Here are the final "popular vote" numbers, courtesy of Real Clear Politics. Leaving aside the fact that the "popular vote" is a fundamentally flawed and illegitimate metric for determining the "winner" of the Democrats’ byzantine primary and caucus process, the results are as follows:
Thus, the answer to the question I posed back on May 7 — can Hillary Clinton "win" an "arguably plausible" popular vote tally? — turns out to be "no." She only wins if she does one (or both) of the two indefensible things that I’ve been decrying all along: awarding herself a unanimous victory in Michigan that would make Saddam Hussein proud, and/or disenfranchising four whole states that did nothing wrong.
Stepping back from those controversies, though, a bigger-picture view of the "popular vote" reveals just how freakin’ close this election was. The most Obama-friendly scenario has him winning by 151,844 votes, which is just 0.4% of the total cast. The most Clinton-friendly scenario (giving her the unanimous Michigan victory and excluding the caucus states) has her ahead by 286,687 votes, or just 0.8%. Basically, the popular vote was a tie.
Now, that said, if the 13 caucus states had held primaries, Obama probably would have had a more substantial edge. For instance, although he won by a whopping 79.5% to 17.2% in Idaho, he netted only 13,225 votes there, because only 21,224 people voted. If Idaho had held a (real) primary, Obama’s percentage margin would likely have been more akin to his 56% to 38% win in the state’s non-binding primary, but turnout probably would have been more on the order of 175,000 or thereabouts (judging from Kerry’s total in 2004). That translates to a margin of roughly 31,500 instead of 13,225. Repeat that effect in the other 12 caucus states — Alaska, Colorado, Hawaii, Iowa, Kansas, Maine, Minnesota, Nebraska, Nevada, North Dakota, Washington and Wyoming — and you’re probably talking about an additional several hundred thousand votes for Obama if all 50 states had held primaries.
Nevertheless, it’s clear that the battle for the nomination was achingly close, and the central reason Hillary lost is because of the strategic gaffes committed by her incompetently managed campaign. She and Obama essentially split the Democratic Party right down the middle, but Obama came away with a clear delegate majority for the simple reason that he ran a better campaign than she did. This obviously burns her up inside, and helps explain her current irrational behavior. She’s sitting there thinking, over and over again, "I should have won this thing, I should have won this thing." And that thought process makes it incredibly difficult for her to acknowledge defeat.
And you know what? In a sense, she’s right. She should have won. If her campaign had merely matched the strategic competence of Obama’s campaign, such that she’d essentially tied him in delegates as well as votes, she’d very likely have ended up being the nominee, precisely because of the electability arguments she’s been making. If this race were truly a tie, the superdelegates would be very open to those arguments, and she’d probably win the floor fight in Denver. But because her campaign arrogantly failed to compete in various states, and thus allowed Obama to rack up an unassailable delegate lead in February, she clearly lost the pledged-delegate count, which is the closest thing we have to an accurate reflection of the "winner" and "loser" of this byzantine process. As a result, it’s game, set, match, Obama.
So, Hillary, you’re right: you should have won the nomination. But nobody stole it from you. It’s your own damn fault you lost, and putting your party through hell in a futile attempt to make up for your own campaign’s blatant strategic errors is hardly the mark of a leader.