"It is time to get real -- get real about how we actually win this election," Hillary Clinton told an audience in New York this week. "it is time to get real about the challenges facing America."
"Get real," is her new mantra.
The unspoken subtext is "don't get your hopes up, don't let charisma carry you away, don't fall prey to that inspirational elixir Obama is selling."
"Get real." How lame is that as a rallying cry for a struggling campaign? It is such a downbeat, eat-your peas message. Which of her highly-paid advisers came up with that? It reinforces her negative image as an admonishing, lecturing, know-it-all.
Hillary Clinton may still pull off victories in Texas or Ohio on March 4. It is always a mistake to count out a Clinton in a campaign before the votes are in. And the reporters who are writing her political obituaries are getting dangerously ahead of the story.
But this much is already true about Clinton-for-president in '08: it was her bad luck to have to compete against a candidate whose story is even more remarkable than hers.
She stood out against the Bidens and Dodds and Richardsons -- all credible, conventional candidates -- as the first woman frontrunner in a presidential race. But Barak Obama stands out even more, as a symbol of the nation's deepest division and as individual who can help bridge that gap.
Obama is more than that, of course. He is enormously articulate and blessed with a dignified composure and inner calm that has carried him through 19 debates without a serious stumble. He also has a sense of humor, which helps.
He seems to have a near-perfect pitch when it comes to gauging the public mood. He senses, for example, that voters are sick and tired of the politics of character assassination. When Clinton attacks, striking out in last night's debate with a crack about "change you can Xerox," he shakes his head and turns the other cheek. Smart politics. She looks tough; he looks presidential.
It is Hillary's fate that when she finally gets her chance at the brass ring, a truly different candidate is there to take it -- and her specialness -- away from her.
Terence Smith is a former media correspondent for The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer. His website is terencefsmith.com.