Saturday, May 10, 2008

Eyes squeezed shut, Clinton campaign fights on

(Originally published 5/10/08)

We're just about there, folks.

Tuesday brought us Round 3,462 in the race for the Democratic presidential nomination. Hillary Clinton needed a big win in Indiana and at least a close race in North Carolina to close her delegate gap with Barack Obama.

She got neither.

In the wake of Obama's North Carolina landslide and the two-point squeaker Clinton pulled out in Indiana, cable's talking heads began discussing how a general election matchup pitting Obama against GOP nominee-to-be John McCain would look. By Wednesday morning, pundits had all but called the code on her flat-lining campaign. The New York Post, a tabloid known neither for mincing words nor tact, splashed her picture on the front page: "Toast!" the headline screamed.

Over the next 24 hours, Clinton acknowledged that she had loaned her campaign another $6.4 million over the past month alone, superdelegate and former U.S. senator and presidential candidate George McGovern switched sides to support Obama, and people began wondering when –- not if –- the trickle of superdelegates toward Obama would turn into a flood.

So we're just about there ... aren’t we?

Maybe not.

This planet's punditry might have cashed out. But the Clinton campaign lives in a different world, and she's still at the table.

"It's full steam to the White House!" she declared Tuesday night.

Her surrogates made the cable news rounds, dragging their political defibrillators along behind and insisting that Obama's fatal disconnect with white working-class Democrats dooms his campaign to defeat in November.

Clinton talkers Paul Begala and Lanny Davis appeared on CNN live via satellite from their alternate reality. Davis insisted that the two-point Indiana nail biter was "a great victory for Hillary Clinton," and Begala blabbered himself into a nasty exchange with former Bill Clinton adviser Donna Brazile with his now-infamous comment that Democrats cannot win in November with just "eggheads and African-Americans."

Let's just put it this way: Begala is lucky he had the safety of spatial separation.

Clinton supporters, and Clinton herself, incessantly mentioned Obama's previous statement that Indiana would be the "tiebreaker." Curiously, they didn’t hold to those same semantic standards when it came to Clinton’s assertion that North Carolina would be a "game-changer" in the race.

The Clinton campaign's determination to ignore reality reminded me of my three-year-old daughter. When she's caught doing something wrong, she smiles and squeezes her eyes shut, almost as if she's trying to imagine herself into a "happy place" where she's not in trouble.

Following Tuesday's contests, Hillary smiled at her Indiana victory party. Then she headed on to West Virginia, Oregon and Kentucky, her eyes squeezed tightly shut.

* * *

As I was writing this column, I thought about how long this process has been going on: 16 months ... and still counting. Sure, that's a good amount of time, but what really put it into perspective was realizing that when Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton announced their campaigns for the presidency, I had only known I was expecting my baby girl for seven weeks.

She began crawling last Wednesday.

I realized that there has never been a day since my daughter has been born that Clinton and Obama haven't been running for president –- and we're not even to the general campaign yet.

Someone call the code.

On the blog this weekend, more on the growing divide among Democrats, and a link to that incredible Begala-Brazile exchange that you have to see to believe.

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