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M.S. Bellows, Jr. Headshot

No More Debate: Why Clinton Must Bow Out

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Let's stop pretending: it's over. Done. Nice run, but time to hit the showers. Last night's debate -- in which Clinton, to her credit, generally refrained from the kind of egregious negative campaigning her campaign focused on before the departure of Mark Penn -- eliminated any possible remaining doubt, not because Obama "won" but simply because he didn't destroy himself.

Clinton's only real chance to win the nomination was for Obama to make a tremendous gaffe - so tremendous that he self-destructed and all the remaining Superdelegates turned to Clinton as the savior of the party - and the only place a hyper-intelligent guy like Obama would possibly slip up is in a highly public, unscripted setting like a debate. But he didn't slip up, and it's starting to look like there won't even be any more debates. At this point the entire endgame is predictable. Clinton, like a good chess player, can easily see that the remaining moves inevitably lead to checkmate; it's time for her to tip over her King and concede defeat.

"But wait!" some furious Clintonites are saying. "It's not over til it's over! She's Rocky!" But waiting will do Clinton no good, and it can do the Democratic Party's chance of winning both the White House and Congressional seats in November a lot of harm. Here are the facts:

• Clinton has zero chance of winning the popularly-elected delegates. Obama has a 162-pledged-delegate lead. The remaining primaries (Pennsylvania, Guam, Indiana, North Carolina, West Virginia, Kentucky, Oregon, Puerto Rico, Montana, South Dakota) offer a total of 566 pledged delegates. That means Clinton needs to win over 64% of all the remaining delegates - basically 2/3 of every delegate remaining - to gain the nomination democratically. Up until now, she's won only about 49%; only 42% of Democrats nationwide prefer her to Obama; and even in Pennsylvania, the biggest remaining state and the one she's most likely to win, she's only polling at 50%. She's not going to get two-thirds of the vote in Pennsylvania, let alone anywhere else. She. Can't. Mathematically. Win. The. Popular.Vote.

• Absent some disastrous act of self-immolation by Obama, the Democratic Party won't let the Superdelegates override the popular vote. Why not? Because doing so would tick off so many Democratic voters, who might stay home in November in a huff, that not only would McCain take the general election in a cakewalk, but the Republicans could actually pick up at least one seat in the Senate - costing the Democrats their current tenuous majority. There's no way the Party's power brokers will give up the White House, the Senate, and the chance (which goes with the White House) to appoint replacements for one or two Supreme Court justices (since one or two almost certainly will retire next term).

• Plus, every member of the House of Representatives, and 1/3 of the Senate, is up for re-election in November - and if Democratic voters stay home, lots of their seats could be in jeopardy. Every one of those incumbents is a Superdelegate. Even those who've pledged loyalty to Clinton will vote the same way as the public rather than risk losing their seats. No: the Supers aren't going to save Clinton if she can't win the popular vote. And she can't win the popular vote.

• Clinton's continued campaign is hurting Obama's chances of winning in November without boosting her own. Check out these two graphs from pollster.com, showing how each candidate has fared in over 130 head-to-head matchup polls for over a year. The first shows Obama, who had polled significantly higher than McCain for a full year, suddenly dipping below McCain when Clinton switched to negative campaigning (calling Obama unready to be Commander in Chief in her 3AM ad, for example) -- then, thank God, starting to recover:

The second shows that while Clinton temporarily managed to bring Obama's numbers down, she hasn't brought her own numbers up: she's never beaten McCain by much, and she's consistently polled behind (below) him since late last year, even after her campaign announced brazenly that her new strategy was to "throw the kitchen sink" at Obama -- and her electability, which got a bump almost (but not quite) to McCain's level when she first started dissing Obama, plunged down again almost immediately to an all-time low:

What do these graphs mean? That Obama has always been more electable than Clinton; that Clinton still isn't electable; and Clinton is dragging Obama down. (A Reuters/Zogby poll released yesterday continues this trend, showing Obama leading McCain in a head-to-head but Clinton merely tying him; and another poll shows that 62% of Democrats consider Obama more electable, despite all Clinton's efforts to kneecap him.) All Clinton's doing is hurting the Democratic Party's chances of making gains in all three branches of the federal government, without helping her own. Anyone who truly believes that it's more important to elect a Democrat, any Democrat, would be stepping aside after looking at these numbers. And Clinton -- whose campaign manager until last week is a professional pollster -- has, unquestionably, looked at these numbers.

• As if the 130 polls graphed above weren't enough, a new Washington Post/ABC News poll shows that 59% of American voters don't consider Clinton "honest and trustworthy." 59% - and falling fast, as well - and that's BEFORE the Republican smear machine gets hold of her. Here's some basic math: you can't win an American election if over half the voters don't trust you. You just can't. Hillary's "I'm more electable" line is just that: a line, not based in reality.

• The Republicans are picking up on every single Clinton attack. For instance, Clinton's been hammering Obama for truthfully saying that working-class Americans have been screwed by the D.C. establishment and are angry and bitter about it; now McCain's running that ball. She's giving aid and comfort to the enemy, and the enemy's happy as clams at high tide to let her. That's why billionnaire rightwing wingnut Richard Mellon Scaife, who was behind most of the attacks against both Clintons in the '90s, supports Hillary. That's why Rupert Murdoch, the owner of Fox News and the Wall Street Journal, supports Hillary. That's why John McCain himself supports Hillary. It's time for us Democrats to get real, grow up, and stop enabling Hillary to run the Democratic Party's chances into the ground.

Here's the real math behind Clinton's continued campaign: 60 plus 4 = 64. Clinton's 60 years old. She knows she won't get the nomination, or the Presidency, eight years from now when she's 68 (only 3 years younger than McCain is now). But she can get it in 2012, when she's only 64 - unless Obama's already in the White House, in which case he'll almost certainly be renominated. If Obama wins this election, Clinton will never be President. If he loses, Clinton gets another shot. So Clinton strings this thing out - and does everything she can to pull Obama down - while Republican strategists cheer her on, not because she realistically believes she can win in '08, but to preserve her shot at '12.

Will the Democratic Party's power brokers give up the White House, the Senate, lots of House seats, and one or two Supreme Court slots, all so Hillary can have a second bite at the apple in 2012? Not a chance. Is it smart to keep priming the pump for the Republican campaign against Obama, given the reality that he's going to be the nominee? Absolutely not. The good of the party, and the country, are more important than the Clintons' egos and sense of entitlement. Hillary needs to bow out gracefully now - preserving her Senate seat, her good name, her standing in the party, and possibly a shot at one of those seats on the Supreme Court. That should be more than enough for anyone. And if she won't, it's time to pull the plug whether she likes it or not.

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