Clinton Campaign: Feet Don't Fail Me Now

05/15/2008 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011
  • Sam Stein Senior Politics Editor, The Huffington Post

The Clinton campaign offered a defiant tone on Wednesday in response to a series of questions, queries and subtle -- if not pointed -- commentary suggesting that she drop out of the Democratic primary.

Citing poll data that showed her strong among white voters, making progress in late primary states, and well position in hypothetical general election match-ups, Clinton's aides dismissed the notion that last night's big loss in North Carolina and slim win in Indiana were the equivalent of a political death toll.

"Many pundits have counted Sen. Clinton out many times in this contest," said the Senator's spokesman, Howard Wolfson. "Thankfully for us the punditocracy does not control the nominating process. Voters do. And voters gave us an important victory in Indiana."

The conference call came less than an hour after news broke that Clinton had lent her campaign more than $6.4 million (pulled, in part, from joint assets she held with Bill). Wolfson, again, deflected questions that this showed the former first lady to be on the political rocks, offering, in its place, that the financial commitment underscored her desire to see the primary process through.

"The loan is a sign of Sen. Clinton's commitment to the race, commitment to the process and a commitment to staying competitive with Sen. Obama," he said. "She is willing to do so going forward in order to ensure that our message gets out and that voters aren't making decisions based on who has more advertising."

Not everyone was convinced. Reporters peppered Wolfson and campaign chief strategist Geoff Garrin about the efficacy of Clinton staying in a contest that she has dwindling shots of winning. Noting that the pledged delegate and, to a lesser extent, popular vote tallies favored Sen. Barack Obama and were unlikely to be overcome, questions homed in on what path, exactly, Clinton would take to the nomination. Wolfson laid out three steps:

"We need to do well in the upcoming contests. The next important contest is the next one in West Virginia... it is a critically important key swing state in November.

"We need to work with others to ensure that Florida and Michigan are seated at the convention. This is not going to be, in our opinion, a convention of 48 states... this is a country of 50 states and all of them should be represented. We won significant victories in Michigan and Florida and we believe both of those delegates should be seated.

"We will continue making the case that Sen. Clinton is the best candidate to take on John McCain."

Even those assertions, however, were contested. Reminded that Clinton herself had once said the Democratic race was to 2025 total delegates, Wolfson called that number, "inoperable" because it did not include Florida and Michigan. (Obama stands, by some estimates, 184 delegates away from 2025 after last night's primaries). Pressed why superdelegates should support Clinton if she could not surpass Obama on any electoral metric, Garin offered a variety or reasons for the party insiders to side Clinton's way.

"What are the rules of this?" he asked. "Are you obligated to follow what your district did, what your state did, what your country did? There really are no rules. Other than that you make a conscience decision... about what is best for the country. And I think that's what voters want as well."

Ultimately, the question bubbling under the surface of the conference call was how far would Clinton go in order to win. The campaign insisted that there had been no interest or discussion in stopping at this point in time. But, one reporter asked, would she be willing to tear the Democratic "village" down in order to build it back up with her at the head?

"Frankly I reject that [metaphor] out of hand and completely," said Wolfson. "This is somebody who has spent her whole life in the village. Sen. Clinton has worked for this party and its causes for her entire adult life. It is what animates her and gets her up every day, it is what has gotten her up every day for her entire adult life."