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OR-51 for the Win?

The Obama campaign website has begun counting downward rather than upward to the number of delegates required to clinch majorities of the pledged and overall delegate counts, respectively. As of right now, the Obama campaign lists those numbers as 134 and 277, respectively (naturally, Obama’s figures do not include Michigan and Florida).

Obviously, the Obama campaign has concluded that there are a number of benefits to doing things this way in terms of framing the media narrative. But, I would argue that there is another, somewhat more subtle motivation in play: the opportunity to declare victory on May 20, after Oregon and Kentucky vote.

Based on a crude extrapolation from the present polling averages, I have Obama picking up the following number of delegates in each of the next five contests:

Date  State   Gain    Magic Number*
NOW -- -- 134
5/6 NC 64 70
5/6 IN 33 37
5/13 WV 9 28
5/20 KY 18 10
5/20 OR 36 -- (26 excess delegates)
* Number required to guarantee pledged delegate
majority, per Obama campaign math.

As I hope should be apparent from the table, the Obama campaign will almost definitely clinch a pledged delegate majority (by its own math) following the voting on May 20th. In fact, it has 26 delegates to spare, so only the very worst case scenarios would prevent it from doing so. For that matter, only his very best case scenarios would allow Obama to clinch a pledged delegate majority before May 20th.

The happy coincidence for Obama is that this date coincides with a probable (though hardly certain) victory in Oregon. Although the expectation is that Obama will win Oregon, it is also like Wisconsin in that it’s a state that the Clinton campaign might have a little bit of difficulty spinning its way out of. Oregon is the only remaining Kerry state left to vote left in the primaries, and also the only remaining state that is traditionally regarded as a swing state (we would beg to differ and to call Indiana a potential swing state as well, but that’s a discussion topic for another day). Oregon is very white and, somewhat contradicting its latte liberal image, also fairly working class: it’s per-capita income is $24,418, slightly below the national average of $24,544, and its unemployment rate is 5.7%, which ranks 7th in the country. 11.8% of Oregon’s jobs are in the manufacturing sector, above the national average of 10.0%.

So even given that Obama will almost certainly lose Kentucky on the same day that he hopes to win Oregon — this would make for a pretty important symbolic victory. By winning Oregon and clinching the pledged delegate count on the same day, Obama would avoid the appearance of limping across the finish line. At this point:

1. Obama would have clinched the pledged delegate count;

2. He’d have just won a traditional swing state, undercutting Clinton’s electability argument.

3. Obama would likely remain ahead by somewhere between 100,000 and 300,000 popular votes if you count Florida, and between 400,000 and 600,000 popular votes if you do not.

4. He would immediately win the backing of the Pelosi Club superdelegates — including Pelosi herself, former president Jimmy Carter, and Senator Maria Cantwell.

His inertial momentum would probably be too hard to stop.

Clinton, of course, will argue that there’s no point in coming to a hasty conclusion when the rest of the voting will conclude just two weeks later in Montana and South Dakota. But the only place she’ll really be interested in having vote is Puerto Rico, where she could gain a significant number of popular votes depending on the turnout. Indeed, it’s possible that Clinton could overtake Obama in the +Florida count if she wins big in Puerto Rico.

But this is precisely the point that Obama would be trying to make by declaring victory loudly and clearly. The only way that Clinton could win the popular vote count would be by winning a gigantic victory in Puerto Rico — and then only if you gave her credit for Florida. At that point, Clinton would have trouble claiming the moral highground on the popular vote debate.

Long story short, I think Clinton’s chances of winning the nomination are less than 5% if she does not win Oregon. On the other hand, I think Oregon could turn out to be more competitive than the current polling indicates.

Nate Silver founded and was the editor in chief of FiveThirtyEight.