GREENSBURG, Pa. — Campaign volunteer Vickie Sackett could scarcely contain her excitement Tuesday as she worked the door at Hillary Clinton’s appearance here.
Ms. Sackett’s elderly parents had been selected to share the stage with Hillary at a “Solutions for America” rally at the University of Pittsburgh-Greensburg, where the former First Lady’s speech focused on her “plan to help families in Pennsylvania have a secure retirement.”
Collecting tickets at the entrance to the gymnasium where the Clinton rally was held, Ms. Sackett beamed with pride that her parents — like her, they’re loyal Democrats — had been chosen for such an honor. “They’re backstage meeting with her right now,” she said. “I’d give anything to be back there myself.”
More than 1,200 Pennsylvanians evidently agreed with Ms. Sackett, waiting in line for hours to gain the privilege of being in the same building with Mrs. Clinton. The Democratic presidential candidate was greeted with a standing ovation that lasted more than a minute, and repeatedly drew cheers by dishing up a red-meat message of economic populism. Clearly, she knows what Democrats in suburban Pittsburgh want to hear.
“It’s time we had a president who puts the people of Westmoreland County ahead of Wall Street,” Hillary said, eliciting wild applause from the packed gymnasium.
Promoting a new retirement proposal she calls “American Retirement Accounts Plan,” the New York senator slammed Republican Sen. John McCain for promising to revisit President Bush’s failed 2005 effort to create private retirement accounts.
“When I’m president,” Mrs. Clinton said, “privatizing Social Security will be completely out of the question.” Her audience cheered wildly, apparently without considering the contingent nature of that first clause: “When I’m president…”
DESPITE POLLS SHOWING her with a double-digit lead over Barack Obama in Pennsylvania, which holds its primary April 22, many observers are saying that the possibility of Hillary winning the Democratic nomination is…well, completely out of the question.
Mrs. Clinton may still be a celebrity capable of packing an auditorium, but her campaign finds itself faced with a disadvantage that’s now being pronounced insurmountable by every pundit with enough mathematical skill to count delegates, count votes, and count money.
According to RealClearPolitics.com, Obama has won 1,414 pledged delegates to Mrs. Clinton’s 1,247. And while Hillary’s supporters once expected her to hold a decisive edge among so-called “super-delegates,” those ex-officio party bigwigs have been steadily trickling over to the Obama camp, so that RCP now figures her super-delegate lead has shrunk to a slender 250-214 margin.
For all the excitement Hillary generated among Pennsylvania Democrats as she barnstormed the state Monday and Tuesday, not even a landslide here will dent Obama’s decisive delegate advantage. Jim Vandehei and Mike Allen of the Politico calculated the Clinton campaign’s best-case scenario for the remaining primaries and brutally summed up the result: “Hillary Rodham Clinton has virtually no chance of winning. Her own campaign acknowledges there is no way that she will finish ahead in pledged delegates.”
However, some have pondered the possibility that Obama could be so damaged by the fallout from the demagoguery of his Chicago pastor, Rev. Jeremiah Wright, that the Democratic super-delegates will shift back to Hillary because of concern over Obama’s “electability.”
There are two major problems with that scenario: First, a move by party insiders to ditch Obama would be seen as an outrageous betrayal by black voters, the most loyal Democratic constituency. Secondly, there is the matter of counting the votes.
Depending on how the votes are counted — whether to include the officially-disallowed Florida and Michigan primaries, for instance — Obama’s popular vote total so far exceeds Hillary’s by anywhere from 94,000 to more than 800,000. Given Obama’s overall popularity in national polls of Democratic voters, that margin is unlikely to shrink, much less disappear. To deny the nomination to the candidate with the most votes would make the Democrats the un-Democratic Party.
Hope for Hillary dwindles even further when you count the money. Obama finished February with $32 million cash on hand, compared to the Mrs. Clinton’s $11 million. As the Wall Street Journal reported last week, Hillary’s campaign engaged in deficit spending during the fourth quarter of 2007, spending about $15 million more than it raised, a pattern that continued into January and eventually resulted in the ouster of her campaign chairman.
The Clinton campaign is now bombarding supporters with e-mail pleas for contributions. “As we ramp up our campaign in Pennsylvania, I need your help to make sure we have the resources we need to win,” said an e-mail sent out over Hillary’s signature Tuesday. “The Obama campaign is in the middle of a $3 million ad blitz in Pennsylvania, and we’ve got to do everything we can to overcome their fundraising advantage.”
The former front-runner once deemed inevitable has now become a forlorn underdog deemed almost impossible. Small wonder, then, that while Hillary was traversing Pennsylvania in a two-day campaign blitz, Barack Obama was vacationing in the Virgin Islands.
WHILE REPORTERS, pundits, and bloggers are pronouncing doom for her campaign, however, Mrs. Clinton seems undaunted by the odds against her. At a press conference following her Greensburg rally, she gamely endured questions about how she “misspoke” in recently claiming to have landed in Bosnia under sniper fire in 1996. When asked about her earlier remark that it was the first time she had misspoken in 12 years, Hillary replied with a smile: “I was joking. Lighten up, guys.”
She seemed similarly upbeat when asked whether she would face accusations of “disenfranchisement” if she won the nomination on the strength of super-delegates. “We have to wait and see what happens. There’s been a lot of talk about what if, what if, what if. Let’s wait until we get some facts. People are going to vote over the next months, millions of people. And we should wait and see the outcome of those votes.”
While Obama basked in the tropical sun, Hillary was conjuring up the gritty spirit of Joe Paterno. The Greensburg crowd cheered loudly when she mentioned the legendary Penn State football coach (all concerned evidently forgetting Paterno is a hated Republican of long standing). Trailing badly in the fourth quarter of her campaign for the Democratic nomination, Hillary may yet lose, but she seems determined not to quit until the final whistle.
Asked Tuesday if she was feeling pressure to get out of the race, Mrs. Clinton answered, “The most common thing the people say — it happened here, it happened last night, it happens everywhere I go — is, ‘Don’t give up,’ ‘Keep going,’ ‘We’re with you.’ And I feel very good about that, because that’s what I intend to do.”