Waiting on Puerto Rico

The Sunday news shows were dominated by discussions of how the Democratic race could turn out. What happens to Michigan and Florida will be critical, but unless those states re-do their primaries in some fashion, it is almost impossible for Hillary Clinton to overtake Barack Obama in the delegate count. Still, if Clinton ends up with a larger share of the nationwide popular vote, that is a powerful argument she can use with super-delegates, As mentioned last week, Clinton has the narrowest of leads in the popular vote totals – 30,000 out of 26 million cast – if you count Michigan and Florida. She trails Obama by some 600,000 votes if they are excluded. And, if she is not winning the popular vote when the final contest is finished on June 7, she really will have no argument to make to the super-delegates she would need to exercise any kind of control over the credentials committee. That is the committee which will ultimately decide who from Michigan and Florida will be seated. The bad news Clinton received this weekend came not only from Wyoming, where Obama won the caucuses decisively, 61% to 38%, and took seven delegates to Clinton’s five. More worrisome news came from the island that holds that final primary on June 7, Puerto Rico. In Puerto Rico, the political terrain is divided between the Statehood (PNP) and Commonwealth (PPD) parties. Traditionally, members of both local parties were overwhelmingly Democratic, but increasingly some more conservative members of the Statehood party have become Republicans. Last night, in a hard fought primary, Luis Fortuno, who is a Republican, won the Statehood party’s nomination for Governor. The man he defeated, former Gov. Pedro Rosello, was a Democrat and a Clinton supporter. The incumbent Governor, Anibal Acevedo-Vila, belongs to the Commonwealth party and he has already endorsed Obama. (Read m previous postPR.) So, the political machinery that matters in the last Democratic contest will be in the hands of an Obama supporter and a McCain supporter. That is not good news for Clinton. The Democratic contest already has the feeling of a baseball game that is going into the 14th inning. Everyone will be exhausted by June 7 (the 21st inning?) when Puerto Ricans cast their votes. A final push for Obama in Puerto Rico will not only help him with momentum at the end, and demonstrate appeal among Latinos which has been a tough demographic nut to crack for his campaign, it may provide the margin to close whatever gap Clinton has opened in the popular vote including Michigan and Florida. If that happens, the super-delegates will swing towards Obama, the credentials committee will seat an alternate delegation from Michigan and Florida (or the current ones if they would not be decisive), and the race will be over before the convention. Otherwise, expect the fighting to continue all summer long. Michael Sean Winters
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