The Endless Odyssey of Clinton and Obama

Now I know how Odysseus felt, wandering the seas for 10 long years following the Trojan War before being allowed by the Gods to return to his wife and son. This campaign has been an Odyssey and a half - a brutal, exhausting journey where the candidates have run into obstacle after obstacle, fought to overcome, and continued on this endless voyage to that mythical land called "Denver" where they will be welcomed with open arms by their political family.

If you recall your reading from the Penguin Classic (or perhaps you read the Marvel Comic edition long ago) you know that Odysseus was something of a scamp, always challenging the Gods and trying to outsmart them. In the Democratic campaign, we don't have Athena or Poseidon but rather Superdelegates who may believe themselves godlike but leave a lot to be desired in that department. Both Obama and Clinton have been spinning the results of the primaries the last few weeks, desperately trying to make their case to the Supers by any means necessary - even if it means aping Odysseus by fudging the truth a little in order to get home.

For instance, Hillary Clinton swears she's ahead in the "popular vote." Sounds great until you remember that the 17 states that determined delegates by caucus didn't even bother to count individual votes.

Not to be deterred, Clinton tried to make a case out of the electoral vote count in the states she won. She claims that she's ahead in that mythical department, hoping the media and Superdelegates would buy into it.

It was like Odysseus bargaining with the cyclops Polyphemus. In the end, the one-eyed monster agreed to eat our hero last - something similar to what Hillary will have to settle for when all the primaries are over.

In her victory speech in Kentucky (where she whupped Obama by a 2-1 margin), Hillary played the enchantress Circe, casting a spell on the crowd and giving them hope that all was not lost:

If the battle for the Democratic presidential nomination is almost over, Clinton isn't acting like it.

"I'm going to make [my case] until we have a nominee, but we're not going to have one today, and we're not going to have one tomorrow, and we're not going to have one the next day," Clinton said Monday in Kentucky.

She argues that she leads in the popular vote. "Right now, more people have voted for me than have voted for my opponent," she said. "More people have voted for me than for anybody ever running for president before. So we have a very close contest."

But her argument is debatable. For Clinton to claim such a lead, primary states but not caucus states -- which Obama mostly won -- would only be counted, plus the popular vote totals in Florida and Michigan.

Circe ended up turning Odysseus's men into pigs - something I'm sure Hillary wishes she could do to a few Obama delegates when no one is watching.

Obama's equally impressive victory in Oregon combined with his modest delegate haul from Kentucky has allowed him to make an equally bogus claim on the status of the campaign as Hillary's imaginary metrics; the Great One now has a majority of "pledged delegates." These are delegates chosen via primary, caucus, and state convention. Having a majority of them is a fine thing but doesn't mean squat in the larger scheme of things. Obama needs (not counting Michigan and Florida's lost souls) 2026 delegates of all stripes to cast their vote for him on the first ballot in Denver.

Nevertheless, Obama's speech, which he chose to deliver in Iowa, was as close to an acceptance speech as you can get without actually claiming the prize. It was like Obama could hear the Siren's song of victory but realized it would be death if he gave in and followed it. But he allowed himself the luxury of retrospection and a proud moment of sharing with his audience how far they had come since those cold and lonely days so many months ago in Iowa:

"Tonight, in the fullness of spring, with the help of those who stood up from Portland to Louisville, we have returned to Iowa with a majority of delegates elected by the American people and you have put us within reach of the Democratic nomination for president of the United States of America," he said.

And sounding even more the nominee, he congratulated Clinton and praised her to the skies:

Obama paid tribute to Hillary Rodham Clinton, who coasted to an overwhelming victory in the Kentucky primary Tuesday. But the tenor of his speech left little doubt that he has put the lengthy and hard fought contest against her behind him.

The road here has been long and that is partly because we've traveled it with one of the most formidable candidates to ever run for the office," he said, speaking of the senator from New York and congratulating her on her Kentucky victory.

One could sense how badly Obama wants this to be over. After praising Hillary, he laid into GOP nominee John McCain by saying that in contrast to the Democratic nominating process, the Republicans tried to "out-Bush" one another - a contest Obama says McCain won.

Referring to his idea of "new politics," Obama tried to pre-empt GOP attacks on his problematic associations with Jeremiah Wright, William Ayers, and Tony Rezko by saying that Republicans would try and "distract" voters from the issues. Distractions or not, Republicans will hammer Obama on his dalliances with radical politics and his association with the corrupt Chicago political machine.

But first, Obama has to sail his ship home without capsizing Hillary Clinton's craft. Fully 32% of Kentucky Democrats say they will vote for John McCain in the general election instead of Obama. That number has been climbing the last 6 weeks as Hillary continues to hammer Obama on his electability. Whether by design or not, Clinton's attacks have resulted in a lot of Democrats preparing to abandon the party on election day and vote Republican.

So Obama needs Hillary Clinton to help him out. If, as most observers expect, Obama crosses the magic threshold of 2025 delegates sometime in June, a quick and graceful exit by Clinton would give the party time to put itself back together after this bruising and divisive contest.

But if Hillary Clinton refuses and plans on taking her case for the nomination all the way to the convention floor, I would suggest you pop some extra popcorn and lay in another 12 pack of Bud. It will be gruesome. It will be bloody. It will be hugely entertaining. And there's liable to be hard feelings that persist for years.

When Odysseus made it home, he disguised himself as a beggar so that his wife, who was entertaining dozens of suitors, wouldn't recognize him. In the end, he killed all the suitors and made up with his wife. There was a lot of blood on the palace floors but everything worked out for the best in the end.

Democrats might hope that their own legendary battle ends so well.

Rick Moran is PJM Chicago editor; his own blog is Right Wing Nut House.