When the Focus of the Campaign Becomes Campaigning

04/01/2008 12:57 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Looking over the coverage of Hillary Clinton's pitch this week, I can't help but think she's off message. Today in Philadelphia, for example, Clinton is emphasizing the need to keep the presidential campaign going.

In excerpt of a speech she's set to give to the AFL-CIO in the City of Brotherly Love, Senator Clinton says "just as it's getting time to vote here in Pennsylvania, Senator Obama says he's getting tired of it. His supporters say they want it to end."

"Well, could you imagine if Rocky Balboa had gotten half way up those Art Museum steps and said, "Well, I guess that's about far enough?"

And in talking to local TV stations this morning and yesterday, Clinton pushed back against those who want the nominating fight to end.

Democratic Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton accused rival Sen. Barack Obama and his allies of trying to stop people from voting as some of his backers have called on her to drop out of the presidential race. [...]

In a series of television interviews in states holding upcoming contests, Clinton vowed to press on with her campaign and suggested Obama and his supporters wanted to keep those states from playing a role in selecting the party's presidential nominee.

And consider this lede to the LA Times' campaign coverage this morning.

In one of their sharpest exchanges of the presidential campaign, Republican John McCain and Democrat Barack Obama clashed over the Iraq war on Monday, with each challenging the other's credentials on national security.

Meanwhile, Hillary Rodham Clinton, Obama's rival for the party's nomination, went after Obama's supporters for urging her to exit the race.

There's obviously a common thread here. It seems as if the Clinton strategy is to focus the campaign on campaigning. Given the microphone, Clinton is using it to talk about how important it is that she keep getting the microphone. This is the wrong message at the wrong time.

Put aside, for a moment, whether it helps or hurts the Democratic Party to have the race continue. Reasonable people can draw different conclusions about this, and Clinton is making a perfectly good case that she deserves to keep on fighting, regardless of the hurdles.

That's not what this is about. What, exactly, is the point of a prolonged process? In theory, for Clinton and her supporters, it's about giving voters more time to see and hear what the candidates have to offer, and giving voters in eight states and two territories more time to weigh in with their preferences.

Clinton has made it clear she's not going anywhere anytime soon, which Democrats can interpret as either good news or bad. But the point here is what Clinton chooses to do on the campaign trail now that she's vowed to stay on it. So far, the emphasis the past several days has been on the importance of keeping the nomination fight going, and criticizing Obama supporters for wanting to wrap things up.

But that's not a compelling campaign pitch. There's no reason to keep talking about why the race should continue; the race is continuing by virtue of Clinton's ongoing efforts.

So, Clinton campaign, make the best of it. Get the spotlight and use it make your case. Don't talk about the need to keep talking; tell voters who they should vote for and why.

Reporters and campaign junkies enjoy the inside-pool and horserace analysis, but on the list of voters' top concerns, the debate over whether the Democrats' nomination fight should in April, June, or August is probably near the bottom.

Clinton has a compelling policy message, but if all we hear is a campaign based on the need to continue campaigning, the race might as well end. It will have passed the point of vapidity.