Delegates Hold Keys to Democratic Nomination

Delegates hold the only keys to the Democratic presidential nomination. Melissa Block talks with NPR's Mara Liasson, who has an update on where the pledged delegate count between Sens. Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama stands Wednesday, and where it's likely headed. We'll also hear about the superdelegates and the two big states — Michigan and Florida — that lost their delegates.

What's Next for the Democratic Candidates?

Barack Obama

Illinois Sen. Barack Obama talks to the press on the plane on his way to Chicago on Wednesday. Emmanuel Dunand/AFP/Getty Images hide caption

itoggle caption Emmanuel Dunand/AFP/Getty Images
Hillary Clinton

New York Sen. Hillary Clinton addresses her supporters after winning the Texas and Ohio primaries on Tuesday. Robyn Beck/AFP/Getty Images hide caption

itoggle caption Robyn Beck/AFP/Getty Images

Democrats in more than two-thirds of the country have passed judgment on the presidential candidates, but still, the party does not have a presumptive nominee.

What's more, there are no contests in the upcoming weeks that are likely to prove decisive.

Sen. Barack Obama remains ahead in the number of pledged delegates: He has won 1,368 to Sen. Hillary Clinton's 1,226. But Clinton has recent wins on her side, including the Ohio and Texas primaries.

So, what's next for the Democratic candidates?

Adding Up the Pledged Delegates

It has become increasingly unlikely that either candidate will be able to clinch the nomination on pledged delegates alone.

Obama remains ahead on this count, with a lead of 142 pledged delegates over Clinton.

There are 540 pledged delegates at stake in upcoming contests, according to The Associated Press. The Democratic Party awards pledged delegates proportionally, based on the popular vote. That will make it difficult for either candidate to roll up a huge lead in the pledged delegate count in the contests that remain.

That's because in a close contest, the candidate who loses the popular vote could end up with as many delegates as the winner. (In Nevada, Obama actually got more delegates than Clinton, even though she won the state's caucuses.)

To secure the nomination ahead of the convention, a Democratic candidate needs to accrue 2,025 total delegates — both the pledged kind and superdelegates. Neither candidate is close to the final tally needed.

Shoring Up the Support of Superdelegates

With the division of the pledged delegates so close, the nomination may come down to which candidate makes the most persuasive argument to the superdelegates.

Clinton has commitments from more superdelegates than Obama, 242 to 207.

There are roughly 800 superdelegates — mostly congressmen and governors, as well as members of the Democratic National Committee. While about half of the superdelegates have committed to a candidate, they are free to change their minds before the convention. (Rep. John Lewis, a prominent Civil Rights era leader, recently switched his support from Clinton to Obama).

Will Michigan and Florida Count?

The fight for the party's nomination is a muddle, in part, because the Democrats have not yet decided what to do with the delegates from Michigan and Florida.

On Wednesday, the Democratic governor of Michigan and the Republican governor of Florida urged the national party to allow those delegates to count at the national convention.

The chairman of the national party, Howard Dean, told NPR on Wednesday that, with regard to Michigan and Florida, "If you change the rules in the middle of the game, you disadvantage one candidate." He added that the two states could petition the national party's rules committee by setting forth a new plan for selecting delegates. Or they could appeal to the party's credentials committee in July to ask for the delegates to be seated at the convention.

The DNC stripped Florida and Michigan of their delegates when state party officials scheduled their primaries earlier than the national party would have liked. Clinton stayed on the ballot in those states. Obama remained on the ballot only in Florida but did not campaign there. Clinton technically "won" those contests, even though there were no actual delegates to award.

If the Florida and Michigan contests end up counting, Clinton could win the delegates in those states and also be ahead in the popular vote by more than 40,000 votes.

The Next Contests on the Calendar

None of the upcoming contests are likely to be decisive.

The Mississippi primary is on Tuesday; Obama could benefit from the state's 37.4 percent African-American population. African-Americans have overwhelmingly supported Obama in other Southern states, such as South Carolina and Louisiana.

Neither contest, though, will provide enough delegates to significantly stretch Obama's lead.

Clinton is expected to do well in the Pennsylvania primary on April 22, since the state has a large white, working-class, union-heavy population, much like the demographics of Ohio, where Clinton won on Tuesday.

But she, too, is unlikely to pick up enough delegates there to significantly close the gap.

The Money Chase

Traditionally, a presidential candidate who lags in the polls this late in the nominating process sees his cash flow dry up. But both Clinton and Obama continue to have financial success, and there's no evidence that the intra-party battle will hurt campaign contributions.

Obama and Clinton are raising more money than any candidate has ever raised in a contested primary contest. Clinton has said she raised $35 million in February; Obama's campaign says it took in substantially more than that. The real numbers — including the spending — won't be known until the next Federal Election Commission filings are due on March 20.

The Obama campaign is hedging on whether it will take public financing in the fall, assuming he is the nominee. Public financing would give him $84 million from the government, or roughly $1.25 million per day between the convention and Election Day. But it seems clear that he could raise more money privately.

Sharing the Democratic Ticket

One way for the Democrats to settle this close race: The two candidates could share the Democratic ticket — with one candidate as the presidential nominee and the other as the running mate. The question then not only becomes who would receive the most prominent billing, but also whether it makes political sense to have the other as a running mate.

On Wednesday, Clinton told CBS News that she would be willing to share the Democratic ballot with Obama, provided she is "first on the ticket" — that is, with him as her vice presidential running mate. She went on to say, "The people of Ohio said very clearly it should be me," referring to her win the previous night.

The Obama camp did not comment on Clinton's statement and has said that any vice presidential talks are premature.

Multiple Ballots at the Democratic Convention

There is a distinct possibility that neither candidate will arrive in Denver in August with enough delegates to sew up the nomination. That could cause problems for the Democrats — to have two candidates slamming each other for the next five months, while Arizona Sen. John McCain unifies the Republican Party and prepares for the nomination.

History shows the pitfalls of such a scenario: The last time the Democratic convention went past the first ballot for a presidential candidate was in 1952, when the party needed three ballots to nominate Adlai Stevenson. Stevenson lost the election to President Eisenhower.

One reason the Democrats have had more and longer-lasting multi-ballot nominating conventions is because, from their first convention in 1832 until they changed the rule at the 1936 convention, it took a two-thirds majority to decide the presidential or vice-presidential nomination. The Republicans have always used a simple majority.

Reporting and research by David Greene, Don Gonyea, Peter Overby, Ken Rudin, Cory Turner, Laurel Wamsley. Written by Nancy Cook.

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