Ed Kilgore of Democratic Strategist has an interesting point about delegates—they may determine the actual winner of the Democratic nomination, but they aren’t necessarily what the media will look to tomorrow night. In fact, the media can judge success in a number of different ways:
One of the more interesting variables going into tomorrow’s Super Tuesday events on the Democratic side is how the chattering classes choose to measure victory, and of equal importance, how they contextualize the results in terms of the nomination contest.
On the first issue, “victory” could be measured by total delegates won, by the percentage of state contests won, or by performance against expectations. The sheer number and highly variable size of the states and territories participating in Super Tuesday probably makes the second measurement unlikely. The first measurement makes the most sense, but as we learned in Nevada, it isn’t that easy to assess delegate totals in time to come spilling out of the mouths of television talking heads or the keyboards of print reporters trying to meet an evening deadline.
As for expectations measurements, which political observers love like a wino loves zinfadel-in-a-box, it’s all gotten a bit complicated in the last few days. A week ago, HRC looked likely to win a large majority of the contests, especially in the big states not named Illiinois, and many of them by double-digit margins; this expectation nicely set up Obama to “win” on Super Tuesday by picking off an unexpectated state or two, or come close enough to win nearly half the delegates in mega-states like CA. Now that Obama’s had a well-publicized surge in the national and state polls, along with a bunch of newspaper and celebrity endorsements, he runs some risk of failing to meet expectations if he loses the big contests by any margin.
And then there’s the fact that California likely won’t finish counting its ballots until the day after. Not only will the media not know which metric to use to measure success; it likely won’t have all the information it needs either. Get ready for a very frantic Situation Room tomorrow night.