Clinton now closer to endgame
Her best hope is for something to occur that makes Obama appear unelectable.
How the loser loses, it has been said, will go a long way to determining whether the winner of the Democratic presidential nomination can win in November.Skip to next paragraph
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Now, all eyes are on Hillary Rodham Clinton, whose path to the nomination – already steep heading into Tuesday's primaries – got significantly steeper after losing North Carolina to Barack Obama by almost 15 points and winning Indiana by less than two. She has few options, with funds scarce and the delegate math virtually impossible. On Wednesday, Clinton aides revealed that she had lent her campaign $6.4 million over the past month.
Senator Clinton's last best hope, analysts say, is for some factor to intervene that makes Senator Obama appear unelectable to superdelegates – Democratic elders and elected officials – who will decide the outcome.
"She's hoping for lightning to strike," says Mark Mellman, a Democratic pollster who is not working for either campaign.
Clinton has promised to compete in the remaining six primaries, all relatively small states, plus Puerto Rico. But if the largely conciliatory tone in her speech Tuesday night is any guide, she may well have already turned a corner in her approach to the race.
"The Clinton campaign and the Clintons themselves understand the dynamics of this," says Peter Fenn, another unaligned Democratic strategist. "They are absolutely committed to victory in November. They know how important this election is for the country. She has a future as a senior senator from New York, and maybe other things."
Bill Clinton's legacy is another factor, now intertwined with the fact that his wife appears set to lose the nomination to an African-American. He knows that some campaign comments deemed racially charged have damaged his once golden image among black Americans, who were his staunchest supporters during his impeachment ordeal.
"He doesn't want that to last," says Mr. Fenn. "He doesn't want to be the ex-president that everyone is turning away from."
Speculation is growing over whether an Obama-Clinton ticket is in the offing. There are significant reasons for that not to happen: Obama could feel suffocated by having a two-fer vice president – in effect, both Clintons. Obama has campaigned on the theme of change, and a return of the Clintons to power would mitigate that. Hillary Clinton's high negative ratings – and the virulent attacks she inspires – are also something Obama would not want on his ticket.
But given the striking demographic split the Democratic primaries have produced, with Obama winning better-educated, wealthier, younger, and black voters and Clinton winning older, working-class white and Hispanic voters, a "unity ticket" may be the obvious way to bring the two pieces together.