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Obama leads, but the game isn't over

March 14, 2008|Mark Z. Barabak

It's not exactly halftime. Most states have voted, and more than 80% of the delegates have been divvied up. Still, with more than five weeks left until the April 22 primary in Pennsylvania, the Democratic presidential race has entered a lull of sorts. So now seems a good time to pause and take a look at the scoreboard:

Sen. Barack Obama of Illinois has won 29 contests to 17 for Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York, if you include her disputed Michigan and Florida victories.

Obama leads in the popular vote by just under 700,000 votes: 13.4 million for Obama, 12.7 million for Clinton. His lead holds up even if Michigan and Florida's votes are included.

The delegate count varies, depending on who is doing the tallying, but news organizations and other independent aggregators give Obama a lead of about 100 to 150 delegates. (The Associated Press, which The Times uses for its head count, has Obama ahead 1,602 to 1,497.)

The Clinton campaign is quick to point out that her victories include most of the largest states, including California, Ohio and Texas. Which brings us to Pennsylvania.

Clinton may be trailing in the popular vote and delegate count, but her campaign has whipped Obama when it comes to setting expectations and spinning results. (Rule of thumb: The states Clinton has won are important; the ones that Obama has won aren't.)

"The path to 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. goes through Pennsylvania, so if Barack Obama can't win there, how will he win the general election?" Clinton strategists asked, rhetorically, in a memo this week. "After setbacks in Ohio and Texas, Barack Obama needs to demonstrate that he can win the state of Pennsylvania."

Not so fast, says the Obama campaign, mindful that Pennsylvania -- demographically and politically -- looks a lot like Ohio. "Our campaign will not be defined by Pennsylvania," campaign manager David Plouffe told reporters.

Maybe North Carolina. The Tar Heel State votes two weeks after Pennsylvania, on May 6, and looks more promising for Obama.

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