Hillary Clinton isn’t going away quietly. After her wipeout in North Carolina and razor-thin win in Indiana last week the punditocracy pronounced last rites on the Clinton campaign. But reality, math and the good of the Democratic Party are no match for the Clintons’ personal and political ambitions.
She and her closest surrogates proclaimed it was full steam ahead after the results last week. She spent the week decrying how Barack Obama could run as the Democratic nominee without a universal health care plan. (Are you listening Elizabeth Edwards?) She channeled Michael Barone, explaining in a USA Today interview that only she had the support of white voters. (Superdelegates are you listening?) The President of Emily’s List wrote an op-ed in the Washington Post cheering their gal on, declaring “She’s shown us over and over that winners never quit and that quitters never win.” (Women voters are you listening?)
Tuesday’s vote in West Virginia showed that however faint, Clinton’s hopes are not yet extinguished. She did not just beat the already crowned nominee, she obliterated him. She won the primary by forty points. She won white voters 68-28%, women 71-27% and garnered 65% of the senior vote. Among voters earning less than $50,000 she won 69%. Seventy percent of those with no college degree chose Clinton. She won independents by double digits. A whopping 59% of Clinton voters said they would vote for John McCain or stay home.
The consequences should be sobering for the Democratic Party. Consider what the reaction would be if John McCain, after effectively sealing the nomination, had lost Texas or Pennsylvania by a huge margin. The MSM would be predicting ruin for the Republican Party and running banner headlines, “What’s Wrong with McCain?”
However, the rules are different when Democrats are involved. The Left blogosphere was replete with posts and reader comments exhibiting all manner of racist and demeaning stereotypes — that is toward the voters of West Virginia. As Ben Smith of Politico honestly acknowledged: “If you want a glimpse of the culture gap Obama’s trying to bridge, take a look at the comments below this item: Nobody from West Virginia, but lots of Obama supporters mocking rural white people.” So you see, the fault lies not in Obama, but in the voters.
Clinton spokesman Howard Wolfson on Tuesday morning tried to turn the focus back on Obama, asking: “I think Democrats across the country tomorrow will be asking themselves why Senator Obama — with all of his money, with all of the great press, with voters being told he was the inevitable nominee — why did Senator Obama lose West Virginia by 15 points or so? What does it say about his candidacy at this date that he can’t beat Senator Clinton in a key swing state?”
Now some wishful thinkers in the MSM predict that the results on Tuesday are just a prelude to a “graceful” exit for the Clintons who want to go out on top. But her campaign chair Terry McAuliffe vowed that she would stay in the race until June 3. With 78% of West Virginia voters saying she should stay in the race there seemed little chance she would feel the urge to exit now. Her Tuesday night fundraising email vowed to her supporters that “I’m not about to turn my back on you.”
Hillary’s victory speech showed no sign that she was bugging out, at least not now. She declared “This race isn’t over yet.” She had her priorities straight: plead for money, insist that all the Michigan and Florida delegates be seated and let everyone know that she doesn’t care one bit about the pundits. She said “I am in this race because I believe I am the strongest candidate.” She continued her political science lecture, declaring “Elections are won in the swing states and I am winning the swing states.” Take that, Barack Obama.
After all she has several cards to play. First, there is always the potential that Obama might self-destruct. In just the last week one of his foreign policy advisors, Robert Malley, was fired after it was revealed he had met with Hamas officials. Then Obama gave an interview declaring that it was understandable that Hamas had endorsed him since he, after all, is “worldly” and has “called for talks with people.” Those “people” would include Iran’s Ahmedinejad, Palestinian terrorists Hamas and Iran’s terrorist proxy in Iraq and Lebanon, Hezbollah. Terrorists, their state sponsor and a famed Holocaust denier among them.
So, with no lack of material, will Clinton dare run another “3 a.m.” ad or sprinkle her stump speech with questions about whether Obama is ready for foreign policy primetime? We will find out in the next week or so.
Clinton also has the Michigan and Florida delegate fight to wage. At a meeting on May 31 the DNC will hear complaints over whether the delegations of these states should be seated and counted at the convention in accordance with their elections earlier this year. If they are, the Clinton camp estimates that she will pick up another 58 delegates, shrinking the gap to less than 100.
The chances of Clinton pulling off a coup remain less than remote, and many speculate that she is merely angling for a VP slot or trying to extort Obama into absorbing her enormous campaign debt before exiting the race. (“Pay my debt or I’ll go on O’Reilly again and talk about your poll numbers with white working class voters!”) Nevertheless, a smashing victory in West Virginia will do nothing to shove her off the stage and everything to encourage her to stick around, hope for a blossoming of the Hamas controversy — or some other scandal — and pray that the superdelegates begin to have second and third doubts about a candidate who now relies almost entirely on ultra-liberals, African Americans and young voters for his victories.
And that, rather than any revival of Clinton’s campaign, is the real take away from West Virginia. Obama can almost certainly scratch West Virginia off his list of potential states for November. But that’s not the only one. Larry J. Sabato explains, “Obama can probably strike West Virginia, Kentucky, Tennessee and Arkansas right off the bat (Arkansas, assuming Hillary Clinton isn’t on the ticket).” He also cautions that this spells trouble for him in areas of Pennsylvania and Ohio, although large urban centers may offset his handicap in those states.
So regardless of Clinton’s prospects, the outcome last night serves to underline uncomfortable truths for Democrats. Juan Williams wrote a column entitled “Face it, Democrats: Barack Obama’s got a growing problem with whites.” But that seems a bit unfair: Obama also has a problem with seniors, rural voters, Catholics and Jews, women, working class voters, gun owners, and national security voters. People who think the president should have experience also don’t think so highly of him.
In short, West Virginia may not prove that Clinton can come back — only a séance is likely to do that. But it does demonstrate that the Democratic near-nominee is not the electoral powerhouse he was once thought to be.
It remains an uphill fight in 2008 for Republicans with a faltering incumbent President, an unresolved war, a shaky economy and an energized Democratic opposition. But given all that, Obama still must put together a winning coalition and assemble 270 electoral votes. Last night demonstrated that it won’t be as easy as some of the pundits would have us believe.
So when the MSM says that Obama has the election in the bag remember this fact: every Democrat who has won the White House since 1916 has carried West Virginia. What are the chances Obama will do so this time?