SYNDICATED columnist Robert Novak and Newsweek's Jonathan Alter wrote columns this week urging Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton to drop out of the Democratic race for president now, before the March 4 primaries in Ohio and Texas.
This is ridiculous. If Senator Clinton loses in Ohio or Texas, and especially if she loses in both, the biblical "Mene mene tekel upharsin" (counted and counted, weighed and divided) not only will be scribbled on the wall of her campaign headquarters, it'll be flashing in neon lights from the Goodyear blimp. March 4 is Tuesday. We can wait until then to see what the Moving Finger writes. Hillary Clinton certainly will.
Mr. Novak and Mr. Alter argue that Mrs. Clinton should drop out now because even if she wins all the delegates in the remaining primaries and caucuses, she won't have enough to win the nomination.
That's true. But thanks to the Democrats' idiotic rules, Sen. Barack Obama would have to win 75 percent of the remaining delegates to claim the nomination outright, something he can't possibly do, if Mrs. Clinton wins, however narrowly, in Ohio and Texas.
Elections are the best way to determine who should hold political power. But for elections to have meaning, winners have to win and losers lose. The principal reason why Democrats face the (for them) nightmarish prospect of a brokered convention in Denver is that they have mandated proportional representation in all their primaries and caucuses. So winners win only a little, and losers don't lose much.
The other reason why there could be a deadlock in Denver is the Democratic fondness for "superdelegates." The Democrats have, I think wisely, made all Democratic senators, governors, and congressmen automatically delegates. Who better would know the strengths and weaknesses of Democratic presidential candidates than these people, all of whom were elected to their offices?
But there is no sound principle Democrats can't screw up, and they screwed up the superdelegate concept by extending it to the chairs of the left-handed lesbian caucus and the transgendered dwarf caucus and every other special-interest group you could think of. The result is that the Democrats have 796 super delegates whose votes are not bound by the results of the primary or the caucus in their state. Barring a total meltdown by Mrs. Clinton, it's the super delegates who'll determine who the Democratic nominee will be - assuming Mrs. Clinton doesn't drop out.
This has caused angst among supporters of Senator Obama. The super delegates, they say, have a moral obligation to vote the way their states did. This could produce hilarious results. Sens. Ted Kennedy and John Kerry of Massachussetts have been Senator Obama's biggest name supporters in Congress. Are they obliged to vote for Mrs. Clinton because she won the Massachussetts primary?
Supporters of Mr. Obama understandably would be angry if he loses the nomination despite having won more delegates in the primaries and the caucuses. But if Mrs. Clinton wins in Ohio, Texas, and Pennsylvania, she has a good case to make.
Mr. Obama has a lead in delegates chiefly because he racked up huge wins in caucuses in red states. For instance, he won Idaho 82-17 and Kansas 74-23. The lopsided margins were due mostly because of the mind-boggling failure of the Clinton campaign to organize in the caucus states. But no Democrat who stopped smoking dope more than 30 seconds ago thinks Mr. Obama could carry Idaho or Kansas in a general election.
Mrs. Clinton has won primaries in New York, New Jersey, California, Massachussetts and, by her reckoning, Florida and Michigan. If she wins Ohio, Texas, and Pennsylvania, she can claim to have won the big states a Democrat must carry in November to win.
A counterargument is that Mr. Obama is the more electable. Current polls show him leading presumptive GOP nominee John McCain by 3 to 4 percentage points, with Mrs. Clinton trailing Mr. McCain by about the same margin.
But current polls are deceptive, Mrs. Clinton's camp argues. Mrs. Clinton is well known. All the people who dislike her already dislike her, so she's got nowhere to go but up.
Mr. Obama, on the other hand, may be at the apogee of his popularity. He's soared to the heights on elegant but mostly empty rhetoric. Support for him is likely to decline when his resume and record get more scrutiny. If she wins in Ohio and Texas, Mrs. Clinton can reasonably argue to the super delegates the air is leaking from the Obama balloon. But that's only if she wins in Ohio and Texas. We'll know after Tuesday.
Jack Kelly is a columnist for The Blade and the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.
Contact him at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1476.