Hillary in Hot Water

With runaway wins in the Maryland, Virginia, and District of Columbia primaries, Barack Obama has now won 8 Democratic nominating contests in a row and is considered the odds on favorite to win the Democratic nomination for president.

Obama destroyed Clinton in all three races, winning by 3-1 margins in Maryland and Virginia and 4-1 in Washington, D.C. With those kind of defeats, is there any way forward for Hillary Clinton that leads to victory?

She will almost certainly maintain contact with Obama with regards to total delegates won. The Democratic primary process of divvying up delegates through a system of proportional awards assures that outcome. That and her still substantial lead in the number of Super Delegates pledged to her means that Obama will leap ahead by only a couple of dozen delegates - hardly an insurmountable lead especially since nearly 400 Super Delegates have yet to declare a preference.

But I suspect that beginning this week, the calls will start coming for Hillary Clinton to drop out of the race in the name of party unity. Obama is creating an aura of inevitability about him by winning every single contest since Super Tuesday. Those victories have come all over the country and have been by huge margins. He has won 80%-90% of the black vote. He has consistently won among white males - an astonishing achievement for a black man. He is carving up the Democratic base and winning among all income groups, all levels of education, union households, and every age group except those over 60.

And perhaps most significantly, Obama is drawing new voters into the process. In Virginia, 31% of all voters had never voted in a primary before. Obama won 64% of them along with 71% of those who had never voted before in their lives.

All of this points to a very steep hill that Senator Clinton needs to climb in order for her to make a claim on the hearts and minds of those Super Delegates she and Obama will need to get them over the top at the convention. Her only avenue left is to win a small number of big states that have yet to hold their primaries; specifically, Wisconsin next week, Texas and Ohio on March 4, and the Pennsylvania primary on April 22.

If Obama has a knock against him during this brilliant run of victories beginning on Super Tuesday when he won 13 states to Clinton's 8, and continuing on through his last 8 straight wins since then, it is that the Illinois senator has failed to win any of the 10 largest states in the union save his home state of Illinois. This is significant because traditional Democratic general election strategy relies on the huge electoral vote harvest available in those states to be competitive with Republicans on election day.

Clinton's argument to Super Delegates is that since she is more capable of taking those large states, she should be the nominee. Most of Obama's victories have come in states that will probably not go Democratic in the fall. The true test, Clinton will plead, of who is most electable -- and that will be the criteria most of the Super Delegates will be weighing -- comes in those states where most Democratic voters are concentrated; the large states on both coasts.

It is a compelling argument and probably the only one she has left. But Obama will have his own counter-argument. It is he who will have won the large majority of primaries and primary votes. It would be undemocratic, he will say, to choose a candidate who finished second when the people spoke but was handed the nomination by a quirk in party rules.

The most recent poll from Wisconsin shows Obama with an 11 point lead. But a week has proved to be an eternity in this race and that poll was taken before Obama's big sweep of the Potomac primaries. Another blowout for Obama could be in the offing in which case, Hillary Clinton will have to spend the two weeks until the contests in Ohio and Texas listening to a rising drumbeat of calls for her to drop out of the race.

If she cannot be competitive in Wisconsin, the questions about her electability will become more insistent. And there is a very real possibility that a big loss in Wisconsin could trigger some of her more visible Super Delegates to switch sides and join the Obama camp. Such a turn of events would be a huge blow to her campaign and would almost certainly mark the beginning of the end.

Hillary Clinton has been running for President since at least 1992. As First Lady, she was widely seen as someone who would eventually enter electoral politics and run for president some day. Many observers felt at the beginning of the campaign season that the race was hers to lose. She led in the polls against all Democratic comers by double digits until a little more than a month ago.

And then came Obama's historic win in the Iowa Caucuses and the juggernaut began to roll. There have been times over the last 6 weeks that the Clinton campaign seemed unsure of how to regain their advantage. They tried playing the race card and got slapped down by the press, the African American community, and the Obama campaign. They tried using Bill Clinton as a surrogate attack dog and were roundly chastised for negative campaigning. They have used surrogates to attack Obama, several of whom went overboard in their criticism causing a backlash.

Despite raising more than $100 million dollars and fielding a first class organization, Hillary Clinton has failed to make her case to a majority of Democrats. It is true she has excited and energized women in America, bringing them to the polls in record numbers. But in what must be considered a sign that her campaign is faltering, Barack Obama won the women's vote in both Virginia and Maryland by wide margins.

With much of her base abandoning her, the stark reality of defeat is staring Hillary Clinton in the face. Her options from her on out are few and not very palatable. She can stay in the race and hope for a turnaround in Texas and Ohio, playing her electability card for all that it's worth with no guarantees that it will sway enough Super Delegates to overcome Obama's clear lead. Or she can concede the race and perhaps try again -- 2012 if John McCain wins or 2016 if Obama were to prevail.

Given what we know about the Clintons, it would seem unlikely that Hillary would quit before every delegate possible was wrung out of the process. Only the mathematical certainty of defeat may cause her to exit the race. If so, the Democrats will be in turmoil until enough Super Delegates weigh in to give the decision to one candidate or the other.

Rick Moran blogs at Right Wing Nut House.