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Guess What? Obama Is Winning Texas

By Lisa Pease
March 6, 2008


Editor’s Note: Hillary Clinton prevailed in the Texas primary, beating Barack Obama by a 51-to-48 margin and claiming 65 delegates to his 61. However, Texas has a two-step process for apportioning its delegates, meaning that Obama had a chance to reverse Clinton’s four-delegate net gain in the caucus phase.


Historian Lisa Pease examines how this curious twist in the march to the Democratic presidential nomination is turning out:

Tuesday night, as the polls closed, the media proclaimed Barack Obama the winner of Vermont and gave all the other state contests of the day -- Ohio, Rhode Island, and Texas -- to Hillary Clinton.

But there was one big problem. A Texas-sized problem.

The election results from the Lone Star State’s caucuses had only just started coming in.

Texas is the only state in the union that allows people to legally vote twice: once in the primary, and once in their local caucus, or, as they are called in Texas, “precinct conventions.”

Roughly two-thirds of the pledged delegates (126) are determined by the outcome of the primary, and the remaining delegates (67) are determined by the results of the caucuses.

Only those who have already voted in the primary are allowed to vote in a caucus.

When the media proclaimed Clinton the victor in Texas, the caucus results were simply not part of the equation. But now that more than 24 hours have passed, something fascinating is happening.

Obama appears to be winning Texas.

Delegates, Not Votes

In the Democratic primary, as in the general election, the popular vote does not determine the winner. In the nominating process, the contest is for delegates, not votes. (In the general election, the winner of a state gets its “electors” who then vote for the president in the Electoral College.)

If the media were consistent regarding the popular-vote winner as the actual winner, they would have given the 2000 presidential election to Al Gore, who defeated George W. Bush by more than a half million votes nationwide.

In Texas, Hillary won 65 delegates in the primary. Obama earned 61 delegates.

But in the caucuses, with 48 percent of the caucus results reported as of early Thursday morning, per the Texas Democratic Party’s Web site, Obama has won approximately 56 percent of the caucus votes, leaving Clinton with just under 44 percent.

When you apply these percentages to the 67 delegates, Obama gets 37 delegates from the caucuses, and Clinton gets 30.

If you add the primary and caucus delegates together, Clinton gets 95 delegates, but Obama gets 98, a net gain of three.

If current trends hold, Obama will win Texas by earning the overall delegate victory.

This would hardly be a surprise, given that Obama has won 11 out of the 13 caucuses held so far and 11 states in a row going into last Tuesday.

Clinton had a big win in Ohio, and a substantial victory in Rhode Island. But imagine the narrative had the press noted that she appeared to be losing Texas.

Bill Clinton’s words would have echoed throughout the media. He had told an audience in Texas in February, “If she wins Texas and Ohio I think she will be the nominee. If you don't deliver for her, I don't think she can be.”

Democratic Party leaders would likely have called upon Clinton to gracefully accept defeat for the good of the party.

Instead, Clinton stood in a shower of confetti and claimed a resounding victory over all three states.

Challenging the Caucuses

Offstage, both the Obama and Clinton campaigns accused each other of trying to game the caucuses.

Tuesday night, Obama’s campaign attorney Bob Bauer jumped in on a conference call between the Clinton campaign and reporters to note that the Clinton campaign had a pattern of challenging caucuses. Bauer noted that a lawsuit had been threatened in advance of the Nevada caucuses (although the lawsuit never materialized).

Clinton has made several comments denigrating caucuses in general, noting that people who work during the caucus time can’t participate. Different states have different procedures, however, that try to make participation easy.

In Texas, for example, once voters signed in and noted the candidate they were supporting, they were not required to stay for the entire caucus to have their votes counted.

This also isn’t the first time the press has denied Obama a delegate victory.

In Nevada, the press crowned Clinton the winner, despite the fact that Obama won the delegate count.

In New Hampshire, Obama was handed a loss, even though the delegates were equally split between Obama and Clinton.

The media’s rush to judgment predates this election, of course. In 2004, despite early reports of widespread voter disenfranchisement, Ohio was called for Bush before even a cursory investigation could be started, let alone completed.

In 2000, the media first announced that Al Gore had won Florida. Then they changed their boards and said Florida was too close to call.

Then the election was given to George W. Bush, even though, as Robert Parry reported in 2001, a recount the following year by the New York Times, the Washington Post and other news organizations, demonstrated that, had all the legally cast votes in Florida been counted, Gore would have carried Florida and won the presidential election. [For details, see Neck Deep: The Disastrous Presidency of George W. Bush.]

Why is the media in such a rush to declare a winner?

If we can wait 24 hours to find out who is going home on "American Idol," certainly we can wait much longer to get accurate election data.

And if reporters cannot properly calculate the delegate assignments, shouldn’t they wait until the party officials provide the correct count?

Our form of government depends on three principles: adherence to the Constitution as the highest authority in the land; the informed consent of the governed; and an accurate count of the votes cast by the governed. Rushing to judgment in an election is not just careless, it threatens the very foundations of our Democracy.

More immediately, the media’s haste is threatening the Democrats’ chances of winning in November by prolonging an increasingly bitter contest, even though one candidate (Obama) maintains a nearly unsurpassable lead in delegates.

Lisa Pease is a historian who has studied the JFK assassination and other enduring political mysteries.

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