Hillary Clinton was introduced to a conference call of her blog supporters Friday and had just thanked her New Media coordinator, Peter Daou, when she felt the need to apologize.
“I’ve got to clear my voice a minute,” she told the pro-Clinton bloggers. After three seconds of silence, the former first lady said, “Sorry, I’ve been talking for days now.”
Her hoarseness was the product of a grueling schedule in Kentucky and Oregon, where she kept campaigning despite the fact that reporters are already speaking of Hillary’s presidential candidacy in the past tense.
As far as the political press is concerned, Clinton is roadkill in the rearview mirror. Two days after her disappointing May 6 performance — when Hillary was clobbered in the North Carolina primary and managed only a narrow win in Indiana — Karen Tumulty of Time magazine published a campaign obituary with the title “The Five Mistakes Clinton Made.”
As more superdelegates shifted to Barack Obama and he picked up the endorsement of 2004 vice-presidential candidate John Edwards, reporters began quoting confessions of hopelessness from anonymous Clinton insiders.
This doomsaying spilled over into speculation of exactly how the end game will play out, how Hillary wll repay her campaign debt, whether she’ll be offered — and whether she would accept — a spot as Obama’s running mate.
Attempting to dispel the drumbeat of defeatism, Hillary reportedly assured her superdelegate supporters during a May 10 conference call, “Despite what some in the media are saying, this race is not over.”
EXCEPT IT WASN’T just the media saying it. Speaking two days later at Furman University, Clinton adviser James Carville told students he believed “the great likelihood is that Obama will be the nominee.”
The chorus of ravens kept cawing even though Hillary’s victory last week in West Virginia was one of the most lopsided of the primary season. She racked up 67 percent of the vote to Obama’s 26 percent, and seized the chance to declare she was still fighting to win.
“There are some who have wanted to cut this race short,” Clinton told her boisterous supporters in a Tuesday victory speech in Charleston, W. Va., “They say, ‘Give up. It’s too hard. The mountain is too high.’ But here in West Virginia, you know a thing or two about rough roads to the top of the mountain… I am more determined than ever to carry on this campaign, until everyone has had the chance to make their voices heard.”
She then segued to her pet theme that the Democratic National Committee’s disallowance of her January victories in the Florida and Michigan primaries amounts to undemocratic disenfranchisement.
“I believe we should honor the votes cast by 2.3 million people in those states and seat all of their delegates,” she said. “Under the rules of our party, when you include all 50 states, the number of delegates needed to win is 2,209 and neither of us has reached that threshold yet.”
YET NEITHER HER West Virginia win nor her combative rhetoric could quell chatter of inevitable doom coming from inside her own campaign headquarters.
“For the first time now, her people, her closest aides, are saying, ‘She knows the reality, we know the reality,'” Andrea Mitchell reported Friday morning on MSNBC. “They’re acknowledging the reality that she is not going to win this, that she is just going through the motions.”
The same day, Michelle Cottle of the New Republic published a compilation of recriminations from unnamed Clinton campaign staffers, “from high-level advisors to grunt-level assistants, from money men to on-the-ground organizers.”
Cottle called her collection an “elegy,” but elegies are for the dead, and Clinton refuses to go quietly to the political graveyard.
“I’ve been declared dead so many times, and luckily it’s been premature, and I’m hoping it stays premature,” Hillary said during a televised hour long town hall event Friday in Portland, Ore.
THAT HILLARY HAD that hour to herself signaled the Obama campaign’s confidence that they’ve got the nomination locked. Portland’s KGW-TV had originally wanted to have a debate between the two candidates. When Obama refused the invitation, the station gave Clinton the whole hour.
Oregon has an unusual mail-in election system and, as of Friday, only 22 percent of voters had sent in their ballots for tomorrow’s primary. When Obama ceded Hillary that hour of free TV time, polls showed him leading in Oregon by as many as 20 percentage points. However, an American Research Group poll taken late last week indicated the race might be tightening, with Obama leading Hillary by only a 50-45 margin.
Meanwhile, Clinton expects another West Virginia-sized landslide tomorrow in Kentucky, where polls show her leading by a whopping 30 percentage points. So even as Obama begins campaigning as the nominee-to-be, Clinton keeps winning primaries.
Since March 11, when Obama won the Mississippi primary, Hillary’s record is 3-1-1 (including a May 3 tie in Guam) with all three of her victories in swing states Democrats need to win in November.
Obama will spend tomorrow night in Iowa, where he expects to claim the nomination on the basis of having won a majority of pledged delegates — a calculation that doesn’t count Florida or Michigan.
Some observers suggest Clinton’s fight-to-the-end rhetoric is merely strategic, that she’s seeking leverage to get a payoff of her campaign debts or positioning herself for a possible 2012 comeback should Obama fall short in November. At least in public, however, Hillary hasn’t stopped thinking about victory tomorrow.
“If I’d listened to people a month ago, three weeks ago, last week,” she told her Portland TV audience Friday, “you wouldn’t be here trying to make up your minds about who you’re going to vote for.”