James Forsyth James Forsyth

No sleep till Denver: Hillary, the unlikely underdog, takes it to the wire

Once the shoo-in candidate, Senator Clinton has re-invented herself and forced Obama to bear the heavy burden of frontrunner. This race could go all the way to the convention, says James Forsyth — which will keep a smile on the face of John McCain

It was meant to be the night that Barack Obama sealed the deal. The presidency seemed almost within his reach. Then, against the odds, like the villain in a horror movie, Hillary came back from the near-dead. And by the end of Tuesday night — with a thumping win in Ohio and a victory in the popular vote in Texas — she had earned the right to take this contest to Pennsylvania on 22 April and, maybe, all the way to the convention in Denver in August.

Obama remains the favourite to win the nomination but for the first time Clinton has a credible reason why she should be the nominee even if she does not win the most delegates. The result in Texas, where she won the popular vote but trails heavily in the caucus, provides her with a terrific argument. She now insist that caucuses — in which registered Democrats gather in ‘precincts’ for a sort of balloon debate about the candidates until one favourite emerges — are unfair as they disenfranchise those voters who work the night shift or are otherwise unable to take a whole evening off to participate in politics. (Caucuses have given Obama 11 of his 25 victories so far.)

It is a powerful emotional argument and one that gives her the appearance of championing the underdog. One can already imagine a National Guardsman on the stage at the Democratic Convention in Denver arguing that the caucus system prevented him from registering his support for Hillary as he was serving his country at the time.

It’s a good case, but if Hillary is to make it properly, she needs to win the vast majority of the remaining primaries and be ahead in the popular vote going into the convention. Even a Clinton would struggle to argue that the best response to voters being disenfranchised is to disregard the popular vote! (Currently, Hillary trails narrowly in the popular vote unless you count Florida and Michigan, which have been stripped of their representation at the Democratic convention for holding their primaries earlier than allowed.

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