There’s been some fascinating coverage of the Obama campaign’s strategy for winning the Democratic nomination, including Justin Sizemore’s accounting of how the race played out in delegates and, earlier, Ben Smith and Avi Zenilman’s profile of Jeffrey Berman, Obama’s delegate counter. Reading these pieces together, I’m struck by the resemblance to Michael Lewis’s Moneyball.
It seems obvious in retrospect, but by focusing on delegates and the places where the largest marginal amount of delegates could be picked up — caucus states, congressional districts with odd numbers of delegates — the Obama campaign was paying attention to the right statistics. By contrast, thinking about about states won and lost or even the popular vote could be considered a distraction; it appears, from this distance, that that was what Clinton’s campaign was doing — early in the race, they focused on states won and, later, perhaps in a too self-serving way, on the popular vote.
Hendrick Hertzberg makes the good point that “the popular vote is a relevant moral category” even though it is a “juridical irrelevancy” for both the nominating process and the general election. This is clearly a place where American politics feel broken and out of step with modern-day democratic beliefs. However, in the real world, the metric on which a race is decided — delegate count or electoral college vote — is clearly the right one to focus on. At the end of the day, the Obama campaign, as winners generally do, looks very smart.