will not count. So this clamouring for counting of votes by those that voted is also dis-enfranchising those that did not vote. Also on Fair and Balanced Reporting is not what any of you Media type do anyway. You always cherry pick information that suits your own needs anyway. Playing snippets of information that is many times mis-leading is not reporting. Objective journalism is where you present your view of the issues as it applies to the masses not jotting down notes like a stenographer and presenting it as is. I can always go to the candidate's Web site to get biased information.

    March 20, 2008 at 6:10 pm |
  45. Cornelius in MN

    It's kind of amazing that, in an age where so many campaigns (presidential and otherwise) have been ended by "flip-flopping" accusations, Hillary is still in the race.

    She didn't care about FL and MI at the start of the season. She didn't care about them going into Super Tuesday. She only cared about them after Obama racked up his string of wins and she was no longer the front-runner. I feel like most voters in FL, MI and otherwise are smart enough to recognize this. It's gotten enough coverage that people should know this.

    Michigan and Florida's voters as a whole are NOT clamoring for a revote. Their most feverent Hillary supporters are.

    I guess when you've gotten rid of the kitchen sink, all you have left to grasp onto is straws.

    March 20, 2008 at 6:10 pm |
  46. Alex US Virgin Islands

    Seriously, how can Hillary blame Senator Obama? If Senator Obama had won in Florida and Michigan, Senator Clinton would be singing another tune. She had her time in the White House and she wants to rule again. Senator Obama cannot be blamed for his ex-Pastor's words. I hope in a short while, this thing will die and the combatants will return to what is important

    March 20, 2008 at 6:09 pm |
  47. Eagan

    Our nation got sick & tired of Clinton IMPEACHMENT. Our nation can not, will not erase MONICA LEWINSKY in our history.
    The White House is no place for drama; Bill & Hillary need to move to Hollywood.
    Hillary will not go away quietly; she is destroying the Democratic party.
    Since she knew she can not win, she is destroying the Party before she quit.
    Deomcrat's Disease- Hillary

    March 20, 2008 at 6:08 pm |
  48. Jason

    Here it is plain and simple:
    Hillary Clinton has no shot at winning the pledged delegate race. The system has clearly favored Obama throughout the race.
    If Florida and Michigan count then Hillary will win the popular vote, if they dont count she will loose it.
    Obama is getting off message and is loosing support to Clinton.
    One of them will win and we all need to suck it up if our candidate looses and vote for the nominee.

    This is politics. It's gonna get dirty. Clearly Obama is not shiny clean and neither is Clinton (but we all knew that). Stick to the democratic party. Eithier one is better than another round of Bush.

    March 20, 2008 at 6:08 pm |
  49. Mike

    Terry in Lakeland Florida:

    Why are you playing the victim and pointing the finger at the DNC? YOUR Democratic party screwed this up, and YOU voted anyway, knowing full well that your vote didnt count. It makes no sense to blame the DNC when it isnt their fault. Take it out on your own elected officials, but dont threaten to not participate next year. That is preposterous . . . it is like electing McCain to punish your own state democrats. Makes no sense and is illogical.

    Ironically, if your state party leaders hadnt been so arrogant and short sighted, your primary would have been later, would have actually mattered, and Florida would not be the electoral laughing stock yet once more.


    March 20, 2008 at 6:07 pm |
  50. Susan

    I feel Clinton will make an outstanding President. What concerns us about Obama is that he is using racial problems to gain votes. We have far more serious problems in our country. I feel Michigan should be able to vote. That would be fair to both Clinton & Obama. But I wish Obama would address other issues rather than racial. We treat everyone the same, and I treat the kids at school the same. America, think about what Obama is doing.

    March 20, 2008 at 6:07 pm |
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