For political scientists used to candidate momentum as an important tool for predicting the likely outcome of a presidential nomination battle, this election cycle has been quite a rollercoaster ride. Back in February, I wrote several posts on the question of why momentum has not been particularly helpful for understanding the dynamics of the nomination battle between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama. If you are so inclined, you can track back through them all, starting with the links in this post from February. At the time I wrote it, Obama had just completed a string of 10 consecutive double-digit primary and caucus victories, and political observers were suggesting for the first time that a sense of candidate momentum was driving the presidential race toward its conclusion. That was until Texas, Ohio and Pennsylvania brought things to a screeching halt for Obama.
Now we’ve just completed a particularly intense two-week period in which Hillary Clinton finally seemed to be building momentum of her own, as Obama, dogged by lackluster campaigning and a high-profile series of campaign controversies and missteps, struggled to stabilize his candidacy. Yet, what a difference twenty-four hours makes, as momentum-based expectations were once again turned upside down by voters in yesterday’s two primary states. Just as momentum failed to carry Obama in March, so too did it fail to work its magic for Clinton in North Carolina and Indiana. Her candidacy is instead once again seriously in jeopardy, and Obama seems re-energized and is increasingly looking like the presumptive Democratic nominee. So, while we have seen some features of a classic momentum-driven campaign on occasion over the past five months, it has mainly served to confound the expectations of those very same political observers (myself included) who have relied on its predictive power in so many previous election cycles.

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