A Brief History of the Longest Primaries Ever

So! Tonight! Pennsylvania's Primary! The current CW sez Clinton will win—her internal numbers have her 11 points ahead, public polling has a slightly narrower margin. But she needs a HUGE win to, uh, overtake Obama in the popular vote. The delegate thing? Well, that's a much harder gap to close. Hey, remember how Hil was inevitable? Anyone? It was less than a year ago that she was the unstoppable presumptive nominee. What happened? We went back in time, with our magic Googling time machine, to dissect 18 months of campaign spin, media narratives, and pundit bullshit to figure out how Senator Hillary Clinton went from our next President to this increasingly desperate-looking figure.

A Brief History of the Longest Primaries Ever

October 2006: The Inevitable Hillary Avalanche Begins Rolling Down the Mountain of Victory Former Virginia Governor and, for a brief time, the Democratic Party's Great White Hope Mark Warner dropped out of the race before it even began. At the time rumors of a sex scandal briefly percolated, though he might've just had his hopes dashed by that notoriously terrible Times Magazine cover.

Guess what that meant! Hillary Clinton was now pretty much the "inevitable" nominee. But! "With Sen. Clinton likely to have the endorsement of most of the party liberal bigwigs, labor unions and activists, the expectation has been that one other Democrat will emerge as the anti-Hillary candidate in the presidential primaries." Another but! "Of course, politics abhors a vacuum, and someone will become the anti-Hillary candidate in the primaries. But given a lack of other Southern Democrats of Warner's stature, it is unlikely that candidate will have his potential to change the electoral map."

Also in that October (a year-and-a-half ago! Christ!), Senator Barack Obama said he'd consider a run for the presidency. Conventional wisdom was still divided on whether he was dumb enough to go through with it, but he was now the official anti-Hillary.

And in that same October the first Clinton-related OUTRAGE happened, with Elizabeth Edwards saying she'd had a happier life than Hillary Clinton, code for "better husband" and also "not a cuthroat ambitious bitch." At least that's how the Clintons spun it.

December 2006: Which Well-Spoken Fellows Will Decide to Lose To Hillary This Year? Obama's not-quite-campaign was the focus of most of the speculations. In a Tribune interview, Obama amusingly said that any match-up between him and McCain would be spun as "War hero against snot-nosed rookie." Well, we'll see.

It basically went on like that for another couple months—Clinton was still the inevitable candidate, John Edwards was someone you might have to watch out for in Iowa, and Obama was the anti-Hillary (unspoken: he'd end up like Howard Dean).

2007: Still Ridin' the Hillary Express, Next Stop The White House, Again Hillary was still inevitable, according to analyses linked by such guardians of blog conventional wisdom as Andrew Sullivan and Matt Yglesias. She had passionate reservoirs of support. The only people who didn't like her were the internet people who wanted Edwards or Richardson or maybe Obama (once again, shades of 2004 and Howard Dean).

Summer '07: Follow the Money! It Leads, For Some Reason, to Someone Other Than That Inevitable Gal! Then, in July of 2007, something odd happened! "Obama's money puts Clinton's 'inevitable' nomination in doubt" was how CNN put it. Obama's fundraising beat Clinton's throughout the "invisible primary" (the money race the year before any voting). BUT! "Howard Dean won the invisible primary in 2003, but was effectively finished a few weeks later after he came in third in Iowa." Silly internet candidates! Hill's inevitability was now "in doubt", but only pretend doubt.

But Obama kept raising more money, and gaining in the polls in Iowa, and then Hil "stumbled" in the October '07 debate.

Iowa: Hillary Loses Her First Thing Ever Then Obama won in Iowa and suddenly idiots were saying he was inevitable, especially since Clinton came in a miserable third place and surely Obama would go on to sweep New Hampshire.

Why Don't You Cry About It?

The inevitability argument didn't work! So Hillary moved on to "experienced" and also "human." Yes, she is human. She proved this with crying, which led to a lot of fairly offensive commentary and also a stunning New Hampshire victory that wasn't stunning because everyone had predicted it until Obama caught them off guard in Iowa. Then it was an open race! Where "open" means "between two people."

Then there was "I'm your girl" and the comeback narrative and things were swinging back toward Hillary's superior campaign machine and experience and Obama-as-Dean.

Well, That Scary Black Fellow Won Something Once Too, You Know

Obama came in second a couple more times in unimportant states, but then destroyed Hillary in South Carolina—Bill said something about Jesse Jackson and suddenly the campaign was about race! That was perhaps the strongest whiff so far of the "Hillary DESPERATE" narrative.

The Super Friends! But February's Super Duper Tuesday was supposed to end the campaign! For good! Specifically California and New York! It did no such thing. Obama "won" more states, but Clinton seemed to hold on to a delegate lead.

Wait, There's Math Involved? Except! Obama's campaign then did one of the smartest things they've ever done: they told every news outlet that, using "math," they calculated that they had more delegates than Clinton. And it turned out they probably did! This ended up on Drudge and has remained true ever since.

Oh My God Remember When Texas and Ohio Were Supposed to Finally End This Fucking Death March? When Hillary "won" Texas and Ohio a month later, the cable news chatterers all duly scored it in her column, but the next day's stories all pointed out once again that that nasty Obama delegate lead wouldn't go away.

It's Been Over For a Month-and-a-Half But It Would be Sexist to Tell Her On March 4, 2008, Newsweek's Jonathan Alter came out and said, explicitly, that Hillary could "win" every state yet to vote and she'd still never beat Obama's delegate lead. This was the official start of the "Hillary can't win, at all, and she's just in it for [insert conspiracy theory here]" narrative. The best the Clinton campaign could do to fight off that story was to try to woo superdelegates (underhanded! shadowy party bosses subverting democracy!) and try to make Obama melt down (Republican tactics! tearing the party apart!).

What You've Got You've Got to Give It To Obama Reverend Wright, Bittergate, and soft-on-crime-ness aside, Obama will survive tonight's Pennsylvania primary with his lead intact. Hillary may claim victory, depending on how large her margin is, but nothing short of a blowout will save her from having to resort to Superdelegate votes or a contested convention.

Which, obviously, is still within in the realm of possibility. And it might be amusing. But still—from inevitable to a spoiler in a year is a long way to fall.

(We blame Mark Penn.)

Editor's note: An earlier version of this post inadvertently appeared before being sexed up with occasional bold text and YouTube clips. We apologize for any confusion.