Pundits Say It's Over, but Is It?

Like a steady drumbeat, the message has resonated through the echo chamber of cable news and political blogs in recent weeks: It's all but over.

But is it?

The conventional wisdom, as expressed by dozens of talking heads and pundits, is that Hillary Clinton cannot overtake Barack Obama in the race for the Democratic presidential nomination and that she should step down for the sake of party unity.

The theme was most strongly articulated in "The Clinton Myth," a much-discussed piece on Politico.com, which quickly became the talk of the Beltway for the boldness of its conclusion, "One big fact has largely been lost in the recent coverage of the Democratic presidential race: Hillary Rodham Clinton has virtually no chance of winning."


And the Web site Slate.com this week launched a "Hillary Deathwatch," a daily update on her chances of winning the nomination that currently estimates her odds at 12 percent. The lead of the story sums up the media consensus: "Hillary Clinton is as good as dead."

But is that an accurate verdict on the Democratic campaign? And should the media make such predictions or does it do a disservice to the millions of voters in Pennsylvania, North Carolina and other primary states?

Gina Glantz, who was the campaign manager for Bill Bradley's presidential run in 2000, says the media's rush to anoint a winner could influence voter participation.

"The reaction could be that, 'my vote doesn't count.' Or the reaction could be that 'I want to show the pundits that this race is not over,'" Glantz said.

"The media deciding the race can have consequences."

Voters want to see both Clinton and Obama continue their campaigns, according to a recent poll. A national telephone survey by Rasmussen Reports found that a solid majority of Democrats, 62 percent, don't want either candidate to leave the race. And the percent of voters who want to see Clinton drop out -- 22 percent -- is identical to the percent who want to see Obama drop out, which seems to reflect the closeness of the race.

It still is very close, by any measure. Obama leads Clinton in the number of committed delegates, but it's virtually impossible for either to win enough of the popular vote in the remaining primaries to secure the 2,024 delegates needed to clinch the nomination. And many of the hotly contested superdelegates are still up for grabs.

"Whether you or I or [Politico.com reporters] Jim Vandehei and Mike Allen believe that it's going to be almost impossible for Hillary Clinton to get the nomination, it doesn't matter because the voters decide," said Armando Llorens, a political blogger who uses the name "Big Tent Democrat" and slightly favors Obama, partly because he says he's the media's favorite candidate.

"You can't declare the election over because you think she's going to lose. It's up to the voters," he said, blaming the irresponsible media coverage. "Let's not make predictions and present it as news."

Politico's Allen insists that he and Vandehei were careful not to be predictive in writing "The Clinton Myth."

"We simply used clear language to explain math that's obvious to both campaigns. The views of Senator Clinton's campaign were a big part of the story, and no one from her campaign has disagreed with any of the facts," he emailed ABCNews.com

Up and Down Primary Season

Keeping up with the bad predictions in this year's primary race has been like trying to follow a particularly intense rally at Wimbledon.

Presumptive Republican nominee John McCain was written off last year because of shrinking finances and several staff turnovers. After Iowa, Clinton was close to being buried before her resurrection in New Hampshire. She then re-interred in the weeks after Super Tuesday until she was raised from the dead again by winning Texas and Ohio.

"It's been a particularly bad year for political pundits and prognosticators," said Mark Feldstein, a George Washington University journalism professor. "They make asses of themselves with awful predictions. A lot of people bloviating just to fill up the air time."

Part of this "media Tourette's syndrome" is due to the warp speed of the news cycle and the pressure on networks and newspapers to compete for the audience, says Feldstein.

"What we've seen in the last generation is more and more horse-race coverage because boring policy speeches don't attract readers or viewers."

But Feldstein says voters are tuning out a lot of this coverage, pointing to previous examples of candidates anointed by the media who lost the actual primaries.

"Ed Muskie was the inevitable nominee until [George] McGovern came out of nowhere and beat him. The Mario Cuomo fixation crowded out a lot of other candidates from getting attention and Bill Clinton was written off after the Gennifer Flowers stories. [John] Kerry was the front-runner and then written off when [Howard] Dean came out of nowhere, and everyone hyped him until his scream and his collapse."

Clinton is all too aware of those dramatic turnarounds.

"You know, I remind a lot of people that my husband didn't formally wrap up the nomination until June and when he did he was behind both President Bush and Ross Perot," she told Time magazine this week.

Yet the media's outsize role in the campaign can still have damaging results, according to political players who've lost primaries.

Glantz believes the media played a role in Bradley's 2000 fortunes.

"Frankly, I thought that the media abandoned Bradley and didn't report on the Democratic race after New Hampshire, when he came within a few thousand votes of unseating a sitting Vice President [Al Gore]. But the media decided it was over."