Popular Vote: Hillary's New Kind of Recount

Talk about playing the numbers. The morning after her Pennsylvania primary win, Hillary Clinton's aides staked out the aisle of the press plane and proclaimed that with Pennsylvania's big victory, Clinton had surged ahead of Barack Obama in the popular-vote total. But they added two big careful caveats: this scenario would hold true only if Michigan and Florida's votes are counted (the states were stripped of their delegates for holding primaries early in violation of party rules) and if caucus states aren't counted. One baffled reporter challenged the aides, accusing them of "making up a metric." The aides pushed back. And then they realized their own spin was wrong.

Hours later, they announced their new formula. It turns out Clinton's aides had undervalued their candidate's position—and in doing so, revealed the absurd lengths they will go to in trying to persuade the media (and superdelegates) to discount the delegate math, which gives Obama a virtually insurmountable lead. As it happens, Clinton is now ahead in the popular vote total even when caucus states are included—if Michigan and Florida are also included. But that's a big "if": Obama's name wasn't on the ballot in Michigan, and neither candidate campaigned in the two states. As my colleague Andrew Romano argues persuasively, the popular vote isn't a reliable measure in a race this close anyway—four caucus states don't count voters, so attempts to pinpoint a true number are all but impossible.

On the stump today in Indianapolis, where she flew to hold a single half-hour-long outdoor rally in front of the city's American Legion headquarters before flying back to Washington for a Senate vote, Clinton said she's not going away. "This is one of the most important elections that our country's ever had," Clinton told a cheering crowd of about 200. "The choice that you will make in helping to choose the next president will truly determine the course of America. I think America is worth fighting for. So I'm going to be here [in Indiana] as often as I can."

Of the remaining contests, Indiana is the one most clearly in play. For either Clinton or Obama, a win there will have a major impact on uncommitted superdelegates' decisions. Obama flew to Evansville last night, speaking at a rally there as Clinton delivered her victory speech in Philadelphia. After stumping in North Carolina with retired general Hugh Shelton tomorrow, Clinton will spend Friday and Saturday in five Indiana cities and will be joined for a concert with Hall of Fame rocker and Indiana native John Mellencamp next week.

Clinton aides and allies spent the day telling journalists—who set the tone for what kind of expectations Clinton will face in Indiana—that Obama's loss in Pennsylvania shows his problem drawing the working-class white voters the party needs to win in November. A group of surrogates—including Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell, Ohio Gov. Ted Strickland, Indiana Sen. Evan Bayh, New Jersey Gov. Jon Corzine, New York Gov. David Paterson and Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm—held an unusual conference call this afternoon to strenuously argue that Clinton's "landslide" win shows she's the more electable Democrat against GOP nominee John McCain.

Rendell, whose vast organizational network helped Clinton carry Pennsylvania, started the call by scolding the media for "incredibly underestimating the impact" of Clinton's virtually double-digit win. "We carried the Philadelphia suburbs," he said, adding that Clinton won the seven counties surrounding Philadelphia (which had been expected to be Obama country) by 15,000 votes. "It was a victory virtually everywhere in the state. Senator Obama won seven counties out of 67."

The surrogates spent most of their time arguing that Clinton can beat McCain because she has shown she can triumph in crucial Purple States like Pennsylvania and Ohio. They asserted that the popular vote is a fairer measure of success than a pledged-delegate lead. And they continued to demand that Michigan and Florida votes be counted. "Why should Hillary Clinton be denied the votes when Senator Obama actually signed an affadavit that removed his name from Michigan's ballot?" Granholm asked. "She chose to stay on the ballot. There was no requirement that he remove his name." Granholm added that once Michigan voters are counted it will be clear that Clinton "received more of the popular vote than any candidate in this race and that to me, that to all of us, should be a sign to the superdelegates that she, in fact, is the strongest candidate to win."

Clinton's team says that voters seem to share their electability concerns. Spokesman Mo Elleithee said that since last night's "decisive" win in Pennsylvania, which he pointed out was the campaign's third "big state" victory in a row, Clinton's team has raised millions. "We are on track within the 24 hours following the primary to raise 10 million dollars," Elleithee said. "There is definite movement right now. The wind is definitely at our back." Will superdelegates think so? That's a math problem with no answer yet. Three more supers declared today: two for Obama and one for Clinton.