By A.B. Stoddard - 05/07/08 04:53 PM EDT
She’s not in it to win it anymore.
Sure, Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.) is campaigning, and could stick it out for months. But when Clinton took the stage Tuesday night to declare it was “full steam ahead to the White House,” she knew the arsenal was empty. Her remarkable two-month surge had swelled her confidence, some days making a steep uphill climb appear an effortless waltz — how could she have been losing when she was winning?
But suddenly, along with the math and money, the momentum was gone. In its place was that final opportunity, the hope for dignity at the end. For some losing candidates dignity would come with a humble but soaring speech calling forth the better angels of all Democratic Party voters — a uniting of white and black, male and female, young and old, white collar and blue, better educated and less educated. For Hillary Clinton, who may harbor future plans for her White House dream, it is less clear: Will the end come with victories on May 20, followed by a dignified concession, or after a Denver jihad?
On Wednesday morning the Clinton campaign was as resigned as it was combative, scheduling a last-minute stop in West Virginia to get Hillary back on the trail, as news broke that she loaned another $6 million to herself in April. One aide conceded to reporters that the candidate had lost in February, but another was still insisting that Barack Obama “can’t get elected.” Still others talked up a convention challenge.
While the party breathes a sigh of relief, finally able to coalesce around the pledged-delegate winner who had survived and rebounded from a disastrous stretch, Clinton dances the two-step. Celebrating her two-point victory in Indiana, for which she can likely thank Rush Limbaugh, Clinton told supporters “it is important as we go forward [that] we recognize we are all on the same page,” even as she promised to keep up the fight. There is a desperate scramble for money, to pay back millions to both herself and the not fired but demoted Mark Penn.
But as Clinton barrels through West Virginia and Kentucky and racks up powerful margins of white, working-class voters, how much will her campaign continue to cut Obama down? The campaign kept up its narrative Wednesday — that Obama can’t win the white vote. The superdelegates, who know the party loses the white vote in the general election, are losing patience with The House of Clinton. Should Hillary keep threatening to storm Denver, the stampede of Obama endorsements will finally begin.
In the spirit of unity, Obama may be willing to retire Clinton’s debt, and even pay off Penn, but what will Clinton provide in exchange? She can crank up the auto-grins, get Chelsea and Bill up on stage at the convention, give a great speech and then some bear hugs to both Obamas for all the world to see.
But if Clinton truly wants to work her heart out for the Democratic nominee, as she promised, she will urge her supporters to embrace Obama and vote for him in November. Those Democrats will know Clinton means it if she sends Bill Clinton to campaign for Obama in those forgotten places of Tiny Town America where he ran up 70 percent margins for his wife. Those Democrats will know Clinton means it if she tells them that Obama is not a Muslim — not as far as she knows, but that she knows it for sure. They will also know Clinton means it if she tells them that Obama was sworn in to the U.S. Senate on a Bible, as she was, and not the Koran. They will know Clinton means it if she tells voters that Obama is fit to be commander in chief.
If Clinton doesn’t genuinely ask her voters to join with Obama so he can win the presidency, they will know it — and the party will, too.
Stoddard is an associate editor of The Hill.