Senator Hillary Clinton needed a decisive win in Indiana and a close run in North Carolina yesterday. That outcome wouldn’t have boosted her mathematical chances at the Democratic nomination for president. She still wouldn’t have been in a position to overtake Senator Barack Obama’s elected delegate lead prior to the Democratic convention. But such results would have bolstered the Clinton argument that superdelegates ought to ignore the verdict of voters in the preceding primary and caucus states and go with the New York senator as the more electable candidate.
But Indiana and North Carolina Democratic primary voters returned very different verdicts from what Clinton hoped for yesterday. Obama performed far better in North Carolina than the last-minute polls indicated he would. The margin of victory in Indiana was slimmer for Clinton than the polls showed it would be. And while it’s true that a win is a win, when you are, in effect, trying to convince unelected delegates to ignore the wishes of voters in past primaries and caucuses by nominating the candidate with fewer popular votes, fewer primary wins, and less elected delegates, margins of victory and loss are important. The Clinton argument for her being the nominee has been based on momentum and her appeal to the traditional Democratic base. (Never mind that the traditional Democratic base is likely to go with the Democratic nominee no matter who it is.) The Democratic primary voters of Indiana and North Carolina have eviscerated that argument.
In short, it’s over.
It’s over and Senator Clinton knows it, even if she may not overtly own up to it for a while. She tacitly admitted it last night in her speech in Indianapolis.
It struck me as I watched the senator deliver it that it was really two speeches, bifurcated by tone and briefly, by content, whether she intended the bifurcation or not.
It was, for one thing, the least sharp and most meandering of her post-primary or post-caucus speeches in this long nominating process.
Yes, there was the early appeal for campaign contributions at hillaryclinton.com, a play to replicate the influx of cash into the campaign coffers that came after the impressive victory in Pennsylvania. Yes, there were the affirmations that she would continue the fight all the way to the White House. She also displayed the latest Clinton incarnation–Hillary, the Gas Holiday Populist.
But then, there was the disjointedness of the speech, the occasional lapsing into wan ad libbing. David Gergen claimed last night on CNN to have seen defeat written into the body language of the Clinton family, particularly of daughter Chelsea. While as a leader and a pastoral counselor, one who deals with people constantly, I put a lot of stock in my ability read people, I don’t know if one can read too much in the body postures of people we’re only observing on television.
But I do know that for the first time in my recollection, Senator Clinton allowed for the possibility of defeat and, in a possible effort to assuage the concerns of superdelegates fearful of the bitterness aroused by the contest between Clinton and Obama, spoke more about Democratic unity.
Clinton spoke of the common “journey” being made by both she and Obama. “You know, we are, in many ways, on the same journey,” Clinton said. “It’s a journey begun long before we were born. It is a journey by men and women who have been on a mission to perfect our union, who marched and protested, who risked everything they had to build an America that embraces us all.” She then asserted that as “we go forward in this campaign, that we recognize we are all on the same team. We are going to be standing up for you. We’re going to be looking for a way to turn this country around and bring it back to what it should stand for and be all about: better futures for you and your children, solving the problems that affect us here in America.”
Then, came this:
I know that people — people are watching this race, and they’re wondering, I win, he wins, I win, he wins. It’s so close. And I think that says a lot about how excited and passionate our supporters are and how intent so many Americans are to really taking their country back.
But I can assure you, as I have said on many occasions, that, no matter what happens, I will work for the nominee of the Democratic Party, because we must win in November.
And I know — I know that Senator Obama feels the same way, because we have been on this campaign trail now for a long time.
And we know how desperately people want to see a change, and it will not be a change if the Republicans keep the White House. It will be more of the same, something that no one, no matter what political party you may be, can afford.
It is time for all of us to recognize what is at stake in this election, not just for Democrats, as we decide who will be our nominee, but for all Americans.
These are the words of a candidate who wants to win and still holds out some faint hope of winning but knows how to count. Clinton knows that it’s over. But understandably, after a long, strong fight, doesn’t want to give up just yet.
Her words also told us that when she does withdraw, it will be without acrimony.
The 2008 campaign is over for Hillary Clinton. She clearly knows that in her head. Some time in the next few weeks, when her heart catches up to her head, she’ll put an end to her quest, showing more class than her most vicious detractors claim she possesses, clearing the way for Senator Obama to begin the work of solidifying his Democratic base for the fall campaign.
[This has been cross posted at my personal blog.]