New York Sen. Hillary Clinton won Nevada on Saturday — or did she?

Clinton got nearly 51 percent of the delegates apportioned by Saturday’s Democratic precinct caucuses, to Illinois Sen. Barack Obama’s 45 percent.

But Obama’s campaign has argued that he actually edged out Clinton in terms of delegates to the Democratic National Convention, 13-12.

“In the raw numbers, we were a little bit short, but in the delegate count, we are actually in the lead,” Obama campaign manager David Plouffe said.

The Clinton campaign shot back with a statement: “Hillary Clinton won the Nevada caucuses today by winning a majority of the delegates at stake. The Obama campaign is wrong. Delegates for the national convention will not be determined until April 19.”

Nevada Democratic Party Chairwoman Jill Derby attempted to make peace, saying, “Just like in Iowa, what were awarded today were delegates to the county convention, of which Senator Clinton won the majority. No national convention delegates were awarded. That said, if the delegate preferences remain unchanged between now and April 2008, the calculations of national convention delegates being circulated … are correct.”

The controversy is a product of the complexity of the caucus system, which is modeled on old-time political meetings. In short, the Obama campaign did the math right, but based its calculation on the hypothetical results of two elections one and three months away, respectively.

What the Democrats were doing on Saturday was gathering in more than 1,700 precincts, each of which got a certain number of delegates based on the area’s population and number of registered Democrats.

Fifty-one percent of the more than 10,000 precinct delegates were elected because they supported Clinton. Forty-five percent were elected because they supported Obama. Nearly 4 percent were made delegates based on their support for former Sen. John Edwards.

Those delegates on Feb. 23 will go to 17 county conventions across the state, where they will elect a smaller number of delegates to the state party convention on April 19.

State convention delegates will elect 25 delegates to attend the Democratic National Convention in August in Denver.

The Obama campaign doled out the 25 delegates as if the state convention delegates were in exact proportion to the precinct delegates elected Saturday.

Nine of the 25 are elected by vote of all the state delegates. Proportionate to their precinct delegates statewide, Clinton would get 5 of those, Obama 4.

The other 16 are apportioned to Nevada’s three congressional districts.

Congressional District 1, the urban Las Vegas district represented by Shelley Berkley, gets six. Clinton’s margin in that district was not enough to give her more than a split. With three each, that makes it 8-7.

Congressional District 3, the suburban Clark County district represented by Republican Jon Porter, gets four national delegates. Again, Clinton and Obama were close enough that they would split them, bringing the total to 10-9.

Congressional District 2, the sprawling northern and rural district represented by Republican Dean Heller, is split into three sections.

The Washoe County section gets three national delegates. Obama beat Clinton by nearly 10 percentage points there, so he would get two delegates to her one.

The section of the district that is rural gets one delegate. Obama won most of the rural counties, so he would get that one.

The section that is in Clark County gets two national delegates. Based on precinct delegates, Obama and Clinton would split them.

Add Congressional District 2 up with the rest, and that gives Clinton 12 national delegates and Obama 13 national delegates.

According to the delegate selection rules drafted by the Nevada Democratic Party and available on its Web site, the Obama campaign did the math correctly, but relies on the hypothetical situation of the county and state conventions all being held today and the precinct delegates voting exactly the same way, which they are not required to do.

Both candidates are predicting a long campaign. If it goes all the way to the national convention, as it has not in decades, the delegate situation will be far from clear.


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