AP: Obama has clinched nomination

According to a tally that includes the minimum number of pledged delegates he'll win tonight and unannounced endorsements, Barack Obama has hit the "magic number" needed for victory.

Published June 3, 2008 5:40PM (EDT)

The Associated Press is reporting that, according to its count, Barack Obama has basically clinched the Democratic nomination. The AP's tally includes the minimum number of pledged delegates Obama will take from the primaries currently being held in Montana and South Dakota as well as what the wire service describes as "more than a dozen private commitments" from delegates to support Obama.

Update: The Obama campaign declined to comment to Salon on the AP's report.

As I said earlier, the AP has reported this based on a tally that includes delegates who have not yet committed to Obama, which is why the cable networks are holding off on making similar pronouncements. As of this post, the Obama campaign itself says it's 30.5 delegates away from the nomination.

But when you account for the pledged delegates Obama will get tonight, that number drops precipitously. There are 31 total pledged delegates available in Montana and South Dakota, and no matter who wins the popular vote in those states, the proportional allocation system used by the Democratic Party means the two candidates will likely earn roughly similar numbers of pledged delegates. Al Giordano of the Field estimates that Obama will get 16 pledged delegates; that count assumes that Obama wins Montana and loses in South Dakota, and Giordano considers the latter unlikely. If Giordano's estimate is correct, then Obama would be only 14.5 delegates from the "magic number." Then, there are five uncommitted superdelegates in Montana who will reportedly endorse the winner of their state's primary as soon as it's called. If Obama wins in Montana, he'd be short only 9.5 delegates. And, as of 2 p.m. EDT on Tuesday, his campaign had already secured public commitments from 10 superdelegates. So it's easy to see how he could pick up the rest by the time of his victory speech tonight.

The Clinton campaign's argument, at least for now, will apparently be that the fact that Obama seems to have clinched the nomination right now is not the same thing as actually being made the nominee at the Democratic convention this summer. And it's right about that. No delegates are bound to vote for a candidate they've previously committed to; even pledged delegates can vote however they please at the convention. But at this point it doesn't seem as if the Clinton campaign will be able to sustain this argument for more than a couple of days, and barring some sort of major change, it certainly seems very unlikely -- if not flat-out impossible -- that her campaign could persuade enough delegates to jump from Obama to secure a Clinton win at the convention.

Update II: The AP has provided some additional detail on its math; in a new update to the story, the wire service says the count it's using as the minimum number of pledged delegates Obama will get out of today's primaries is 11, and that 16 additional delegates have confirmed their intention to endorse Obama to the AP.

By Alex Koppelman

Alex Koppelman is a staff writer for Salon.

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