Susan Estrich: Do Michigan and Florida Matter Anyway?

Oh well.

So Michigan and Florida Democrats get half a vote apiece, instead of a whole one. In the end, it doesn't matter.

It doesn't really bring Hillary closer to the nomination, at least not close enough to matter.

It doesn't really cost Obama anything. Truth be told, he could have let her win, as it were, had her whole delegations, and that wouldn't matter either.

There is no way, absent something truly extraordinary, for her to close the gap between the two of them, or prevent him from claiming a majority.

The most extraordinary thing right now is that he still hasn't clinched it yet. Why are so many superdelegates still holding out? Something is wrong, but there's no one who can fix it. What will be will be.

Of course, it could have come out differently.

If Michigan and Florida had counted from the get-go, then the race would have been closer in the last few weeks, and you probably wouldn't have seen the movement of superdelegates to Obama that has given him what appears to be the decisive edge.

Maybe we would have seen the opposite: a movement to Hillary as she won one big state after another, and Democrats worried, privately, about Obama's weakness among some [white] voters.

Of course, it could have come out differently, if Michigan and Florida hadn't moved up at all, if they'd stayed within the window, in a race that went longer than any in recent memory, a race in which going later turned out to matter as much or more than being at the head of the line.

We who are about to not go to the polls in record numbers in California this week know how different things might be if California had the last primary instead of one of the first. California, which nearly got lost in the shuffle of Super Tuesday, would be basking in the spotlight now.

Could a victory in California in June for Hillary have meant so much more than one on what turned out to be the first of three Super Tuesdays, none of them quite as super as they were supposed to be?

Of course, it could also have come out differently if Hillary had had a caucus strategy, one of the great mysteries of this campaign, since no one understands this process better than Bill Clinton, not to mention Harold Ickes.

How could it have escaped them that a delegate in Wyoming or Idaho or Montana was as important as one in New Hampshire.

How did they manage to let their loss in Iowa translate into a virtual abandonment of all those caucuses in which Obama racked up the lead that made Ohio and Texas and Pennsylvania and California and New Jersey and Massachusetts count for less, at the end of the day, than all those little Republican states where Hillary got trounced last winter and frankly, Obama will get trounced next fall.

She didn't have to win those states -- just come closer than she did; ten points instead of twenty or thirty, which would have made the difference right now between needing more than Florida and Michigan and not needing them at all.

Doing well in caucuses isn't rocket science; mostly it's about organization and money, and she started out with the advantage on both, but didn't invest it where she needed it. Who knew?

Some campaigns are pre-ordained. Sometimes, you know from the beginning not only what will happen, but what should, and when you look back, you say, of course. How could it have been otherwise?

Some people will claim, running back the tape of Obama's Iowa victory, with reporters and supporters alike drinking the kool-aid in huge gulps, that this was one of those. Don't believe it. It could have gone the other way.

Once Hillary won New Hampshire, it was a new ball game. Once she won the big states on Super Tuesday, it was basically a tie. Had she done better in the next gaggle of contests, it might have been different.

Such is life.

The question now is not why she has stayed in so long, but why it has taken Obama this long to clinch it.

What does it say about his candidacy that for all the flaws in Clinton's strategy, for all the mistakes made by the Clinton team, he will still be dialing for delegates as you read this? Is it because Hillary proved to be stronger than people thought? Or is it because Obama is not as strong?

And most important of all, what can he do in the next five months to address the weaknesses that have shown themselves, along with his considerable strengths.

At least there is this: he is a far better candidate now than he would have been if he'd clinched this thing in New Hampshire. Better to be resigning from the Trinity Church in May than October.

The only issue is whether it's soon enough.

Susan Estrich is currently the Robert Kingsley Professor of Law and Political Science at the University of Southern California and a member of the Board of Contributors of USA Today. She writes the "Portia" column for American Lawyer Media and is a contributing editor of The Los Angeles Times. She was appointed by the president to serve on the National Holocaust Council and by the mayor of the City of Los Angeles to serve on that city's Ethics Commission.

A woman of firsts, she was the first woman president of the Harvard Law Review and the first woman to head a national presidential campaign (Dukakis). Estrich is committed to paving the way for women to assume positions of leadership.

Books by Estrich include "Real Rape," "Getting Away with Murder: How Politics is Destroying the Criminal Justice System" and "Dealing with Dangerous Offenders." Her book "Making the Case for Yourself: A Diet Book for Smart Women," is a departure from her other works, encouraging women to take care of themselves by engaging the mind to fight for a healthy body. Her latest book, The Los Angeles Times bestseller, "Sex & Power," takes an impassioned look at the division of power between men and women in the American workforce, proving that the idea of gender equality is still just an idea.