Clinton's Path To Victory Slipping Away

This story was written by CBSNews.com's Vaughn Ververs and Brian Montopoli.

Hillary Clinton's chances of winning the Democratic nomination have become slim to none - and slim looks to be leaving town.

"I think the race is probably over," said "Face the Nation" host Bob Schieffer. "But the demolition derby keeps going. I would guess there is going to be real pressure on her to wind it up and I would also guess she'll have a harder time raising money. This week should tell the tale on whether she quits or goes on."

Analysts and pundits aren't the only ones questioning Clinton's ability to win the race. "I think effectively the race is over," Democratic strategist Tad Devine told CBSNews.com. "Someone could theoretically conceive of a route home for her, but I don't see any realistic way for her to win more pledged delegates, more of the popular vote, or attract more superdelegates than she has now."

Devine knows delegates, having served on several Democratic presidential campaigns, including a stint as the delegate counter for Michael Dukakis in 1988. "It is effectively an insurmountable lead" that Obama holds, said Devine.

"The fact is," Democratic strategist and CBS News consultant Joe Trippi said, "this has probably been over for quite awhile."

Clinton's arguments that she can still win have largely evaporated after last night. In the popular vote, Barack Obama added more than 230,000 to his overall total in North Carolina, compared to the 20,000 Clinton won in Indiana. Even if Clinton and Obama were allocated votes from the disputed contests in Florida and Michigan last January, Clinton could still find herself trailing in the popular vote lead.

Here's how it breaks down: Right now, Obama leads Clinton by nearly 700,000 votes, if you don't count Michigan and Florida. Clinton was on the ballot in both states; Obama was not on the Michigan ballot, though many of his supporters voted "uncommitted." If you count only the votes cast for the candidates in both states - and thus don't count uncommitted for Obama - Obama would still have a national vote lead of more than 73,000 votes. If you give Michigan's uncommitted vote to Obama, he would lead by over 310,000. And if only Florida were counted, Obama would lead by more than 400,000 votes. Under every scenario, Clinton does not claim the popular vote lead.

To claim the nomination based on the popular vote, then, Clinton would first have to convince the party and the superdelegates to count the disputed states in terms that most benefit her - and then win the upcoming contests in West Virginia, Kentucky, Oregon, Puerto Rico, South Dakota and Montana by large enough margins to overcome him in the total vote.

When it comes to the delegate race, Clinton's hurdle is just as daunting. Obama leads Clinton among pledged delegates won in all contests to date 1,587 to 1,419 - a 168 delegate lead with just 217 delegates left in the upcoming contests. Because of the proportional system of delegate allocation in the Democratic Party, she would need massive victories in every one of the upcoming contests in order to close that gap.

Among the superdelegates, the party's free agents who can change their allegiance at any time, Clinton maintains a slim 271 to 261 lead with 263 supers still up for grabs. But the trend has been in Obama's direction of late. In the time between the Pennsylvania primary and last night's contests, Clinton received the support of 13 superdelegates compared to 22 who endorsed Obama.

The total delegate lead for Obama stands at 1,848 to 1,690 after last night. Currently, 2,025 are needed to win the nomination, meaning Obama needs 177 of the 492 total remaining. Clinton would need 335 of them. (Click here for the latest CBS News state-by-state tally.)

The Clinton campaign has been using slightly different math which includes the delegates from Florida and Michigan - a calculation that would push the number needed for the nomination to 2,209. The process of deciding how or if those states, which were punished for breaking party rules in setting their primary dates, will be treated will begin at a DNC rules committee meeting on May 30th. Under one proposal, the pledged delegates in those states would be cut in half, a move that would give Clinton a net gain of about 163 delegates if they are allocated by the results in January. When superdelegates from those states (also omitted from the process at this point) are added in, Clinton would have a chance to cut that more, but she would not be able to catch Obama even if she were to win the support of all 53 of them.

"Even if you drag in Florida and Michigan, I think he'd still be ahead," Devine said. "And I don't see a scenario where he's going to give up a nomination that he's won. They may come to a resolution of those states, but I don't think it will be done at the expense of his nomination."

There is one scenario which does work for Clinton and that's a massive movement of superdelegates leaving Obama and supporting her. The party leaders could do that, but it would take some unforeseen development in the race between now and the convention for them to do so. Obama, in some way, would have to be rendered so unelectable that the party rejects him at the convention. That's not much to hang a hat on but it's starting to look like her best option.

And even that might not be a viable option, said Joe Trippi. "Even if the catastrophic thing existed or happened, if she were perceived to have caused it, I think it would end her campaign too," Trippi said. I don't think there's any way now for her to gain the nomination. She's at the point now where if she tries to make a case against Obama, it will actually speed up superdelegates joining his cause just to shut the campaign down."

But Trippi notes that the Obama campaign and Democratic leaders are still likely to give Clinton the room she needs to go forward on her own terms, provided that she does so in a positive manner. "I think there's lots of tolerance for her going on, running the table into the convention and having a presence there," he said. "But if she actually tries to compete in the trenches for the nomination in a way that looks like it's damaging the nominee … I don't think there will be any tolerance for that at all."

Clinton vowed Wednesday not to give up the fight, saying she's "staying in this race until we have a nominee" and stressing the necessity of seating the delegates from Florida and Michigan. In what may have been an effort to tamp down on speculation that she might drop out, her campaign on Wednesday morning scheduled a noon rally in West Virginia, the next state on the primary calendar.

And despite speculation that uncommitted superdelegates would flock to Obama following yesterday's results, some of those who spoke out Wednesday - among them Sen. Jack Reed and Rep. Joe Courtney - vowed to bide their time. Clinton even picked up a superdelegate, Rep. Heath Shuler, who followed through on his promise to back the candidate who picked up the most Democratic votes in his rural, conservative North Carolina district.

But there were ominous signs for Clinton as well. An aide revealed Wednesday morning that Clinton had loaned her campaign $6.4 million over the past month - a signal that despite her fundraising surge following her Pennsylvania win, Clinton continues to struggle to keep pace with Obama's unprecedented fundraising success. She also saw the support of four previously uncommitted superdelegates swing to Obama later in the day.

Also Wednesday, former Democratic presidential nominee George McGovern, a friend of the Clintons who had previously backed Hillary, switched his support to Obama. McGovern said he had concluded after the Indiana and North Carolina results came in that the New York senator had no realistic chance at the nomination - an opinion echoed by many of the pundits. And while Clinton Communications Director Howard Wolfson may have been right when he said Wednesday morning that "the punditocracy does not control this nominating process - voters do," having prominent media figures telling voters that your campaign is doomed cannot do much for a candidate's prospects.
By Vaughn Ververs and Brian Montopoli
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