End and Endgame
How can she win? Actually, the more important question may be: How does she lose?

By John Heilemann Published Feb 24, 2008

The cheeseheads had just rejected her emphatically, overwhelmingly. The Teamsters had just flipped her the bird. The pundits were composing her political obituary. And another handful of superdelegates had just thrown in their lot with Barack Obama. Now, on the evening after the Wisconsin primary, Hillary Clinton was deep in the heart of the Rio Grande Valley, standing onstage before a crowd of mostly Hispanic students in Brownsville, Texas. The Rio Grande Valley is the place that gave Hillary her first taste of national politics in 1972, when she volunteered there for George McGovern—and that, 36 years later, she is counting on to help rescue her increasingly doomstruck-seeming presidential campaign.

A moment ripe with possibilities, no? A moment to show that she’s not dead yet, to summon up those elusive qualities of fire and tenacity and humanity that flashed so briefly, so tantalizingly, during the New Hampshire primary. Or maybe to let loose and rip Obama a new one, to draw a powerful contrast between herself and a man she regards as her inferior in all matters except speechifying. But, alas, it was not to be. What Clinton did instead was shout the same bromides that have deposited her in a hole so cavernous she can almost see Beijing. “Thirty-five years of experience.” “Ready to lead.” “Ready on day one.” Yadda yadda yadda.

It’s sometimes said that doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different outcome is a functional definition of insanity. In politics, though, it’s typically an indicator of desperation or exhaustion—or, as seems to be the case with Hillary, both.

Yet however excruciating the past few weeks have been for Clinton, the days ahead will confront her with two of the most daunting and fateful questions of her political life. In the face of a crumbling electoral coalition, a corps of advisers riven by dissent, and a rival coated in some unholy admixture of Teflon and pixie dust, what can she do to win the Texas and Ohio primaries on March 4? And if she does, but still lags behind Obama, just how far will she then go to secure her party’s nomination?

In case you harbor any doubts that Clinton needs to carry both the Lone Star and Buckeye states, no less an authority than her husband said so publicly the other day. But in Texas, despite the Clintons’ long ties to the state and a vast Hispanic population, the public polls show the race to be a statistical dead heat. Add to that the state’s complex rules for delegate allocation, the effect of which is that areas with sizable black populations are weighted more heavily than those laden with Latinos, and its bizarro part-primary, part-caucus process, and you can see why many Texan pols believe Obama has the edge. Meanwhile, in Ohio, Clinton currently holds a lead, but the state’s demographics are similar to Wisconsin’s—only with a higher proportion of African-American voters. D’ohh.

Given all this and the thunderous wave of momentum Obama is surfing, Clinton’s central strategic objective is to alter the dynamics of the race. Beltway gasbags galore have offered helpful suggestions of Hail Mary maneuvers regarding her positive message. Be humble! Be bold! Be personal! Be … somebody else! Clinton’s advisers have heard it all. Some of them even agree. (“Oh, the roads not taken,” a senior Clinton adviser sighed to me recently.) But few of them believe that such gambits would be successful this late in the game. Instead, they’d be seen as inauthentic gimmicks, as her “likability tour” of Iowa all over again.

Hence Clinton’s decision, on the positive side, to stick to her well-thumbed script. To the riposte that it simply isn’t working, her people point to her victories in places such as California. But the problem is that the race has shifted in ways that limit her capacity to accomplish much with such appeals. “The day after Wisconsin, I looked at the exit polls and saw that she’d won among voters who care most about experience by a margin of 95 to 5,” says one Democratic strategist. “So her message is speaking exclusively to a group from which she has nothing left to gain.”

With all positive avenues effectively blocked off, the debate in Clinton-land is all about going negative—or, more precisely, how negative to go. In Wisconsin, the campaign hit Obama with TV ads attacking him on health care, Social Security, and his refusal to debate Clinton there; with direct mail on his “present” votes in Illinois; with conference calls accusing him of flip-flopping on his commitment to public financing, and, yes, of rhetorical plagiarism. “A friend of mine told me how the Marines train people in hand-to-hand combat,” says retired Über-consultant Bob Shrum. “If your opponent has a weapon and you don’t, you pick up an ashtray, a lamp, a chair, anything you can, and keep throwing stuff. It seems to me that’s what the Clinton campaign is doing.”

You might think the shellacking Obama administered in Wisconsin, and particularly the fact that he won among late-deciders, suggests that those brickbats were futile. Some Clintonites maintain, however, that their hammering came too late and was too light. Hillary’s chief strategist, Mark Penn, is correctly tagged as the most vocal internal advocate of hard contrasts, especially the charge that Obama is unqualified to be commander-in-chief. (The irony here is rich, for no one has berated Obama more for echoing, and thus validating, right-wing talking points in his criticisms of HRC than Penn.) And he is not alone.

But although Team Clinton is replete with bare-knuckled pugilists, many of whom believe that John McCain would, as one puts it, “gut Obama like a fish,” the shrewder among them grasp that heavy-handed, gratuitous assaults would likely backfire, reinforcing the prevailing view of their boss as old politics incarnate and further propagating the image of Obama as the ever-virtuous avatar of the new. What remains unknown is whether Hillary gets that, too—though her refusal to trash Obama’s credentials at last week’s debate in Austin may provide a clue.

If Hillary declines to throw a haymaker, where does that leave her? Hoping that Obama makes an unforced error. Fantasizing that the press will turn against the chosen one. Pleading with Hispanics in San Antonio and aging soccer moms in Cincinnati to feel her pain. Praying that buyer’s remorse sets in before the deal is closed.

Some Clinton advisers realize that heavy-handed, gratuitous assaults would likely backfire. Does she get it, too?

All of which is why, it seems to me, the probable outcome is that Clinton will lose Texas, Ohio, or both, thus destroying any rationale for her continuing to soldier on—not to mention making it difficult for her cash-poor operation to raise money. (How cash poor? Her staff members are currently sharing hotel rooms on the campaign trail.) But let’s imagine that Clinton holds on to her diminishing leads and squeaks out a pair of victories. Let’s imagine further that the momentum then shifts and she carries Pennsylvania. Obama would almost certainly still end the primary season with the lead in pledged delegates. He would have won the majority of states and, quite possibly, the overall popular vote. But Clinton would have taken all of the largest states save Obama’s Illinois. What then?

A hellacious fight over Democratic arcana: over superdelegates and their proper role, over the seating of the disputed Michigan and Florida delegations. To many observers, the Clinton side’s positions—that superdelegates, or “automatic delegates” in the Orwellian construction of her adviser Harold Ickes, should be allowed to override the will of the Democratic electorate; that Hillary’s victories in two states where there was no competition should be ratified, despite the sanctions of the DNC—are absurd on their face. Even some of Clinton’s supporters apparently agree. To the delight of the Obama forces, Bob Kerrey recently opined about the Michigan-Florida situation, “You don’t change the rules in the middle of the game. Period.”

But when I spoke to Kerrey, he sang a different tune. “Harold is saying that they aren’t changing the rules of the game, that the rules permit a challenge,” Kerrey told me. “I don’t know if that’s true, but if those delegates can be seated without breaking the rules, I think that’s fine.”

Fine in theory, maybe. But in practice, a disaster in the making. If Clinton somehow were to secure the nomination by dint of a credentials challenge and a bitter floor fight at the Democratic convention, it would rip the party right in two, with Obama’s supporters believing their man had been denied by anti-democratic finagling. Would winning that way justify the price? Some members of the Clinton crew think so. Chillingly, they say that any Democratic nomination is a nomination worth having. But does Clinton agree?

Cynics will say that the answer is: Are you kidding? Among many in the Democratic Party, the rap on the Clintons has always been that they’re self-regarding, self-centered, infinitely narcissistic. That they see the party as a vehicle for their ambitions, nothing more and nothing less. That their preeminent cause is their own power. How Hillary conducts herself in the days ahead will speak volumes about whether that is actually true of her. (Her husband is another story.) Her debate performance in Austin was gracious, if tough, and free almost entirely of witless ad hominems. When she spoke of being “honored” to share the stage with Obama, it even had an unmistakable valedictory feel. If this is the way she has chosen to go out, the ensuing enhancement of her reputation will be the silver lining to her loss, should losing be her fate. It will also set her up nicely for 2012 if the pessimism of her adjutants about Obama proves painfully prescient this fall—and you’d be a fool to believe this implication hasn’t crossed her mind.


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Recent Comments On This Article

SlickHill&Bill were a disgrace from the first night they jumped on the beds in my White House until the day they left while selling pardons and stealing furniture.
SlickHill wants her White House Experience to put her back in the White House. Let us all remember during her occupation she testified over 1000 times that she, “Did not know, did not remember, did not recall” when asked questions during various scandal investigations. Since she did not know anything that was going on when she was there why should we consider this relevant experience now?
SlickHill has the White House Machine to get her carpetbagged into the Senator from my home state of New York and she has paid off everybody with jobs, perks, contracts and who knows what else, to keep it.
SlickHill surrounds herself with Federal Secret Service so all of us, the unwashed masses, cannot get close to her. But in her hypocritical fashion, when the cameras are on her she is waving, throwing kisses and touching her heart while she mouths “I love you” to her campaign crowds.

Why we allow our elected officials to feed off the taxpayer trough with salaries, staff, perks, expenses, fringes and pensions while they are derelict in one position while they campaign for another is beyond me. When SlickHill loses she can keep all her remunerations from New York State and go back to a job she obviously does not want and only took in the first place to make this run.

I may not know a lot about Obama but I know enough about this Clinton Co-Presidency that I do not ever want it back in my White House.

To: FROMTHESIDELINE: Hillary DID NOT campaign in Fla. She had ONE photo op arriving in Fla for a fund raiser which was allowed by DNC rules.

How can she win? Actually, the more important question may be: How does she lose? … Read the story

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Clinton has virtually no chance of securing more elected delegates than Obama in the remaining states.

Barring Clinton’s withdrawal, then, the Democratic Party should prepare for a party-splitting fight. Millions of Obama supporters will feel disenfranchised at the fight itself. If she manages to wrangle the nomination by way of superdelegates, Clinton will be left with a demoralized party in November.

And, just like he did in the primaries by taking advantage of the conservative split between Romney and Huckabee, John McCain will walk through the middle of the Democrats’ fight, right to the White House.
By hscooper on 02/25/2008 at 12:30am
What is completely amazing is that just 100 days ago Hillary was up 30% + nationally.
Lost the delegate races in Iowa & Nevada by 1, tied in New Hampshire and got doubled in South Carolina.
She went from leading every super Tuesday race, save one to a break even and a lost by 17% or more since.
Has there every been a more complete and total collapse in American political history?
After referring to Obama as “W” Hillary’s future looks more like Nader’s than LBJ.
By paul94611 on 02/25/2008 at 12:54am
Give them enough rope ….

This campaign has shed a little light on the corrupt “business as usual” mentality represented so aptly by both Clintons. Politics as a “sport”, win at all costs, and unbridled lust for power – so much so that their seasoned Washington experience has rendered them both sociopaths, believing their own lies and void of any ethics. It’s quite a spectacle – especially in the glaring contrast of Obama’s integrity and “high road” approach. Sure – he is not perfect. But finally we have a choice other than the same old, same old. We do dare to HOPE for healing in this nation.

Obama MUST win – or the resultant collective collapse of spirit will be a national disaster and we will all just crawl back into our cynicism and leave politics to the snakes.

This is THE key reason that Florida votes should NEVER be counted. A revote maybe, coutning them as is, totally unfair!


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Obama haters, how can you say Hillary is experienced when she cannot run a campaign. Barrack Obama has been running his campaign on truthfullness. What he revealed on the flyers were based on facts and not lies. By mandating health insurance means forcing you to pay for even if you don’t have the means. I am a Dutch citizen and a graduate working and still find it diffcicult to pay my health insurance. The cost is increasing every year and no one has to argue, we just have to pay because it is mandatory and for about four years now I haven’t used it because I’ve never been to the hospital. To me Obama’s plan on Health care is better than Hillary.
You might say what concerns a Dutch person on American politics but the truth is this, its going to affect the entire world. Sometimes people in the world look at Americans as clowns but you shouldn’t blame them. The Democratic party decided to sanction Florida and Michigan long before the Primaries started which was accepted by everyone and now Hillary is claiming the delegates from those states because she is loosing. I still see some top media like fox and cnn and also top statesmen talking as if the delegates of Michigan and Florida has to be seated. I always believe America has been a country of laws and should always maintain rules and laws.
I have been following this primaries ever since it started and reading lots of articles and information about the canditates, and I strongly believe Obama is the best candidtate. He can restore the image that Europe and the world had about America.

By rocky4356 on 02/25/2008 at 2:41pm
Barack Hussein Obama was born in
Hawaii, to Barack Hussein Obama, Sr., a black MUSLIM

temporary at best.

In reality, the senior Obama returned to Kenya soon after the divorce,
and never again had any direct influence over his son’s education.

Lolo Soetoro, the second husband of Obama’s mother, Ann Dunham,
introduced his stepson to Islam.

Obama was enrolled in a Wahabi school in Jakarta.

Wahabism is the RADICAL teaching that is followed by the Muslim
terrorists who are now waging Jihad against the western world.

Since it is politically expedient to be a CHRISTIAN when seeking Major
public office in the United States, Barack Hussein Obama has joined
United Church of Christ in an attempt to downplay his Muslim

Let us all remain alert concerning Obama’s expected presidential

The Muslims have said they plan on destroying the US from the inside
out, what better way to start than at the highest level – through the
President of the United States, one of their own!!!!

ALSO, keep in mind that when he was sworn into office – he DID NOT use
the Holy Bible, but instead the Kuran (Their equivalency to our Bible,
but very different beliefs)

Obama also refuses to pledge allegiance the the USA flag. How can
someone who wants to be president refuse to commit to the USA.

Before you vote for any candidate I’m sure you can search the internet
and find out about all the candidates.
By mikehasson on 02/25/2008 at 3:21pm
Just for the record…

The “white atheist” mother was still a teenager when Barak was born.

Obama’s parents separated when Barack was two, his father moving not to Kenya, but to the mainland United States, where he attended Harvard. Eventually he returned to Kenya, and worked as an economist for Kenya’s SECULAR government.

When Obama’s mother remarried, it was indeed to an Indonesian man named Lolo Soetoro. But it was his “atheist” mother who supervised his education. It’s highly unlikely an ATHEIST from Kansas would have wanted her son indoctrinated into Islam.

Once a Muslim? When? Yes, he lived in a Muslim country during part of his childhood and briefly attended a Muslim school there, but he certainly wasn’t raised a Muslim by his ATHEIST mother.

Barack Obama placed his right hand on the Holy Bible during his swearing-in ceremony — attended not only by reporters, but also other newly-elected Senators — including Conservative Republicans. Think they wouldn’t mention it? Clearly, whoever made this allegation has confused Obama with Congressman Keith Ellison from Minnesota, who really is a Muslim and was sworn in on January 4, 2007 using a copy of the Qur’an.

All Senators, including Barak Obama, take turns “presiding” over the opening of Senate business each morning. On multiple occasions, Barak Obama has taken his turn in this role — and the duties include LEADING THE UNITED STATES SENATE IN RECITING THE PLEDGE OF ALLEGIANCE. Do you think that Senators like Trent Lott and Jesse Helms, and a host of other right-wing conservatives wouldn’t have screamed to high heaven if the Senator from Illinois had refused to recite the Pledge, turned his back on the flag, or done any of the other BS this talks about.

C’mon. Do you think Americans are REALLY that stupid and gullible? Shame on the author of this pile of crap.

Find out the truth before you join in a smear campaign.
By duanenorris on 02/25/2008 at 3:34pm
The questions concerning Barack Obama and his loyalty to America have been put to rest by the CIA, FBI, DIA and NSA when they all conducted their full field background investigations and awarded Obama with the very highest Top Secret clearances.
So much for the slandering KKK wacko’s in our society and their panderers who feed discredited misinformation to a society taught to disregard the Constitution and hate based upon a name or dress failing to mention his security clearances that Bill Clinton did not qualify for prior to his election to national office.
There are many republicans who will either never qualify for a clearance now or will loose theirs because of the fraud and corruption they have committed while in public office.
hence the reason so many are retiring this year.
By paul94611 on 02/25/2008 at 3:44pm
As to be expected the only way the GOP can win is by trying to scare the crap out of the voters. Anyone who expects McCain to play nice and try to win without pandering to fear and racism should put down the crack pipe.

Republicans slime their opponents. Hillary tried to do the same and now she’s paying the price. Sucks to be her.
By nighttimer on 02/25/2008 at 3:51pm
SAMH0711 is right – especially since 40% of the vote went to “none-of-the-above”.
What is also troubling is that Clinton did a little late campaigning in Florida when she
had previously agreed not to do ANY campaigning.
TH_NY is wrong. Nobody should lose their right to vote because they are misinformed.
We are all misinformed to some degree.

By SeattleMark on 02/25/2008 at 4:14pm
‘it would rip the party right in two, with Obama’s supporters believing their man had been denied by anti-democratic finagling. Would winning that way justify the price?”

You must be joking. Changing the rules in the middle of the game wouldn’t be anything new for these world-class grifters. Do you remember the 2002 New Jersey Senate Race? Can you say “Bob Torricelli”? Can you say “Frank Lautenburg”? Look it up if not. The past is prologue.
By betsybounds on 02/25/2008 at 4:30pm
The voters are speaking loud and clear.

Primaries or caucuses have already been held in 36 of 50 states. Obama is ahead by nearly a million votes, and has won twice as many contests as Hillary Clinton. He also leads Clinton in pledged delegates. Obama’s appeal among independent voters makes him a formidable general election candidate.

But if Clinton is nominated, the race will be too close to call against McCain.

Enough is enough. We are a coalition of voters urging the Democratic superdelegates to support Barack Obama:

Take five minutes and call or e-mail an undecided superdelegate in your state.

We can make a difference by letting superdelegates know how many of their constituents want Obama to be the Democratic presidential nominee.
By VotersForObama on 02/25/2008 at 4:34pm



    […] BLACK IS BEAUTIFUL! wrote an interesting post today on BILLARY IS IN TROUBLE:WHAT IS THE END GAME FOR HER?FROM NEW YORK MAGAZINE,FEB.24,2008Here’s a quick excerptAnd another handful of superdelegates had just thrown in their lot with Barack Obama…. […]

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