Tim Hames: Hillary as Lincoln? Barack as Lee?





The bloodiest and most significant battle of the American Civil War took place in Pennsylvania. At the outset of that conflict, the forces of the North - greater in number and better armed - were regarded as the overwhelming favourites to win the struggle. Yet they were outsmarted by the charismatic General Robert E. Lee, who proved to be more imaginative in the field, inspiring passionate loyalty in his Confederate soldiers.

A bemused Abraham Lincoln was reduced to hiring and firing his generals and constantly reshaping his strategy. By July 1863, it seemed as if the Confederates might storm Washington itself and pull off an extraordinary victory. Their momentum was, however, halted by three days of combat on the fields of Gettysburg. Lee was forced to retreat and his reputation for invincibility was ended. From there, the machine that was the Union slowly but surely crushed its opponents.

Hillary Clinton must hope that history repeats itself in Pennsylvania tomorrow. Having started as the clear frontrunner for the Democratic nomination, she has been stunned by Barack Obama's ability to portray himself as the agent of political change, his skill at motivating activists and success in employing the internet to break fundraising records.

He has been the General Lee of the competition so far. If he were to win the Pennsylvania primary, he would indeed become unstoppable. Yet adversity has brought out the best in Mrs Clinton. She has fought for seven weeks in Pennsylvania and while no one has been killed or wounded (unlike the 8,000 dead and near 50,000 casualties and losses at Gettysburg) it has been a bruising struggle with Mrs Clinton landing the most blows. The odds are that she will at least emerge strong enough to take her cause on further.

Whether she can emulate Lincoln or not, though, depends on Democratic “superdelegates”. Neither she nor Mr Obama can secure an overall majority out of those pledged delegates who have been selected in the various primaries and caucuses: there are not enough delegates in the nine skirmishes left after Pennsylvania for that to happen. Everything will thus turn on the almost 800 individuals who have a vote by dint of their present or past service as Presidents or Vice-Presidents, in Congress, as governors of states, as members of the Democratic National Committee or other form of local worthies such as mayors. Strictly speaking, these people are known either as “party leaders and elected officials” (PLEOs) or “un-pledged add-on delegates” (UPADs). You can see why they prefer being called “superdelegates”.

The chances are that Mr Obama will end the nomination season with more pledged delegates than Mrs Clinton. His admirers argue that it would be profoundly wrong for those who have not been elected as delegates to overturn the will of those who have. It's a seductive claim, but there are good reasons why the superdelegates should ignore it and instead endorse Mrs Clinton....



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