Coming to Grips
From most perspectives, Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton appeared Wednesday to be shrugging off the death notices her campaign received after the votes were tallied in North Carolina and Indiana.
Two campaign events were quickly added to what was supposed to be a quiet day, including a trip to West Virginia, which holds the next primary contest on Tuesday. Clinton confirmed that she had loaned her campaign $6.4 million in the past month – “a sign of how much I believe in what we’re trying to do,” she said – and aides said she was willing to pump even more money into her race.
Clinton also tackled head-on the question of whether she intended to drop out of the fight for the Democratic nomination. “I’m staying in this race until there’s a nominee,” Clinton told reporters, “and I obviously am going to work as hard as I can to become that nominee."
That Clinton isn’t ready to call it quits should not come as a surprise. She has witnessed political resurrections at close hand, including her husband’s return to popularity after the Monica Lewinsky scandal and her own victory in this year’s New Hampshire primary after placing a surprising third in the Iowa caucus.
Many political analysts have argued for weeks that Sen. Barack Obama’s lead in the delegate count and the popular vote made it virtually impossible for Clinton to claim the nomination. But she fought on, believing that an Obama misstep could still throw the race her way. At the same time, she made a concerted effort to woo superdelegates, whose votes will likely decide the race. She has made her passion for hard work and a good fight a central element of her campaign – one that her pollster says has been effective in attracting votes of blue-collar voters.
“It takes someone who knows that you get into that Oval Office and you’ve got to move quickly,” Clinton told the crowd at Shepherd University in West Virginia. “But I know we’re up to it, if we roll up our sleeves.”
But for all that bravado, there are signs that the Clinton camp is coming to terms with a simple reality. As George Stephanopoulos — a top advisor in Bill Clinton’s White House who is now chief Washington correspondent for ABC News — put it Wednesday: “This nomination fight is over.”
For nearly all observers, the possibility that Clinton could pull off the miracle she hoped for were all but erased by the dwindling primary calendar and Obama’s strong performance Tuesday in North Carolina and Indiana, despite the heavy attention to Rev. Jeremiah A. Wright Jr., his controversial former pastor.
It was telling that in Clinton’s tone, and that of her closest advisors, there was greater emphasis Wednesday on party unity than there has been in the past. This could be a result of the large numbers of voters on Tuesday who said that if their candidate was not on the ballot in November they would vote for Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), the presumptive Republican nominee, or stay away from the polls.
After a bruising negative campaign in Indiana and North Carolina, Clinton did not mention Obama by name at her West Virginia speech and left aside her usual attacks on his proposals.
Clinton’s campaign aides also underscored the benefits to the Democratic Party of a protracted nomination contest, including a sharp boost in voter registration and record turnout for primary contests. Now that the race has gone on this long, they also stressed the importance of giving voters in the remaining six states a say, as if creating a new rationale for the drawn out primary process.
Terry McAuliffe, chairman of the Clinton campaign and one of her biggest boosters, echoed the view that there is “no reason for her to get out.” But, appearing on MSNBC on Wednesday, even he seemed to concede the end is near. “Let everybody vote,” McAuliffe said. “It’s only three more weeks.”
Geoff Garin, Clinton’s top strategist, also seemed to be asking for more time to adjust to the idea of defeat. “The only way to find out [if she has a chance to win the nomination] is to play through,” Garin told reporters on a conference call. “That’s what we’re intending to do, in a constructive way.”
The Obama campaign remained disciplined, declining to call on Clinton to drop out of the race. Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.), an Obama supporter, said it would be “inappropriate and awkward and wrong for any of us to tell Sen. Clinton when it is time for the race to be over. This is her decision and it is only her decision.”
Arizona Gov. Janet Napolitano, another Obama supporter who also spoke on a conference call organized by his campaign, agreed that it falls to Clinton to decide whether to leave the race. But she called on uncommitted superdelegates do their part. "It’s now time for the superdelegates to begin bringing this process to a close and announce their preferences,” Napolitano said.
Some of Clinton’s own supporters have also started to signal their declining patience with the race.
Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), said Wednesday she still backs Clinton. But, The Hill reported, Feinstein is growing worried about how the protracted primary may be damaging the Democratic Party and she wants Clinton to explain her plans for the rest of the contest.
Former Sen. George S. McGovern, an early Clinton backer, went further on Wednesday. He urged Clinton to drop out of the race and said he was throwing his support to Obama. "Hillary, of course, will make the decision as to if and when she ends her campaign. But I hope that she reaches that decision soon, so that we can concentrate on a unified party capable of winning the White House next November," McGovern said.
McGovern’s announcement came just a day before Clinton travels to his home state of South Dakota, which, along with Montana, holds its primary contest on June 3.
The defection of other superdelegates would likely hasten Clinton’s departure from the race. Her campaign’s ability to raise new money, in the wake of those death pronouncements, will also help establish how long she can continue to campaign.
Howard Wolfson, Clinton’s communications director, said there had been "no discussions" of leaving the race.
Wolfson acknowledged that whoever wins the Democratic nomination will have work to do building support among voters who had backed the other candidate. But he sounded like he had campaign workers in mind as well when he said, “People have invested too much of their hopes and dreams in these candidates for either side not to walk away a little disappointed if their candidate does not secure the nomination.”