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Big Rewards Await Clinton If She Ends Campaign Now

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She has ruled it out, but a prompt withdrawal from the contest for the Democratic nomination offers Sen. Hillary Clinton the prospect of major rewards.

One of the most inviting is the near certainty that the Obama campaign would agree to pay back the $11.4 million she has loaned her own bid, along with an estimated $10 million to $15 million in unpaid campaign expenses.

In addition, Democrats, both those who are loyal and those who are opposed to her campaign, say the odds of her winning a top leadership spot in the Senate would improve dramatically if she gracefully conceded now. The icing on the cake includes an improved political climate, giving Hillary and Bill Clinton the opportunity to heal the rift with the black political community.

"If she leaves the stage gracefully, as Gore did in 2000, she will be able to rebuild her political capital within the party fairly quickly, and over time most of her perceived and real sins will be long forgiven and/or forgotten," said Dan Gerstein, a Democratic consultant and Obama supporter.

While Clinton currently has her eye focused on only one thing, the presidential nomination, if she loses -- as appears increasingly likely -- her stature in the Senate will depend, in part, on whether she is ultimately seen as helping or hurting Obama's chances in November.

That stature, in turn, will be crucial in determining her success if she decides to try to climb the Senate leadership ladder. This year, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada faces what could prove to be a tough re-election fight.

Brookings scholar Tom Mann contends that for Clinton to emerge from the contest without severe wounds, one path might be to redirect the main thrust of her presidential bid away from attacks on Obama to a focus on John McCain.

"Clinton's status in the Democratic party will be enhanced if she finds a timely and honorable way to become a strong supporter of an Obama-led ticket in the general election. She can do that by remaining in the race but directing all of her campaign rhetoric against John McCain or by suspending her campaign immediately."

At the moment, Clinton shows no signs of quitting. In West Virginia Wednesday morning, she told reporters: "I'm staying in this race until there's a nominee. And I obviously am going to work as hard as I can to become that nominee....I believe I would be a stronger candidate against Sen McCain, and I believe I would be the best President among the three of us running."

In a Wednesday afternoon fundraising email, Clinton declared, "Today, in every way that I know how, I am expressing my personal determination to keep forging forward in this campaign."

On the money front, it is not uncommon for winning presidential campaigns to pick up some or all of a competitor's debts and obligations, although the size of Clinton's debt and her personal loans to her campaign are unprecedented - somewhere over and above $20 million.

The Clintons have made a total of $109 million since Bill Clinton left the White House in January 2001. This year, however, he has had to cut back on his hugely lucrative speech-making, and sources close to the Clintons say they are not in a financial position to keep investing millions into her bid.

While both Obama and Clinton have broken all Democratic fundraising records, once one of them become the de facto nominee, the floodgates are expected to open even further, as Democratic donors this year are intent on victory.

In addition to an expected tidal wave of cash to the nominee to finance the general election campaign, the Democratic National Committee, which has been struggling financially, will undoubtedly see a repeat of 2004, when it raised an unprecedented $300 million after John Kerry became the undisputed nominee.

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