By A. B. Stoddard - 03/05/08 05:31 PM EST
So it turns out Hillary Clinton won’t be the Mike Huckabee of the Democratic race for president, hanging around for the fun of it. After a Phoenix-like rise from the ashes, the candidate of resilience, durability and resolve is beginning to look a lot like John McCain. If Barack Obama can vanquish one Phoenix, perhaps he can slay another this year — but it doesn’t look easy.
The Obama campaign will concede Clinton bought herself a pause on Tuesday, but the race seems like more of a draw. Yes, he has the math, but tell that to the voters. In polls asking who is stronger against McCain as well as who is the likely nominee, Obama beat Clinton in Texas and Ohio by 13 and nine points, respectively. Many of these people ended up voting against him anyway.
Obama has missed his chance to stop Clinton before, in New Hampshire and on Feb. 5. But this week, with open primaries in Texas and Ohio where his victories would have finished Clinton off, it mattered far more. Obama is entering a dismal period of burgeoning attacks from Clinton on his campaign’s involvement in assuring the Canadian government his trade posture is purely political, on his readiness to be commander in chief, and now on his ability to win battleground states. Then of course there is the trial of Tony Rezko, Obama’s sleazy contributor whose help with a land purchase Obama accepted in temptation and now regrets as a “boneheaded” move. Clinton’s team practically drools when they discuss it: “Sen. Obama’s mentor and patron is on trial for a variety of crimes,” they said Wednesday.
With his momentum halted, his moral high ground lost, and so many questions to answer, why would superdelegates rush to his side now? And what else matters, since Obama can’t win without them? Sure, Obama will tell them he has won the most delegates and the most states. He will claim a broader coalition that includes rich and poor, rural and urban, black and white, Democrat, independent and Republican. But Clinton will tell them she has won the big states by double digits, the battlegrounds required to win in November, and that she wins primaries of all voters while he prevails in caucuses that aren’t representative and exclude voters in red states the party can’t win anyway.
The battle for the superdelegates will further divide a badly divided party. They must choose between two coalitions — one of Latinos, older voters and white females and the other made up of blacks, younger voters and white males. Both candidates could make history, both have heavy popular vote totals, but neither is unstoppable.
The superdelegates will have to ponder how the money, momentum, endorsements, key unions, MoveOn.org, a lead in the national polls, more than a million donors and a disciplined focus on a single appealing message have thus far failed to help Obama clinch it. They know the once formidable Clinton campaign is a wreck, having tried on many faces and slogans, squandered money and of course fatally underestimated Obama at every step.
Finally, they have to keep dealing with the Clintons. As sure as the sun rises, Bill will keep calling. And Hillary endures.
As the polls plummeted, Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.) jumped ship and obituaries were written around her, Clinton turned her face to the wind and soldiered on, calling herself a champion. It was bold — call it the audacity of her tenacity — and it worked. It can work in Pennsylvania, too.
Stoddard is an associate editor of The Hill.