New Delegate Math

The New York Times can’t get its numbers straight.

I never said it was easy, but wow, today’s New York Times provides an extraordinary example of media bungling the Clinton and Obama delegate totals.

Without further ado, let’s start with the numbers from Adam Nagourney and Carl Hulse’s A-1 piece:

Mr. Obama now has 1,299 delegates, compared with 1,180 for Mrs. Clinton, based on a count of pledged and projected delegates prepared by The New York Times.

Well, there seems to be some disagreement. Take a look at the graphic accompanying the article, and subtract the superdelegates to get the pledged/projected delegate total. You’ll see Obama with 1,300 and Clinton with 1,220. That’s one delegate off for Obama (sure, no biggie) but 40 delegates off for Clinton. That’s no small potatoes. On Super Tuesday, Clinton only netted 46 delegates from her home-state of New York.

And then in Patrick Healy’s A-27 article (which faces the other article’s jump) we get this:

Mr. Obama has 1,456.5 total delegates to Mrs. Clinton’s 1,370.

Presumably, total means announced supers plus the pledged and projected delegates. But wait! Back to that graphic where we’re told that Obama has 1,567 total delegates and Clinton has 1,462 total. Compared to Healy’s data, that’s 110.5 off for Obama, and 92 off for Clinton. For scale, Massachusetts awarded a total of 93 pledged delegates to both candidates.

So where are the different numbers coming from? In Nagourney and Hulse’s article, they say the pledged/projected delegates are from a Times proprietary count. Healy’s numbers aren’t sourced. And the graphic carries two disclaimers citing the Associated Press. Sort of. The brief one up top implies that the whole graphic was made with AP numbers, which, judging from the wire service’s copy in other papers, looks like what’s going on. But the bottom disclaimer, reproduced in full, is as clear as split-pea soup:

Note: Delegate counts include projections based on nonbinding contests. Superdelegate totals are according to a survey by The Associated Press. Superdelegate counts based on lists provided by the Clinton campaign on Feb. 28 and the Obama campaign on March 4 show 12 more delegates supporting Mrs. Clinton and 5 fewer supporting Mr. Obama.

Huh? To me, that reads that the Times only cribbed the superdelegate totals from the AP, and did the pledged/projected delegates themselves. But that doesn’t seem to be the case. And where are those numbers from the Clinton and Obama campaigns’ lists? Nowhere, it seems, so why mention them? Just to imply a margin of error, or out of an excess of fairness to one camp or another?

Jeez. One final nit to pick: both the articles and the graphic say that it’s going to take 2,025 delegates to win the nomination. Well, maybe. On MSNBC on Monday, Democratic National Committee chair Howard Dean said that the number is now 2,024. You see, Ken Curtis, a 77-year-old superdelegate, ex-Maine Governor, and ex-DNC Chair up and moved to Florida.

And that changes the math, because Florida doesn’t get to send delegates, super or not. Michigan neither. Well, unless they do. Then the magic number is (probably!) 2207.5.


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Clint Hendler is the managing editor of Mother Jones, and a former deputy editor of CJR.