To be a winner you have to win. And Tuesday night Hillary Clinton unreservedly won three out of four states. Barack Obama, however, has won twice as many primary and caucus states overall, leads substantially in the popular vote and continues to hold a mathematically insurmountable lead in elected delegates.
For two or three days, the Clinton campaign will spin itself -and the media--silly, breathlessly celebrating her overwhelming victories in Rhode Island and Ohio and her squeaker in Texas.
After the confetti is swept and the champagne bottles are tossed a more sober reality will take hold. Not just that her net gain of delegates this week will be, at most, in the single digits. But worse. There is no plausible scenario in which Clinton can win the nomination. At least not democratically.
Seven more weeks of campaign slog through Wyoming, Mississippi and into Pennsylvania. And then maybe tack on six more weeks, if you can believe it, into Indiana , West Virginia, and a handful of other states and into Puerto Rico on the 7th of June, quite literally into D-Day. Whatever the outcome, even if Clinton wins all 16 remaining contests -and some of them by veritable landslides, she will still be dozens of elected delegates behind Barack Obama.
She will not be the winner because she will have not won the majority of elected Democratic delegates. Clinton will be exactly where she was the night before Ohio and Texas: in second place and with no way to become the nominee unless enough unelected Superdelegates defy the popular will of the electorate and throw her the nomination (or unless you somehow believe that she can every coming primary with a 20 point margin).
Indeed, as Jonathan Alter has pointed out, Clinton can't win an elected majority even if she triumphs in what are now likely to be re-scheduled primaries in the cranky states of Michigan and Florida. Again, we'd be back to the Superdelegates and, therefore, back to a dicey game of chicken by the Democratic Party elite. How many Superdelegates are willing to politically die, or willing to spark an intra-party party civil war, just to save Clinton's bacon?
"The 1968 Chicago convention would look like a picnic compared to what Denver would become," a long-time political biographer said on election eve, predicting a youth uprising at the site of this summer's Democratic Convention if the election is thrown to Clinton. "This isn't 40 years ago," he said. "Now, everyone's got a car. And everyone who believed in the change that Clinton scoffs at would wind up surrounding that convention."
Maybe. Maybe not. Who am I to predict that the Democrats are too smart to self-destruct in what should be, by all other measures, a watershed year? The more steely-eyed amongst us, then, would do well to psychologically prepare for the nomination going, somehow or another, to Hillary Clinton. Which means, in turn, that Democrats ought to simultaneously prepare to be beaten by John McCain.
Clinton regained her footing this past week primarily by running a classic, Republican-style campaign of negative, fear-based ads. She blanketed the airwaves with a detestable spot that, stripped to its core message, warned that if Obama were selected, your children could be murdered in their beds in the middle of the night. Somewhere up above (or more likely from down below), departed GOP mudmeister Lee Atwater is cracking a grin.
The spot worked so well - with exit polls showing that voters who made a last-minute decision went in droves for Clinton-- that she couldn't resist reprising the line during her Tuesday night victory speech delivered to a cheering throng in Columbus. "When that phone rings at 3 a.m. in the White House," she said. "There's no time for speeches or on on-the-job training."
Perfect. Clinton's done McCain the favor of cutting his best general election campaign spot for him. All he has to do is cut her answering the phone out of the last 5 seconds of the ad and splice his own mug in there instead. If Clinton succeeds in making what's politely called the "national security issue" the center of the campaign by arguing she's a safer choice than Obama, then why wouldn't McCain argue that he's even better than she? McCain's already begun that effort. If Hillary's nominated, he'll most likely succeed.